Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

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Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 23, 2017 12:02 am

The title says it all: I'm a current BigLaw litigation senior associate. Vault ranked firm, major market. I found this board helpful much earlier in my career and thought I'd start this thread to help pay it forward. In order to provide honest and hopefully useful responses anonymously, I'm going to try to avoid providing many bio or firm details upfront. Fire away.

sanzgo

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby sanzgo » Wed Aug 23, 2017 12:24 am

1) do you have any interview tips for those who are doing 2L OCI?

2) does the work become more meaningful and intellectual as you become more senior?

3) where did most of your previous fellow biglaw lit associates leave to?

thanks for this.

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 23, 2017 1:02 am

Can you get me a job plz

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 23, 2017 1:30 am

Currently going through the hiring process for 2L summer.

1. Any thoughts on how to gauge exit options (ie to USAO) from different firms? Any opinions on which firms (as, in DC) are best?

2. Any good questions to ask to figure out what kind of face time requirements there are?

3. What do you wish you would have known going into the process about litigation? Which areas/tasks do you enjoy the most and the least?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 23, 2017 1:34 am

sanzgo wrote:1) do you have any interview tips for those who are doing 2L OCI?


The candidates who stand out are the ones who have clearly spent time thinking about their interest in biglaw, litigation, and our firm in particular (including our client base and specific types of cases). Typically, they've done one or more informational interviews with attorneys at our firm, and this allows them to come in with fairly nuanced thinking and questions about our firm and the experience they would have if they joined us. They also are interested in an area that is substantiated by *something* on their resume (prior WE, coursework, journals, extracurriculars, prior summer).

They typically also broadcast openness to an open-ended stay in biglaw (i.e., they think the work and culture may be a good fit and they are open to staying indefinitely), but they don't oversell it (no need to escalate to, "I know my dream is to be a senior partner 30 years from now" - no one expects you to know this now and it won't be credible.) I know it may not be possible to do informational interviews/tailored thinking for every one of 10 or 15 callbacks, but it's worth investing the effort to do so for your top 3-4 firms.

Also: if we are genuinely your #1 top choice for reasons you can explain, and you'll accept an offer if we make one, then tell us that. It makes a difference: we've got a finite number of spots. We have to hold each offer open so long under NALP guidelines that we'll lose a lot of other promising candidates if we make you an offer and you hold it for several weeks before declining. So all things being totally equal, a candidate who genuinely wants our firm and can commit on the spot if extended an offer will have an advantage over one who is less sure.

2) does the work become more meaningful and intellectual as you become more senior?


Yes. My workload now is depositions, hearings, witness interviews, witness prep (for trial or depos), client counseling, ADR efforts (esp. mediation), pitching, revising/finalizing briefs (where there has typically been a junior/midlevel drafter, although there's some variance in the usability of the drafting you receive as a senior associate). Document review supervision is typically at a meta-level (i.e., there's a midlevel running it and handling most QC/priv issues, and you typically answer high-level/big picture questions.) You will not be expected to do first-level research, and the cost structure typically contemplates your doing research only to QC or push hard on a really important point of law.

This is perhaps the most important point lost on junior and midlevel associates who are frustrated with the substance of the work they're doing: it gets better. Much better. And when it does, you'll be able to delegate the work you're currently unhappy with to someone else...for as long as you stay in biglaw. If the lifestyle you see the partners and senior associates leading isn't what you want...understandable, consider moving on. But if the main driver of unhappiness is that the work isn't substantive enough...know that that gets fixed, in spades.

3) where did most of your previous fellow biglaw lit associates leave to?


Most go in-house, often to a client. Some lateral to other firms, although it's comparatively rare (particularly now that I am senior.) Some go to government, with AUSA being a prime focus. A smaller number go to public interest/non-profit work. An equally small number leave the field for all the reasons you know and expect (raising a family, going to grad school in a different field, finding themselves doing work far removed from the law.)

thanks for this.


No problem, hope the answers are helpful.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Wed Aug 23, 2017 3:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 23, 2017 2:42 am

Anonymous User wrote:1. Any thoughts on how to gauge exit options (ie to USAO) from different firms? Any opinions on which firms (as, in DC) are best?


Re the USAO: I'd actually gauge this in ways other than through the biglaw hiring process. Talk to your CSO to see if they can provide high-level info on what firms alums were at before moving to the USAO. Do informational interviews with alums at the USAO to learn their career trajectories and the trajectories of their colleagues.

I won't weigh in on the "best firms" question because any good answer would be more nuanced than I can provide here (will depend on specific groups, partners, etc.)

2. Any good questions to ask to figure out what kind of face time requirements there are?


When I'm the interviewee, I ask about the interviewer's "typical week" and the "working styles" of the partners and senior associates they work most closely with. Don't appear overly concerned or pushy about the answers. If you get an offer, you can explore this topic further on second look.

3. What do you wish you would have known going into the process about litigation? Which areas/tasks do you enjoy the most and the least?


Business litigation is largely a tool that provides structure, scheduling, and costs to incentivize relatively sophisticated actors to resolve their business disputes out of court. The specter of trial is less a reality and more a metaphorical tool used to facilitate settlement. I don't think this reality was fully visible to me as a law student. People who want to be trial lawyers (meaning, in court, all the time) need to be considering non-biglaw, and possibly non-civil options. On the other hand, much of the interesting and worthy work to be done in litigation does not involve trials, and there's no shame to preferring a practice that's more geared towards early-stage court hearings and depositions than trials. (There's a lot more to be said here, so happy to elaborate if there are potential litigators here wrestling with these questions.)

Areas I enjoy most are really the ones I listed in my prior post as tasks handled in the senior associate years. It's very rewarding to be able to pitch for a new case, win the business, start building a client relationship, learn about the client's company, and really work with the client to think through how best to win and/or resolve the litigation, keeping the client's business needs and objectives in mind. I appreciate that each year, I feel more comfortable working with witnesses, counseling clients, and arguing substantive motions in court - all experiences that I felt very far removed from as a junior associate.

Areas I enjoy least:
- Dealing with budgeting, writeoffs, client concerns about the bill. This won't be a problem for most biglaw associates until they get relatively senior, but it's just a downside of "law as a business" that those of us in the private sector have to live with.
- Written discovery tasks - as I said, I have assistance handling most of these, but still have "primary responsibility" for our discovery responses.
- The process of ensuring you are included in the client- and court-facing opportunities that you feel are most important. I think this is a problem all the way up the biglaw food chain, although it diminishes with time. Even 25 years out of law school you might not be included in every meeting, client call, argument, etc. you believe you should be.
- Lack of control over schedule. This improves with time (I think I have it better than junior associates in many ways - even if I work more total hours, I have more control over which hours those are), but as it's a function of client and court demands, it never goes away completely.
- The challenges of business development for mid-career litigators. When you work on 8-9 figure+ litigation, clients aren't hiring 8th-12th year attorneys. This often means reduced book of business expectations when you're up for partner, but similarly means you are dependent on more senior partners and servicing their clients for longer. Meanwhile, the types of clients who might consider hiring an 8th-12th year attorney cannot pay the rates inherent in the biglaw cost structure.

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Gmt12345 » Wed Aug 23, 2017 4:05 am

Thoughts on "up or out"? Is it best to plan on having to leave after ~6 years if making partner isn't going to happen?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Lincoln » Wed Aug 23, 2017 8:36 am

When we're you told or otherwise given the impression that partner was a realistic option? How far away are you?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby First Offense » Wed Aug 23, 2017 9:57 am

What is the most common thing junior associates do that make you want to pull your hair out/annoy you.

Any general writing tips?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby truevines » Wed Aug 23, 2017 10:07 am

Thanks for doing this.

Do you need to bring in your own clients?

Do business development and revenue generation count towards your performance?

What factors are considered when your firm decides on whether to make you a partner?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby kykiske » Wed Aug 23, 2017 11:09 am

As a junior associate, I'm very interested in learning about your input on the following:

1) If a junior makes a mistake, how should he/she go about fixing it in the most professional way?

2) What infuriates you the most about a junior associate's work product? (to the extent not addressed in answering First Offense's question).

3) What's your work life balance like?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby GGMcSwift » Wed Aug 23, 2017 6:18 pm

What are the realistic options for big law litigators who don't aspire to be partner but also don't want to work in criminal law (or civil agencies that are prosecutorial in nature, like the SEC)? Is trying to get an in house litigation position realistic? And if so, what is the optimal time to try to do this?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 23, 2017 6:44 pm

Gmt12345 wrote:Thoughts on "up or out"? Is it best to plan on having to leave after ~6 years if making partner isn't going to happen?


How firms implement "up or out" varies. Some firms signal midlevels who are not partner track explicitly to move on in year 6-7. Others allow senior associates who are performing well, but are not quite partner track, to stay on for 2-3 additional years. It is very likely that your firm will encourage you to explore other options (usually with a few months' notice) between year 6-10 if you are not viewed as a strong candidate for partner (edit: or "of counsel," a senior salaried/non-equity designation that firms use in varied ways). If you want to know where on this year 6-10 continuum your firm falls, you can likely ask the right questions of mid/senior associates during your summer to figure it out.

In most cases I've seen (including with my friends at other firms), associates are not surprised when they receive firm signaling that they should consider other possibilities. In many cases, they've already decided that making partner is not for them, are interested in moving in-house (or to government, etc.), and appreciate that the firm gives enough notice for them to secure a good landing. Many of those associates eventually become clients of their former firms. Offhand, I only personally know of one associate (a friend of mine at a different firm) who was genuinely shocked when a partner came into his office to have what the partner termed "the Talk."

If you know you want to make partner, but are concerned your current firm is not the right place (e.g., not enough work, too many recent junior partner promotions, etc.), it's good to consider a lateral move in year 4-5, when your lateral marketability is at its peak--and before most firms would initiate an "up or out" conversation.

-SrA (will try to sign posts so folks can tell which posts are coming from me going forward)

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:04 pm

Lincoln wrote:When we're you told or otherwise given the impression that partner was a realistic option? How far away are you?


For privacy reasons, I don't want to give exact year or timeline, but I first raised my interest in partnership with the firm late in my time as a midlevel. They provided guidance on what steps to take, but didn't immediately confirm I was viewed as a promising partnership candidate. That first happened approximately one year after I raised my interest in partnership (right at the mid/senior juncture).

I was concerned, at the time, that I was the one to raise it--as I think there's some truth to the cliche that if you have to ask whether you are partner track, you are not. I later learned, though, that my firm simply begins "signaling" a year or two after the year I was when I raised the issue, so there was nothing to be alarmed about. I've also since been told that it's generally positively received (and not uncommon) for midlevel associates to share with partners that they aspire to partnership--if that's what you want, you shouldn't leave the firm guessing whether it's the case.

- SrA

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby SomeElleWoodsJoke » Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:16 pm

If possible without requiring too-specific information, what are the best questions you've been asked by an interviewee?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Aug 25, 2017 12:21 am

First Offense wrote:What is the most common thing junior associates do that make you want to pull your hair out/annoy you.


The junior associates whose work product I like best (to resort to a cliche) are those who "take ownership," and those whose work product is poorest typically do not. The best junior associates identify the work that needs to be done and volunteer themselves to do it, checking in first to make sure they're not racking up unnecessary billable costs ("Should we start drafting affirmative discovery? I'm happy to take the lead on our RFAs." "Does it make sense to reach out to the client now to line up declarants? Would you like me to draft the email?" "Want me to start on those motions in limine?") They're plainly invested in the case and making sure they're doing everything to help out; their instincts are solid regarding what the case needs; and almost invariably the quality of their work product matches their level of investment. When this group of associates produces work product, they've taken the time to polish it (efficiently); their goal is to provide drafts so good they can be passed along unedited (which is not to say the drafts won't be edited or improved, just that the drafters' effort is evident and the work is usually solid.) These folks take every opportunity to get experience and become better lawyers, often requesting to sit in on hearings/depos/client meetings/etc. without billing if that's what it takes for them to get the exposure.

The junior associates whose work product I like least are the opposite. They never do anything or propose to do anything without being asked. They make you feel that you are imposing on them when you ask. They are shooting for some variant of "good enough" (at best) - and the difference between the first group (which is trying to create "as good as I can do" (budget permitting)) work and this second group (which, at most, is trying to create "not totally shameful work that I can turn in with a straight face and then someone else can fix it up and get it over the finish line" work) is immediately evident. I've seen some members of this group, even when invited to attend the types of opportunities described above, decline them so they can finish work and leave earlier.

Any general writing tips?


Not sure how useful general writing tips will be, but:
- Take the time to outline;
- Spend a lot of time wrestling with organization and considering how to make your briefs flow;
- Wordsmith wordsmith wordsmith. One common trait among juniors and midlevels is not to bother to polish their own drafts on the theory they'll get rewritten. Well, the more you polish, the less likely that your current brief will get rewritten totally. Even if it does, the more you work on polishing your own work, the less likely future briefs of yours will get rewritten. And even if your brief lands with a wordsmithing partner or senior associate who has to put it in their own words, you should still be concerned about your draft making the best possible impression on them;
- Give your intro the time and thought it deserves. Jot down your themes as you are writing the main brief, and then take enough time to draft the intro to make sure they sing. A lot of folks write these as afterthoughts--or worse yet, send me drafts without them (those drafts get returned to sender right quick). I think it's one of the hardest parts of the brief, to make the right first impression and introduce the reader upfront to your key themes.

-SrA

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Aug 25, 2017 12:32 am

Do you find a difference in work product quality between those who've clerked and those who haven't?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:41 am

truevines wrote:Do you need to bring in your own clients?


I don't think it's ever too early to bring in your own clients if you can manage it. That said, my firm does not expect litigators in my book to have independent clients they originated themselves to make partner--recognizing (as I noted in an earlier post) that it is incredibly rare for large companies to hire 8th or 9th year lawyers to first-chair litigation worth 8-10 figures. Instead, they look for consistent contributions to business development work (e.g., active involvement in successful pitches, ability to be a material player in generating new work from existing clients) as well as a propensity for future business generation (e.g., your profile in the local bar, networking efforts, article-writing/panel-moderating/board service work, significant clients who call you directly or make clear to the firm you are an important part of the relationship in their eyes, etc.)

Do business development and revenue generation count towards your performance?


Not formally, i.e., we do not have a business development hours requirement; we are not provided our realization rate; and it's not clear to me whether, when associates contribute to bringing in business, the resulting revenue is attributed to the associate in any sense for record-keeping purposes. Business development efforts are commented on during evaluations, but it's never clear to me what role (if any) it plays in annual bonuses. However, my business development efforts have been mentioned to me as a key reason I am under consideration for partner.

What factors are considered when your firm decides on whether to make you a partner?


Non-exhaustively and off the top on my head, based on what I've understood from a variety of sources:
Business development; ability to contribute to "growing the pie" immediately (if not by being the primary originator of work right away, how are you still going to contribute to the firm's bringing in new matters)
Strong technical legal skills
Diverse mix of legal experiences (high level of responsibility re trials, depos, oral arguments, major/complex briefs)
Experience in managing mid-size to larger cases
Client satisfaction
Contributor to firm culture (service on committees, pro bono/diversity work, contributions to practice groups, etc.)
Well-regarded amongst more junior associates; strong mentoring relationships

- SrA

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby What the f.supp? » Mon Aug 28, 2017 9:41 am

Really helpful responses.

Admittedly very broad, but do you have any tips for biglaw midlevel associates making the transition to senior associate (with aspirations for partnership)? Skills to hone, things to avoid, etc.

Also, as you're managing junior and midlevel associates more and more, what do you do when they have a mistake in their work (something nonobvious, say a few citation errors in a brief) that you review and then pass along to the partner without catching? Are those mistakes ultimately on you since you were the last to review before sending to the partner? I'd be grateful for your thoughts on how you might handle. Hasn't happened to me yet but it's only a matter of time.

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Sep 04, 2017 3:45 pm

kykiske wrote:As a junior associate, I'm very interested in learning about your input on the following:

1) If a junior makes a mistake, how should he/she go about fixing it in the most professional way?


You should:

- First, immediately determine the scope of the mistake. E.g., if you made a mistake in their research, was only a single case/proposition/conclusion affected, or are there multiple strands of research analysis to be updated? If privileged documents were produced, do we only need to clawback one document or was there a process error (e.g., a first level reviewer who didn't understand the priv tagging and insufficient junior QCing) that led to many privileged documents being produced?
- Second, develop a plan of attack to fix the mistake. If timeframe permits and you are capable of developing a game plan, you should do this to the extent possible *before* going to the senior associate or partner. Depending on the issue, the paralegal/your assistant/other juniors on the team/the midlevel may be able to assist you in developing this gameplan before you raise it to the senior associate or partner. Disclosing both the mistake and the proposed fix simultaneously is key to the mistake being as well-received as possible. Of course, if you are simply unable to develop a proposed solution yourself, you should still raise it and ask for guidance, making clear that you will be fully available to help implement the solution.
- Third: obviously, disclose the mistake. Hoping it will slip without ever being detected is *never* the correct answer. And it's almost always going to be worse if it surfaces later, without warning.
- Fourth, depending on timing and issue, either when disclosing the mistake or within a reasonable time thereafter, apologize for your role in the mistake, make clear that you understand why it was a serious issue (if it was), and volunteer what you've learned about how to avoid the mistake in future.

If you do this, you'll find that any castigation you receive is pretty short-lived. In any situation where a junior has caught a mistake themselves, figured out how to fix it, proposed a solution, apologized for the mistake, and told me what they've learned...it's sort of hard to get too upset at them, and there's not much lecturing to be done: they already get it. FWIW, this is my exact playbook when I am the person responsible for a mistake - except that I sometimes also talk through the mistake with the juniors on the team in addition to the steps above. They need to see me taking responsibility/owning mistakes when it's on me, and hopefully they can learn from my error. You'll also find that most associate-level mistakes are fixable with, at worst, a little embarrassment - they rarely lead to terminating sanctions/loss of client business/anyone getting terminated/etc.

2) What infuriates you the most about a junior associate's work product? (to the extent not addressed in answering First Offense's question).


Any indication that they have provided me with something less than their fullest effort within budget constraints (i.e., if told the client will only pay for two hours' research on an issue, obviously, I don't expect the research issue run to ground). But other than that, I get frustrated if I see something less than people's best work. And after you work with folks for a few weeks/months, you've got a pretty good sense of when they're capable of more than they are showing you. BTW, this is also the same standard I hold myself to when passing on work to clients and partners.

3) What's your work life balance like?


Honestly, the senior associate years can be "live to work" - which is how things are for me right now. I love what I do, and I don't feel this is the right time to set tons of boundaries and prioritize my personal life. I know that most partners are able to work less than I currently am, and if I make partner, I expect to have a more sustainable (although not idyllic) work-life balance in the long term. If you've got any specific questions about work-life balance and work expectations of senior associates, happy to take a shot at answering them.

- SrA

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Sep 04, 2017 4:30 pm

Although I'm pretty sure the biglaw life isn't for me, I am curious: You say you love what you do. Did you always? If not, when did you start?

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Sep 09, 2017 1:17 pm

GGMcSwift wrote:What are the realistic options for big law litigators who don't aspire to be partner but also don't want to work in criminal law (or civil agencies that are prosecutorial in nature, like the SEC)? Is trying to get an in house litigation position realistic? And if so, what is the optimal time to try to do this?


The most common path is certainly to go in-house. Many people get "in-house litigation" positions - meaning, in-house positions overseeing a stable of outside law firms that actually handle the company's litigation. It is rare for these positions to involve actual litigation, although it does happen: I once met an in-house counsel at an auto insurer who did a lot of the insurer's trials himself, and I saw on LinkedIn this past week a 2nd or 3rd degree contact posting that they had had multiple appellate arguments for their company since going in-house. Other in-house paths include a non-litigation position under the GC that draws on some substantive skillset you've acquired (e.g., labor & employment, tax, compliance, privacy, etc.), or simply moving into a business role (although this seems slightly harder for litigators than for corporate associates). The optimal time is years 5-10. BTW, one thing I didn't understand about in-house roles until colleagues and friends started going in-house: there's relatively little upward mobility at a single company. E.g., at a fairly large company, you might have five lit AGCs reporting to one lit DGC who reports to the GC. If the GC and DGC stay in their roles for the next 10 years, there may be nowhere for the AGCs to go - meaning lateral moves are often necessary for in-house counsel to climb. Can be a surprise to biglaw types who are used to getting more senior each year and the up or out model.

The other exit options include:
- Midlaw: civil litigation
- Other biglaw: even if you don't want to be partner, if you've got a specialty and are seeking an "of counsel" promotion, sometimes (rarely) a lateral move will get you there
- Government: civil (non-prosecutorial) litigation
- Non-profit/public interest (can be challenging, but not impossible, after several years in biglaw, especially if you've done the right pro bono work)
- Academia (ditto re challenging; people who want this try to publish as much as possible as associates)
- Start own practice, either pure solo or with 1-2 other mid-career attorneys (starts becoming possible at years 8-12: if you're talented and well-liked, you can even do this with the support of your biglaw firm - they send work that's too small for them to handle, you send work that's too complex for you to handle, everyone wins, in theory; I know of 3-4 small law firms in my city that started this way and seem to be thriving)

- SrA

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Sep 11, 2017 12:29 pm

I graduated in 2014, did two years of corporate biglaw, and just started a district court clerkship. After the clerkship, I want to return to biglaw to do litigation. Do you have any advice for the transition? Will my two years of corporate work count for anything in the firm (year level, salary, etc.), or will I essentially be starting over? FWIW, I know I want to do litigation and have always known, but the firm placed me in the group and would not let me switch.

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Sep 11, 2017 6:17 pm

SomeElleWoodsJoke wrote:If possible without requiring too-specific information, what are the best questions you've been asked by an interviewee?


Honestly, almost all questions I've gotten are non-descript (why [your firm]; favorite aspects of current practice; "day in the life"; formal training; mentoring; pro bono; deposition opportunities; early responsibility; summer associate assignments; biggest surprises on transitioning from SA to full time practice; work-life balance). All of these questions are understandable and appropriate. Some interviewees manage to sell themselves via their questions, though, if the questions reflect familiarity with our practice/clients and my firm bio, and the interviewee uses the discussion that flows from the question to describe their own background and interest in our firm.

- SrA

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Re: Biglaw senior litigation associate. AMA.

Postby surrealfx » Tue Sep 26, 2017 10:50 pm

What's your backup plan if partnership doesn't work?



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