Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

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masterherm

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Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby masterherm » Wed Aug 17, 2016 10:01 pm

Hi all,

Do you think law firm prestige (i.e., V50 vs. V10, or a Chambers Band 3 vs. a Band 1) affects the complexity of the work you'll be doing as an associate at the firm? Or is more of a function of how many partners are recognized practitioners in the field? I was looking through Chambers and couldn't find an explanation of their methodology for ranking different firms and practice areas.

Even if a "lower tier" firm has fewer notable practitioners, if it also has fewer associates in general in that office, is it reasonable to think it's a wash given you will likely have more access to those practitioners?

Another way to phrase this: if you take exit options out of the picture, what's the difference between a higher-ranked/more preftigious biglaw firm and another, which may be a smaller office with a better chance of making partner? Why else do people blindly follow the top firms, when there's actually greater competition and virtually nil chance of making partner there?

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NimChimpsky

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby NimChimpsky » Wed Aug 17, 2016 10:11 pm

Well, to begin with, I'd say that the majority of people who go into Biglaw don't do so with the idea that they will, or even have the desire to, be partner at the firm they start out with. You say "taking exit options off the table." Why would you do that?

masterherm

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby masterherm » Wed Aug 17, 2016 10:18 pm

Good point. I meant if you're looking at a big law firm as a final destination - which admittedly is a minority view. That said, if you want to just go to one firm, kick butt, stay there and make partner and that's your main goal... what's the argument to going to a more prestigious firm when the partnership odds are much lower, the lifestyle and stress is worse, and the pay is the same as a "lower ranked" firm with less competition? Is there anything I'm missing?

DCESQ

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby DCESQ » Wed Aug 17, 2016 10:37 pm

Rising 3L so take this for what it is worth but I don't believe there is a big distinction in the kind of work you're doing between say a band 1 or band 2 firm in a given practice area. The difference may be larger in a band 1 firm vs. band 4/5 firm. One way it was phrased to me by a litigator at the firm I summered at was this, "when billing rates are this high, the problem is sufficiently complex that the businesses in question are willing to pay for our services." Assuming that billing rates are comparable, the work should be somewhat similar. If you are talking about specific blue-chip clients (Apple, Google, etc.) then firm ranking may matter more but that is just a guess.

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NimChimpsky

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby NimChimpsky » Wed Aug 17, 2016 10:51 pm

masterherm wrote:Good point. I meant if you're looking at a big law firm as a final destination - which admittedly is a minority view. That said, if you want to just go to one firm, kick butt, stay there and make partner and that's your main goal... what's the argument to going to a more prestigious firm when the partnership odds are much lower, the lifestyle and stress is worse, and the pay is the same as a "lower ranked" firm with less competition? Is there anything I'm missing?


Is it true, though, that the partnership odds at big firms are necessarily lower? Some firms yes, some firms there's a decent enough shot. I can think of a number of reasons it would be harder at a smaller firm, actually: maybe the firm has its heart set on bringing in laterals for reputation/growth reasons, or maybe the smaller firm (and therefore a smaller, more monolithic cluster of existing partners) just doesn't want to share in the spoils and you're waiting til they're dead.

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby 84651846190 » Wed Aug 17, 2016 11:50 pm

NimChimpsky wrote:
masterherm wrote:Good point. I meant if you're looking at a big law firm as a final destination - which admittedly is a minority view. That said, if you want to just go to one firm, kick butt, stay there and make partner and that's your main goal... what's the argument to going to a more prestigious firm when the partnership odds are much lower, the lifestyle and stress is worse, and the pay is the same as a "lower ranked" firm with less competition? Is there anything I'm missing?


Is it true, though, that the partnership odds at big firms are necessarily lower? Some firms yes, some firms there's a decent enough shot. I can think of a number of reasons it would be harder at a smaller firm, actually: maybe the firm has its heart set on bringing in laterals for reputation/growth reasons, or maybe the smaller firm (and therefore a smaller, more monolithic cluster of existing partners) just doesn't want to share in the spoils and you're waiting til they're dead.


Look at the partnership to associate ratio, profits per partner, number of summer associates vs. juniors vs. midlevels, etc. to see which firms are winnowing a shitton of associates before they have a shot at becoming partner. I think it is fair to say that partnership prospects at larger firms are generally worse than prospects are smaller firms, though that is certainly not true in every case. The most important thing for litigation, if you want to make partner at a prestigious firm, is to get trial experience early, but almost none of the prestigious firms allow their associates to do this early on (if ever). So most prestigious firms set people up to get axed after a few years from litigation. Litigation is generally much more highly leveraged and much more competitive and harder to "make it" in than transactional. I think the work is way more interesting, however, especially after you survive being a junior associate.

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 18, 2016 8:32 am

I can't speak specifically to the difference between a V10 and V50 (as an aside, though, I caution against using vault ranking for litigation. I mean, they're useless to start with, but they're especially bad for lit). I can compare a V10 to an AmLaw 200 firm, based summering at both and knowing lots of people at both.

Partnership prospects are far more realistic at the AmLaw 200 firm—it's much less up-or-out. Thus, at the AmLaw 200 firm, the legal ability of partners/senior associates varied widely. Some were every bit as skilled as the best at the V10, but others were people who would never have had the skills to make it at the bigger firm. Thus, how much you could learn really depended on who you were working for. I'm not saying that attrition at a V10 is entirely merit based, but it did seem to guarantee that the people left after 5-ish years had a very high base of skills/writing ability.

Relatedly, the standards were much higher at the V10. I felt like work product at the AmLaw 200 firm was frequently sent to the client when it was "good enough" whereas it would have gone through many more rounds of editing at the V10. (This isn't to knock on the AmLaw 200 firm—if the work really is good enough and the client is cost conscious, sending it out without burning more hours is the right call. I'm just saying that, as a junior, you learn more by going through edits than by sending your work out without improving it).

One thing that helped me decide to start at the V10 rather than the AmLaw 200 firm is some advice I got from a partner at the smaller firm: "Spend the first half of your legal career building your skills and developing your network. Because you'll spend the second half selling your skills to your network." I concluded that the V10 would be a better place to build skills—especially writing, which ends up being the key skill for most litigators.

(Of course, the flip side of that is that the V10 doesn't offer as many opportunities to practice other skills, like taking depos, early on.)

I don't know exactly how much the above applies to the firms you're comparing. I suspect that anywhere that has more realistic partnership prospects will have correspondingly more partners who aren't the best people to learn from. But that's speculation on my part; I can only speak to the firms I've worked at.

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby masterherm » Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:06 am

Thanks - that's super helpful. What about going from a V10 to an Am200 after 4-5 years - do you think your partnership prospects at the Am200 firm are as good as they would have been had you started your career there? I've heard that associates coming from the prestigious firms rarely bring a book of business with them, which is what those other firms want around year 5 in order to be in the partnership discussion. So it seems like the options are:

Go V10 and either win the lottery in becoming partner or win the lottery with a great long-term exit option, or

Go Am200 and do what you're supposed to do and become partner and have a pretty chill, relatively balanced life.

Still not really seeing the value of the top-tier firms, unless I'm missing something very obvious that all the other top law students at all the other top schools see...

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby fxb3 » Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:21 am

DCESQ wrote:Rising 3L so take this for what it is worth but I don't believe there is a big distinction in the kind of work you're doing between say a band 1 or band 2 firm in a given practice area. The difference may be larger in a band 1 firm vs. band 4/5 firm.


Keep in mind that "even" a band 4 or 5 practitioner is someone who is an expert in that field and generally devotes their entire practice to that kind of work. And the correlation between increasing age and moving from 4/5 to 1/2 is going to be pretty strong. So it's not as if a band 4/5 practitioner is some idiot that isn't worthy of teaching you. Just looking at the list in my practice area in my city, everyone who is anywhere on the Chambers list is known as a good lawyer (some are difficult jerks, but that's a different story) and is well connected, at a big, comparable firm, and plugged into the exit options. You wouldn't be taking any exit options off the table if you worked for a lower band than a higher band.

DCESQ wrote: One way it was phrased to me by a litigator at the firm I summered at was this, "when billing rates are this high, the problem is sufficiently complex that the businesses in question are willing to pay for our services." Assuming that billing rates are comparable, the work should be somewhat similar.


This is an excellent point to keep in mind. My firm is very high in prestige in my practice and my city, and I think we're great, but firms several rungs below us in prestige have essentially the same RPL and PPP, are also always in the running when we are hired by clients. Even the most complex legal work is still not rocket science, it's not as if only 15 people in the country can do it.

DCESQ wrote: If you are talking about specific blue-chip clients (Apple, Google, etc.) then firm ranking may matter more but that is just a guess.


This is the only thing I disagree with. It's not as if the biggest-name clients go to Chambers Band 1, and the rest get the scraps. Not at all. First of all, any large company uses a ton of different firms for litigation. And even then you'd be surprised at some of the largest Fortune companies' selections of "go to" firms. It does not perfectly align with prestige.

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A. Nony Mouse

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:24 am

masterherm wrote:So it seems like the options are:

Go V10 and either win the lottery in becoming partner or win the lottery with a great long-term exit option, or

Go Am200 and do what you're supposed to do and become partner and have a pretty chill, relatively balanced life.

Still not really seeing the value of the top-tier firms, unless I'm missing something very obvious that all the other top law students at all the other top schools see...

Except getting good exit options out of a top-tier firm isn't "winning the lottery," it's more like the way things work. For people who want to go in-house, for instance (which is a lot of people), top-tier firm experience can be as good as required. The same goes for some varieties of government or good non-legal jobs. You're equating two things (making partner and good exit options) that aren't really comparable.

dixiecupdrinking

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:49 am

It's generally a bad idea in this day and age to go into any job in any field with the expectation, or really even the goal, of staying forever. That goes about a hundredfold for a place based on an up or out model.

To be crystal clear, you are not likely to make partner at the first firm you start at, whether it's a V10 or Amlaw200 or whatever the hell it is. You're probably not even likely to want to. You should plan accordingly.

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 18, 2016 11:19 am

(same annon)
masterherm wrote:Thanks - that's super helpful. What about going from a V10 to an Am200 after 4-5 years - do you think your partnership prospects at the Am200 firm are as good as they would have been had you started your career there? I've heard that associates coming from the prestigious firms rarely bring a book of business with them, which is what those other firms want around year 5 in order to be in the partnership discussion. So it seems like the options are:

Go V10 and either win the lottery in becoming partner or win the lottery with a great long-term exit option, or

Go Am200 and do what you're supposed to do and become partner and have a pretty chill, relatively balanced life.

Still not really seeing the value of the top-tier firms, unless I'm missing something very obvious that all the other top law students at all the other top schools see...


I think year five is too long to wait if you want to go from a V-whatever to an AmLaw 200. You're right, by the time you're a fifth year, the second firm is likely to expect you to at least have the connections that will plausibly lead to a book of business, which is hard to do from a big firm, and almost impossible if you're switching markets.

But if you make the jump after a two or three years, it's much easier to sell a firm on hiring you for your skills and credentials, with the idea that you still have time to build a book of business in the new market. (And don't underestimate how much of an asset the firm name can be when pitching clients at the new firm.)

Basically, you should be proactive about your career. If you go to a V10 firm with the idea that you'll stay as long as you possibly can and only leave when they push you out the door, then, yeah, you may not have great options. But if you keep your eye on when you're most marketable to the places that you're most interested in, the V10 can be a way to build your skills while keeping your options open.

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 18, 2016 11:25 am

dixiecupdrinking wrote:To be crystal clear, you are not likely to make partner at the first firm you start at, whether it's a V10 or Amlaw200 or whatever the hell it is. You're probably not even likely to want to. You should plan accordingly.

This is not true for all firms. There are absolutely firms where most associates make partner. These firms tend to be more regional and (obviously) don't hire nearly as many associates. But, they do exist. In general, if a firm has significantly more partners than associates, it's a good bet that they hire associates with the thought that most of them will make partner.

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Re: Law firm prestige and the work in litigation

Postby r6_philly » Thu Aug 18, 2016 5:39 pm

Anonymous User wrote:(same annon)
masterherm wrote:Thanks - that's super helpful. What about going from a V10 to an Am200 after 4-5 years - do you think your partnership prospects at the Am200 firm are as good as they would have been had you started your career there? I've heard that associates coming from the prestigious firms rarely bring a book of business with them, which is what those other firms want around year 5 in order to be in the partnership discussion. So it seems like the options are:

Go V10 and either win the lottery in becoming partner or win the lottery with a great long-term exit option, or

Go Am200 and do what you're supposed to do and become partner and have a pretty chill, relatively balanced life.

Still not really seeing the value of the top-tier firms, unless I'm missing something very obvious that all the other top law students at all the other top schools see...


I think year five is too long to wait if you want to go from a V-whatever to an AmLaw 200. You're right, by the time you're a fifth year, the second firm is likely to expect you to at least have the connections that will plausibly lead to a book of business, which is hard to do from a big firm, and almost impossible if you're switching markets.

But if you make the jump after a two or three years, it's much easier to sell a firm on hiring you for your skills and credentials, with the idea that you still have time to build a book of business in the new market. (And don't underestimate how much of an asset the firm name can be when pitching clients at the new firm.)

Basically, you should be proactive about your career. If you go to a V10 firm with the idea that you'll stay as long as you possibly can and only leave when they push you out the door, then, yeah, you may not have great options. But if you keep your eye on when you're most marketable to the places that you're most interested in, the V10 can be a way to build your skills while keeping your options open.


I agree with this. A junior associate's assets are skills and credentials. A mid-level associate's assets are a mix of skills/experience and book-making potential. At a top V firm you will get great skills and experience but no business development training. So if you stay too long you will lack the book-making quality (or any book) that a am 200 firm would value.

You make partner because you add something to the partnership. Every firm needs book makers and service partners. Your odds depend on the time and place, but it is always easier to make partner with a book. But very few associates have the opportunity to develop a book at a V firm, that's why it is harder to make partner there. But if you lateral to a place that encourages business dev, with V credentials, chances are you will develop a book and make partner easier.



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