Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

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istan

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Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Wed Jul 29, 2020 3:41 pm

Lately I have doubted whether I can tolerate working at a firm. I’m turned off by billing hours, always being available for partner demands, eventually having to develop business, and working for clients whose goals I don’t personally support. I don’t see myself spending my career at a firm or putting in effort to make partner. And I don’t need a big firm salary for any financial obligations or the life I want.

However, I recognize that big firm experience is a good thing to have on your resume, and I think I could put in about a year at a firm (counting down the days until it was over) if it was worth it for my career. My question is whether that would truly be necessary for my goals or just a neutral item on my resume that wouldn’t necessarily help me stand out.

I’m in the top 5% at a lower T50 and have a federal district clerkship lined up for next year. I spent the summer at a midsize regional firm (I already knew I couldn’t stand true big law by 1L OCI—didn’t quite feel like I fit at that firm either). I’m really looking forward to clerking because I genuinely enjoy legal research and writing and I think it’s cool to be serving the government and helping decide the outcome of cases. I’d love to do an additional clerkship (hopefully appellate).

I mainly see myself working in government (federal, state, or municipal) or at a law school in some capacity. My priorities are intellectual stimulation and work life balance. In government, I could see myself as a staff attorney at a federal or state agency, at a city law department/city attorney’s office, or even as a career clerk. At a law school, I could teach a writing or clinical course, and would even consider working in admissions or career counseling (I think I would enjoy working with students, but true legal academia seems far fetched). It seems like a year at a firm would help with those goals—but is it truly necessary, or can I pursue these options more directly early on?

I know I may sound whiny or lazy by resisting a typical firm job and prioritizing work-life balance over money and prestige. I just don’t want my mental health to suffer from the grind and would like to have interesting work without feeling overwhelmed, which I think too many of us give up on. And I don't want to spend a year doing something I won't like unless I have to.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:34 pm

Just wanted to say I was terrified of starting biglaw after reading all the stories here for many of the same reasons as you, but when I started I found that I actually grew to love it. I think it is always beneficial to have a year or two of private practice experience under your belt.

namefromplace

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by namefromplace » Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:47 pm

I don't see why you couldn't go straight into a state agency/city government after your clerkship with your stats. Might depend on the city you're in and how flexible you want to be, but I know people at T-50s with median grades who were able to get jobs in a city attorney's office right out of law school. However, a lot of that work is mind-numbing, so it wouldn't really fulfill your other requirement. Biglaw experience would be more of a necessity for law school admissions, an adjunct professorship, or federal government.

But I would also like to agree with the sentiment that BigLaw doesn't have to be that bad. I think enough people can stand it and it can be beneficial enough to your career that you should try it out for a couple of years. Nothing about your post makes me think you're fundamentally incompatible with private practice; loads of people in biglaw leave before developing business and the partner ratrace become necessary, and the workload, while a lot, is definitely doable unless you have really strong family demands.

istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:20 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:34 pm
Just wanted to say I was terrified of starting biglaw after reading all the stories here for many of the same reasons as you, but when I started I found that I actually grew to love it. I think it is always beneficial to have a year or two of private practice experience under your belt.
Thanks, I have kinda suspected that the stories on here are not the norm and it might not be as bad as it seems for a little while

istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:26 pm

namefromplace wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:47 pm
I don't see why you couldn't go straight into a state agency/city government after your clerkship with your stats. Might depend on the city you're in and how flexible you want to be, but I know people at T-50s with median grades who were able to get jobs in a city attorney's office right out of law school. However, a lot of that work is mind-numbing, so it wouldn't really fulfill your other requirement. Biglaw experience would be more of a necessity for law school admissions, an adjunct professorship, or federal government.

But I would also like to agree with the sentiment that BigLaw doesn't have to be that bad. I think enough people can stand it and it can be beneficial enough to your career that you should try it out for a couple of years. Nothing about your post makes me think you're fundamentally incompatible with private practice; loads of people in biglaw leave before developing business and the partner ratrace become necessary, and the workload, while a lot, is definitely doable unless you have really strong family demands.
Thanks, that's encouraging. I honestly think mind-numbing work would be easier for me when I know it's a public service and I have reasonable hours rather than when it's for some corporate client and I'm overworked (because firm work can obviously be mind-numbing too).
It's also good to hear that big law might not be as miserable I imagine it to be, especially if it is basically required for some of my other goals.

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soft blue

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by soft blue » Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:36 pm

I think you should talk to people who have achieved your goals about whether biglaw is sensible for you. (Setting aside the fact that I think a lot of your post is presumptive and misguided w/r/t what practice is.) I wonder how many people in this thread work for the government or a law school. I find it difficult to imagine that a year or two at [random v50] would be terribly meaningful to anyone in those worlds, or that it would say something that your district court clerkship didn't already.

I also wonder how intellectually stimulating those jobs you listed would be. My understanding is that almost no job is as generalist as term clerk: you'll quickly specialize in something, and if that seems like anathema to you, I would be worried. Similarly, in any of those jobs, there's more than legal research / writing by a lot.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by Faustian89 » Wed Jul 29, 2020 7:12 pm

Aside from think tanks, working in a policy capacity on a committee or something, the bench is about the only thing you allude to that might be intellectually stimulating. In your 62nd lecture when some gunner is prodding you about 17th century torts while recognizing you have only to look forward to your upcoming law article in a journal which virtually no one will care about, you’ll realize legal academia is not some intellectual hyperbaric chamber.

Top 5% with fed clerkship(s) will make you competitive for biglaw. Suck it up and put in a few years in a lit group—>government—>academia or whatever. Look at the resumes of many appellate judges.

ninthcircuitattorney

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by ninthcircuitattorney » Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:13 pm

You should do a year or 2. Just as an example, before John Kness became a federal judge, he was a college general counsel, and before that he was a federal prosecutor and a biglaw associate. The college publicly said it hired him based on his biglaw experience. ... If you know you will quit within a year or 2, the experience will be more tolerable.

istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:37 pm

ninthcircuitattorney wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:13 pm
You should do a year or 2. Just as an example, before John Kness became a federal judge, he was a college general counsel, and before that he was a federal prosecutor and a biglaw associate. The college publicly said it hired him based on his biglaw experience. ... If you know you will quit within a year or 2, the experience will be more tolerable.
This feels like the key to getting over my fear of big law (which these replies are convincing me is the smart thing to do at least to start my career). I just hope I don’t get sucked into feeling like a big firm is the only worthwhile place to work. I’d like to believe that jobs in government (even ones that aren’t particularly elite, like state and local) can also be rewarding, because I think the sense of working for something that serves my community is important to me in the long run.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by sparty99 » Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:58 pm

namefromplace wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:47 pm
I don't see why you couldn't go straight into a state agency/city government after your clerkship with your stats. Might depend on the city you're in and how flexible you want to be, but I know people at T-50s with median grades who were able to get jobs in a city attorney's office right out of law school. However, a lot of that work is mind-numbing, so it wouldn't really fulfill your other requirement. Biglaw experience would be more of a necessity for law school admissions, an adjunct professorship, or federal government.

But I would also like to agree with the sentiment that BigLaw doesn't have to be that bad. I think enough people can stand it and it can be beneficial enough to your career that you should try it out for a couple of years. Nothing about your post makes me think you're fundamentally incompatible with private practice; loads of people in biglaw leave before developing business and the partner ratrace become necessary, and the workload, while a lot, is definitely doable unless you have really strong family demands.
You certainly do not need big law to work in law school admissions or the federal government. Even still, working in Biglaw is worthwhile for 1 to 3 years due to the salary that you would earn. Also, litigation is litigation so you might as well get paid for 1 to 3 years before you take a lesser salary.

namefromplace

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by namefromplace » Thu Jul 30, 2020 1:59 am

sparty99 wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 10:58 pm
namefromplace wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:47 pm
I don't see why you couldn't go straight into a state agency/city government after your clerkship with your stats. Might depend on the city you're in and how flexible you want to be, but I know people at T-50s with median grades who were able to get jobs in a city attorney's office right out of law school. However, a lot of that work is mind-numbing, so it wouldn't really fulfill your other requirement. Biglaw experience would be more of a necessity for law school admissions, an adjunct professorship, or federal government.

But I would also like to agree with the sentiment that BigLaw doesn't have to be that bad. I think enough people can stand it and it can be beneficial enough to your career that you should try it out for a couple of years. Nothing about your post makes me think you're fundamentally incompatible with private practice; loads of people in biglaw leave before developing business and the partner ratrace become necessary, and the workload, while a lot, is definitely doable unless you have really strong family demands.
You certainly do not need big law to work in law school admissions or the federal government. Even still, working in Biglaw is worthwhile for 1 to 3 years due to the salary that you would earn. Also, litigation is litigation so you might as well get paid for 1 to 3 years before you take a lesser salary.
Yeah necessity wasn't the right word to use. But those are jobs that are difficult to go into directly out of law school (or a clerkship), and BigLaw would probably be the best way to transition.

The Lsat Airbender

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Thu Jul 30, 2020 9:51 am

istan wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:37 pm
I just hope I don’t get sucked into feeling like a big firm is the only worthwhile place to work. I’d like to believe that jobs in government (even ones that aren’t particularly elite, like state and local) can also be rewarding, because I think the sense of working for something that serves my community is important to me in the long run.
My advice here is to save your biglaw salary extremely aggressively. If you spend the money, you'll get addicted to the income. If, on the other hand, you build up a nest egg (healthy retirement accounts and maybe a down payment towards a house) it'll be much easier to flee biglaw when the opportunity arises.

soft blue

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by soft blue » Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:59 am

istan wrote:
Wed Jul 29, 2020 8:37 pm
This feels like the key to getting over my fear of big law (which these replies are convincing me is the smart thing to do at least to start my career). I just hope I don’t get sucked into feeling like a big firm is the only worthwhile place to work. I’d like to believe that jobs in government (even ones that aren’t particularly elite, like state and local) can also be rewarding, because I think the sense of working for something that serves my community is important to me in the long run.
I find your fear pretty strange. If you're committed to bouncing in 1-2 years, you can probably coast. Do a good job on what you're asked to do, never go above-and-beyond, etc. Don't give them a reason to fire you, but also don't give anyone a reason to think of your name first when they need more work done. Depending on where you are, you might be able to zen out on lots of doc review as a junior; you'll get the billables to make people happy, not be too stressed about fucking up, etc. You won't learn anything and will wall yourself off from advancement pretty quickly, but if it's a pure name-on-a-resume play that sounds fine?

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istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Thu Jul 30, 2020 1:33 pm

The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 9:51 am
My advice here is to save your biglaw salary extremely aggressively. If you spend the money, you'll get addicted to the income. If, on the other hand, you build up a nest egg (healthy retirement accounts and maybe a down payment towards a house) it'll be much easier to flee biglaw when the opportunity arises.
Agree that this is key. I’d hopefully be capable of pretending I only have like $90k to live on even while working in biglaw.

istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Thu Jul 30, 2020 1:36 pm

soft blue wrote:
Thu Jul 30, 2020 10:59 am
I find your fear pretty strange. If you're committed to bouncing in 1-2 years, you can probably coast. Do a good job on what you're asked to do, never go above-and-beyond, etc. Don't give them a reason to fire you, but also don't give anyone a reason to think of your name first when they need more work done. Depending on where you are, you might be able to zen out on lots of doc review as a junior; you'll get the billables to make people happy, not be too stressed about fucking up, etc. You won't learn anything and will wall yourself off from advancement pretty quickly, but if it's a pure name-on-a-resume play that sounds fine?
Yeah, you’re probably right—although I’d hope I’d learn at least something to make the experience worthwhile beyond the resume item and money.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by Daboose » Fri Jul 31, 2020 12:37 am

I've done a few years in biglaw myself and I'd say if you can get the job you want straight out of law school, no reason not to do that.

I wouldn't say 1 or 2 years in biglaw will help you get a better job. It might be a good resume item down the road if you can land the next job but I don't think the market for lawyers with 1 year of experience (even if its biglaw) is as robust as law school recruiting. Some stuff like federal government honors you have to do straight out of law school (or a clerkship).

And you're not getting great experience in biglaw until probably half way through your second year. You'll learn how a law firm works but your assignments will be pretty low-level and tedious the first year or so.

It seems to me like you need 3-5 years of biglaw experience to open up some interesting opportunities that maybe you could not have landed straight out of law school but otherwise no reason to go through biglaw if you can get the job you want now.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by TigerIsBack » Fri Jul 31, 2020 9:32 am

Also, FWIW, if you're not at like a v25 firm, but going to a firm in the v40-50+ range, first year isn't always all that bad. Yes, probably all Cravath associates get slammed with work from day 1. But plenty of other lower ranked biglaw firms don't do a good job of integrating junior associates, and clients don't like paying for junior associate time, so many first years end up with pretty low hours (not all, but a significant number in my experience).

In my experience, the stress of being a junior associate is more around not getting enough work, feeling like you're not getting good experience, feeling clueless, etc. You will probably feel clueless at times like the rest of us did, but the hours may not be any reason to fear this job if you're leaving after a couple years.

Becoming a good/trusted associate and making it to midlevel years is when the hours get really bad, but sounds like you'd be gone before then.

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istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Fri Jul 31, 2020 11:12 am

Daboose wrote:
Fri Jul 31, 2020 12:37 am
I've done a few years in biglaw myself and I'd say if you can get the job you want straight out of law school, no reason not to do that.

I wouldn't say 1 or 2 years in biglaw will help you get a better job. It might be a good resume item down the road if you can land the next job but I don't think the market for lawyers with 1 year of experience (even if its biglaw) is as robust as law school recruiting. Some stuff like federal government honors you have to do straight out of law school (or a clerkship).

And you're not getting great experience in biglaw until probably half way through your second year. You'll learn how a law firm works but your assignments will be pretty low-level and tedious the first year or so.

It seems to me like you need 3-5 years of biglaw experience to open up some interesting opportunities that maybe you could not have landed straight out of law school but otherwise no reason to go through biglaw if you can get the job you want now.
Thanks, this is a helpful perspective. One of my problems is that "the job I want now" is still pretty vague, so I'm considering doing a brief biglaw stint just to have something prestigious on my resume before really figuring it out. So for me, it's more about the resume item showing that I can get a competitive job rather than the actual experience I would gain there. But I wonder how much value that would add when I'm already starting with a clerkship.

istan

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by istan » Fri Jul 31, 2020 11:14 am

TigerIsBack wrote:
Fri Jul 31, 2020 9:32 am
Also, FWIW, if you're not at like a v25 firm, but going to a firm in the v40-50+ range, first year isn't always all that bad. Yes, probably all Cravath associates get slammed with work from day 1. But plenty of other lower ranked biglaw firms don't do a good job of integrating junior associates, and clients don't like paying for junior associate time, so many first years end up with pretty low hours (not all, but a significant number in my experience).

In my experience, the stress of being a junior associate is more around not getting enough work, feeling like you're not getting good experience, feeling clueless, etc. You will probably feel clueless at times like the rest of us did, but the hours may not be any reason to fear this job if you're leaving after a couple years.

Becoming a good/trusted associate and making it to midlevel years is when the hours get really bad, but sounds like you'd be gone before then.
Thanks, it's good to hear specifics like this about what biglaw is like at different levels of firms and stages of job progression because I have no direct experience with it (which is why it often seems overwhelming).

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by Daboose » Fri Jul 31, 2020 9:00 pm

istan wrote:
Fri Jul 31, 2020 11:12 am
Daboose wrote:
Fri Jul 31, 2020 12:37 am
I've done a few years in biglaw myself and I'd say if you can get the job you want straight out of law school, no reason not to do that.

I wouldn't say 1 or 2 years in biglaw will help you get a better job. It might be a good resume item down the road if you can land the next job but I don't think the market for lawyers with 1 year of experience (even if its biglaw) is as robust as law school recruiting. Some stuff like federal government honors you have to do straight out of law school (or a clerkship).

And you're not getting great experience in biglaw until probably half way through your second year. You'll learn how a law firm works but your assignments will be pretty low-level and tedious the first year or so.

It seems to me like you need 3-5 years of biglaw experience to open up some interesting opportunities that maybe you could not have landed straight out of law school but otherwise no reason to go through biglaw if you can get the job you want now.
Thanks, this is a helpful perspective. One of my problems is that "the job I want now" is still pretty vague, so I'm considering doing a brief biglaw stint just to have something prestigious on my resume before really figuring it out. So for me, it's more about the resume item showing that I can get a competitive job rather than the actual experience I would gain there. But I wonder how much value that would add when I'm already starting with a clerkship.
Fair enough and at the end of the day, biglaw is a great outcome. I'd just caution you that short stints in biglaw are not always career boosters. I think you'll find that exit options after only one year will be limited and you'll have classmates with worse credential who were able to get higher quality outcomes straight out of law school in government/non-profits/small firms. If you go biglaw, I think you need to be mentally prepared to do 2-3 years before you get an exit option that you are excited about. May happen sooner but I'd be prepared to stay more than a year.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Aug 02, 2020 12:44 pm

You need to work in a private firm at first in order to have an exit-from-gov't plan. If you're 10 years out and have never worked in a law firm, a law firm is unlikely to hire you.

Put in a minimum of one year in private practice. You have a long career before you.

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Re: Would working at a firm for only a year be worth it for my goals?

Post by nahumya » Mon Oct 19, 2020 10:39 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 12:44 pm
You need to work in a private firm at first in order to have an exit-from-gov't plan. If you're 10 years out and have never worked in a law firm, a law firm is unlikely to hire you.
This is incorrect. If you have a few years of good DOJ experience, no one will care whether you've done some doc review at biglaw post law school for a year or not. It's very common to go the clerkships-government route and ultimately land at a biglaw firm as partner.

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