Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

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Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 17, 2015 1:20 pm

I have a decent small-law job (8 attorneys, general civil practice) that I've been at since last August. I do get some interesting litigation work, but lately I've been getting bored with the shitty hand-me-down work (PI cases, drafting wills/land installment contracts, etc.).

I called my career services officer from law school and she recommended that I at least start thinking about applying to bigger firms in a nearby bigger secondary market. I asked her whether I even had a shot at that given my relatively modest credentials and lack of big law experience, but her main point was that I might as well try.

So here are my credentials:
-Graduated last year; top 25% at T1 Big Ten school (not UM or NW)
-CALI in Legal Writing and Appellate Advocacy (do these even matter anymore? Figured they might since I just graduated a year ago...)
-Note published in secondary journal
-Professional Experience: lots of hands-on litigation experience (drafted a lot of motions/pleadings/discovery, attended depos and trials, etc.), but haven't really been able to specialize in anything yet.

I recognize that none of the above is really that impressive, but does it make me at least competitive enough that I should at least apply to big firm jobs? In other words, should I even waste my time applying to the 15-20 bigger firms in my local secondary market?

If so, what should my gameplan be? And should I contact a recruiter here sooner or later?

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jbagelboy
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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby jbagelboy » Wed Jun 17, 2015 2:51 pm

I don't know about this trajectory explicitly, but it's definitely not impossible for a small/midlaw associate from a regional school to get picked up by a "biglaw" firm at some point. I worked in a secondary market office of a large biglaw firm last summer that had recently acquired several offices of smaller firms in the area. Of course when they absorbed those practices they hired the attorneys, even some more junior people, a number of whom had graduated from the local tier 2 schools. That's the most common way I've seen folks with regional JDs who didn't start in biglaw wind up in it.

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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 17, 2015 3:36 pm

It's not impossible, but it's extremely difficult. The only "small law" attorneys my V100 firm has interviewed have applied from federal clerkships (e.g. T1 law school -> small law -> flyover district clerkship). I think it's unlikely you'd get an interview merely by applying to a public posting, so you'd have to take additional steps like talk to grads from your law school, etc.

From my perspective, there are two main weaknesses to attorneys applying from small firms. First, their experience (PI cases, wills, etc.) often isn't relevant to what biglaw litigators do. I think you would absolutely need exposure to large document reviews and productions, e-discovery issues, business-related litigation issues, etc. Second, some of them don't appreciate that when your client is someone from the GC's office, who frequently has strong credentials and biglaw experience, it's critical that your work is perfect. For instance, my firm interviewed an attorney who had multiple citation errors in his writing sample (sloppy things like a missing parenthesis at one end), which was a motion he had drafted while at his small firm. That's fine for something filed in state court for a PI client, but unacceptable in biglaw. I think you would need to convey the impression that you have good attention to detail, that your work isn't sloppy, etc.

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minnbills
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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby minnbills » Wed Jun 17, 2015 3:43 pm

I don't think it's that uncommon, actually. There is definitely no set path though.

I know a guy who went from a TTTT to a small collections law firm to in-house counsel to partner at a big (200 attys) firm all in about 7 years out of law school.

You have to bring something to the table, fill a pressing need, etc.

I would say go to that small firm, be the best you can possibly be, and never stop hustling to move up.

seagan823
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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby seagan823 » Wed Jun 17, 2015 3:59 pm

I had a conversation with one of my old roommate's friends once that followed this path. He went to the University of Maine, took on debt to do it, and started out in a shitty firm. He moved from place to place, networked and ended up with working for a big firm in DC that represents Bank of America in disputes with delinquent home owners. Makes bank now, albeit expediting home foreclosures.

Blindly applying to places is a bad approach to find pretty much any job. Most people inside and outside of law network their way into the positions they want. Work hard to build a resume and try to meet as many people as possible until someone gives you the opening to ask for a shot.

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trebekismyhero
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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby trebekismyhero » Wed Jun 17, 2015 11:34 pm

^^I agree, at the large firm I am working at, I have met several people that came from smaller firms and were T1 law school grads. They either were filling a big need and/or had friends at the firm. I would reach out to your friends that went into big law in the area and ask them about hiring. A recruiter can also help.

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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jun 19, 2015 9:25 am

trebekismyhero wrote:^^I agree, at the large firm I am working at, I have met several people that came from smaller firms and were T1 law school grads. They either were filling a big need and/or had friends at the firm. I would reach out to your friends that went into big law in the area and ask them about hiring. A recruiter can also help.

OP here. Even if the friends are newly hired associates that have been there for less than a year?

gaddockteeg
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Re: Is It Impossible to Lateral from Small Law to Big Law w/o T14?

Postby gaddockteeg » Fri Jun 19, 2015 10:45 am

Anonymous User wrote:
trebekismyhero wrote:^^I agree, at the large firm I am working at, I have met several people that came from smaller firms and were T1 law school grads. They either were filling a big need and/or had friends at the firm. I would reach out to your friends that went into big law in the area and ask them about hiring. A recruiter can also help.

OP here. Even if the friends are newly hired associates that have been there for less than a year?


I think you're mistaken. You are nott just asking your friends to tell the firm to hire you. All your friends can really do is vouch for you when you apply for open position.

as a regular old lateral, you have zero shot at getting a job over Joe Bob who is lateraling from another big firm and who has better credentials (probably t14 and thus has more friends at the firm than you too). You have to specialize in the field that the position is asking for to give the XYZ firm a reason to choose you over Joe Bob.

Gameplan (assuming no a3 clerk down the line):
1.stay in contact with friends, and make new friends
2. you absolutely must specialize, not just at work. e.g. publish articles in the field too. A good goal is 1 article a year.
3. wait for an open position at X Y Z big firm in your field
4. apply to open position
5. tell friends there you applied

you can replace XYZ firm with a mid law firm too. Then wait and apply again to big law.

Anecdote: I tell this story a lot on this forum but a close friend went small-ish law to V20 with median grades at T20 after 3.5 years in employment law. It's almost kind of funny because he's in a hyper competitive market and almost all the other associate bios have awesome credentials. Then there's him.




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