Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

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Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jun 12, 2017 11:04 pm

I just started at a small firm a few months ago, first job post-grad. The firm is very small and is a defense practice mostly insurance defense for personal injury. What I am doing most of the time there is basically writing letters to the insurance carriers about what is happening in a case or writing a report on a deposition transcript. But I'm also asked a lot to do clerical work as well - scanning and photocopying (we have secretaries who are mostly typing dictations up all day). I'm just wondering if this is normal because I don't feel like I'm doing much of any legal work and the clerical stuff is so mind numbing. I do go to court once in a while. My pay is not great so I will want to move elsewhere at some point but I can't leave a few months in because I barely have any experience. I'm also worried I'm not learning anything I can take with me - will I have trouble finding another job after this one if I do stay a year or so?

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby lolwat » Mon Jun 12, 2017 11:33 pm

At small firms everyone tends to do what is needed, whether that's court or clerical bs because not enough support staff. The fact you get to go to court is more than what most first years get to do. What do you do there? Just observe or anything more substantive? if you lateral you just play up the experience you do get. Obviously you wont put in "scanning/copying" in your resume but you do put in all the stuff you do with client contact & court time.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby rpupkin » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:26 am

lolwat wrote:At small firms everyone tends to do what is needed, whether that's court or clerical bs because not enough support staff. The fact you get to go to court is more than what most first years get to do.

This is all true. OP: Just so you know, most junior associates in big law also do a lot of work—such as doing the mindless first drafts of discovery—that is essentially clerical. Don't be sure that lateraling will result in more substantive experience.

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FullRamboLSGrad

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby FullRamboLSGrad » Tue Jun 13, 2017 9:19 am

Is the firm a captive firm for a single insurer or do you represent multiple carriers? Does the firm only defend motorist liability policies or is there work defending CGL/Excess policy holders?

If the firm only does motorist liability defense, then what you are doing now is pretty near what you would be doing as any other attorney. If there are higher exposure cases you'll get more substantive experience. The reasoning is simple, if you're defending under a 50k policy, why would you go to court when settling would be cheaper?

Once you get to CGL policies with higher limits and exposure you get into cases where insurers are open to trials.

My first job was like yours. A 7 attorney ID firm doing construction, med mal, and wrongful death. They put the new attorneys on small subrogation cases and motorist cases to help them learn the grunt work and boring parts of being a lawyer. And to prevent you from screwing up something big.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby blahblewblah » Tue Jun 13, 2017 9:56 am

rpupkin wrote:
lolwat wrote:At small firms everyone tends to do what is needed, whether that's court or clerical bs because not enough support staff. The fact you get to go to court is more than what most first years get to do.

This is all true. OP: Just so you know, most junior associates in big law also do a lot of work—such as doing the mindless first drafts of discovery—that is essentially clerical. Don't be sure that lateraling will result in more substantive experience.


I mean discovery is a huge part of being a lawyer, especially a biglaw lawyer. So while it is certainly mindless, it is also doing something to develop a skill in a way that drafting updates to insurance companies doesn't.

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FullRamboLSGrad

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby FullRamboLSGrad » Tue Jun 13, 2017 10:01 am

blahblewblah wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
lolwat wrote:At small firms everyone tends to do what is needed, whether that's court or clerical bs because not enough support staff. The fact you get to go to court is more than what most first years get to do.

This is all true. OP: Just so you know, most junior associates in big law also do a lot of work—such as doing the mindless first drafts of discovery—that is essentially clerical. Don't be sure that lateraling will result in more substantive experience.


I mean discovery is a huge part of being a lawyer, especially a biglaw lawyer. So while it is certainly mindless, it is also doing something to develop a skill in a way that drafting updates to insurance companies doesn't.

I agree that discovery is useful, but disagree that doing reports is not. Biglaw also does case assessment reports, which can be quite cumbersome and require a lot of legal work (research and doc review/analysis).

Who do you think pays big law lawyers to litigate? Often insurers. Most insurers operate similarly and require frequent updates and budgets.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby kykiske » Tue Jun 13, 2017 10:53 am

I was in a similar boat as you right out of law school. I found that if you do every assignment with a good attitude, produce high quality work product, and are timely, the partners will appreciate and reward your work ethic. And I mean every assignment. Partner needs you to copy 100 pages and make an exhibit binder? Do it well. Partner needs you to schedule a few depositions for him/her? Do it gladly.

If you demonstrate that you are the go-to guy/gal for the full range of assignments, it's really human nature for the partners to start trusting you. With trust, comes more responsibility.

I was transitioned out of the more clerical/paralegal tasks within 3 months by doing the above. And it was definitely noticed by the partners during my one-year review.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby lolwat » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:05 pm

Yeah, the above from kykiske is very good advice.

As for discovery vs other stuff, a lot of what OP is doing in terms of non-clerical work is still building necessary skills. It's just not the "standard" progression where you start with discovery. Btw Discovery gets old and repetitive fast and the skills needed for it are really more gameplaying and strategy along the lines what you want to get out of discovery and how to get it (or how to avoid giving up info/documents, in the case of responding). Drafting is pretty simple, just grab a shell the firm's already used a million times.

Also, not totally sure insurers go to biglaw that often for their standard cases. They've got insurance defense firms who are willing to charge low rates in exchange for high volume work. Insurers generally dont go to v10 firms unless it's some extremely big case (e.g. All the subprime mortgage stuff went to firms like Quinn I think), they go to firms like Lewis Brisbois for normal crap.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby sparty99 » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I just started at a small firm a few months ago, first job post-grad. The firm is very small and is a defense practice mostly insurance defense for personal injury. What I am doing most of the time there is basically writing letters to the insurance carriers about what is happening in a case or writing a report on a deposition transcript. But I'm also asked a lot to do clerical work as well - scanning and photocopying (we have secretaries who are mostly typing dictations up all day). I'm just wondering if this is normal because I don't feel like I'm doing much of any legal work and the clerical stuff is so mind numbing. I do go to court once in a while. My pay is not great so I will want to move elsewhere at some point but I can't leave a few months in because I barely have any experience. I'm also worried I'm not learning anything I can take with me - will I have trouble finding another job after this one if I do stay a year or so?


Insurance reports and deposition summaries are common. At some point, you will probably prepare a motion for summary judgment. I would ask if you can attend depositions and even do a deposition of fact witnesses. If you start doing depositions you will be years ahead of any other attorney. I would definitely look to leave at the 12 month mark for more money. But this is your first job. Gain some skills and then lateral up even if it is another insurance defense firm.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby JGMotorsport » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:23 pm

lolwat wrote:Yeah, the above from kykiske is very good advice.

As for discovery vs other stuff, a lot of what OP is doing in terms of non-clerical work is still building necessary skills. It's just not the "standard" progression where you start with discovery. Btw Discovery gets old and repetitive fast and the skills needed for it are really more gameplaying and strategy along the lines what you want to get out of discovery and how to get it (or how to avoid giving up info/documents, in the case of responding). Drafting is pretty simple, just grab a shell the firm's already used a million times.

Also, not totally sure insurers go to biglaw that often for their standard cases. They've got insurance defense firms who are willing to charge low rates in exchange for high volume work. Insurers generally dont go to v10 firms unless it's some extremely big case (e.g. All the subprime mortgage stuff went to firms like Quinn I think), they go to firms like Lewis Brisbois for normal crap.

Insurance is such a broad thing to be painting like this. There are so many different levels and types of insurance. For example, some D&O, E&O, Professional Malpractice carriers go to biglaw firms. It's also not uncommon for the insured company to demand the carrier use a specific law firm. When people think insurance, they think narrowly, but you can insure almost anything, and if you run a large business, you bet you have multiple layers of insurance and indemnity agreements ready to pull out.

But if we're talking about a guy working at a small ID firm doing auto liability, I doubt he's thinking about V10. In fact, outside of this website, I've almost never heard anybody talk about it.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jun 13, 2017 12:40 pm

OP here - we don't do automobile more commercial premises liability PI... it makes me feel so much better to know that a lot of the work I am doing is normal for a new associate in this field because I was really scared I was not building transferrable skills.... The 100s of copies and scanning - totally something I get asked to do, not daily but once every couple weeks, but it is nice to hear that this is something others have done as newer associates and moved past because I had no frame of reference as to what is normal in a small firm that does have some support staff...

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jun 15, 2017 12:54 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here - we don't do automobile more commercial premises liability PI... it makes me feel so much better to know that a lot of the work I am doing is normal for a new associate in this field because I was really scared I was not building transferrable skills.... The 100s of copies and scanning - totally something I get asked to do, not daily but once every couple weeks, but it is nice to hear that this is something others have done as newer associates and moved past because I had no frame of reference as to what is normal in a small firm that does have some support staff...


Tbh, I am envious of your position. I am also a first year in a boutique lit firm and I am getting swarmed in all directions doing the "real" legal works. I am pressured by partners to "step-up" and prepare to do depos asap. I got served with MSJ on a monthly basis. I go to courts twice a week. I have to deal with multiple parties who have their own agenda: judges, opposing counsels, clients, partners. Sure, I don't have to do the initial round of discovery but it's actually the subsequent discovery after that that is time-consuming. The pressure is intense.

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby lolwat » Thu Jun 15, 2017 2:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:OP here - we don't do automobile more commercial premises liability PI... it makes me feel so much better to know that a lot of the work I am doing is normal for a new associate in this field because I was really scared I was not building transferrable skills.... The 100s of copies and scanning - totally something I get asked to do, not daily but once every couple weeks, but it is nice to hear that this is something others have done as newer associates and moved past because I had no frame of reference as to what is normal in a small firm that does have some support staff...


Tbh, I am envious of your position. I am also a first year in a boutique lit firm and I am getting swarmed in all directions doing the "real" legal works. I am pressured by partners to "step-up" and prepare to do depos asap. I got served with MSJ on a monthly basis. I go to courts twice a week. I have to deal with multiple parties who have their own agenda: judges, opposing counsels, clients, partners. Sure, I don't have to do the initial round of discovery but it's actually the subsequent discovery after that that is time-consuming. The pressure is intense.


If you're not being paid enough that's one thing (I'm sure OP is not paid very well) but what you just described is one of the reasons people go to litigation boutiques ... so they don't go through the biglaw grind and instead start doing depos, substantive motions, etc. earlier in their careers. we at boutiques tend to take that kind of stuff for granted :)

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Re: Boutique litigation firm associate - need advice

Postby tyroneslothrop1 » Thu Jun 15, 2017 3:27 pm

Not really important but I don't think it's quite accurate to say a small firm doing ID is a boutique. The prototypical boutique is a small firm staffed by ex big law lawyers (or attorneys of similar pedigree). I work at a 50 lawyer firm that does a lot of ID and it's not really a "boutique," as that term is commonly understood.



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