So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

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BernieTrump
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So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:20 pm

My background: Top 5 undergraduate school economics major. Harvard law school. I practice as a very senior corporate associate at a v3 law firm in the city. Standard-issue southern white guy who's pretty quick on the uptake and extremely good at school and standardized tests. To my regret, I'm also pretty good at being a law firm associate.

My pitch: Going to law school, and taking this job right afterwards, are the first and second worst mistakes of my entire life. I'm here to give a skeptic's look at "winning" the law school game, at least from the perspective of someone who is interested in business or who is at all interested in having a stable career, or any opportunity to be thoughtful, creative or interesting at work. I've tried for almost a decade now to rationalize my going to law school. There's no objective way of doing that. Many/most of my cohort feels the same way. Nobody who had options out of college would do it again.

First, I point to commitment requirements. As a comparison, I worked in bulge bracket banking as a full time analyst prior to law school during the boom. Despite the widely held notion that biglaw is more human, I will assure you it is not. To give you a sense, there have been two days since Christmas, about 3 months ago, that I have not worked over 8 hours (most weekdays are 10-15 hours). That stat includes weekends. That stat includes weekend dinners and informal get togethers, all of which I cancelled. That stat also includes my best friend's wedding out of state (a wedding I was in) last weekend, where I got up at 4AM after a rehearsal dinner ending at midnight so as to be able to put in 8 full hours before I was required to be downstairs at 1PM. Partner: "We're sorry but we just don't have anyone who can cover [deal X]. You may just have to be late to your event." Going back a bit further, I worked a full day on Christmas Eve and all of Thanksgiving and TG weekend. I cancelled trips to go down home to see my family both times. I haven't seen them since Thanksgiving 2014. In this job, you're very much expected to be within 20 minutes of a computer, and able to sit down for 5 hours at it, at a moment's notice. And that does happen regularly. It's also worth considering that I'm one of the better people around here at saying no to new deals. At least I sleep 7 hours a night. Some of the meeker associates don't even get that. But the most striking thing about all of this is that it doesn't ever get better, unlike most other jobs. That partner from the story above cancelled a trip with his young family a few months ago because some worthless deal "might close on Monday". It closed three weeks later. He was livid, then he looked like he was going to cry. I could go on and on (I'm a very good squash and tennis player. I love playing, but I play 1-3 times a year -- I joined a league but missed 3 of my first 3 matches and quit). This sounds melodramatic, but I'm underselling the sacrifices, if anything.

Second, I need to talk about the work itself. It's the most tedious thing on earth. Some areas (M&A) are better than others (capital markets, bank finance, tax), but ultimately there are 20 points the people actually care about in any deal, and you're not responsible for any of them. You're also not responsible for the points people *don't* care about. You're a scribe. You summarize what a document says. They tell you what it should say. They can't read even a short 10 word sentence themselves. So expect the unexpected call at 2 in the morning to ask if "ABC means 123" when there's a section heading called "ABC meaning 123" in the table of contents, and when you flip there, the section is one line saying "ABC means 123". Then they'll call you again the next day for the same thing. They forgot. There's almost no room to be creative. You read. You summarize. You make marginal changes based on what your client wants to do. Your client doesn't care about 95% of what you're trying to get them to focus on, so it's tedious for them and for you. And once you get through that process, where your client finally hangs up (putting down the gun he had to his head because he was so bored just discussing this stuff) you then get to do the much more tedious process of actually editing a 200 page contract. Hope you love proofreading.

Third, you are trapped in law. In 2016, with very few exceptions, once you go to law school you're never going to get a good non-law managerial or business position in any company ever again (unless you found a company). It doesn't matter if you majored in math. It doesn't matter if you spent 3 years at McKinsey before law school. You're fighting the view that corporate lawyers have no ability to deal with numbers, think strategically or do anything aside from being a scribe. Many times, that's not even unfair (see above, you are a scribe). Very few people overcome that prejudice, and nobody overcomes it to get a business job they couldn't have had out of undergrad. So if you're the lucky 2% that can make that move, you're taking a massive seniority cut and pay cut. The days of of the JD opening doors have been over for 30 years. 30+ years ago, the MBA wasn't the credential it is now (a good example is that anyone at SLS was automatically accepted into GSB without applying), and lawyers regularly became business people. Now there's a generation of MBAs running around, and you're not getting hired over any of them. I absolutely cannot stress enough how niche you become after just one day as a corporate lawyer. This is by far the worst thing.

Moreover -- you're trapped in a specialization within law that likely wasn't your first choice. Without outing my firm, most top firms these days are specializing their associates much, much earlier, as clients won't pay for worthless/generalist junior skill sets. Even a decade ago, you would get a few years to find your way to a specialty, and get to pick it. Now you're assigned one on day one in many firms. And within a year at the vast majority. Places do a good job at trying to match you, but if there's demand in capital markets, and you don't want to be a capital markets lawyer, tough. That's where they're putting you. And once you specialize, it's almost impossible to do something else, especially after a few years and you realize how much you hate it. You can go do the same specialty in house (maybe, in some specialties), or hang around until they kick you out, which they always do.

On that note: 100-200 people enter every year. 0-3 are made partner. It won't be you, unless you're both the best in your class and extremely lucky (someone needs to die or a big new client needs to come in, etc.). It's all for nothing. You become very good a very very niche job you can't do anywhere but in a law firm, and the only law firms that will have you will pay you progressively less for the same level of work.

Sixth, there's no stability, even for junior associates. It's been a long time since the 2008 crash. For those of you who don't remember, law firms fired (or rescinded offers) from thousand of law students and first/second year associates. Many of the junior associates who were fired never turned that around. I know a great/smart/hardworking guy, magna at Harvard, who was fired by Latham. He had to move to BFE to get any non-document-review job at all. It pays nothing and is a dead end. By the time the legal market recovered, the ship had sailed on his career and he was too senior to come in as a junior. Anecdotal, of course, but it happened a lot. We're poised for another crash in the next 0-3 years, and there's no taboo on law firms "right sizing" anymore.

You're reading this and thinking it won't be me. You think you'll do a few years and go after your true calling. You won't. Nobody does. People become broken (lost relationships with friends, family and spouses; alcoholism; depression -- law firms are very sad places), and flame out, generally into something as bad or worse. Print this off and stick it somewhere that you'll find it in five years. Or better yet, don't make the mistakes I did (and which I felt strongly enough to spend 30 minutes writing this at my desk here on a Sunday night).

Taking questions.
Last edited by BernieTrump on Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:17 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Leonardo DiCaprio
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Leonardo DiCaprio » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:28 pm

is being a NY Lit associate any better?

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seespotrun
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby seespotrun » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:30 pm

tldr

KYS

Alive97
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Alive97 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:34 pm

Did you have the option of going in house at any point?

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Iam3hunna
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Iam3hunna » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:34 pm

seespotrun wrote:tldr

KYS


I second this motion.

Tls2016
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Tls2016 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:39 pm

BernieTrump wrote:My background: Top 5 undergraduate school economics major. Harvard law school. I practice as a very senior corporate associate at a v3 law firm in the city. Standard-issue southern white guy who's pretty quick on the uptake and extremely good at school and standardized tests. To my regret, I'm also pretty good at being a law firm associate.

My pitch: Going to law school, and taking this job right afterwards, are the first and second worst mistakes of my entire life. I'm here to give a skeptic's look at "winning" the law school game, at least from the perspective of someone who is interested in business or who is at all interested in having a stable career, or any opportunity to be thoughtful, creative or interesting at work. I've tried for almost a decade now to rationalize my going to law school. There's no objective way of doing that. Many/most of my cohort feels the same way. Nobody who had options out of college would do it again.

First, I point to commitment requirements. As a comparison, I worked in bulge bracket banking as a full time analyst prior to law school during the boom. Despite the widely held notion that biglaw is more human, I will assure you it is not. To give you a sense, there have been two days since Christmas, about 3 months ago, that I have not worked over 8 hours (most weekdays are 10-15 hours). That stat includes weekends. That stat includes weekend dinners and informal get togethers, all of which I cancelled. That stat also includes the weekend of my best friend's wedding out of state (a wedding I was in) last week, where I got up at 4AM after a rehearsal dinner ending at midnight so as to be able to put in 8 full hours before I was required to be downstairs at 1PM. Partner: "We're sorry but we just don't have anyone who can cover [deal X]. You may just have to be late to your event." Going back a bit further, I worked a full day on Christmas Eve and all of Thanksgiving and TG weekend. I cancelled trips to go down home to see my family both times. I haven't seen them since Thanksgiving 2014. In this job, you're very much expected to be within 20 minutes of a computer, and able to sit down for 5 hours at it, at a moment's notice. And that does happen regularly. It's also worth considering that I'm one of the better people around here at saying no to new deals. At least I sleep 7 hours a night. Some of the meeker associates don't even get that. But the most striking thing about all of this is that it doesn't ever get better, unlike most other jobs. That partner from the story above cancelled a trip with his young family a few months ago because some worthless deal "might close on Monday". It closed three weeks later. He was livid. I could go on and on (I'm a very good squash and tennis player, who loves playing; I play 1-3 times a year -- I joined a league but missed 3 of my first 3 matches and quit). This admittedly sounds melodramatic, but I'm underselling the sacrifices, if anything.

Second, I need to talk about the work itself. It's the most tedious thing on the face of the earth. Some (M&A) is better than others (capital markets, bank finance, tax), but ultimately there are 20 points the people actually care about in any deal, and you're not responsible for any of them. You're also not responsible for the points people *don't* care about. You're a scribe. You summarize what a document says. They tell you what it should say. They can't read even a short 10 word sentence themselves. So expect the unexpected call at 2 in the morning to ask if "ABC means 123" when there's a section heading called "ABC meaning 123" in the table of contents, and when you flip there, the section is one line saying "ABC means 123". Then they'll call you again the next day for the same thing. They forgot. There's almost no room to be creative. You read. You summarize. You make marginal changes based on what your client wants to do. Your client doesn't care about 95% of what you're trying to get them to focus on, so it's tedious for them and for you. And once you get through that process, where your client finally hangs up (putting down the gun he had to his head because he was so bored just discussing this stuff) you then get to do the much more tedious process of actually editing a 200 page contract. Hope you love proofreading.

Third, you are trapped in law. In 2016, with very few exceptions, once you go to law school you're never going to get a good non-law managerial or business position in any company ever again (unless you found a company). It doesn't matter if you majored in math. It doesn't matter if you spent 3 years at McKinsey before law school. You're fighting the view that corporate lawyers have no ability to deal with numbers, think strategically or do anything aside from being a scribe. Many times, that's not even unfair (see above, you are a scribe). Very few people overcome that prejudice, and nobody overcomes it to get a business job they couldn't have had out of undergrad. So if you're the lucky 2% that can make that move, you're taking a massive seniority cut and pay cut. The days of of the JD opening doors have been over for 30 years. 30+ years ago, the MBA wasn't the credential it is now (a good example is that anyone at SLS was automatically accepted into GSB without applying), and lawyers regularly became business people. Now there's a generation of MBAs running around, and you're not getting hired over any of them. I absolutely cannot stress enough how niche you become after just one day as a corporate lawyer. This is by far the worst thing.

Moreover -- you're trapped in a specialization within law that likely wasn't your first choice. Without outing my firm, most top firms these days are specializing their associates much, much earlier, as clients won't pay for worthless/generalist junior skill sets. Even a decade ago, you would get a few years to find your way to a specialty, and get to pick it. Now you're assigned one on day one in many firms. And within a year at the vast majority. Places do a good job at trying to match you, but if there's demand in capital markets, and you don't want to be a capital markets lawyer, tough. That's where they're putting you. And once you specialize, it's almost impossible to do something else, especially after a few years and you realize how much you hate it. You can go do the same specialty in house (maybe, in some specialties), or hang around until they kick you out, which they always do.

On that note: 100-200 people enter every year. 0-3 are made partner. It won't be you, unless you're both the best in your class and extremely lucky (someone needs to die or a big new client needs to come in, etc.). It's all for nothing. You become very good a very very niche job you can't do anywhere but in a law firm, and the only law firms that will have you will pay you progressively less for the same level of work.

Sixth, there's no stability, even for junior associates. It's been a long time since the 2008 crash. For those of you who don't remember, law firms fired (or rescinded offers) from thousand of law students and first/second year associates. Many of the junior associates who were fired never turned that around. I know a great/smart/hardworking guy, magna at Harvard, who was fired by Latham. He had to move to BFE to get any non-document-review job at all. It pays nothing and is a dead end. By the time the legal market recovered, the ship had sailed on his career and he was too senior to come in as a junior. Anecdotal, of course, but it happened a lot. We're poised for another crash in the next 0-3 years, and there's no taboo on law firms "right sizing" anymore.

You're reading this and thinking it won't be me. You think you'll do a few years and go after your true calling. You won't. Nobody does. People become broken (lost relationships with friends, family and spouses; alcoholism; depression -- law firms are very sad places), and flame out, generally into something as bad or worse. Print this off and stick it somewhere that you'll find it in five years. Or better yet, don't make the mistakes I did (and which I felt strongly enough to spend 30 minutes writing this at my desk here on a Sunday night).

Taking questions.

Great post that few 0Ls will believe is true. Most people look at law as a stable career even after the crash.
Expect comments as well about the money you've made.
Thanks for posting.
Last edited by Tls2016 on Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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JohannDeMann
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby JohannDeMann » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:45 pm

Tls2016 wrote:Great post that few 0Ls will believe is true. Most people look at law as a stable career even after the cash.
Expect comments as well about the money you've made.
Thanks for posting.


yep.

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zot1
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby zot1 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:45 pm

Thank you for posting this. I wish more law school prospective and current students would read this and understand it.

Jchance
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Jchance » Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:48 pm

Tag

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:03 pm

Leonardo DiCaprio wrote:is being a NY Lit associate any better?


Much, at least for the first 2-3 years. Much more predictable than deal work. You may miss vacations, but you don't get the call that you need to be in front of a computer in 30 minutes for the next 18 hours on your way to the airport in the way that happens with deal work.

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:04 pm

seespotrun wrote:tldr

KYS


Original. You'll do great with 200 page contracts and 70 page ancillary documents. They're in 10 point font.
Last edited by BernieTrump on Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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CardozoLaw09
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby CardozoLaw09 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:07 pm

Are you called BernieTrump because you think a hybrid of the two would make a good POTUS?

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:10 pm

Alive97 wrote:Did you have the option of going in house at any point?


I did. I had the option of going back to a major financial institution and a major f500 company, both where they were effectively trying to "in-source" some of my practice area they send out. Both would have been huge paycuts. One was to stay in NYC. One was to move to someplace like Iowa.

Didn't do either, as they're both doing the exact same job I have now (when I move, if I can, I want to do something else). Both would have also been big paycuts (and the NY one, by reputation, only marginally better in terms of hours). I've applied broadly 1-2 times over my career.

I could move to 100 other law firms tomorrow, but they all have the same issues. I've taken some lateral interviews, and got offers at each of them, but nothing felt like it was going to be better.

Tls2016
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Tls2016 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:16 pm

So do you have a plan of what you might do next?

goodoldmacintosh
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby goodoldmacintosh » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:21 pm

If you could rewind, and you were coming up on your first year of biglaw and had no debt. What would you do?

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:25 pm

Tls2016 wrote:So do you have a plan of what you might do next?


I'd like to move out of New York and find something outside of law. Very tough to even get interviews, even with top school econ degree, great grades at HLS and a ton of deal experience over the course of 8+ years. Nobody outside of law (and the law departments of companies) will really look at lawyers, even though I have pretty sterling credentials and am willing to work for sub-100K salary. If I'm unable to go to a company like that, I may try my hand at entrepreneurship, though I don't have a great sense about what form that would take. I don't get many opportunities to sit down and think about it or plan.

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zot1
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby zot1 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:27 pm

No intention of government work?

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:27 pm

goodoldmacintosh wrote:If you could rewind, and you were coming up on your first year of biglaw and had no debt. What would you do?


Immediately resign. Spin my previous experience into a job with a consulting firm. I probably wouldn't have been able to get a top 3 consulting firm with the weird trajectory, but I could have done something like Deloitte or one of the boutique places. Goal would be to parlay that into major corporation in the thinking (i.e. non-legal) side of M&A and deal work.

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:31 pm

zot1 wrote:No intention of government work?


That's not really an option for deal lawyers. The government isn't running around doing M&A, and if they are they hire counsel. Government work is for litigators (and to a lesser extent tax lawyers and labor lawyers).

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zot1
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby zot1 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:34 pm

BernieTrump wrote:
zot1 wrote:No intention of government work?


That's not really an option for deal lawyers. The government isn't running around doing M&A, and if they are they hire counsel. Government work is for litigators (and to a lesser extent tax lawyers and labor lawyers).


I disagree. I do some litigation but a lot of contracting as well. I think if you're remotely interested, you can find an agency doing transactional work.

Nekrowizard
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Nekrowizard » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:40 pm

Can you think of a way to angle more money out of a HYS law degree (short and long term) better than BigLaw?

EDIT: Also, if you've been in for 8+ years, you must at least have some inkling if you're going to make partner or not. If you're not, what are your post-law plans after this long of a career?
Last edited by Nekrowizard on Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Tls2016
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby Tls2016 » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:43 pm

If you're interested in tech or VC or startups, this group has been growing and is a way to met people. They may not just put you in the lawyer box if you have other skills.

https://www.nytech.org
Last edited by Tls2016 on Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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xael
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby xael » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:43 pm

If you don't want to go in house, why did you do transactional stuff? (Sorry if you mentioned why in the OP)

Also, is there a particular reason you picked NYC? (Also sorry if this was mentioned already)

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sublime
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby sublime » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:46 pm

..

BernieTrump
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Re: So you want to be a NY Corporate Associate?

Postby BernieTrump » Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:46 pm

zot1 wrote:
BernieTrump wrote:
zot1 wrote:No intention of government work?


That's not really an option for deal lawyers. The government isn't running around doing M&A, and if they are they hire counsel. Government work is for litigators (and to a lesser extent tax lawyers and labor lawyers).


I disagree. I do some litigation but a lot of contracting as well. I think if you're remotely interested, you can find an agency doing transactional work.


Find openings? Sure; never say never, but there are 50 openings for litigators for every "general corporatist" in government. Even the agencies you think of as "corporate" (the SEC, the fed, treasury, IRS, OCC) hire far more litigators than anything else. And their corporate needs are more niche, in almost every instance.
Last edited by BernieTrump on Sun Mar 13, 2016 8:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.




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