Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

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Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 24, 2017 7:32 am

I got an offer for the tort litigation team of a big law firm. The team's main selling point was the associates get to conduct depositions and have more hands on experiences early in their career. I know this is probably an individual preference, but having never practiced law, especially at a large law firm, would you consider this a positive or a pain?

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Nagster5 » Thu Aug 24, 2017 7:37 am

Anonymous User wrote:I got an offer for the tort litigation team of a big law firm. The team's main selling point was the associates get to conduct depositions and have more hands on experiences early in their career. I know this is probably an individual preference, but having never practiced law, especially at a large law firm, would you consider this a positive or a pain?


It's objectively positive because people hiring you later/considering you for partner will want to know what you've accomplished, and they can hire anyone to do doc review. Substantive experience means being marketable. Whether the work is more enjoyable subjectively I don't know, but the consensus seems to be nothing could be worse than doc review.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Hutz_and_Goodman » Thu Aug 24, 2017 7:39 am

It's a good thing. Makes you more marketable, makes you more valuable to your current firm, and is more interesting.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 24, 2017 8:14 am

It is a good thing. I had a ton of substantive work early in my career. But there are times I wish I could have just billed 2k hours doing doc review and collected a paycheck. Doing real lawyer work is much harder than clicking through documents all day. I think I'm a bit more burnt out because I didn't have any doc review in my first two years of biglaw.

Also, just because you get some substantive work as a junior doesn't mean that you won't get shitty work too. I've built so many binders, cite check so many briefs, and done other paralegal esque tasks that would likely not be done by a junior if we had doc review work.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby SemperLegal » Thu Aug 24, 2017 8:38 am

Anonymous User wrote:It is a good thing. I had a ton of substantive work early in my career. But there are times I wish I could have just billed 2k hours doing doc review and collected a paycheck. Doing real lawyer work is much harder than clicking through documents all day. I think I'm a bit more burnt out because I didn't have any doc review in my first two years of biglaw.

Also, just because you get some substantive work as a junior doesn't mean that you won't get shitty work too. I've built so many binders, cite check so many briefs, and done other paralegal esque tasks that would likely not be done by a junior if we had doc review work.



You'll never not have mindless work in biglaw. But it's 100% refreshing to get a chance to stretch your brain from time to time.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 24, 2017 9:24 am

SemperLegal wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:It is a good thing. I had a ton of substantive work early in my career. But there are times I wish I could have just billed 2k hours doing doc review and collected a paycheck. Doing real lawyer work is much harder than clicking through documents all day. I think I'm a bit more burnt out because I didn't have any doc review in my first two years of biglaw.

Also, just because you get some substantive work as a junior doesn't mean that you won't get shitty work too. I've built so many binders, cite check so many briefs, and done other paralegal esque tasks that would likely not be done by a junior if we had doc review work.



You'll never not have mindless work in biglaw. But it's 100% refreshing to get a chance to stretch your brain from time to time.


For me though, some of the more paralegal like tasks take an incredible amount of focus on detail. The only work that I've had in biglaw that's been easy has been doc review. I'm good at the more substantive work, but I'd take doc review all day over the other stuff.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby First Offense » Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:11 am

Anonymous User wrote:I got an offer for the tort litigation team of a big law firm. The team's main selling point was the associates get to conduct depositions and have more hands on experiences early in their career. I know this is probably an individual preference, but having never practiced law, especially at a large law firm, would you consider this a positive or a pain?

2000 hours of mindless work will make you want to jump out of a window. Substantive work is good - I greatly prefer it to just churning through documents or doing deposition summaries or something equally mindless.

Not to say that there aren't times where I'm glad I can come in, put on some tunes, and do some doc review or something, but I normally *don't* want to do that.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby MKC » Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:13 am

First Offense wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I got an offer for the tort litigation team of a big law firm. The team's main selling point was the associates get to conduct depositions and have more hands on experiences early in their career. I know this is probably an individual preference, but having never practiced law, especially at a large law firm, would you consider this a positive or a pain?

2000 hours of mindless work will make you want to jump out of a window. Substantive work is good - I greatly prefer it to just churning through documents or doing deposition summaries or something equally mindless.

Not to say that there aren't times where I'm glad I can come in, put on some tunes, and do some doc review or something, but I normally *don't* want to do that.


Deposition summaries are the only thing worse than doc review.
Last edited by MKC on Sat Jan 27, 2018 1:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby kykiske » Thu Aug 24, 2017 11:27 am

Agree with the above-posters. You definitely want the substantive "lawyer" projects--i.e., drafting dispositive motions, taking depositions, preparing for hearings.

That stuff is fun.

If you're a 3rd year associate looking to lateral, you're much more marketable if you can truthfully say that you've taken 5 depositions on billable matters, and argued 3 dispositive motions, instead of just saying you performed research and doc review.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby lolwat » Thu Aug 24, 2017 12:48 pm

It's different for everybody, but I think most people who wanted to be lawyers or who went to law school hoping to do interesting shit would prefer substantive work over doc review, depo summaries and other similar mindless bullshit. Not that it's necessarily bad to have some mindless work every once in a while I suppose. My brain gets tired and I want a small break every time I finish a MSJ or appellate brief or whatever. Wish I had the flexibility to just take a day off after finishing something like that.

As for getting substantive work early, you will forever have a leg up over your "peers" if you do get that work. If you've taken 5 depositions as a 3rd year, you've probably done more than many mid-level/senior associates have. :)

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 24, 2017 12:56 pm

Beyond the fact that it's generally objectively better to do more substantive work, it'll come up in lateral/in-house-government interviews. They'll ask what your role was on your case/deal teams, what types of assignments you tend to do, what your responsibilities are, examples of interesting issues you've dealt with, etc. The more you've done, the more appealing you are to your next employer and the better you can answer those questions in interviews. And the more substantive experience you get early on, the easier it is to get more of it going forward.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Thu Aug 24, 2017 3:30 pm

It's a good thing if you want to be a lawyer. It's a bad thing if you want your life to be as pleasant as possible while you grind out a few years in biglaw. A lot of people are surprised to find they're in the latter category.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby bruinfan10 » Thu Aug 24, 2017 3:46 pm

dixiecupdrinking wrote:It's a good thing if you want to be a lawyer. It's a bad thing if you want your life to be as pleasant as possible while you grind out a few years in biglaw. A lot of people are surprised to find they're in the latter category.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby oblig.lawl.ref » Thu Aug 24, 2017 4:14 pm

Clearly I'm in the minority but I get the concern. Early substantive work was never a selling point to me because I've been in situations where I felt like there was very little oversight, review, mentorship or training and I could see my former employers selling that as "substantive work/experience." So that selling point sometimes made me wary. They sell that in certain groups at my current firm and those groups are often very sink and swim and I would avoid them. So, yes, actually substantive work is desirable but I get being apprehensive if you think it may be code for a lack of oversight and/or training, which is certainly a problem in certain groups in big law.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby quiver » Thu Aug 24, 2017 4:22 pm

bruinfan10 wrote:
dixiecupdrinking wrote:It's a good thing if you want to be a lawyer. It's a bad thing if you want your life to be as pleasant as possible while you grind out a few years in biglaw. A lot of people are surprised to find they're in the latter category.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby lolwat » Thu Aug 24, 2017 5:17 pm

quiver wrote:
bruinfan10 wrote:
dixiecupdrinking wrote:It's a good thing if you want to be a lawyer. It's a bad thing if you want your life to be as pleasant as possible while you grind out a few years in biglaw. A lot of people are surprised to find they're in the latter category.


While I understand this thought, doesn't it also depend what the end-game is? It seems like many people want to be a lawyer, just not in biglaw -- and in those circumstances, getting substantive work early would make someone more marketable when they want to lateral in a few years.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Fri Aug 25, 2017 7:50 am

lolwat wrote:
quiver wrote:
bruinfan10 wrote:
dixiecupdrinking wrote:It's a good thing if you want to be a lawyer. It's a bad thing if you want your life to be as pleasant as possible while you grind out a few years in biglaw. A lot of people are surprised to find they're in the latter category.


While I understand this thought, doesn't it also depend what the end-game is? It seems like many people want to be a lawyer, just not in biglaw -- and in those circumstances, getting substantive work early would make someone more marketable when they want to lateral in a few years.

Correct. But faced with the reality of "early responsibility," many associates learn they'd actually rather see their families and get enough sleep than make themselves more marketable.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby jd20132013 » Fri Aug 25, 2017 8:08 am

not nearly as good as people make it out to be when no one trains you how to do everything and every day is scrambling to try to figure out how to do something

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Aug 25, 2017 9:09 am

jd20132013 wrote:not nearly as good as people make it out to be when no one trains you how to do everything and every day is scrambling to try to figure out how to do something


This was my whole first year.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Aug 25, 2017 11:26 am

My firm offered zero training and expected me to jump in on substantive tasks and brief/motion writing almost immediately (litigation). It was a good experience in certain respects and I made a little more money than my market peers but I wound up inevitably disappointing people since I had no idea what I was doing and had no space to actually learn. By the time I had a handle on things I'd already made a series of negative first impressions with imperfect work, despite the universal recognition that I was performing at a level several years higher in terms of complexity. Perhaps in a more forgiving environment it would have worked out well, but that's rarely the culture at these "early substantive experience" environments. It's definitely not as straightforward as it seems at OCI; my friends doing more grunt work at traditional larger firms had more basic tasks, less responsibility on their cases, and received better reviews.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby foregetaboutdre » Fri Aug 25, 2017 11:41 am

MarkinKansasCity wrote:
First Offense wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I got an offer for the tort litigation team of a big law firm. The team's main selling point was the associates get to conduct depositions and have more hands on experiences early in their career. I know this is probably an individual preference, but having never practiced law, especially at a large law firm, would you consider this a positive or a pain?

2000 hours of mindless work will make you want to jump out of a window. Substantive work is good - I greatly prefer it to just churning through documents or doing deposition summaries or something equally mindless.

Not to say that there aren't times where I'm glad I can come in, put on some tunes, and do some doc review or something, but I normally *don't* want to do that.


Deposition summaries are the only thing worse than doc review.


Responding to interrogatories and requests for documents sucks pretty hard too. I will agree that doc review or similar tasks is an easy way to get some hours in though, but I'd be very scared if that's all I was doing.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Aug 25, 2017 11:45 am

Early substantive work and client contact is an overrated selling point. The translation is more work and worse work-life balance. A high number of my friends (2-3 years in) are disillusioned with big law (and law) altogether so while substantive work/client contact may make you a better lawyer, there's no guarantee you'll even want to be a lawyer after a few years.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby bruinfan10 » Fri Aug 25, 2017 1:12 pm

my firm offered fairly sparse training and handed me a ton of responsibility in my first year, but I have a great group of fellow associates a year or two above me who were more than happy to fill in the details the partners were too busy to give me. learning a new skill and taking ownership/responsibility is going to a take ton of hours and stress anytime you get handed a substantive project. at a NYC megafirm that'll happen after a couple wasted years of doc review, but it's not like the code-monkey years will make the learning curve less steep or stressful. at a boutique lit firm like susman godfrey, it'll be the same level of stress taking on the project, you'll just do it two years earlier or so.

these comments from people about "early substantive experience" being "overrated" miss the point. if you want to clock in, code documents, pay off your debt, and then get out of law altogether, you may want to avoid a firm that gives early substantive experience. if you want to spend two years in biglaw, pay off your debt, and then have marketable skills that can get you a government or smaller firm job that has more work life balance, early substantive experience is like....the only way you can do that.
Last edited by bruinfan10 on Fri Aug 25, 2017 1:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby First Offense » Fri Aug 25, 2017 1:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Early substantive work and client contact is an overrated selling point. The translation is more work and worse work-life balance. A high number of my friends (2-3 years in) are disillusioned with big law (and law) altogether so while substantive work/client contact may make you a better lawyer, there's no guarantee you'll even want to be a lawyer after a few years.

While the bolded may be true, it's also kind of a stupid position to operate under after spending 3 years and 6 figures on a degree. I'm not positive at all I want to be a lawyer forever (or for long, frankly), but while I'm here I want to actually *be* a lawyer before I decide I don't want to be one.

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Re: Is more substantive work early actually a good thing?

Postby lolwat » Fri Aug 25, 2017 1:24 pm

Correct. But faced with the reality of "early responsibility," many associates learn they'd actually rather see their families and get enough sleep than make themselves more marketable.


Anonymous User wrote:Early substantive work and client contact is an overrated selling point. The translation is more work and worse work-life balance. A high number of my friends (2-3 years in) are disillusioned with big law (and law) altogether so while substantive work/client contact may make you a better lawyer, there's no guarantee you'll even want to be a lawyer after a few years.


It's not always a zero sum game. Early substantive work doesn't necessarily mean more work/worse work-life balance. It might (and it does for those who get no supervision and are just thrown into a pile of shit), but it isn't always that way. Consider the difference between (1) a 1 partner/1 associate case with 10 depositions in a month (yeah, you're fucked) versus (2) being on a team and only being expected to handle 1-2 of those 10 depositions (hours aren't going to be significantly worse than usual). Writing motions and preparing for/arguing at hearings really shouldn't take more time than usual. The only thing I can really think of that's almost universally horrible for work/life balance is preparing for trial in any capacity.

And yeah, this kind of all goes back to what everyone's end game is. Really, for those who eventually decide they don't want to be a lawyer anymore, any time and effort they spend over the minimum to skate by while collecting the $180k + bonus ultimately is a waste. That doesn't really change whether it's substantive work or doc review.

And I guess it also depends on what people mean by work/life balance. In months where I'm not on a team preparing for trial, I often just work 50-hour weeks (9-7 M-F) and little to no time on the weekends. Those two extra hours beyond 9-5 sometimes weigh on me, but it's not really keeping me from seeing my family and getting enough sleep.



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