Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

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Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Offline » Thu Oct 06, 2016 6:15 pm

I was talking to an acquaintance who said she was doing doc review and discovery work for 6 yrs and never developed any other skills. Because she was too expensive at that point with no partnership prospects, she quit to find another job before she got canned. Welp, nobody wanted to hire her because she was too expensive for too little. It took her a while and she ended up at a small lit firm at below half of what she used to make.

Is this seriously possible? Is this an exception?

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby TheSpanishMain » Thu Oct 06, 2016 6:25 pm

After six years in BigLaw she was probably making, what, 250k? And then she ended up at a smaller firm making somewhere between 100-125k?

Yeah, that can definitely happen.

Just an anecdote, my brother-in-law works for DOJ and sees a lot of resumes from would-be BigLaw refugees. He's said many times that he's amazed by how little actual experience they have after having been at a firm for 2-3 years.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Boltsfan » Thu Oct 06, 2016 6:32 pm

You met someone who said it happened to them. Unless you are calling that person a liar, then yes, this is possible.

Senior lit associates at large law firms who are not on the partner track are likely to take a pay cut when they exit (at the firm I was an SA at, the M&A associates seemed to have significantly better exit options than lit associates). Depending on the nature of the litigation the firm handles, it seems equally possible that trial work is (1) very rare and (2) too high-stakes for anyone but a partner to run. In such an environment, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 6th year associate who has taken depos and argued motions but whose work still largely consists of "discovery and doc review." Excepting pro bono work of course.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Oct 06, 2016 7:23 pm

My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Oct 06, 2016 7:42 pm

Is this considerably worse in NYC, or is it endemic to big law generally? I'm considering litigation in Chicago, but I'm worried about this dynamic. Will I be useless after a few years?

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby bk1 » Thu Oct 06, 2016 8:03 pm

Even seniors with litigation skills generally take large pay cuts. Smaller firms often want people who will bring in business (which I suspect most seniors from biglaw are not adept at doing), which often makes it difficult for seniors to get hired.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 1:46 am

bk1 wrote:Even seniors with litigation skills generally take large pay cuts. Smaller firms often want people who will bring in business (which I suspect most seniors from biglaw are not adept at doing), which often makes it difficult for seniors to get hired.

I'm the anon above, thx. I'm considering just doing M&A for the downstream options.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 3:32 am

I know of a few associates who got to their 4th/5th year and hadn't been able to even do a depo yet.

It seems to depend a lot on whether you're lucky enough to come in when they need associates to do more than doc review/when there are enough low-difficulty cases that they're willing to include you in the useful stuff, or whether you're unlucky enough to come in at a time where they really just want doc reviewers/when the cases are too high-stake to put an inexperienced associate on them. Some of avoiding being a career doc reviewer is being really vigilant about opportunities and trying to be the first person to volunteer for them (even at the cost of your social life, which you probably won't have anyway). If you let yourself get so overwhelmed with the work you have that you don't keep an ear out for additional stuff, you run the risk of looking up four years later and realizing you still never got that crucial experience you needed. Easier said than done, of course.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby lavarman84 » Fri Oct 07, 2016 3:58 am

Anonymous User wrote:My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.


I'd call this an overstatement.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby jkpolk » Fri Oct 07, 2016 8:48 am

lawman84 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.


I'd call this an overstatement.


I wouldn't

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 8:51 am

jkpolk wrote:
lawman84 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.


I'd call this an overstatement.


I wouldn't

In a firm situation where you have paying clients, I can see it. I'm starting my second year in government and for the past six months or so I do ~75% of my work with extremely little oversight (submitting briefs with only comments from coworkers not supervisors, etc.). So... Depends, I guess.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby jkpolk » Fri Oct 07, 2016 8:53 am

Anonymous User wrote:
jkpolk wrote:
lawman84 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.


I'd call this an overstatement.


I wouldn't

In a firm situation where you have paying clients, I can see it. I'm starting my second year in government and for the past six months or so I do ~75% of my work with extremely little oversight (submitting briefs with only comments from coworkers not supervisors, etc.). So... Depends, I guess.


Not to dismiss your work, you probably do a great job, but I'm not sure I would call that a leadership role on a complicated matter.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 9:24 am

jkpolk wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
jkpolk wrote:
lawman84 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.


I'd call this an overstatement.


I wouldn't

In a firm situation where you have paying clients, I can see it. I'm starting my second year in government and for the past six months or so I do ~75% of my work with extremely little oversight (submitting briefs with only comments from coworkers not supervisors, etc.). So... Depends, I guess.


Not to dismiss your work, you probably do a great job, but I'm not sure I would call that a leadership role on a complicated matter.


Yeah, I would agree with this. I was an intern at a USA office and got to submit briefs all the time with little oversight...as an intern. Not dismissing your work, either. Just saying this is not uncommon.

Submitting briefs vs. handling/managing a private civil litigation case is way different as well. Not speaking from experience but I would imagine a BigLaw lit associate will most be relegated to helping with discovery and maybe drafting motions.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 9:28 am

Like the above poster said, whether you spend most of your time doing doc review is hugely dependent on what is going on at the firm at that particular time. A couple of years back, we got a massive investigation and a substantial number of incoming first-years ended up getting staffed on it. This took up 75-80% of their time for the year. Partners hate "rotating" associates off of large matters, so as the matter grew in complexity those first years ended up graduating to QC/priv review tasks and other review tasks. The first years that started after them didn't have that same size matter so they got a much better balance of smaller cases with 1 partner/1 senior associate.

It also depends on what area of work you focus on. It is highly unlikely that a sixth year who has done bankruptcy/commercial/securities/M+A/antitrust lit hasn't developed those skills. But if someone is focusing more on investigations work, I would not be shocked since at the lower levels it can be a lot of doc review and writing fact memos, and the closest you will come to a "deposition" is interviews of potential witnesses. A fair number of lit associates find they actually prefer that sort of work to churning out briefs, writing shitty discovery emails back and forth to opposing counsel, and trying to organize filing huge SJ briefs with 200 exhibits.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Oct 07, 2016 9:35 am

Eh, re: leadership role and complex matters, I agree with both. In government you do take leadership over stuff right away, and I don't think it's fair to say it's not a complex matter just because it's not multi-million corporations suing each other/doing a deal (especially since we have no idea what kind of government work anon above actually does). But I also agree that as a first/second year attorney (of whatever kind) you kind of don't have a clue and can't just look stuff up in a book and figure it out. The difference is that government deals with that by putting you in charge of a lot of matters and training you as you go; biglaw doesn't, which given the costs/service relationship to clients is understandable. (I can imagine that in biglaw every case has lots of moving parts and there may be somewhat more routine stuff to learn on in many government positions, but I think it boils down to a difference in attitude as much as difference in work.)

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 9:48 am

I think the best way to phrase this is it is entirely possible to not gain any real experience in big law.

This depends on the firm, practice area, partners you work for, and in a lot of ways yourself as well.

If you want a strong shot at gaining real experience and gaining it quickly, you need to practice insurance defense.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby WhiteCollarBlueShirt » Fri Oct 07, 2016 10:45 am

Eh, some extreme opinions in here, but, in my actual experience, YMMV.

Very possible to take point on "complex" matters (in corporate, I am not a litigator) as a second year (*also, I am not a second year). Practice area, firm, prior experience, luck of the draw with assignments dependent. Very possible to be a partner and have the law/technology pass you by too (FYI).

But the truth is, unlike other jobs (aside from perhaps pre-MBA buyside roles), law is one of those unique positions where it is extremely easy to have your salary start out high and end up in a more long-term position that pays much less (1/2 that of a senior associate on the 180 scale, TBF the lower salary is often welcomed, bc it usually comes with less hours too).

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 11:17 am

WhiteCollarBlueShirt wrote:Eh, some extreme opinions in here, but, in my actual experience, YMMV.

Very possible to take point on "complex" matters (in corporate, I am not a litigator) as a second year (*also, I am not a second year). Practice area, firm, prior experience, luck of the draw with assignments dependent. Very possible to be a partner and have the law/technology pass you by too (FYI).

But the truth is, unlike other jobs (aside from perhaps pre-MBA buyside roles), law is one of those unique positions where it is extremely easy to have your salary start out high and end up in a more long-term position that pays much less (1/2 that of a senior associate on the 180 scale, TBF the lower salary is often welcomed, bc it usually comes with less hours too).


You think a typical second year big law corp associate is ready to run a deal (with minimal partner input)? I'm pretty skeptical that's the case, even if it's like a vanilla stock or asset purchase. I can think of several items that, if I were a client, I would not trust a second year to sign off on.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Fri Oct 07, 2016 11:41 am

I've seen 50 year old litigation partners screw up moderately complex procedural issues, and they routinely need to call in the one guy in the firm who is the guru on arcane procedure. That shit is hard.

Also, you may not get to take a depo until you're a 5th year or whatever because you're on cases where there aren't many. If there are five depos in a case, then you're not gonna do one. If your cases all settle after MTDs, then you're not gonna do one.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby tyroneslothrop1 » Fri Oct 07, 2016 12:10 pm

One person above said if you want substantive experience do insurance defense. I'd say that's probably right. I am a T14 grad who failed into doing employment/public entity representation (think Countys) work. I took a depo within a year, wrote MSJs, argued motions to dismiss in court, and generally was allowed to take on responsibility and run.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby WhiteCollarBlueShirt » Fri Oct 07, 2016 12:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
WhiteCollarBlueShirt wrote:Eh, some extreme opinions in here, but, in my actual experience, YMMV.

Very possible to take point on "complex" matters (in corporate, I am not a litigator) as a second year (*also, I am not a second year). Practice area, firm, prior experience, luck of the draw with assignments dependent. Very possible to be a partner and have the law/technology pass you by too (FYI).

But the truth is, unlike other jobs (aside from perhaps pre-MBA buyside roles), law is one of those unique positions where it is extremely easy to have your salary start out high and end up in a more long-term position that pays much less (1/2 that of a senior associate on the 180 scale, TBF the lower salary is often welcomed, bc it usually comes with less hours too).


You think a typical second year big law corp associate is ready to run a deal (with minimal partner input)? I'm pretty skeptical that's the case, even if it's like a vanilla stock or asset purchase. I can think of several items that, if I were a client, I would not trust a second year to sign off on.


I don't think, I have seen (at multiple firms and in multiple cities). Take it as you will though, doesn't matter to me. Just some people here make it sound like lawyers just push papers all day and others make it sound as though it takes years to learn how to run a matter or handle tough situations. It's just a job--and not a particularly hard one at that (just hard hours and detail oriented).

*Maybe not typical, I think the typical lawyer does not have a solid background in the larger business issues (let alone an interest).

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby lavarman84 » Fri Oct 07, 2016 1:12 pm

jkpolk wrote:
lawman84 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:My 2 cents as a big law first year -- 6 years and having no substantive experience would be a bad situation (and sounds like an extreme one). But you also hear people in law school who think that they can just look stuff up in a book and "figure out" how to handle any case they might get. You simply aren't ready as a first or second year to take any leadership role on complicated matters, whether lit or corp. You will screw up, horribly. It is just too much to handle. Even if you look everything up and follow exactly the plain language of rules or statutes, you will be wrong. There are just certain ways things are done and if you don't do that, you are screwed. So there's a fine balance.


I'd call this an overstatement.


I wouldn't


Yet, we have government lawyers, solos, and attorneys at small firms handling cases as first and second-year lawyers.

I understand why it isn't done in biglaw (the money and stakes). However, I don't believe for a second that it's because young lawyers can't handle the responsibility.

I'm not about to tell you that they'll be as good as a partner at a top firm. That partner has seen so much that the junior lawyer simply hasn't. But that doesn't mean the junior lawyer is incapable of handling it. He's just less skilled and knowledgeable than the partner.

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby 1styearlateral » Fri Oct 07, 2016 1:18 pm

I think that, from my experience, the smaller the firm the more responsibility is placed on a firm's junior associates. It just has to be that way, because there's just not enough time to micromanage in a small firm like there is in a big firm (senior associates, junior partners, etc.).

Personally, I've had cases handed to me where the only supervision I've had was from my senior partner reviewing my drafts before being filed/served. It's a great way to learn the ropes but it's nerve-wracking because I definitely do not know everything I need to in order to start handling my own cases from beginning to end. At my 50-attorney firm, the motto is "just get it done and bother me when I need to be bothered."

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 07, 2016 2:52 pm

WhiteCollarBlueShirt wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:You think a typical second year big law corp associate is ready to run a deal (with minimal partner input)? I'm pretty skeptical that's the case, even if it's like a vanilla stock or asset purchase. I can think of several items that, if I were a client, I would not trust a second year to sign off on.


I don't think, I have seen (at multiple firms and in multiple cities). Take it as you will though, doesn't matter to me. Just some people here make it sound like lawyers just push papers all day and others make it sound as though it takes years to learn how to run a matter or handle tough situations. It's just a job--and not a particularly hard one at that (just hard hours and detail oriented).

*Maybe not typical, I think the typical lawyer does not have a solid background in the larger business issues (let alone an interest).


Okay, I agree (and I think we're kind of saying the same thing). Absolutely, a junior associate has the "legal" knowledge required to run the deal and if they've worked on a couple of similar ones they will understand the process (and of course can ask questions). I think the "typical" corp junior doesn't understand the "why?" behind drafting decisions and business concerns well enough to correctly use that knowledge of the law and process.

But absolutely, a second year should have the tools (and should have been essentially doing the same things already, but with midlevel/senior oversight).

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Re: Possible to not gain any real experience in biglaw?

Postby cron1834 » Fri Oct 07, 2016 4:34 pm

On the litigation side, is the answer to do pro bono to the extent the firm lets you?



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