Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

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Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Jul 30, 2018 3:47 pm

So with the bar exam behind recent graduates and employment coming up, I wanted to create a thread for people who are getting their practice group placement and are less than pleased with where they have been put.

A bit of background: I was someone who wanted litigation and was assured of it by my V50 firm, only to be told about a month ahead of my start date that I was being put in a corporate group. Up until then, I had actually never heard of this happening, but I learned through my experience that it's actually a lot more common than I thought. After about a year at my old firm, I switched firms to do litigation, and am much happier now. For those who might be going through something similar, I wanted to offer some advice, broken out into two categories: approaches at work, and approaches to the lateral search.

Approaches at Work
1. My first piece of advice is that if you're really disappointed with your practice group placement, let yourself cycle through the normal emotions. I was surprised, scared, angry, and frustrated. I thought it was extremely cavalier of my firm to make such a huge, life-impacting change for me when they had led me to believe otherwise. It's understandable to feel frustrated by it, and allow yourself that. However, try not to take it too personally (with an important caveat below). Firm hiring, especially for biglaw, is weird; they're essentially hiring for two years out in a very imprecise way, and a lot can happen during that time. Markets change, huge cases settle, clients merge/leave. And you get paid a lot as a first year associate, and firms aren't going to pay you to sit around in a group that has no work. It's a business, and you're one of probably a lot of incoming associates. You still graduated from law school and got a job so you're kicking ass. It might help to talk to non-lawyers about it, if you're feeling down about your situation. When I would explain how distraught I was to not be doing the kind of work I wanted at an entry level for a six figure salary, my non-law friends would look at my like I was crazy, and that helped put things into perspective.

2. With all that said, you should be on high alert. It's impossible to say exactly what motivated your firm to single you out to move practice groups, but it's likely that they at least considered that you would be among the first to leave. That should be a red flag to you. Right now, despite the group placement, you have one big thing going for you: you have a job. That obviously allows you to survive/pay off loans/pay bills, but it also makes the job search infinitely easier. It might not be your ideal job, but do everything you can to keep it. Don't let any bad attitude you might (understandably) have affect your work product or relationships with people at your firm; you don't need to give them a reason to fire you. I learned very early on that being bitter about the situation didn't actually make anything better, and actually made things a lot worse. You're still getting paid handsomely, keep a good attitude, and be someone that people want to work with. This will also increase your chances of switching groups within your firm if they allow you to later on.

3. Assuming you can't switch within your firm, though, look for ways to build experience at your current job. This can probably best be done with pro bono, where you tend to have more control over the kinds of projects you work on. You can focus on things that require skill sets in the practice area that you want, and there's usually some pro bono that would align with your interests (even for corporate). Beyond that, focus on developing broad skills that all juniors need to have, like organization, time management, good billing practices, etc. Firms know that if they're interviewing a junior associate, that person is not an expert in their field; what usually makes a good junior (regardless of practice group) is someone who is very organized, on top of tasks, communicates well, etc. Constantly be thinking about ways you could spin each assignment you do as a positive in a job interview. For example, I talked about the ways that working on corporate deals exposed me to direct client interaction, or the considerations of those working within the company, or helped me develop/refine organizational skills. There's a lot to learn at any job so make sure you're learning something each day that could go towards making you a better associate in your desired practice area.

4. Try to get admitted/on your firm's website as soon as possible to make yourself a more appealing candidate, and to dispel any hint that you might have been terminated.

Approaches to the Job Search

1. When searching for openings, utilize every resource that you can. Checking your law school's job database could be a good place to start, because a lot of the positions are for students/recent graduates. Laterally is also a service that notifies you of lateral openings, and you can target it to ones that might fit your circumstances. Your state bar association also likely sends out job openings. LinkedIn is helpful for searches. Talk to friends from law school to see if their firms are hiring. See if friends in your desired practice group can forward you recruiter emails that they receive. Also just apply blindly; create a large list of firms and apply to a few firms each day. Where you apply will depend on your particular circumstances, but try to be as flexible as possible. This will obviously open up more options for you. Also, be willing to start over as a first year associate, including pay, and make that clear to firms upfront.

2. On the subject of recruiters, this one is hit or miss. On the one hand, they can help you target your search to firms that fit with your unique set of circumstances; on the other hand, firms usually don't want to pay a recruiter fee for a junior associate that they'll have to retool. I worked with two recruiters. One I really didn't like; she seemed self-interested and more focused on the commission than actually assisting me in my situation. Another was fantastic; she found me specific firms that were looking to re-tool a junior associate, but also explicitly told me to apply to most places on my own, as that would help avoid the recruiter fee and make me a more appealing candidate. She got me some interviews with biglaw firms that were very helpful. So I wouldn't rule out recruiters, but be cautious.

3. Practice your interview skills. It's likely been a while since you've done a job interview, and that job interview was likely at OCI, when you had just a few softball questions to answer (why law school, which class did you like the most, why our firm, etc.) Lateral interviews are very different though, because you have a lot more to talk about, especially of substance. I had an early interview with another firm that I completely bombed. I was able to talk generally about my experiences in my 3L clinic, but the partner was grilling me on specifics of a memo that I wrote for that, and I couldnt remember those details. But it was a wake-up call, and I created an outline that covered everything on my resume and gave me talking points in case it came up. I was able to discuss certain deals that I worked on in detail, and could recite specific facts for each of the pro bono matters that I brought up in interviews. No one else ever brought up anything as specific as that first interview, but it was still helpful to have and made me feel more confident going into my interviews.

I think that's it for now, but please feel free to ask any questions about this process. It sucks, but know that you are not alone, and in the grand scheme of things it's not a huge deal. You are more than your job and more than this practice group placement, so don't let it get you down!

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Wild Card

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby Wild Card » Mon Jul 30, 2018 4:55 pm

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

I got negative performance reviews for all of my rotations last summer, and my firm has pushed out 10%+ of my hoped-for practice group since I left.

I wouldn't mind getting corporate instead of my desired practice group, but I'm worried about getting put in Tax or Trusts & Estates, or something crazy like that.

I've been mentoring rising 2Ls preparing for OCI, and I guess I'm fortunate to have a job.

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nealric

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby nealric » Mon Jul 30, 2018 5:06 pm

Wild Card wrote:Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

I got negative performance reviews for all of my rotations last summer, and my firm has pushed out 10%+ of my hoped-for practice group since I left.

I wouldn't mind getting corporate instead of my desired practice group, but I'm worried about getting put in Tax or Trusts & Estates, or something crazy like that.

I've been mentoring rising 2Ls preparing for OCI, and I guess I'm fortunate to have a job.


Very unlikely you'd be put in tax or T&E without expressing a specific interest in it. Tax requires a certain aptitude and mindset, and even the largest tax groups are very selective about who they take in. Tax tends to be very low-leverage, so they only need a handful of associates. T&E is a dying group at most large firms and the groups that still exist rarely have more than a few associates at any seniority level.

That being said, being in a niche practice group can be a very good thing. It gives you a way to stand-out and develop marketable expertise. It also lessens the chance you will spend all your time on non-substantive work.

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 09, 2018 6:13 pm

Bumping this - thank you for the thoughtful response! At a bit of a loss (though maybe in an enviable position for some) - I went to LS to practice in a specialty transactional group, was sold a fake bill of goods by my firm about how they wanted me for it, and ended up in litigation. I’m at a bit of a loss because no other firms seem to be hiring for this group (I’m a 3L) and am trying to figure out if it makes sense to try to go general transactional/corporate and then attempt to switch later with more transferable skills, or stick with lit and possibly try to switch later, or not. I had mostly a negative experience this summer (but good reviews) due to me realizing the practice group wasn’t happening, so I’m thinking that I would like to go to elsewhere regardless.

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:31 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Bumping this - thank you for the thoughtful response! At a bit of a loss (though maybe in an enviable position for some) - I went to LS to practice in a specialty transactional group, was sold a fake bill of goods by my firm about how they wanted me for it, and ended up in litigation. I’m at a bit of a loss because no other firms seem to be hiring for this group (I’m a 3L) and am trying to figure out if it makes sense to try to go general transactional/corporate and then attempt to switch later with more transferable skills, or stick with lit and possibly try to switch later, or not. I had mostly a negative experience this summer (but good reviews) due to me realizing the practice group wasn’t happening, so I’m thinking that I would like to go to elsewhere regardless.


OP here:

Really sorry to hear about this! It's good that you're finding this out as a 3L though. That will give you more time. Definitely take advantage of the OCI season if you can, but it makes sense that, like you said, a lot of firms might not be hiring for your specific desired practice area. I would continue to search throughout 3L. You'll have a job lined up for after if it doesn't work, but openings pop up randomly and all the time. Have you talked to career services about this yet? They might be able to help, or to notify you if they hear anything from firms that are looking to hire in your desired area. Most law schools have pretty good connections to large firms, so they might be a good resource.

Like you mentioned, you might want to focus on ending up somewhere with a broad corporate group, since this will be easier to land and will likely give you more relevant experience for your desired group than litigation would. This depends though on what your desired small group would be; general corporate skills will be more applicable to finance, for example, than IP transaction or tax. But I think this is a judgment call on your part. Keep in mind that you might risk staying in a general corporate track if you do make this your first step, and assess how ok you would be with that. But that fact that you're not to keen on your current firm definitely makes the choice a bit easier.

If it gives you any encouragement, although you're looking for a niche practice group, transactional seems to be a lot hotter than litigation, and over time I'm sure you'll be able to find an opening in your desired area eventually.

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby QContinuum » Thu Aug 09, 2018 9:48 pm

Anonymous User wrote:am trying to figure out if it makes sense to try to go general transactional/corporate and then attempt to switch later with more transferable skills, or stick with lit and possibly try to switch later, or not.


If you want to do transactional work, definitely don't start in lit if you can help it. Switching between lit and trans as an associate isn't easy (especially going from lit to trans; it's somewhat easier going from trans to lit), and only becomes harder the further along you get.

Why not give 3L OCI/mass mailing a good shot and see what happens? If nothing else, at the very least try to get your 2L firm to let you start in trans (even if not your preferred group) instead of lit.

Int'lshoe

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby Int'lshoe » Fri Aug 10, 2018 7:14 pm

Thanks for this post OP. I similarly have been hoodwinked by my firm and placed into a practice area I did not interview for. I brought it up at my last review and nothing really seemed to change. The only thing I would add is that it also seems like the more junior you are, the less the firm cares about your actual preferences (hence, they make it more likely you will leave voluntarily).

Anyway, thanks again for the advice from someone that is working through the same issue.

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Aug 11, 2018 9:11 am

Int'lshoe wrote:Thanks for this post OP. I similarly have been hoodwinked by my firm and placed into a practice area I did not interview for. I brought it up at my last review and nothing really seemed to change. The only thing I would add is that it also seems like the more junior you are, the less the firm cares about your actual preferences (hence, they make it more likely you will leave voluntarily).

Anyway, thanks again for the advice from someone that is working through the same issue.


OP here:

Sorry to hear this! I know it's frustrating, but keep your head up. And yeah, when I was going through this, I definitely felt like the firm didn't care about me. I know the entire idea of being a summer associate vs. being an associate is a bait and switch, but when my firm moved me into a group I really didn't want and potentially affected my entire career, I felt like all the things they had said to me as a summer about caring about me as a person and wanting to help me start a great career was especially hollow. It's tough, but it's more common than you think, and people switch firms and practice groups as juniors much more frequently than I knew at the time. Let me know if you have any questions as you go through the process, and keep your chin up!

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northwood

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Re: Unhappy With Practice Group Placement?

Postby northwood » Sat Aug 11, 2018 9:17 am

Focus on doing the best you can and having a good work product, attitude and dependability. Grind for a year or two and then use your reputation Nd experience to try to go into the area you want. Experience is extremely valuable and after less than 3 years of being in a practice area it’s quite easy to sell on not liking that area of law to future employers.



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