Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

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Veyron
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Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:09 pm

Seems like in reality the larger and more sophisticated the case the more boring it is to work on as an associate. Has this been other bros experience as well?

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guano
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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby guano » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:20 pm

If a billion bucks is at stake, clients are willing to litigate cares where they only have a minimal chance of winning.

On a separate note, what's considered sophisticated? 99% of all cases are stuff that's been done before

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Veyron
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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:28 pm

In lit, any sort of case with precedental value or bellweather.

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guano
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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby guano » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:31 pm

Veyron wrote:In lit, any sort of case with precedental value or bellweather.

So, like, 1 case a year?

Typical cases aren't precedents or bellwether. Typical is nuts and bolts

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:38 pm

guano wrote:
Veyron wrote:In lit, any sort of case with precedental value or bellweather.

So, like, 1 case a year?

Typical cases aren't precedents or bellwether. Typical is nuts and bolts


Big firms often, maybe even usually, do precidental work if only because their cases are almost always resolved on appeal. Hence lots of doc review, and legal research, comparatively little of the fun stuff.

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guano
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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby guano » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:46 pm

Veyron wrote:
guano wrote:
Veyron wrote:In lit, any sort of case with precedental value or bellweather.

So, like, 1 case a year?

Typical cases aren't precedents or bellwether. Typical is nuts and bolts


Big firms often, maybe even usually, do precidental work if only because their cases are almost always resolved on appeal. Hence lots of doc review, and legal research, comparatively little of the fun stuff.

I stand corrected

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mr. wednesday
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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby mr. wednesday » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:52 pm

Even precedent-setting work doesn't mean fun or exciting. It just means some tiny detail somewhere, potentially procedural, hasn't been settled. Personally I'd prefer semi rote work with interesting facts or a really cool/well known client but I could see why people would dislike that.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Fri Nov 01, 2013 1:25 pm

To my mind neither is optimal. I'm finding that I prefer work where facts, not law, decide the case. in other words, your run-of-the-mill lawsuit. Also, those tend to be smaller cases with more potential to get ones hands dirty.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby bk1 » Fri Nov 01, 2013 1:30 pm

Veyron wrote:To my mind neither is optimal. I'm finding that I prefer work where facts, not law, decide the case. in other words, your run-of-the-mill lawsuit. Also, those tend to be smaller cases with more potential to get ones hands dirty.

I dunno, I think that facts are more important even in the suits that big firms handle.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Fri Nov 01, 2013 2:57 pm

Only at the trial lev. Facts are set in appeals.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby bk1 » Fri Nov 01, 2013 3:00 pm

Veyron wrote:Only at the trial lev. Facts are set in appeals.

But even large law firms don't handle a ton of appellate work. The vast majority of their work and the work that is handled by their associates is trial level litigation. On top of that, plenty of their suits settle meaning that the strength of the case (largely the facts, though also the law) is hugely important.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 01, 2013 3:02 pm

This question has too many moving parts to ever have a simple answer. It's not unusual to trust younger associates with (1) briefs on points you never really expected to win, or (2) the endless motion briefing that takes place before/during/after discovery. In either instance there's always a chance for an appeal, and even a chance the appeal will be precedential.

Let me give an example I'm familiar with.* Large industrial manufacturer (think GE/GM/Colgate-Palmolive) gets sued by a university that wants to assert a patent claim. For whatever reason, the patent was not asserted for years after its issue (close to a decade). A motion to dismiss is filed based upon a defense of laches because there is no explanation for the decade-long delay. In some circuits, laches is a reason to dismiss on 12(b)(6), but this is not being litigated in one of those circuits. As a result, the motion to dismiss is expected to fail, and the main event will be a summary judgment motion also based on laches.

Now, because the motion to dismiss is expected to fail, it gets farmed out to a younger associate (2nd/3rd year). It deals with an issue on which there is a legitimate circuit split, and so there is always an off chance it could give rise to a precedent-setting appeal. However, in all likelihood it will not be appealed, as the more likely course for the litigation in this circuit is 12(b)6 denied -> expedited hearing on MSJ for laches -> victory on the merits. The MSJ will be produced by a partner and more senior associates, and if there is an appeal it will likely be from the non-profit losing the MSJ instead of the 12(b)6.

So, how does this rate? It's a "big client" but it's hardly "sophisticated legal work" because laches doctrine is 1L stuff. Nonetheless, a younger associate is getting to write briefs (and maybe even give an oral argument) on behalf of a big client, so it's impossible to describe this situation as "nothing but mindless doc review." Adding more caveats, it's also a case brought by a university, this is Big Company v. Non-Profit, and not Big Company v. Big Company. In the latter sort of case the staffing is going to be larger because it's also Big Firm v. Big Firm and you can expect a greater load of letters/filings/pleadings that require responses than you would in a Big Company v. Non-profit situation. With a larger staff there's a smaller likelihood that any brief would be trusted to a more junior attorney, even if it's a brief you're not expected to win on.

With all of these moving pieces, it's impossible to just say "Big client = associates do doc review grunt work," or "Big client = sophisticated precedent setting work," because it's not just about the client, it's about the claim, the law of the circuit, the opposing party, etc.

* - Nothing in this post is intended to constitute legal advice or analysis, just casual observation of a hypothetical interpretation of the law.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Fri Nov 01, 2013 8:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:This question has too many moving parts to ever have a simple answer. It's not unusual to trust younger associates with (1) briefs on points you never really expected to win, or (2) the endless motion briefing that takes place before/during/after discovery. In either instance there's always a chance for an appeal, and even a chance the appeal will be precedential.

Let me give an example I'm familiar with.* Large industrial manufacturer (think GE/GM/Colgate-Palmolive) gets sued by a university that wants to assert a patent claim. For whatever reason, the patent was not asserted for years after its issue (close to a decade). A motion to dismiss is filed based upon a defense of laches because there is no explanation for the decade-long delay. In some circuits, laches is a reason to dismiss on 12(b)(6), but this is not being litigated in one of those circuits. As a result, the motion to dismiss is expected to fail, and the main event will be a summary judgment motion also based on laches.

Now, because the motion to dismiss is expected to fail, it gets farmed out to a younger associate (2nd/3rd year). It deals with an issue on which there is a legitimate circuit split, and so there is always an off chance it could give rise to a precedent-setting appeal. However, in all likelihood it will not be appealed, as the more likely course for the litigation in this circuit is 12(b)6 denied -> expedited hearing on MSJ for laches -> victory on the merits. The MSJ will be produced by a partner and more senior associates, and if there is an appeal it will likely be from the non-profit losing the MSJ instead of the 12(b)6.

So, how does this rate? It's a "big client" but it's hardly "sophisticated legal work" because laches doctrine is 1L stuff. Nonetheless, a younger associate is getting to write briefs (and maybe even give an oral argument) on behalf of a big client, so it's impossible to describe this situation as "nothing but mindless doc review." Adding more caveats, it's also a case brought by a university, this is Big Company v. Non-Profit, and not Big Company v. Big Company. In the latter sort of case the staffing is going to be larger because it's also Big Firm v. Big Firm and you can expect a greater load of letters/filings/pleadings that require responses than you would in a Big Company v. Non-profit situation. With a larger staff there's a smaller likelihood that any brief would be trusted to a more junior attorney, even if it's a brief you're not expected to win on.

With all of these moving pieces, it's impossible to just say "Big client = associates do doc review grunt work," or "Big client = sophisticated precedent setting work," because it's not just about the client, it's about the claim, the law of the circuit, the opposing party, etc.

* - Nothing in this post is intended to constitute legal advice or analysis, just casual observation of a hypothetical interpretation of the law.


Thanks. This is very useful and will help me pick cases (to the extent I can pick cases) going forward.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 01, 2013 9:01 pm

Doing transactional work at a top NYC firm, so I don't have any perspective, but I've worked on an enormous array of highly technical and complicated matters. My head spins pretty regularly, and I've heard clients gush at how impressed they are with the results and structures their lawyers come up with on tight deadlines.

On top of that, work hasn't been hogged at the top level at all. If anything, the "big firm = no early responsibility" schtick was the flame.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Lincoln » Fri Nov 01, 2013 10:09 pm

Veyron wrote:
guano wrote:
Veyron wrote:In lit, any sort of case with precedental value or bellweather.

So, like, 1 case a year?

Typical cases aren't precedents or bellwether. Typical is nuts and bolts


Big firms often, maybe even usually, do precidental work if only because their cases are almost always resolved on appeal. Hence lots of doc review, and legal research, comparatively little of the fun stuff.


To expand on some of the above, about 98% of all civil cases are disposed of before verdict through settlement, motions to dismiss, summary judgment, etc. Even firms that do a lot of trials (my firm does more than most) don't take their cases to trial and appeal "almost always".

As for the work, much of the milage in big cases comes from discovery these days. The biggest case my firm ever handled generated 66 million pages of documents, and we called over 800 witnesses at trial. Doing depositions and even witness prep can be really interesting and sometimes requires lots of legal research on interesting topics. The other day I identified a circuit split in a discovery issue that almost no secondary literature has discussed. The types of cases we handle are so sprawling that niche but interesting issues come up a lot, and because we have such big staffing and the clients are willing to pay for it, lots of research is done on those issues to see what tactical advantages can be gained, or just to exhaust every possibility.

Most cases at this level are very fact-heavy, and even where there aren't a lot of interesting legal issues, you have to tell an interesting story using the facts you have. That means selecting key exhibits supporting your theory of the case, choosing and interviewing or deposing witnesses that can corroborate your evidence and fill in the blanks, and choosing how to frame it all to tell a compelling story that can be understood by the trier of fact.

Now, as a jr associate, you will get shitty bitchwork: doc review, compiling chronologies, orders of proof, logistics, etc. But you also get to take on bigger roles and advise clients on key decisions with millions at stake (even if that advice often comes with the partner's name at the bottom) in types of cases you just don't get to see anywhere else. That's what I like about my job, at least.

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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Veyron » Sun Nov 03, 2013 12:20 pm

Lincoln wrote:
Veyron wrote:
guano wrote:
Veyron wrote:In lit, any sort of case with precedental value or bellweather.

So, like, 1 case a year?

Typical cases aren't precedents or bellwether. Typical is nuts and bolts


Big firms often, maybe even usually, do precidental work if only because their cases are almost always resolved on appeal. Hence lots of doc review, and legal research, comparatively little of the fun stuff.


To expand on some of the above, about 98% of all civil cases are disposed of before verdict through settlement, motions to dismiss, summary judgment, etc. Even firms that do a lot of trials (my firm does more than most) don't take their cases to trial and appeal "almost always".

As for the work, much of the milage in big cases comes from discovery these days. The biggest case my firm ever handled generated 66 million pages of documents, and we called over 800 witnesses at trial. Doing depositions and even witness prep can be really interesting and sometimes requires lots of legal research on interesting topics. The other day I identified a circuit split in a discovery issue that almost no secondary literature has discussed. The types of cases we handle are so sprawling that niche but interesting issues come up a lot, and because we have such big staffing and the clients are willing to pay for it, lots of research is done on those issues to see what tactical advantages can be gained, or just to exhaust every possibility.

Most cases at this level are very fact-heavy, and even where there aren't a lot of interesting legal issues, you have to tell an interesting story using the facts you have. That means selecting key exhibits supporting your theory of the case, choosing and interviewing or deposing witnesses that can corroborate your evidence and fill in the blanks, and choosing how to frame it all to tell a compelling story that can be understood by the trier of fact.

Now, as a jr associate, you will get shitty bitchwork: doc review, compiling chronologies, orders of proof, logistics, etc. But you also get to take on bigger roles and advise clients on key decisions with millions at stake (even if that advice often comes with the partner's name at the bottom) in types of cases you just don't get to see anywhere else. That's what I like about my job, at least.


But, I mean, are you really happier doing advice letters and orders of proof on a 1b case than you would be trying a 1m case. I know where I fall on that spectrum.

And, just as a side note, most civil cases never go to trial obvs but that doesn't mean that the appealed ones (or appeals from SJ) ones don't make up a disproportionate amount of biglaw practice.

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Lincoln
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Re: Are Big Clients and Sophisticated Legal Work Flame?

Postby Lincoln » Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:15 pm

Veyron wrote:But, I mean, are you really happier doing advice letters and orders of proof on a 1b case than you would be trying a 1m case. I know where I fall on that spectrum.

And, just as a side note, most civil cases never go to trial obvs but that doesn't mean that the appealed ones (or appeals from SJ) ones don't make up a disproportionate amount of biglaw practice.


You can choose to believe me or not, but appeals definitely make up a tiny amount of the amount of work done at my firm and at most BigLaw firms (excluding firms/DC offices specializing in appeals). My team is currently in the middle of two federal appeals, and the two combined still doesn't equal the work being done on discovery in preparation for next year's trial. Although many cases have issues that are appealed, it's just a tiny number of billable hours to draft the three briefs of an appeal compared to the work that goes into pre-trial and trial practice.

You're right that the size of the cases means nothing in and of itself; much of the work is basically the same. But no client litigating a $1M case will pay for a first-year spending two days researching an obscure privilege issue, so on smaller cases it just isn't done. And those kinds of assignment I find interesting. But to each his/her own. (Besides, if you want to do fact-based trial practice, rather than any of the things I described, I would recommend ADA/AUSA/PD work, not firm work.)

My point isn't that BigLaw makes you happier or is per definition more rewarding. I just tried to correct what I interpreted as your misconception of what being a junior BigLaw associate (which is what I am) is like.




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