"Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

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"Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:05 pm

Rising 3L at a T14 who was at one of the firms that cancelled their summer program, generally interested in doing litigation. I am wondering what options I might have for one or two year post-grad opportunities that would allow me to transition to a new firm without losing my shot at doing biglaw. I know that clerkships are an obvious choice and I sent out ~100 apps but without so much as an interview, and though I will continue applying, I don't want to rely on that route given how competitive they are and the fact that I'm only a median student. My firm extended offers, but I am worried about them reneging on those and regardless of that I would like to transition to a different firm for other, unrelated reasons. I am wondering if people have suggestions for jobs/fellowships/etc. where it would make sense to go for a year or two and then reapply to firms? To put it another way, I know that biglaw is hard to "break into" if you don't start with your foot in the door, and I feel like I am now at a pretty significant disadvantage being a 3L without any firm experience whatsoever (even if a lot of my peers just have a 4-6 week virtual program under their belts). Assuming that 3L hiring is going to be slim to nonexistent, what are my options if I don't want to lose my chance at doing biglaw? Are there entry level jobs people take from which it wouldn't be unheard of for a big firm to hire 1-3 years after graduation? Any and all insight appreciated!

malibustacy

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by malibustacy » Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:20 pm

Keep cold applying, you still have plenty of time. A lot of recruiters and firms expect hiring to be more fluid by January.

Clerkships are definitely a good way to break in if you have the grades.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anon115523 » Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:42 pm

I second the above recommendation to continue cold applying. Also look at your law school's job board--you'd be surprised how many big firms post there.

I generally disagree with the notion that you're going to be shut out of biglaw if you don't start there--I know plenty of people who didn't start there and ended up lateraling into a big firm. One particular option that comes to mind is working as an ADA, given that you're interested in litigation--especially if you can get into one of the larger ADA offices (Cook County, NY County e.g.). The litigation experience you get as an ADA is pretty extensive, which can also set you up for an AUSA position. AUSAs tend to be very sought after by biglaw litigation departments. The pay is shit, but if you can grind it out for a bit, you'll really up your chances.

The one area to absolutely avoid if you hope to work in a biglaw litigation department is anything plaintiffs side. This is a black mark on your resume and will be a non-starter for most firms.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:57 pm

In the spring of 2012 firms were eager to help incoming Dewey associates and summer associates, even though hiring for 3Ls and 2Ls had otherwise concluded. My friend who was an incoming Dewey associate got interviews at several V10 firms and ended up at one. If your firm reneges I would mention that when you reach out; career services might be able to help with this too. If the economic outlook improves, you may have more of a shot than a typical 3L.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by istan » Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:01 pm

An alternative to a clerkship could be a staff attorney position at an appellate court. Both federal and state appellate courts have staff attorneys who do background research on cases, draft memos and opinions, and communicate with judges (they're like clerks but they support the court as a whole instead of a specific judge). Not as prestigious as a chambers clerkship because of less direct contact with judges, but still a good position within the judiciary to prep for litigation practice.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by nls336 » Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:13 am

Some of the people that I know in biglaw got into a niche practice like tax or RX after an LLM in those subjects. Depending on what your loan situation is, that extra year in an MBA or LLM program could be helpful, especially to ride out some of the most confusing period of covid. Obviously it's not the most doable suggestion. I can imagine that, as a rising 3L, an extra year of school is probably the last thing you want to do but should all else fail it's not a bad move.

The Lsat Airbender

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:17 am

istan wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:01 pm
An alternative to a clerkship could be a staff attorney position at an appellate court. Both federal and state appellate courts have staff attorneys who do background research on cases, draft memos and opinions, and communicate with judges (they're like clerks but they support the court as a whole instead of a specific judge). Not as prestigious as a chambers clerkship because of less direct contact with judges, but still a good position within the judiciary to prep for litigation practice.
Is Biglaw a realistic exit from staff atty positions, though? I'm pretty sure the number of attorneys at my firm with this item on their resume is roughly 0.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jul 28, 2020 12:07 pm

The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:17 am
istan wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:01 pm
An alternative to a clerkship could be a staff attorney position at an appellate court. Both federal and state appellate courts have staff attorneys who do background research on cases, draft memos and opinions, and communicate with judges (they're like clerks but they support the court as a whole instead of a specific judge). Not as prestigious as a chambers clerkship because of less direct contact with judges, but still a good position within the judiciary to prep for litigation practice.
Is Biglaw a realistic exit from staff atty positions, though? I'm pretty sure the number of attorneys at my firm with this item on their resume is roughly 0.
Yeah, I’ve never seen any indication at my firm that this is a thing. Even clerkships with courts like the international court of trade get a side-eye (which is stupid, I know, I just mention it to give OP a sense of the vibe at at least some biglaw firms).

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Jul 28, 2020 12:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Tue Jul 28, 2020 12:07 pm
The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Tue Jul 28, 2020 11:17 am
istan wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 6:01 pm
An alternative to a clerkship could be a staff attorney position at an appellate court. Both federal and state appellate courts have staff attorneys who do background research on cases, draft memos and opinions, and communicate with judges (they're like clerks but they support the court as a whole instead of a specific judge). Not as prestigious as a chambers clerkship because of less direct contact with judges, but still a good position within the judiciary to prep for litigation practice.
Is Biglaw a realistic exit from staff atty positions, though? I'm pretty sure the number of attorneys at my firm with this item on their resume is roughly 0.
Yeah, I’ve never seen any indication at my firm that this is a thing. Even clerkships with courts like the international court of trade get a side-eye (which is stupid, I know, I just mention it to give OP a sense of the vibe at at least some biglaw firms).
I was a staff attorney at a "desirable" circuit, and I can only think of one person out of the three or four staff attorney classes I'm familiar with who went on to biglaw.

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12YrsAnAssociate

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by 12YrsAnAssociate » Tue Jul 28, 2020 3:58 pm

It sounds like you have an offer. So take that. My guess is that you are unlikely to land a better job through 3L OCI, unless there's a huge economic rebound in the next year (in which case, the offer you already have should be strong).

You mentioned clerkships. A clerkship saved me when my summer firm went to hell during the previous recession, and based on my experience that's the best move. Clerkship hiring is not done. Make sure to have your materials ready and try to be the first applicant for any clerkship you'd consider that comes up over the next year.

The only other stepping stone I've seen is finding a job at some government enforcement agency, biding your time, and then applying to biglaw with the government enforcement experience. I've worked at a big DC regulatory firm, and I've seen that work out for a lot of people. But it's not a 1 or 2 year thing. You'd need to go to the government with a fairly long view plan for getting experience, making contacts, and then getting out and going to private practice.

hdr

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by hdr » Tue Jul 28, 2020 4:35 pm

Agree that a government enforcement agency could be a realistic path to biglaw while a staff attorney position would not be. In some cases 2-3 years would be enough to make the move, e.g. a DOJ/FTC attorney from a T14 applying to antitrust positions will be just as competitive as biglaw laterals.
Last edited by hdr on Tue Jul 28, 2020 4:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

namefromplace

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by namefromplace » Tue Jul 28, 2020 4:38 pm

I will second the comment about accepting the offer that you already have while continuing to apply for clerkships. Not sure on your reasons for not wanting to go to the firm that gave you your offer, but you can stick it out there for a couple of years and lateral to another firm pretty easily. As for clerkships, schedule a meeting with someone in your clerkship committee to see if the school has connections that could help place you somewhere, even if it's with a MJ or SSC.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:50 am

OP here, my sincerest thanks to everyone for these helpful and encouraging replies. I am absolutely hoping that the offer will come to fruition, just a little nervous that it might not and so I want to be aware of what other options exist. To that end these comments have been really helpful! A few followup questions:

1) I know that nobody really knows the answer to this, given the present uncertainty, but is there a general consensus on the timing of cold applying this year as opposed to a 'normal' year? It seems widely accepted that firms won't even be considering 3L hiring until after the new year, if at all. Does it make sense to apply now or should I wait until closer to January? Does it matter?

2) How competitive is ADA hiring? Is it very location specific? i.e. if I want to work in the Bay should I only consider jobs in that area? And would it work against me to have one of these jobs in a "flyover" or "secondary" market if I don't plan to make my career there?

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonnonnon » Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:04 am

Anon115523 wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:42 pm
I second the above recommendation to continue cold applying. Also look at your law school's job board--you'd be surprised how many big firms post there.

I generally disagree with the notion that you're going to be shut out of biglaw if you don't start there--I know plenty of people who didn't start there and ended up lateraling into a big firm. One particular option that comes to mind is working as an ADA, given that you're interested in litigation--especially if you can get into one of the larger ADA offices (Cook County, NY County e.g.). The litigation experience you get as an ADA is pretty extensive, which can also set you up for an AUSA position. AUSAs tend to be very sought after by biglaw litigation departments. The pay is shit, but if you can grind it out for a bit, you'll really up your chances.

The one area to absolutely avoid if you hope to work in a biglaw litigation department is anything plaintiffs side. This is a black mark on your resume and will be a non-starter for most firms.
Why do you say that? I know plenty of people who went to big firms/got offers (or interviews) from big firms by working at smaller boutiques such as plaintiffs side securities/shareholder class actions firms.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by sparty99 » Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:31 am

Anonnonnon wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:04 am
Anon115523 wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:42 pm
I second the above recommendation to continue cold applying. Also look at your law school's job board--you'd be surprised how many big firms post there.

I generally disagree with the notion that you're going to be shut out of biglaw if you don't start there--I know plenty of people who didn't start there and ended up lateraling into a big firm. One particular option that comes to mind is working as an ADA, given that you're interested in litigation--especially if you can get into one of the larger ADA offices (Cook County, NY County e.g.). The litigation experience you get as an ADA is pretty extensive, which can also set you up for an AUSA position. AUSAs tend to be very sought after by biglaw litigation departments. The pay is shit, but if you can grind it out for a bit, you'll really up your chances.

The one area to absolutely avoid if you hope to work in a biglaw litigation department is anything plaintiffs side. This is a black mark on your resume and will be a non-starter for most firms.
Why do you say that? I know plenty of people who went to big firms/got offers (or interviews) from big firms by working at smaller boutiques such as plaintiffs side securities/shareholder class actions firms.
This is not true. I seen plaintiffs side employment attorneys get big law.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anon115523 » Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:55 am

sparty99 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:31 am
Anonnonnon wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:04 am
Anon115523 wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:42 pm
I second the above recommendation to continue cold applying. Also look at your law school's job board--you'd be surprised how many big firms post there.

I generally disagree with the notion that you're going to be shut out of biglaw if you don't start there--I know plenty of people who didn't start there and ended up lateraling into a big firm. One particular option that comes to mind is working as an ADA, given that you're interested in litigation--especially if you can get into one of the larger ADA offices (Cook County, NY County e.g.). The litigation experience you get as an ADA is pretty extensive, which can also set you up for an AUSA position. AUSAs tend to be very sought after by biglaw litigation departments. The pay is shit, but if you can grind it out for a bit, you'll really up your chances.

The one area to absolutely avoid if you hope to work in a biglaw litigation department is anything plaintiffs side. This is a black mark on your resume and will be a non-starter for most firms.
Why do you say that? I know plenty of people who went to big firms/got offers (or interviews) from big firms by working at smaller boutiques such as plaintiffs side securities/shareholder class actions firms.
This is not true. I seen plaintiffs side employment attorneys get big law.
All anecdotal, but especially when it comes to shareholder class action attorneys, I've heard from litigation partners that they tend to avoid hiring from that line of work (lots of conflicts, clients won't love it, etc.). It's easy to make the transition from Skadden to Labaton (most of their lawyers are former biglaw), but it's a very uphill climb vice versa. Not saying it's impossible, but in terms of "stepping stones," I think it's advisable to look elsewhere before committing to a plaintiffs side firm. Clearly others disagree, but that's just my two cents for someone coming right out of law school.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonnonnon » Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:23 pm

Anon115523 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:55 am
sparty99 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:31 am
Anonnonnon wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:04 am
Anon115523 wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:42 pm
I second the above recommendation to continue cold applying. Also look at your law school's job board--you'd be surprised how many big firms post there.

I generally disagree with the notion that you're going to be shut out of biglaw if you don't start there--I know plenty of people who didn't start there and ended up lateraling into a big firm. One particular option that comes to mind is working as an ADA, given that you're interested in litigation--especially if you can get into one of the larger ADA offices (Cook County, NY County e.g.). The litigation experience you get as an ADA is pretty extensive, which can also set you up for an AUSA position. AUSAs tend to be very sought after by biglaw litigation departments. The pay is shit, but if you can grind it out for a bit, you'll really up your chances.

The one area to absolutely avoid if you hope to work in a biglaw litigation department is anything plaintiffs side. This is a black mark on your resume and will be a non-starter for most firms.
Why do you say that? I know plenty of people who went to big firms/got offers (or interviews) from big firms by working at smaller boutiques such as plaintiffs side securities/shareholder class actions firms.
This is not true. I seen plaintiffs side employment attorneys get big law.
All anecdotal, but especially when it comes to shareholder class action attorneys, I've heard from litigation partners that they tend to avoid hiring from that line of work (lots of conflicts, clients won't love it, etc.). It's easy to make the transition from Skadden to Labaton (most of their lawyers are former biglaw), but it's a very uphill climb vice versa. Not saying it's impossible, but in terms of "stepping stones," I think it's advisable to look elsewhere before committing to a plaintiffs side firm. Clearly others disagree, but that's just my two cents for someone coming right out of law school.
I can see what you mean regarding conflicts, though that seems circumstance dependent like anything else when hiring for for any law firm--conflicts are a regular part of the hiring process. I don't see why clients wouldn't love it or even like it though--can you elaborate? I'd imagine experience on one side of securities litigation could be invaluable in litigating on the other side. FWIW, this is the first I've ever heard of anyone saying plaintiffs-side litigation being poisonous to biglaw (especially when there are plenty of plaintiffs midlaw firms, and biglaw firms like Kirkland growing their plaintiffs-side practices, particularly with litigation financing).

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anon115523 » Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:33 pm

Anonnonnon wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:23 pm
Anon115523 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:55 am
sparty99 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:31 am
Anonnonnon wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:04 am
Anon115523 wrote:
Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:42 pm
I second the above recommendation to continue cold applying. Also look at your law school's job board--you'd be surprised how many big firms post there.

I generally disagree with the notion that you're going to be shut out of biglaw if you don't start there--I know plenty of people who didn't start there and ended up lateraling into a big firm. One particular option that comes to mind is working as an ADA, given that you're interested in litigation--especially if you can get into one of the larger ADA offices (Cook County, NY County e.g.). The litigation experience you get as an ADA is pretty extensive, which can also set you up for an AUSA position. AUSAs tend to be very sought after by biglaw litigation departments. The pay is shit, but if you can grind it out for a bit, you'll really up your chances.

The one area to absolutely avoid if you hope to work in a biglaw litigation department is anything plaintiffs side. This is a black mark on your resume and will be a non-starter for most firms.
Why do you say that? I know plenty of people who went to big firms/got offers (or interviews) from big firms by working at smaller boutiques such as plaintiffs side securities/shareholder class actions firms.
This is not true. I seen plaintiffs side employment attorneys get big law.
All anecdotal, but especially when it comes to shareholder class action attorneys, I've heard from litigation partners that they tend to avoid hiring from that line of work (lots of conflicts, clients won't love it, etc.). It's easy to make the transition from Skadden to Labaton (most of their lawyers are former biglaw), but it's a very uphill climb vice versa. Not saying it's impossible, but in terms of "stepping stones," I think it's advisable to look elsewhere before committing to a plaintiffs side firm. Clearly others disagree, but that's just my two cents for someone coming right out of law school.
I can see what you mean regarding conflicts, though that seems circumstance dependent like anything else when hiring for for any law firm--conflicts are a regular part of the hiring process. I don't see why clients wouldn't love it or even like it though--can you elaborate? I'd imagine experience on one side of securities litigation could be invaluable in litigating on the other side. FWIW, this is the first I've ever heard of anyone saying plaintiffs-side litigation being poisonous to biglaw (especially when there are plenty of plaintiffs midlaw firms, and biglaw firms like Kirkland growing their plaintiffs-side practices, particularly with litigation financing).
The firms, like Kirkland, that are taking on plaintiffs side work are taking on that work on behalf of large institutional clients, they still aren't touching class actions or anything like that. I suppose I should have been more precise in referring to plaintiffs side--which I mean class action representation. If you're coming from a firm that has a track record of litigating against the big firm's clients, it would make sense that the big firm probably wouldn't want to tout that in a firm bio and the like.

Again, maybe I'm in the total minority on this, but it's something I've been heard a number of times and not just from people at 1 firm.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:52 pm

P-side securities litigation associate weighing in.

1) There is definitely a negative perception amongst the partnership at certain biglaw firms regarding plaintiffs work, but its not universal (and a bit unpredictable since it depends how whose involved in hiring decisions.) The reaction when I told my old firm I was going plaintiff side was much less negative compared to some of my coworkers.

2) conflicts always get brought up in this context, I don't think that's likely a huge issue unless you're a partner just based on associate caseload size. I think its more likely that partner I mention in part 1 just rely on that as an excuse. (Probably s different story if you make partner.)

3) The core issue is that there are really only a handle of plaintiffs firms in each area (employment, securities, antitrust, etc.) that are well regarded by defense firms. These firms tend to recruit from big law since they don't really have summer programs, that means these associates by and large have actively selected out of big law because they don't like it. So you don't see many go back (and I imagine even hiring partners who don't look down on plaintiff work will wonder why these associates want to come back and if they're a flight risk.)

There are very few people using these firms as a stepping stone, just because most of the associates already did their biglaw stint and don't want to go back. So the sample size is really too small to make any judgments.

I will say, as with any smaller firm, the experience difference is pretty marked in terms of when you get access to more substantive work. If it's really the path you want to take I think you can leverage that to get into big law, there might just be some firms closed off to you completely for reasons 100% beyond your control.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:55 pm

Anon115523 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:33 pm
The firms, like Kirkland, that are taking on plaintiffs side work are taking on that work on behalf of large institutional clients, they still aren't touching class actions or anything like that. I suppose I should have been more precise in referring to plaintiffs side--which I mean class action representation.

You know that plaintiffs' counsel in securities class actions far more frequently than not represent "large institutional clients," too, right? I don't disagree with your broader point that it's easier to move from defense to plaintiff than vice-versa, but not sure you understand this area fully.

Also disagree with your suggestion above that AUSA is a reliable vehicle to biglaw. That may have been true in the past, but post-Great Recession, there are simply too many AUSAs (with no books of business) to go around. Those in leadership positions and/or with extensive experience in the particular types of work biglaw white-collar groups do a lot of (FCPA, FCA, other healthcare fraud)--typically in districts with a significant biglaw presence--can make the jump, but many others struggle to do so. Source: former biglaw/AUSA.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:09 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:55 pm
Also disagree with your suggestion above that AUSA is a reliable vehicle to biglaw. That may have been true in the past, but post-Great Recession, there are simply too many AUSAs (with no books of business) to go around. Those in leadership positions and/or with extensive experience in the particular types of work biglaw white-collar groups do a lot of (FCPA, FCA, other healthcare fraud)--typically in districts with a significant biglaw presence--can make the jump, but many others struggle to do so. Source: former biglaw/AUSA.
Another AUSA who absolutely agrees with this.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anon115523 » Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:54 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:09 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:55 pm
Also disagree with your suggestion above that AUSA is a reliable vehicle to biglaw. That may have been true in the past, but post-Great Recession, there are simply too many AUSAs (with no books of business) to go around. Those in leadership positions and/or with extensive experience in the particular types of work biglaw white-collar groups do a lot of (FCPA, FCA, other healthcare fraud)--typically in districts with a significant biglaw presence--can make the jump, but many others struggle to do so. Source: former biglaw/AUSA.
Another AUSA who absolutely agrees with this.
I think this is somewhat misinterpreting what I'm saying. I don't think there are many "reliable" vehicles to biglaw outside of clerking these days. It's an uphill battle to get in if you don't start off there. The poster asked about stepping stones when one does not start off there. I know former AUSAs and ADAs in multiple biglaw litigation departments, hence my suggestion. I'm not saying any of my suggestions are "reliable vehicles," simply that they are better options than others when trying to break into biglaw from the outside.

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Re: "Stepping Stones" to Biglaw

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jul 30, 2020 12:56 pm

Anon115523 wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:54 am
Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:09 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:55 pm
Also disagree with your suggestion above that AUSA is a reliable vehicle to biglaw. That may have been true in the past, but post-Great Recession, there are simply too many AUSAs (with no books of business) to go around. Those in leadership positions and/or with extensive experience in the particular types of work biglaw white-collar groups do a lot of (FCPA, FCA, other healthcare fraud)--typically in districts with a significant biglaw presence--can make the jump, but many others struggle to do so. Source: former biglaw/AUSA.
Another AUSA who absolutely agrees with this.
I think this is somewhat misinterpreting what I'm saying. I don't think there are many "reliable" vehicles to biglaw outside of clerking these days. It's an uphill battle to get in if you don't start off there. The poster asked about stepping stones when one does not start off there. I know former AUSAs and ADAs in multiple biglaw litigation departments, hence my suggestion. I'm not saying any of my suggestions are "reliable vehicles," simply that they are better options than others when trying to break into biglaw from the outside.
"Reliable vehicle" former biglaw/AUSA poster above. I understand what you're saying, and I am respectfully disagreeing, having been in each of the three roles identified above. I was an ADA, then biglaw, then AUSA. Of the several ADA classes around mine at a very large DA's office in a very large city, I know of exactly two ADAs (including myself) who ended up in biglaw. Not coincidentally, both of us did well at top schools (which is, of course, the most "reliable vehicle" of all) and were young enough to make the transition despite, rather than because, we had been ADAs. While I speak in generalizations, biglaw is not looking for trial skills developed in state criminal practice (and certainly not the other substantive experience one gets in that arena, which has virtually zero relevance to biglaw practice). Biglaw is looking for fancy degrees to signal "prestige" and "intellectual horsepower" to clients, along with a willingness to grind it out managing discovery and drafting motions.

AUSA experience is somewhat more transferable in that it involves federal practice (although discovery practice under the Fed. R. Crim. P. could not be more different than on the civil side), but those who make the jump, as noted before, typically have very specific substantive and/or managerial experience that the mine run of AUSAs do not get, at least in their first several years at DOJ.

Therein lies a large part of the problem: by the time most AUSAs have (1) developed the background to get into a USAO, and then (2) fulfilled their commitment and spent the requisite few years there getting a little meaningful experience, they are 8, 9, 10 years or more out of LS--beyond the marketable window for most litigation associates, but without the book of business needed to be taken seriously as a potential partner. Those with the credentials mentioned earlier can do it sometimes, although even they may come in as counsel with a trial period to prove they can handle the transition and generate business (a much more difficult proposition than many expect). This didn't used to be the case, which is partly why "I know some former AUSAs in biglaw" isn't particular persuasive (the other reason being that it doesn't account for the reality that the supply of AUSAs looking to go private vastly outstrips biglaw demand). I'm told by the older warhorses at least that those with degrees from good schools, a little biglaw under the belt, and a few years as run-of-the-mill criminal AUSAs in big districts handling whatever (even guns n' drugs) could come back to biglaw as partners and be welcomed by firms eager to market their "trial skills" to potential clients. That model, while not dead, has definitely declined in popularity over the past 10 years. (If you're a DAG, crim chief at an important office, or head of the FCPA unit at Main, etc., these obstacles don't apply--which shows that biglaw today is looking more for the ability to market real or imagined connections than trial skills or even other substantive investigative experience.)

The fact is, if for some reason your heart is set on biglaw, you have a limited window in which to do so before it becomes exceedingly difficult absent particular experience of unique appeal to specific biglaw practice groups. Again, to generalize, if you aren't in by year 5, it's going to be difficult to make happen. The best ways to do it (at least in litigation) are, probably in order, (1) go to a top school and do well, (2) fed clerk, and/or (3) join a non-biglaw practice at a serviceable boutique or midlaw firm in a market and practice area that could facilitate a move within the first 2-4 years, economic conditions permitting.

I would not recommend becoming an AUSA with the expectation or even hope of moving to biglaw later unless you are somehow confident you will focus on a limited subset of marketable areas and/or rise to management in a market where biglaw exists and you otherwise have a background/pedigree that biglaw will appreciate. I most certainly would not recommend becoming an ADA with the hope/desire to do biglaw under ANY circumstances. And I say both of those things acknowledging that serving as an ADA and later as an AUSA were without question the most fun, fulfilling roles I've had as an attorney. Take all of that for what it's worth.

Seriously? What are you waiting for?

Now there's a charge.
Just kidding ... it's still FREE!


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