Tales of a Summer Associate

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Tales of a Summer Associate

Postby jhett » Sun May 20, 2007 3:04 am

Hey all,

This is my first post, a day before I begin my summer associate program at the Silicon Valley office of a big law firm. I hope that this blog can be a resource for those who are considering working or summering at a firm but are not sure if it's right for them. And for those who are already determined to work for a firm, you can learn what to expect.

A brief house-keeping note: I will not read the blog reaction thread often, so if there is a specific question you want me to answer, it's best just to PM me.

Several of you asked me how, as a 1L not from a T14, I was able to get a V50 firm job. I wish I could say it was because of my hard work and determination, but it is not. I got the job largely due to a connection. That's right. A simple connection.

However, a connection is usually the best way to find a job. Of all the 1Ls I know, the people who had the easiest time getting jobs were the people who had a large network upon which to draw on. So I suggest to everyone to start building your network. Many people are chasing school-facilitated recruiting events. When you can get an opportunity through a connection, the amount of competition is usually much lower.

In my particular case, I knew an associate at the firm through my previous job before coming to law school. My employer used the firm as legal counsel, so I was able to work with the associate for two years. When I told him I was going to law school, he wrote a letter of recommendation for me. He also recommended me to HR. Of course, my resume still had to pass muster and I had to perform well at the interview, but he was instrumental in getting my application on the hiring partner's desk (and separate from the pile of other 1L resumes).

Oh, if you want more information about the interview process, check out this thread:
http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/v ... php?t=2400

Anyways, tomorrow is the big day - orientation. Which includes a fancy, schmancy lunch. Beats all the crap I've been eating from the law school vending machines during exam period.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Tue May 22, 2007 4:13 am

Day One

Here I am, sitting at home after one long day. I am somewhat numbed from the information overload. And more is yet to come...

Most of the first day was filled with learning standard operating procedures for the office: where to find stuff, who to go to for what, and how to use different things. They also made us read and sign a whole bunch of forms, and gave us several manuals to read. Seriously... it's a lot to get used to. There's a lot of administrative stuff in the firm that we have to keep track of: billing hours, expense tracking, activity updates, and other stuff that I probably don't even know about yet. This is very different from any job I've previously done.

The office itself is fairly impressive. Big shiny lobby, multiple conference rooms with all sorts of high-tech equipment, offices for all associates and partners, fully stocked kitchen, and a bajillion filing cabinets (built into the walls!). The interior is basically white walls, light brown wood furniture, and lots of glass. The design, plus the sun shining in from outside, creates a very bright and warm atmosphere.

I met my secretary, the paralegal for my practice area, and my associate mentor, among others. They all were very nice and seemed more than willing to help me with whatever I needed. I got settled into my own office (I actually have an office to myself! With windows!). There was some firm swag there for me to take as well. One of the definite benefits of being a SA is all the free stuff they give you.

The office is not that large, so the summer associate class is fairly small (although this is the largest one this office has had so far). Most of them were from NorCal schools, and the non-Californians mostly went to T14s. They all seemed pretty cool, but I could definitely see the different personality types shine through; e.g. the "smooth talker," the "information kiosk," and "older and wiser." I think it will take some time for us to fully warm up to each other, but since there are so many social events I can't imagine it will take long. Oh, and if you're wondering, my self-imposed moniker is "sarcastic one-liners."

This being the Silicon Valley, the dress code is business causal. Pretty such everyone (men and women) showed up today in black dress pants and a shirt (blue or white). The lawyers were mostly wearing business casual. There was hardly anybody in a suit, and ties were also uncommon. They do suggest that we keep a suit handy in case of an unexpected business meeting.

For lunch, several of the staff including the HR coordinator and the hiring partner took us to a local restaurant. The lawyers took the lead and ordered a bunch of stuff, and us SA's followed suit (note: when lunches are charged to the firm, always try to have the lawyers order first so that they can set the pace. It sucks to under-order and then have the lawyer go all out, or over-order and have the lawyer look at you funny). Anyways, the food (south Asian fare) was pretty good, and it was a good opportunity to talk with different people (asking stuff about work, or just getting to know each other). Use lunches to your advantage!!!

Okay, I've said enough for now. I'll check back in once the first work assignments are handed out and we get thrown into the frying pan. But for now, I'll keep enjoying the free lunches :D

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Fri May 25, 2007 12:16 am

Whoops. I just noticed that my blog title is similar to Corsair's... I claim the fair use exception under the Copyright Act!

Oh, and thanks to everyone for the encouraging me onwards with this blog.

Anyways, the work assignments are coming out now. In this firm (and probably others), the attorneys do not directly assign stuff to the summers. They have to go through the work coordinators, who keeps track of everything to make sure everyone has an even workload and are getting assignments that they are interested in.

I have some IP related stuff on my plate. It's pretty easy for me since I have previous experience in IP, so I basically know what I'm doing. For the past little while I only had one assignment, but two more were added today. Still, the work is totally manageable right now, and I usually spend about 8-9 hours total in the office (including social time; see below). My supervising attorney has been really responsive and helpful, and so has the support staff in the office. They all really want you to succeed, so I have no hesitation in asking for help whenever I need it.

The other summers are at various levels of busyness, but they all sound like they are generally handling things well. Some of them are looking up statutory and case law, or researching protocols for business transactions, or participating in client meetings. The attorneys are eager to enlist our help. Several of them, from various practice areas, have offered to bring me on board their cases sometime down the road. And the work coordinator told us not to be shy about asking for specific types of work. My firm handles many clients around the world, and some of the cases sound really interesting (unfortunately, I can't disclose any details). I definitely think I will enjoy working here.

On the flip side, lifestyle is the name of the game here. I know that SAs are pampered (and we definitely are, what with all the free food we've been handed lately), but the attorneys all seem genuinely happy as well. They apparently socialize frequently outside of the office, and seem to have enough time to have a well-rounded personal life. They do work hard, but there is no crushing emphasis on billable hours. This is not an "eat what you kill" firm, so all the attorneys cooperate on cases (and there's a lot of inter-office cooperation too). Some of us summers wondered how they could get all their work done and still hang around with us at the social events. Valley firms really are more laid back. Things are so laid back that I was able to pull off a gag in front of the managing partner and get applauded for it (I would not have dared to do it if I was working in Manhattan).

SA hours are definitely very relaxed. We all have to put in a minimum number of hours each day (7.5), but lunches and social events count toward that total. Basically, we're being paid to eat and chat. But I don't suggest to those reading to totally slack off. The bar for us is set really low, but if you do good work the attorneys will notice and you will get better assignments. I've heard stories from my roommate (a law school graduate) about SAs who do completely crazy stuff and still get an offer. It's true that offers are yours to lose, but I suggest that you do NOT become one of those stories that future law students balk at.

I think I'm really lucky to be at this firm. It's small, friendly, laid back, and fits my personality. My aforementioned roommate told me that he worked at a firm where the attorneys were unhappy and turning into alcoholics. There is a very big variance in work environments, so when you are selecting firms, choose carefully. Notice the work environment when you interview there, and try to find an associate that can speak candidly. It could save a lot of misery.

The summers are growing more cohesive, but we haven't really done any extra-curricular activities together yet. This is a function of two things: we are sprinkled throughout the office (don't see each other much), and we live all over the bay area. Us out-of-towners could go touring around this weekend though.

Trailer for next post: cool office equipment and some info on the firm-wide SA class (all of our stats were compiled by the firm). If you're waiting for me to dish some dirt... be patient. There's a lot of summer to go :twisted:

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Thu May 31, 2007 1:38 am

Hola! Just checking in. Work is still good. I have one assignment winding down and the others are slow in nature, so I put in a request for more assignments. I guess we'll see what happens with that...

The Toys

First, no, they did not give us Blackberrys to play with. But I'm actually glad about that because it makes it more difficult to contact me outside the office. However, many, if not all, of the attorneys carry one.

I do have a nifty phone in my office. It's got a load of features, most of which I will never use. The thing I do like about it is that I can phone any other person in the firm, no matter which office, by dialing only a few numbers. This isn't mind-blowing technology, but it's just really convenient to have the entire firm at your fingertips. I can chat with a classmate in another office whenever I have some down time. Unfortunately, I can't prank call anyone (caller ID).

There are a couple cool programs on my computer. First, the firm has a custom add-on to MS Office. It got rid of a lot of annoying stuff in Word and added in some very convenient formatting features. Secondly, there's a program that gives me access to every single document in the firm (except for specially marked private files). This means I can work on files originating in another office, or read up on a M&A deal in New York just for fun. The firm also has a 24 hour tech hotline we can call whenever we run into problems. Oh, and Lexis and Westlaw are trying to wine and dine us even more as summers since we actually spend the firm's money every time we search/find (I think law schools pay a flat rate instead of a per use rate).

There are some mammoth copiers in the office. I have never tried using them, but supposedly it keeps track of the copying costs for each client so that we can bill them. There are also a bazillion coffee machines all over the office... because you can't waste time hunting for caffeine!

Firm-wide SA stats

Okay, it took me a while to compile these stats, so be thankful! I give numbers in percentages rather than absolute numbers. The total number of summer associates in the firm is over 100 and under 400 (sorry, I don't want to get more specific), and there are offices in most major markets.

% of T14 summers: 39%
% of T1 summers (excluding T14): 44%
% of T2 summers: 13%
% of T3/T4 summers: 4%
% of 1Ls: 17%
% of 1Ls from T14: 9%
Number of schools hired from: 63

For the T14, there is no discernible distribution of students across offices. Outside of the T14, the distribution is basically geographical. That is, each office hires most of its summers from schools close by, with the highest ranking school usually having the most success. There are a couple interesting exceptions to this rule. I will not say anything further, but you can PM me to ask about any particular school.

Short post this time, but I bet the implications of those numbers will have you thinking for a while.

Next installment: FOOD and CLOTHES (thanks stjobs for that suggestion).

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Wed Jun 06, 2007 1:08 am

Remember how I wanted more assignments the last time I posted? Well, when it rains, it pours. I now have five large concurrent assignments that I'm juggling between. The client for one of them is pushing the completion date up, meaning some long days in the office. Many of the other summers are also extremely busy. But enough about that for now... I'll cover work assignments in detail in the next post.

Food

I've had a lot of free meals since starting work. And I don't normally eat a lot, so if I eat a big lunch, I don't need dinner. Seriously... my grocery list has been reduced to breakfast and snacks. Anyways, there are two main sources of free food: in-office events and restaurants.

A few times a week, the firm provides free lunch to all employees. The food is catered from different restaurants, so we've had stuff like mexican, italian, indian, and french food. It's pretty good stuff too, and gives people the chance to socialize. Sometimes we have a lunch training seminar, in which we (summers and attorneys who are interested) have lunch and listen to a partner explain stuff about his or her practice. The food for these types of events is usually a variety of sandwiches and wraps. Lastly, food is provided for office social events such as happy hours. These events usually involve finger food and alcohol. For these in-office events, no one usually cares how much you eat. But I suggest at the maximum one full plate and one half plate. I have never seen anyone eat more than that.

The office does not have a free supply of snacks and drinks. Instead, we have vending machines. However, there are free drinks provided at all the above events, so there is no need to actually buy drinks from the machine. The summers keep snacks in their offices to deal with the no-free-snacks thing.

When there isn't some type of free food being offered in the office, attorneys take us out for lunch. It could be that an attorney invites us as a group or a specific summer. They are encouraged to do this by the summer program coordinators. Plus, if at least one summer is present at lunch, the meal is paid by the firm. Thus both the attorneys and us are motivated to arrange lunches with each other, and we aren't shy about initiating it (well, I'm still a little hesitant). The attorneys usually suggest their favorite restaurants, which invariably encompass some of the best restaurants in the Silicon Valley. Since they're not paying for it, they encourage us to order whatever we want and make sure that we've had enough to eat. The more social attorneys are more willing to take us out, which ensures that lunch is entertaining and fun. These lunches usually last 1-2 hours.

Alcohol

With Napa and Sonoma so close, there is no shortage of good wine around here. Many of the partners are wine collectors, some with thousands of wines in their collection. Actually, one of them will lead us in a wine tasting soon. At office events with alcohol, only wine and beer are provided. At some non-office events (like dinner at an attorney's house), other hard liquors can also be available.

The question always arises... how much should you drink? I personally have a low alcohol tolerance, so I limit myself to one beer or half a glass of wine at all firm events. Generally, people don't drink more than two of anything (2 beers; 1 beer + 1 glass; 2 glasses). Things are more relaxed if it's just the summers and junior associates. They are recent law school grads and so it's easy to get comfortable with them. In fact, at a recent event at a junior associate's home, one of the summers got pretty drunk and started acting... well, like a drunk (a happy one). But since only us and the juniors were present, no one cared. The juniors even got into the act by telling jokes and crazy stories.

Now of course, there are lines that can't be crossed. Like don't drink so much that you puke... or hit on anyone... or hit on someone and then puke on them... or puke on someone and then hit on them. But I trust that you people know this already... right? :?

Clothes

The men in the office have fairly standard dress: a long-sleeved collared shirt with slacks/khakis. The shirts are usually soft colors and have faint patterns (stripes, hatching, etc.). Short-sleeved shirts are not common. Occasionally people wear golf/polo shirts, usually in a solid color. Pants are usually black, gray, brown, or beige. Shoes are standard black or brown dress shoes. A nice watch is usually worn as well, but not everyone wears one. Suits and ties are only worn for meeting with certain clients (for example, you would not need a suit to meet with some guy from a start-up tech company).

I actually think I'm one of the flashiest dressers, even though I don't intend to be. I have a lot of shirts with bold colors and strong patterns, and the shape is usually fitted or slim fit (a few of them are borderline clubbing shirts). I like vertical stripes on my shirts and pants. My wardrobe is largely due to H&M, Filene's Basement, and a trip to Hong Kong.

The women are more varied in their dress. They usually wear blouses or shirts, sometimes with a fleece on top because the office can get unusually cold. Many of the women wear black tops a lot, but if it's another color it's usually a soft one and without too many patterns on it. Most of the time women wear black pants, but sometimes they wear a skirt (never ending above knee level). High heels are actually not that common. Many of the attorneys wear flat-soled or low heel dress shoes, and open-toed sandals (flip-flops and ballet flats not allowed). As with the men, suits are only for clients. I haven't looked closely enough to notice any accessory trends ("uh no, I was only looking at your necklace..." *slap*), but I guess that means that they weren't wearing anything too flashy. You ladies probably have a better idea about this.

For some reason, us summers are usually dressed better than the attorneys. The female summers are more likely to hear heels, and the male summers usually have crisper looking clothing. Maybe it's because we are trying to make a good impression, or our clothes are newer, or maybe we're just hot 8)

That's it for this installment. Hit me up with any questions you may have.

Edit: 100th post! Whoooo!

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Tue Jun 12, 2007 2:20 am

Don't you just love going to work when you are in court in the morning and on the beach in the afternoon? Just another day in the life of a California summer. I'm saving that for my next post - socials and summers.

Work Assignments

As mentioned before, all work assignments are handed out by the work coordinators, who are generally mid-level or senior associates. Their job is to make sure all the summers have enough stuff to do and that they are doing what they want to do. At any time, we can talk to them about lightening our load if we're swamped, increasing our load if we're bored, or getting work from other practice areas. They are very welcome to our feedback and check in on us from time to time to see if everything is okay.

Oh, just to note, my actual work load was not as bad as I had estimated in my last post, which greatly relieved me. I did not have to spend as much time in the office as I thought.

My realm of expertise is IP (specifically patents), and so that's where I started out. The nature of my work is different from most of the other summers. Assignments in the patent prosecution vein are usually long and subject to client feedback. I must do a lot of research into the technology, and of course writing the patent itself is time-consuming. However, there is usually no time pressure, so I can work on it in shifts so that I don't get bored working on the same thing for days. This is why I have a high concurrent work load. I'm also doing litigation support, sifting through patents and other technical documents to give the lit attorneys nice, sharp weapons to use in court. It's a little more time sensitive, but still not too much. As of yet, I have not done any non-technical (i.e. legal) research. But I will ask for that soon.

Those in practice areas like corporate or litigation often get "short" assignments dealing with either legal issues or form inquiries. Legal issues are usually along the lines of researching statutory and/or case law relevant to an issue facing the attorney. Form inquiries are along the lines of determining all the elements of a certain agreement (e.g. an attorney asks a summer to write some IPO financing document). I parenthesized short because attorneys are notorious for underestimating the amount of work needed to complete the assignment. These types of assignments are usually time sensitive, and so the summer ends up burning the midnight oil because the attorney may need the memo in two days when it could take a week to research thoroughly. But we are only summers, so the attorneys don't expect too much from us.

As you can probably tell, the work experience varies with the practice area. Areas such as tax, transactional IP, and real estate are slower paced, less time sensitive, having a steadier work load, and may become boring after a while (depending on your personality). Areas such as litigation, finance, and general corporate are fast paced, time sensitive, having a fluctuating work load, but usually keeps your adrenaline pumping. The good thing as a summer is that you can try all these different areas. I suggest you do, because picking a practice area to specialize in is a lot easier when you know what it's like to work in each one. Try to find one that fits your personality, skills, and your desired work/life balance.

Feedback on work assignments varies. Some attorneys give you specific feedback based on your finished product. Others may just thank you for your work and move on. All the attorneys supposedly have to evaluate our performance for the work coordinators. In turn, the work coordinators give us a mid-term and end-of-term performance review. Since I haven't gone through either, I don't know what's involved in it.

Overall, I am happy with what I've been doing so far. I have technical knowledge that no one else in the office knows, so I have become the go-to guy for assignments involving those technologies. This means I get some higher-level assignments and more client interaction (don't get me wrong, I still get grunt work). This is ideal when you are at a firm - you should have something that no one else knows. That way, you become indispensable to the firm, get greater responsibilities, and increase your chances of becoming partner. A client has already requested my continued services after viewing my work for them, leading to a face-to-face with a top official in the company. Given the fact that junior associates rarely if ever directly interact with clients, this is an amazing opportunity for me.

One more thing: I realized that my posts seem to make being a summer associate sound like a kick-ass gig. Well, it is. Most attorneys look back on their SA days with fondness. However, be warned that being an actual associate is very different. Some firms may try to hide the ugly from you over summer. Be sure to dig deep, past all the frills and gimmicks, to discover how the firm treats its normal employees. Don't be too dazzled by the money and social events to make a grounded, objective evaluation of the firm. Because if you walk into work as a junior associate expecting the same thing as before, you are in for a surprise.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:18 pm

My tan is developing nicely thanks to the activities of this past week. I wish a regular associate position could be this fun...

Social Activities

The number and type of social activities that a summer associate encounters varies by firm and by location. Since I'm in California, a lot of our activities revolve around typical West Coast stuff. Some of the things we've done or have yet to do include wine tasting in Sonoma Valley, a day at the spa, surfing, opera night, activities in San Fran and LA, golf, and cooking school. So far, I have loved all of the social events. They are a lot of fun and are a great opportunity for the summers to bond. At every event a couple associates join us (but usually not partners unless the event is specifically about the partners). These associates tend to be more junior and more outgoing.

The firm encourages us to go to all social events, but sometimes work or life gets in the way. No one here has completely missed an event because they had too much work, but a couple times people have been a little late or left early. Most of the attorneys respect our schedule and tell us to have fun, but once in a while you may run into someone who doesn't (I'll talk about attorney interaction next time). Still, if there is a conflict, work must always come first. Don't ever refuse to do something simply because it interferes with an event. Instead, let the supervising attorney know you'll be busy and try to push back the due date. And yes, you can refuse to go to an event if you do not like it. There is no consequence for refusing to go... unless you refuse to go to any of them, because people will think you're anti-social.

As far as frequency goes, my office is moderate in terms of the number of social events. It averages out to about one per week. One of my roommates seems to do more, but I think my events are better 8) And compared to the New York social events, ours aren't usually as extravagant... but I attribute that to the culture difference between the coasts. Still, I definitely consider this being pampered.

The Summer Associates

This week is the beginning of week 5. I'd say that at around the beginning of week 3 my summer class was getting pretty tight. Before that, we seemed to be tight with some people but not others. It wasn't because we didn't like each other, but rather that people initially naturally gravitate to others with similar interests/personalities. However, during week 3 I think we all started feeling like one big happy family.

There are a range of personalities within the summer group, but we all get along well. Some people are closer than others, but there is no tension or cliques that form. We don't have any very outspoken or shy summers, but are more or less spread out across the middle of the Type A/B personality spectrum. I'm more on the B side, but sometimes I cross into A territory (tends to happen when consuming alcohol). Come to think of it, so are some of the others...

Recently there was an event where we got to meet the summers of some other offices. From the brief time that I had with them, they all seem like nice, personable people but still unique and not of a cookie-cutter mode. It's interesting to note that the personality of the summers generally reflects the culture of the city that they are located in. For example, the LA summers are more Hollywood and club-oriented than anyone else. This is mostly due to the fact that offices hire students from nearby schools or people with a connection to the area.

There hasn't been much in the way of romantic drama among the summers. A sizable minority of them are married or in serious relationships. Gender imbalance can also affect the dynamic. One summer here has seemed to start dating a summer from another office... I don't know how that came about. Intra-office dating is really not recommended, since it can lead to some really awkward moments. How do I know this? Uhmmm... no particular reason :? j/k, nothing has really happened, but I don't want anything to happen and I'm afraid she may want to.

If you want me to say anything about the hotness of other summers... I'm not going to wade too deep into that. The only thing I will say is that, from a male perspective, the firm throughout all its offices seemed to have snagged more than a fair share of attractive people. :D

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Mon Jun 25, 2007 4:13 am

A five star resort hotel + full body massage + access to all amenities + food and drinks on the firm's tab + dinner at a top-rated restaurant + selection of fine wines = unequivocal bliss. This must be the pinnacle of the summer.

Errr... before I continue reliving the experience in my mind, back to more work related things.

The Attorneys

Every firm has its share of difficult lawyers, but thankfully there are only a few of them in my office. From what I've heard, some other firms in the area have a higher concentration of jackasses. However, this is only hearsay and not admissible in court (0Ls: this could be a useful legal rule for civ pro). If you are dying to know what firms I've heard about, PM me.

The junior associates are all really nice people. They are only 1-2 years out of law school, so they understand your plight very well. Most of them summered at the office during law school and accepted the offer at the end (a few transferred from another office or firm). They show up the most frequently at social events and are the most willing to talk to you candidly about everything you've ever wanted to know about the firm. It's almost as if they were an extension of the summer class. As supervising attorneys, the juniors usually explain the assignment clearly, are very forgiving of mistakes and missed deadlines, and give you a lot of feedback. Most often, they received an assignment from a partner and broke off a smaller chunk to hand to a summer (which means that most times the assignment is not high priority). A good junior will help you make a good impression on the partner, who ultimately is the recipient of your work. Overall, the juniors contribute a lot to my enjoyment of the firm. I definitely suggest that you befriend some juniors while you summer.

The mid-level associates are teetering between the learning phase of the juniors and the responsibility phase of the seniors. They are at a point where they are starting to play big roles and so must focus on what they have to do. It's interesting to see them trying to become good at what they're doing while still trying to maintain an air of care-free demeanor like the juniors. They are still a lot of fun to hang around with during social events, but as supervising attorneys you have to be more serious than with a junior. The deadlines are more solid and the assignments may not be clearly explained at first (always ask if you are confused!). They do usually give good feedback and aren't too worried about mistakes. They are charged with larger assignments than the juniors, and so assignments coming from them are generally more important. They are basically looking for someone to help them complete it, so you get more experience but are under greater pressure to get it right. In the work context, mid-levels may be a little intimidating, but are still quite easy to befriend outside the office.

The senior associates are for the most part committed to the partnership track. They are very good at their particular practice area, and are in effect partners-in-waiting. They are very willing to mentor us summers and are genuinely nice people. However, their intensity while at work may be intimidating. At this point, they are trying to prove they have what it takes to make partner, so they can get pretty aggressive on their assignments. This may spill over to their interactions with you when they are the supervising attorney. It's not too bad, as it is tempered by their propensity to be a good mentor to us (one explanation for this is that they are grooming us to be their go-to juniors once we graduate and hopefully join the firm). Just remember to always ask questions when you are unsure. The work coming from them varies in importance. Sometimes, they may give you a small assignment and rely on you to get it right. Other times, they will give you a more substantive assignment but monitor you with close scrutiny. Either way, you must take these assignments seriously because the seniors are serious about the work.

None of the associates in my office, no matter what their seniority, are jackasses or back-stabbers. They are very cooperative and support each other, which makes for a healthy office environment. One thing I should mention is that you should try to identify who the superstar associates are - the rainmakers who will undoubtedly make partner. Try to get assignments from them. You will learn more, and also build a bond with someone who will one day be very influential within the firm. This does not mean you should ignore the less stellar associates - treat everyone with respect. But part of the law firm game is the connections you make, so keep that in mind.

The partners cover a wide spectrum of personalities. Some are very jovial and friendly, very willing to share stories and knowledge. Others are friendly but have a no-nonsense demeanor about them while at work (kind of a Jekyll and Hyde situation). Some are reclusive and spend most of their time in their office. A few are jerks. In my office, there are two so-called difficult partners. One of them, I think, is a bit socially awkward and so doesn't realize his words and behavior may sometimes be intimidating or belittling. The other is a classic "yeller" - conceited, short-tempered, and impatient. The yeller picked one unfortunate summer to take under his wing (i.e. victimize). The summer said that it was very rough and grueling at first but over time the yeller began to respect the summer. Luckily, I haven't worked for either... yet.

Assignments from partners must be taken the most seriously. When you are working with a partner and an associate on the same assignment, the partner's opinion always controls. It becomes difficult when you believe that the partner is wrong about something. Don't ever disregard an order from a partner that you disagree with (unless that order violates an ethical rule). You are probably best off just mentioning what your opinion is and presenting a polished memo to back you up. Hopefully, the partner will reconsider their position based on your work. Use the associates to help you deal with partners if you're unsure of what do to. Partners may assume that you have a certain level of knowledge when in reality you don't, so it is imperative that you make sure you understand the assignment from the outset rather than flailing around uselessly for a while before coming back to the partner asking for clarification.

I make it sound like dealing with partners is tricky, and it's the truth. No matter how friendly the partner is, there is always some level of intimidation when you walk into their office. The fact is that compared to them, you know absolutely squat. However, this does not mean you should become a spineless push-over. You must walk a fine line here - you have to project confidence in your knowledge and abilities but still yield to their authority. The partners won't have confidence in you if you don't have confidence in yourself.

This post is probably confusing to read. This is because it deals with human interactions, which cannot be easily classified and dealt with. Each firm and each office has a different social environment. What I've said is based on what I've gleamed from my office. Hopefully some of it is generalizable so that it can help you in whatever work environment you end up in. Still, the best thing to do is to sharpen your social skills to better navigate the waters of firm life.

What's next? Well, if I have my mid-summer review session this week, I'll blog about that. Otherwise... I'm open to suggestions.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Sun Jul 01, 2007 4:28 am

Well, apparently even though officially we were supposed to have mid-summer reviews, my office is too informal to do such things, so... yeah. No one has given me any negative feedback, so I hope that's a good sign.

I got my grades back a little while ago. I just missed being in the top 10% (d'oh!), which means I don't get that little scholarship thingy to put on my resume. Ah well, I'm counting on this SA job to get the vote of confidence from employers. Which reminds me... OCI is starting up soon. Need to revise my resume. And I'm still waiting for word about law review.

Oh, yeah... 0Ls... your Constitutional Law class just got harder thanks to the recent rash of SCOTUS decisions. You guys are gonna have a lot of fun with free speech and equal protection.

The Difference between Law School and a Law Firm

So, I figure I might as well say something about what a law school teaches you about working in a law firm. The answer is... not much. Now, I'm only a 1L so I've only taken the basic courses, but the 2Ls are almost as clueless as I am.

Law school is good for teaching you the basics of law and getting the terminology right ("terms of art" as we like to call them). We learn stuff like what complaints and motions are, what a reasonability test means in different contexts, the propensity for courts to use either a bright-line rule or a balancing test, and the elements of basic legal claims. Analogizing to sports, law school is good for learning the rules of the game. At a law firm, you learn how to actually play the game and get good at it. It's the difference between a spectator and a player.

Most of the time, the assignments you'll get at a law firm will be about something you've never even heard of in law school. But, without the background knowledge law school provides, you have no context to help you start solving the problem. For example, let's say a partner wants you to research whether a particular doctrine can be used to knock out a case before it reaches trial (e.g. at summary judgment). You don't know the doctrine, so you'll need to do extensive research about what it is and how courts have used it. However, if you don't know what summary judgment is (you learn it in civ pro), then you have no idea how strong your argument must be to succeed at summary judgment. Thus law school does not provide you the answer to the problem, but rather the framework necessary to solve the problem.

This is where the legal writing and research (LWR) class comes in. Yes, it's only 1 credit and it's annoying as hell, but it's actually the most useful class. It teaches you how to write a proper memo, how to cite properly (Bluebook!), and what type of arguments are good to make and what aren't. It also lets you practice your legal written and oral communication skills, which is a bit different from normal communication. For example, I'm working on a legal memo right now. The partner completely trashed my first draft, but because of LWR I could understand what his criticisms were and how I could go about fixing them. So do yourselves all a big favor (especially if you're going to be a litigator) and put some effort into LWR. You won't regret it.

Law school does not teach you some other key things: how to network and how to get and keep clients. Admittedly, these are hard things to teach and you will most likely learn them on the job. Client development is usually done by senior associates and partners, so it's best just to watch them in action. Networking is just useful all around, whether it be for getting clients or searching for a new job. Still, it would be nice for law schools to give us a little heads up about what life is like in the professional world.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

A couple of us summers got to talking about end-of-summer offers. This is because we're undergoing some transition right now - a new summer just joined, and another one is leaving to split with another office. As much as we sweat about performing well enough to get those offers, we realized the firm is sweating about whether we'll accept the offers. The job search was mainly about us convincing them to hire us, while the summer is mainly about them convincing us to stay and work for them. Hence the wining and dining.

The rule of thumb is that an offer is ours to lose. It's true, considering on average over 90% of SAs are given offers by their firms. In order not to get an offer, you must do something spectacularly bad. For example (stories I've heard), getting drunk and stripping down to your underwear will not get you an offer. Getting drunk and hitting on the partner's wife will not get you an offer. Insulting a client will not get you an offer. Acting like a jackass and sabotaging other people will not get you an offer. Ordering bottles of Cristal on the firm's tab may not get you an offer (we'll see how that pans out by the end of the summer).

So, now that the ball is pretty much in our court, we tried to figure out which of us will likely accept offers. Statistically, a SA who splits between two firms will almost always pick the first firm (that's why many firms insist on being first if you split, or don't allow splitting). Also, students who are SAs in both 1L and 2L usually do not end up picking their 1L firm. Those stats put a few of us, including me, into the question mark category. As for the rest, it seems likely that they will all accept the offer. No one has expressed any major dissatisfaction about their experience. Although there are things that each of us dislike, it's probably not enough to make any of them reject the offer and start the job search over again. I suppose lateraling to other firms is the best way to switch if you're ultimately dissatisfied with the firm.

As for me, I will likely get an offer to come back next year (knock on wood). It will probably not have any strings attached (e.g. work for us again or else we won't give you a permanent job offer). At most, they'll ask me to summer with them for a couple weeks next year. If I can, I'll try to go to another office of the firm for 3-4 weeks next summer (perhaps NY). I have pretty much made up my mind to try something on the east coast. And perhaps I'll try an IP boutique instead of a general practice firm. I have absolutely no idea whether I'll pick my 2L firm over this one, but the firm is doing a very good job at convincing me that California is the state I want to practice in. And I really enjoy my fellow summers, so I would love to work with them again.

That's it for now. Next time I'll describe what a typical day at work is like and what my billing hours look like.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Sat Jul 07, 2007 1:53 am

Thanks to all who sent me messages of encouragement. I enjoy writing this blog, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

I hardly got any work done this week... social events on Tuesday and Friday, plus a holiday on Wednesday. I actually brought some work home with me... I want to get my current assignments out of the way so I can move on to new ones.

A Typical Day

I usually get to the office between 9 - 10 am. My office doesn't care when you arrive and when you leave, as long as you're putting in the hours. Some attorneys (and summers) come early and leave early, while others come late and leave late. Some attorneys work weekends in lieu of longer weekdays. A few summers have needed to come in on the weekends, but that doesn't happen often. One of my roommates works at a firm that asks him to come in by 9 am, but I don't think they're really strict about it since he's left late a couple times.

Anyways, the first thing I do is check my e-mail (work + personal) and do a quick scan of the news. Then I get started on whatever assignments I have. For me, this has included things like prior art searches, talking with clients about their invention, drafting and revising patent applications / legal memos, meetings with attorneys and clients, and legal research. I try to focus on one thing at a time, but sometimes I get interrupted and must switch gears to another project. I don't like that because it makes tracking my billing harder (see below).

I have to track how much time I bill for each client and each project. Some projects are billed at 1/4 of an hour, while others at 1/10 of an hour (patent prosecution falls under the shorter time span). I don't keep meticulous track of my time, but some of the other summers do. Basically, just before lunch and just before the end of the day, I estimate how much time I spent doing what and record it in a spreadsheet. At the end of the week, I enter my official billing into the firm's system.

I usually work on 2-3 assignments during the course of one day. I switch between assignments whenever I hit a roadblock (e.g. I need input from a client/attorney), I complete it, or if I just need a break from it (stepping away from a patent for a while can give you fresh ideas). Most of the time, I have enough to fill up the whole day, but there have been times where work has been slow (no new assignments, or waiting for people to get back to me) and I end up surfing the net. Actually, some of the attorneys tell us to just go home if it's close to the end of the day and no new work is coming. I also have times where I am super focused and times where I am very easily distracted, so that affects how long it takes me to finish the assignment. I can IM other summers through the firm's network, which also affects my productivity.

Lunch usually starts 12 - 1 pm and lasts 1-2 hours depending on what the circumstances of lunch are (lunches outside tend to last longer than lunches in the office). I usually leave work around 7 pm. Some summers leave earlier, and none of us normally stays past 8 pm. The attorneys leave at random hours. I believe some of them leave the office earlier to work at home, probably due to family responsibilities (the attorneys in my office are reproducing like rabbits). The attorneys usually all leave by 10 pm, unless there's an imminent deadline.

I bill an average of 9 hours a day, resulting in about 45 hours a week. The billing hours include work on assignments, training events, organized social events, lunch with attorneys, and non-billable firm work (e.g. talking with mentor associate). The billing hours do not include time I waste surfing the net, time chatting with summers/secretaries/paralegals, lunches where no attorney is present, and other random stuff that isn't connected with the firm (e.g. personal errands). On average, I cannot bill 1-1.5 hours of the time I'm in the office. Social events, as mentioned before, are completely billable no matter how long it is. An event that starts at 2 pm and ends at 11 pm counts as 9 billing hours, thus inflating my billing time a lot. I would estimate only 30 hours a week are actually spent on assignments.

The supervising attorneys see how much time we've billed on their assignment. I do not know how much of it they bill to the client. I would imagine that in patent prosecution, most of my "billable hours" are actually billable to the client because I'm working on a patent that will be filed, and the attorney is only proofing my work. In litigation, you can spend 20 hours on a legal memo, and have only a paragraph or two of that memo actually make it into a brief or client letter. Thus the attorney would scale the actual billable hours down to reflect the fraction of the finished work you contributed to.

I believe that I have been billing less than many of the other summers. Since patent prosecution is highly predictable, I can measure out my time easily. The other summers have more sporadic schedules, with some longer down-times and some crazy busy periods. Like I said before, it's the nature of the beast that determines what hours you work.

Not much else to say for now, but you'll want to tune in for my next post: the work/life balance of the attorneys and what a big law salary can buy you (partners, they be ballin').

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Thu Jul 12, 2007 5:21 am

I'm about 2/3 of the way through the SA program and I wish it would never end. I'm getting notices about tuition and books for next year but I seriously don't want to think about it. I don't know how I can go back to vending machine food after eating at Chez Panisse over the weekend (if you're ever in Berkeley, look for it... it's amazing).

For this post, I will hit a couple other subjects in addition to what I promised last time...

Pro Bono

Unfortunately, my office does not emphasize pro bono opportunities and they are not easily available to work on. Two of the summers managed to get on a pro bono case only because one of the associates personally invited them. The good thing is that we won that case for the client. I really would like to take a break from helping corporations make more money, but I suspect there just aren't as many pro bono opportunities in a place like the Valley. I do know that a couple of the attorneys do volunteer work with various organizations. One partner goes to Africa each year to do... something good, although I'm not sure exactly what.

Partnerships and Exit Options

During a lunch with some of the attorneys, they started talking about what to expect as we progress through a firm career. First, the partnership track is a bitch to get on. At my firm, it's now about 9 years. We operate on a one-tier partnership, but others operate on a two-tier one (equity and non-equity partners). At those places, it's nearly impossible to make equity partner. One well known international firm made 2 equity partners last year. That's ridiculous. The number of non-equity partners and fudge positions like Of Counsel are increasing dramatically. The equity partners have a hankering to protect their PPP, and this is what results.

Some people stay on, even though making equity partner will never happen. Others lateral in hopes of making partner, while yet others defect to in-house positions, the government, or non-profits. Going in-house is not all that peachy, according to the attorneys. They said you need to either get a senior in-house position or join the company in its start-up phase. If you go in-house as a junior or mid-level associate, your superiors will heap all the boring crap onto you, basically turning you into a paralegal. And in-house positions don't emphasize the law as much as the business aspect, meaning you lose your edge as a true lawyer.

The attorneys also say that corporate lawyers tend to have the hardest time finding work if they end up on the receiving end of a pink slip from their firms. The majority of attorneys are corporate attorneys, meaning that the market is flooded with them. A downturn in the economy is bad news since employers can become very choosy. Niche lawyers like IP and tax tend to fare better since demand usually exceeds supply.

Work/Life Balance

The attorneys here work hard, but they still have enough time to do what they enjoy. And many have families to take care of. Most of the attorneys are married and with kids. Of the non-married ones, most of them are in serious relationships. I would guess that only 5-10% of the attorneys are single. Only one partner is single (a junior partner at that). However, I think almost all of the non-single attorneys met their significant others before working for big law. The office is very flexible in accommodating parental responsibilities. Occasionally I see a toddler running around pretending to be a summer. Like I mentioned in previous posts, attorneys are free to leave early and work at home in order to spend time with family.

For a non-lawyer, planning activities with lawyers can get really frustrating. Due to the high unpredictability of the job, plans change, are canceled, are reinstated, and changed again all within the span of a day. For many of the social events, the attorneys frequently drop out or join in at a moment's notice. I imagine this is what happens in their personal lives as well. Although their schedules are very amorphous, sooner or later they do get a break to just chill and have fun (usually revolving around physical activities or hobbies). A majority of the lawyers maintain some semblance of physical fitness, with a few actually being quite dedicated to exercising.

Vacations are normal in this office, and lately many of the attorneys have taken some time off work (usually around a week). However, even on vacation they are connected to work. One attorney answered my e-mails while he was on vacation with his wife and kid. And when the attorneys return, they are swamped by all the stuff they put on hold. The conclusion seems to be that vacations just aren't as fun when you're a lawyer. When I was working before going to law school, taking a vacation was very refreshing... absolutely no contact with the company during vacation, and no pressure to work extra hours when I got back.

P-I-M-P

So, what can big law attorneys afford? Well, it depends. First, student loans need to be repaid. Second, once a baby arrives the college fund must start. Third, the housing market in the Valley is extremely expensive, meaning that it takes a while to be able to buy a house. In the meantime, attorneys usually go for cars. BMWs are the standard, with some of the flashier attorneys going for convertibles. A Porsche here, a Z3 there... the parking lot is nice to admire. No one has a ridiculously expensive car - that's the realm of venture capitalists (I've walked through a VC parking lot and... holy crap!).

Besides cars, what is there? Well, wine for one. One partner has 2000+ bottles of wine that he keeps in a mammoth wine cellar. Some are connoisseurs of fine food (it's interesting when they recommend places like French Laundry... uh yeah, no problem for a law student to afford...). Some take up expensive hobbies like flying planes. When on vacation, high-end hotels and good restaurants are the norm. As for clothing and accessories... I am not a good judge of brands and expensiveness. However, it's definitely not an Armani office. The attorneys dress for comfort, not for the cover of Vogue.

And, of course, houses once you're rich enough (which is probably at the senior associate level). One partner is actually building his dream house in a well-to-do area of San Francisco. We went to another partner's house for dinner one time. All I can say is... wow. It wasn't over-the-top decadent like celebrity houses. Instead, the design and decoration was subtle, tasteful, and stylish. I could have spent all night admiring the bathroom. The house included a multi-level patio, an outdoor whirlpool, a fully equipped kitchen, and an extensive garden. Yes folks, this could all be yours for about $5 million. Better start saving...

All in all, the attorneys are not extravagant with their money. Firstly, it actually doesn't go too far in the Valley. Secondly they seem like the fiscally responsible types who invest, build up their 401Ks, and buy high-end but practical goods.

What's next? I'll probably give my opinion on the down-sides of the firm and the associate life.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Wed Jul 18, 2007 4:18 am

Work has slowed down again, so now my time is spent obsessing about OCI... I'm trying to figure out the optimal number of jobs to bid for. I don't want to go on a bajillion interviews, but I also don't want to be left high and dry.

Oh, I didn't make law review, but I did get on one of the other journals my school publishes.
Down-side: the prestige-whore in me is sad
Up-side: far less work, and the journal topic actually interests me
It's fine though... law firms generally don't care what journal you got on, only that you are on one.

The Seedy Underbelly of BIGLAW

Well, what do I have to say about the down-sides of law firm life? First up is the universal complaint - hours. Even at my laid-back office the attorneys work long and hard. I can only imagine the hours NY lawyers keep. Depending on the practice area, the job can introduce a lot of chaos and cancellations into your life. And some partners really do not respect the sanctity of sleep and vacations. But I suppose that is expected of a job that pays so much. I am making almost 4 times what I made at my pre-law job, so it's not reasonable for me to expect the same 40 hour work week I had before. I suspect the average associate work week here is around 70 hours, but I have not confirmed that. Bottom line is that if you can't stand the hours, then big law is not for you.

The second problem: advancement. I've already talked about this in the last post, but it bears mentioning again. The partnership track is growing longer every day. You can invest 10 hard years in a law firm and end up with nothing more than a pat on the back. The selection process is not always meritocratic and may seem like a "old-boys club." Some firms have a dearth of mid-level associates because they all bailed once they realized they wouldn't make partner. With such bleak prospects, many lawyers are seeking alternatives: in-house, shopping for a firm with better prospects, or starting a firm themselves. As for me, I do not yet know what to do in the long term. If for some reason I end up with a favorable partnership prospect, I'll probably take it, but I am not expecting that to happen.

Third: training. This isn't too bad of a problem at my firm because I am satisfied with the formal and informal training available. However, at times it may feel like "sink or swim." Some firms are definitely better than others in this respect, so it's something to watch out for when selecting a firm.

Fourth: diversity. My office is really lacking in this respect. The gender diversity is good, but not the racial diversity. It could just be that the Silicon Valley demographic skews white and asian, but there are no black attorneys here and only one latino attorney. Firm-wide, I think we are a little below average in terms of racial diversity. You may have different opinions on the importance of diversity, but for me it's just more fun to work in a diverse environment. It really does bridge gaps and build understanding.

Fifth: personal morals. I personally do not like some of the clients that our firm represents and some of the legal positions we have argued on behalf of those clients. At the same time, there are some clients which I do like and I am happy that we are helping them. This then becomes an exercise in moral compromise: does my perceived "wrongness" of some of the firm's work outweigh my perceived "rightness" of other work? And even if I disagreed, I have no power to stop things I dislike from happening. It turns out that it's actually very easy to tune that stuff out unless it's shoved in your face. So, yeah, I basically ignore grievances brought up by my conscience because (thankfully) I am not working on those offending cases. I am not particularly activist, but on occasion I get those "I sold out" thoughts. Gotta love the gray areas of life, huh?

I'm sure that there are other downsides that I am overlooking, but those are the ones that come to mind. If you have other concerns about firm life, feel free to ask me... just don't expect any transcendent insights.

Next on tap: some funny/interesting stories from the office

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Tue Jul 24, 2007 4:31 am

I'm in the midst of course selection right now. So far, I have a pretty sweet schedule... no classes on Friday for both semesters! The only annoying thing is that the 3Ls filled up the most interesting classes and the ones with the best profs. I guess I have to wait until next year to take them.

I have 26 bids up right now for OCI... that sounds like a lot, but I can always decline some screening interviews if there's too many. I estimate 15-20 of them will select me, and I might get a couple more through the lottery.

Now, for the stories...

- I've heard a little bit about a former junior associate who quit a little while ago. Apparently he was quite the character. One of the stories was that he sometimes went to his car to smoke weed. Of course, everyone knew what he was doing because he'd return smelling like an Amsterdam coffee house. In another story, while he was at a fancy restaurant, he picked up a bowl of soup and started slurping it with his mouth. I also heard he quit right after receiving his year-end bonus... which didn't go over too well with the managing partner.

- Speaking of former associates, a senior associate also left before the summer and it was a great relief to everyone in the office. This associate was apparently very high strung and micro-managed everything. And there's a hushed rumor that the associate got a little loose-lipped at the Christmas party and said some... things. Very mysterious.

- During one of the social events, one of the summers (not me!) ended up in a changing room with two partners. The partners were both naked and shooting the breeze with each other... and the summer. This particular summer is very uncomfortable with nudity, so he was trying to avoid eye-to-member contact at all costs. He said it was one of the most awkward conversations he's ever experienced.

- Another summer got stuck in some meeting with another firm that was going to last well into the night. When one of our associates suggested that she go home, an attorney from the other firm said something like "If she was one of our summer associates, she'd stay here until it was done." Who was the other firm? Let's just say that they take pride in their sweat-shoppiness.

- I heard from a female summer that one of the male summers has a crush on another female summer but she wouldn't tell me who the guy was (apparently, it's pretty obvious). Since then, I've been trying to figure out who the undercover lovebird is. I've narrowed it down to two of them, but I can't conclusively determine the culprit. Either I really suck at noticing these things, or both of them might be crushing on her.... oooh, love triangle...

- The same female summer from above also said that one of the male summers and a female summer from another office were really into each other. That's when I pointed out that they were classmates... and that the female summer was a lesbian.

- I seriously think there's a fertility drug in the coffee at my office. There's been around 8 babies that were born or conceived by various people in the office so far this year. And we're a small office. Apparently sex is the preferred biglaw stress relief.

- Now for an embarrassing story from yours truly. During one social event, I was drinking some beer but wasn't feeling buzzed from it. I continued drinking and it was all fine. Then when dinner rolled around I ordered a little bit of hard liquor... which sent me over the edge in a hard way. I knew I was at a firm event, so I tried to stay put and hope it would pass. Unfortunately, a partner sat beside me and asked me something about a case I was working on. I fielded some of his questions, but after the partner kept asking me questions (and this is where another summer filled in the blanks for me) I apparently said something like "I'm kinda drunk right now, and I can't really feel my hands." Thankfully, the partner took it in stride.

- On the first day we had to watch some videos, including a sexual harassment in the workplace video made in the early 80's. It was so cheesy that it probably resulted in the opposite of its intended effect. Now every time something can be sexually construed, we construe it as such and then berate each other to "remember the video." But it sounds like a certain summer at Katten Muchin should have viewed that video.

- One of the summers said that he hated the firm he summered at last year. Of all the bad stories he told, this one was the most ridiculous: the office he was at had a tradition where new hires (including summers) had to skip around the conference room while the attorneys sang and clapped their hands. I'm not making this up. And this was at a V50 firm, which goes to show that rankings aren't everything.

- One of the attorneys told me a story about a previous firm he worked at. One summer night, a newly minted partner took some summers out for dinner. After the free flow of alcohol, the partner somehow finagled two female summers back to his place for some inappropriateness. The kicker was that one of those summers was dating an associate at the same office. When the firm got wind of this (rather quickly), the partner was booted. And incredibly the associate and summer did not break up over this. There's probably a moral to this story, but right now I'm envisioning the ensuing Jerry Springer episode... "My sugardaddy is your boss."

I have some other stories, but I don't want to disclose too much. Yeah, that's right, I'm protecting myself from liability. One day soon you'll start doing the same. It's what lawyers are best at.

What's next? I'll talk a bit about the law firm hiring process.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Sun Jul 29, 2007 1:54 am

My last week as an summer associate is approaching. As much as I don't want it to end, I realize I've been living in a bubble recently. I need to switch the wine and cheese for casebooks and cheap burritos.

Hiring Next Year's Summer Class

The recruiting people are already starting to gear up for fall OCI. Our office is trying to expand, so they're aiming for around the name number of summers for next year (which is double the number they had last year). They're organizing which attorneys go to which schools. Many of the attorneys sent out to conduct OCI interviews are alumni of the school, usually a law alum but occasionally an undergrad or grad alum. They're quite eager to go back and recruit from their schools, seeing it as a way to give back to the school. Unfortunately, this also means that if very few or no attorneys are from a certain school, there is usually no recruiting activity at that school. I suggest, if you are looking for firms independently, to focus on alumni. They are usually willing to help someone from their alma mater. One of the summers here contacted a partner who went to the same undergrad and was able to parlay that into an offer.

I've heard comments from some of the attorneys that OCI interviewing is all a big blur. When you talk to about 20 people a day for 20-30 minutes each, memories tend to bleed into each other and they get confused about who said what. Many times the same questions or answers are uttered by both parties in the interview. Therefore, the attorneys still rely on the resumes to differentiate people and jog their memory. This means that if your resume is only so-so, you better hope that you made a memorable impression during the interview. Otherwise, they will easily forget you as a "nice person" but without anything impressive. It's just a fact of life that those with better credentials have a lower bar to jump at the interview stage.

After the interviews, the attorney makes recommendations to the hiring committee about which students to call back. The hiring committee collects the recommendations from all interviewing attorneys and makes the ultimate decision on callbacks. Unless the attorney you interviewed with is on the hiring committee, someone who never met you will make the decision of whether to give you another interview. Thus the hiring committee will still rely heavily on the resume and transcript, but will also factor in attorney comments. One associate I spoke with revealed that she had two recommendation levels. For the few students she especially likes, she will advocate strenuously for them. Then she has a "they're pretty cool too" level of recommendation. The attorneys I've talked to say that the most of people they liked the best had received callbacks. This is probably because a lot of the interviewing attorneys were on the hiring committee.

The callback interview occurs at the office and normally consists of 1/2 hours interviews with around 5-6 attorneys, and possibly a meal at the end. So one interview lasts half a day. This means you should not go on too many callbacks. It takes up a huge amount of time and energy. Some schools give 2Ls one week off from classes just to fly around, interview, and rest. The OCI interviewers plus many other attorneys usually participate in the callbacks. Some attorneys treat these interviews as nice breaks to chat and get to know you. Others aren't as excited, viewing it as an annoying distraction from their real work. Obviously, most firms try not to include asshole attorneys in this process, but sometimes you will end up sitting in front of one. That is a very effective way of turning students away from the firm.

After the callbacks have occurred, the hiring committee reconvenes and collects input from all the interviewing attorneys. Then they embark on the mysterious process of selecting offers. I don't know how they go about this, but I suspect there's a bit of haggling involved as each one has their favorites. They normally have their first round of offers ready two weeks after the end of callbacks (it might be longer for larger offices). Those offers are sent out and the students have a short time (I had two weeks) to accept. Once the responses roll in, the second round of offers are made. This process continues until the summer slots are all filled. The 1Ls start flooding firms with resumes on Dec. 1, which I think is around the same time as the end of the second round (this is a really rough estimate). Depending on the number of open slots at that point, the firm may start sifting through the 1L applications. Some firms may proceed with a third round of offers while simultaneously interviewing 1Ls. Others may simply focus on the 1Ls. At this point in time, most 2Ls have accepted an offer somewhere, so it becomes hard to find available 2Ls through the OCI roster. The 1Ls also receive competition from 2Ls who were not successful in OCI and start applying independently to firms.

Of course, the hiring process operates differently at other firms and offices. The hiring partner told me that one student wanted to split with this office and another one. The partner had already accepted him into this office, but the other office rejected him because his grades weren't up to snuff. The student ended up picking another firm. That just goes to show that you should not expect uniformity in hiring among different offices of a firm.

The details of the OCI system varies by school. Students bid on employers, usually through some sort of electronic system. First round interview selection can be completely at the firm's discretion, or a percentage of the interviews are alloted through a lottery process. In a lottery, students rank the firms. The school has some sort of algorithm that gives interviews to students based on the rankings and on how many interviews they were already selected for. For example, a person who is successful on 21/22 of his/her bids will probably not receive a lottery slot for the last firm. Another person with a 4/29 success rate would be awarded some lottery slots. Based on different school policies, employers and students may or may not know which students are slotted by lottery.

Lastly, in many schools OCI accounts for less than half of all 2L summer jobs (of course, at the top schools the percentage increases). Therefore, people need to have job search plans that extend beyond OCI. Even I, with a probable 2L offer and good credentials going into OCI, am thinking about backup plans. The boy scout motto is applicable here: always be prepared!

Coming soon: the end-of-summer performance review and closing ceremonies...

P.S. Go see the Simpsons movie. Now.

P.S.S. I finally figured out which male summer was crushing on the female summer. How did I do it? Through my amazing powers of deduction. And my eyes... I saw the other male summer with another girl.

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Mon Jul 30, 2007 3:32 pm

quick addendum to the last post...

I just overheard a conversation between two attorneys regarding a couple summer associate applicants. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop... the convo occurred in an adjacent office. Anyways, I only heard half of it because there's a printer outside my office and someone started to print a large document.

Anyways, the applicants in question were IP oriented. Some things I gathered from the convo:

- The attorneys were conscious about law school rankings. I heard the terms "tier 2" and "top 25" being thrown around (the former in a negative connotation, the latter in a positive connotation).

- As you might expect, they talked about law school grades. There was some distinction between "okay" versus "good" grades, but they didn't define what they considered good.

- Since this was an IP thing, they talked a lot about undergrad/grad work. They mentioned things like undergrad grades, the discipline that was studied, and the reputation of the school. So yeah, for IP people, your undergrad/grad matters!

- They talked about the impression that was made during the interview (I'm not sure when/how they met these people). Apparently, one applicant did not make a great impression (didn't seem enthusiastic) and they were concerned about his "fit" within the office, even though his credentials were impressive. One attorney remarked in regards to him "if he's borderline, I'd say no."

- Other random topics included why particular people went to law school, where they were likely to practice, and whether this office needed someone with that particular background.

Tantalizing stuff, huh? Sorry I can't report more. Damn printer!

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Fri Aug 03, 2007 6:53 pm

Correction: My previous post about law firm recruiting was a bit inaccurate. My school did not tell me this (thanks guys), but NALP has a set schedule for law students and law firms to follow when doing OCI. Offers can come quickly or slowly after the callback, but law students must whittle down whatever options they have as time goes on and finally select a firm by Dec. 1 (the same day 1Ls can start applying). So it wasn't the free-for-all that I described last time. Sorry for the misinformation.

This is the end
Beautiful [firm]
This is the end
My only [firm], the end

Of our elaborate [meals], the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No [golf] or [massages], the end
I'll never look into your [paychecks] again

Before I go too Morrison on you guys, we recently had our farewell event. The attorneys all told us we were an excellent class and it was sad to see us go (obviously, since they'd have to start doing their own work again). We had a big meal together at a restaurant, where many of the partners who were normally too busy managed to show up... and got plastered. Partners + too much wine = hilarity. Apparently, this year's summer class was a lot more staid than last year's... the attorneys were slightly disappointed that there were no crazy stories coming from us (unlike last year's infamous road trip...).

There was an implicit assumption that we'd all be getting offers during the farewell event. The hiring partner was fairly tight-lipped about it, but some of the partners were already like "We hope that you'll choose to stay with us." I'm writing this in my office right now, waiting for my performance review. But first I'm going to my last free lunch... :cry:

***A couple hours later***

I just got back from my review session with the hiring partner. Apparently, I got rave reviews from all of my supervising attorneys (especially the attorney I knew from beforehand, who was advocating hard on my behalf). And the moment you've all been waiting for (actually, only I've been waiting for this)...

I got an offer to come back next summer! They said that I could come back for a minimum of two weeks, and could go to any office. I have until Nov. 1 to give them an answer. The hiring partner said that I was great fit for this office and they would love to have me back. He also asked me about what I liked and didn't like about my summer experience.

So, now that I have the offer letter in hand (literally), it's off to a big good-bye happy hour.

My next and possibly last post: a reflection on my days as a summer associate

jhett
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:36 pm

Postby jhett » Thu Aug 09, 2007 2:21 am

Hey all,

Well, it's been a few days since the last day of work and I'm not in California anymore. It feels weird not going to the office and paying for all my food. More mundane tasks have taken over my life - getting textbooks, scheduling OCI interviews, moving apartments, etc.

If you couldn't already tell by reading all my posts, I definitely enjoyed my time as a summer associate at my firm. But it wasn't simply because I was pampered... all those frills can't hide a miserable work environment. I was pleasantly surprised by how collegial the office was. Besides a few bad apples, everyone was really fun to talk to and work with. Perhaps it was a combination of west coast culture and the newness and smallness of the office. Whatever it was, it was the people who made my experience so enjoyable. The attorneys all kicked ass in different ways. They did a good job at hiring attorneys that complemented each other.

The caliber of work was pretty good too. It can't be compared with New York work, but the innovation and fluidity of the Silicon Valley market provides lots of interesting projects. It also pays to be connected with one of the leading VC firms in the Valley. If you are concerned about the complexity and quality of work that you will be getting, pay attention to the clients of that particular office.

The work I was given was not always interesting, but it was in no way meaningless work. The patent attorneys unloaded some of their excess work onto me, but were able to have me work on some key patents and not just keep me busy with throwaway patents. I did a lot of legal research on the litigation side. Sometimes, it was like grasping at straws - researching unlikely arguments in the faint hope that it might actually work. However, it still felt good when I was able to uncover cases that markedly improved the strength of our argument. I know that the other summers were not merely doing busy-work, but had some important tasks to complete.

The workload varied quite a bit throughout the summer. The main cause of this was because there are double the number of summers this year than last but around the same number of attorneys. There just wasn't enough work to go around. The patent attorneys could have completely filled up my plate for the entire summer, but I wanted more variety. None of the summers could do what I did but I was competing with them for all the non-technical work. Unfortunately, not a lot could be done about this situation so I don't count this against them. And besides, as a junior associate I know I won't have a problem with having too little work.

I found the formal and informal training to be great. We had training seminars once a week on topics that are practiced in the office. It was a good opportunity for me to expand my knowledge beyond IP. The attorneys were also very willing to answer our questions, even though they were very busy. I felt well-supported because I could always find someone to help me out. None of the attorneys I worked with discouraged the asking of questions, but often times gave me more information than I was originally seeking.

The support staff was amazing. My secretary was always willing to go above and beyond what I ask her for, and it was fun to just drop by her desk to chat. The paralegals are really good at what they do and I knew I could count on them. The other members of the staff did a great job keeping the office running smoothly. Conferencing equipment was set up without hitches beforehand, supplies were always available, technical issues were quickly resolved, and food and drinks magically appeared wherever they were needed.

The social events were excellently planned. I didn't feel that there were too many or too few. The attorneys were vigorously encouraged to attend, and I think all of them managed to attend at least one event. When they didn't attend, it was due to work demands and not disdain for us (as the partner in charge once said, "These clients keep wanting us to do stuff."). These events were a great place to go beyond the professional facade and catch a glimpse of what the attorneys must have been like during law school. It's definitely the best aspect of being a summer associate. Hopefully most of you will be able to experience it at least once.

It seems the other summer associates were selected in large part based on personality, since they all fit the overall culture of the office. Just in case you were curious, they all received offers. I know that two of them accepted on the spot. The rest are leaning towards yes, but want time to mull it over. As for me, I will try to come back to the firm for the last couple weeks of next summer. This of course depends on what happens during OCI.

Did this experience give me a good idea about what it's like to work in a big law firm? Somewhat. I know that my perception will be clouded because summer associate programs are designed that way. But I'm a lot closer to understanding it than when the summer started. Ultimately, you don't really know until you do it. Nothing I've seen this summer has turned me off from the firm life, so as it stands now one day I'll be called a junior associate.

So, that's about it for me. I know that a lot of you will be starting law school in less than a month, so I want to wish you good luck. It'll be one hell of a year. And to those who will be applying to schools this coming cycle, shoot for the stars. As for me, I will enjoy a couple weeks off and then jump back into the game - journal, classes, OCI, and "bar reviews." And I am still available to answer questions if you have any to ask.

Good night and good luck.




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