What's the recruitment process like for these firms? Are they more selective than most biglaw firms?
Would love to get some more info
Cohen Milstein, Leiff Cabraser, Motley Rice, and a couple others are the exceptions, rather than the rule, to have any summer program process at all. Robbins Geller just has an email link to their hiring partner. In general, there is no formal process.
If you want a job, gotta show you know their game.
Take a Complex Civil Litigation course or Advanced Civil Procedure if your school offers it and also Pre-Trial Practice. 95% of what a plaintiff firm does is defeat Motions to Dismiss and Motions for Summary Judgment before settling their case. Plaintiff firms like to see good Civ Pro grades.
Study up on multi-district litigation and class action; this is where a Complex Civil Litigation course is key. Unfortunately, not many schools offer one; I got lucky, a T20 school within my reach offered one and I transfered to takek the course (crazy!? crazy like a foxx).
Some demonstration of plaintiff orientation helps. Most plaintiff partners are Left-leaning and anti-hierarchy, they fight for the mythical little guy. Internships and work experience that show a preference for equity can help. However, I think this sort of thing comes out in interviews: either you seem like a plaintiff attorney, or you don't. If you're just some Biglaw shill trying to switch sides to cash in, it'll be obvious to them and they prob won't like the fit. If you're a Biglaw convert, they'll love you.
In terms of process:
For PI firms and other general plaintiff practices, just ask around in your market. There will be 3-15 firms that everyone knows about and fears/loves. Inquire about their individual hiring practices. Some hire summer associates, apply as appropriate and then follow up.
Many do not hire summer associates. Instead, you have to build relationships with the partners. Ask to attend a lunch; if they say yes read up on a couple of their current cases or filed briefs and then talk shop with them for an hour over lunch. If it goes well, they'll ask to stay in touch; maybe have you back for a deposition or a tour of the office or something. Maintain contact, maybe get an interview if they offer, maybe work for them part-time during the school year, and hope they're interested in you when you graduate. If nothing else, you'll have a good law school mentor and reference.
For class action firms, go to the JPML website. Check out some MDL cases that interest you. Get a PACER account from someone. Look up the MDL cases there. Check the Case Conference Orders appointing Class Counsel. See which firms are getting appointed Class Counsel. Then check those firms' websites. Most do not have 2L summer programs advertised. Many don't even have a careers tab. These are small shops packed with dense talent. Send the named partners or a named hiring attorney (super rare to have a named hiring attorney) your re'sume', letter, transcript, and current courses.
I sent stuff to Hagens Berman, Kozyak Tropin, Wolf Haldenstein, Wexler Wallace, and Zwerling Schachter.
Hagens and Kozyak were shocked to have received applications and told me they'd consider my application in the Spring of 2012. The rest didn't respond, not too surprising since I had no real connection to their markets or practice. But it was a start. I ended up getting flown to California to talk with a firm, it went well, and I got an offer.
A couple guys in my Complex Lit class have done the same thing and gotten flown places for interviews. Not sure what their success rate has been. Two other friends from that same class got defensive class action jobs based on a somewhat similar process.
FYI, my list looked like this:
a. Milberg [Weis] Group
b. Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll
c. Leiff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein
d. Finkelstein, Thompson & Zwerling
e. Shachter & Zwerling
f. Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton
g. Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro
h. Bartimus Frickleton Robertson & Gorny
i. Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz
j. Motley Rice
k. Doffermyre Shields Canfield Knowles & Devine
l. Whatley Drake & Kallas
m. Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd
n. Korein Tillery
o. Gray Ritter & Graham
p. Simon Passanante
q. Dyer & Berens
but there are many more. Check the NLJ Plaintiff Hotlist for a host of others.