Big law associate and I feel like I suck at litigation -- what do i do? Forum

(Advantages vs Disadvantages, Big Law, Work-Life Balance, Hiring Practices, Company Culture, Hours and Compensation, Private Sector Firm Reviews & Experiences)

Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2021 8:48 am

Big law associate and I feel like I suck at litigation -- what do i do?

Post by JustTheFacts » Wed Jan 31, 2024 1:53 am

This probably gets asked a lot, but I'm just freaking out a lot lately. I'm a POC at a V50 (just now finishing my second year), and I constantly feel like I just suck at my job. During my first year review, I got mostly compliments in my written feedback, but in my meeting was told I need to strive for as close to perfection as possible. With my next review coming up, I'm terrified they're going to tell me I failed to be perfect and let me go.

I just worry I'm behind / not performing as well as other people in my year (or below my year). I miss nuances in cases, I forget to check for things (e.g., checking if we need to send courtesy copies of our filings), I take longer to understand the arguments we want to make, I miss some nits in my work (typos, left instead of justified formatting, etc.), I sometimes don't analyze things correctly (thinking a case helps us but it's actually too distinguishable). I just feel I'm not smart enough for this.
I'm also worried about my reputation. I'm a pretty reserved person--on big team meetings, I don't feel confident or qualified enough to offer an opinion unless I'm explicitly asked, and I worry that comes across as me not being interested or caring. I work hard, always make myself available to help the team / my colleagues, and (as far as I know) I get along with my teams just fine. But I worry it won't be enough. To be clear, nobody has said anything to me and I've remained pretty busy / get assigned substantive tasks, but I got absolutely blindsided in my first review and I'm worried it will happen again. In addition, I'm going to clerk (state supreme court) in a couple of months and I'm f*cking terrified of messing things up or being let go.

So I guess my question is: (1) how bad do you have to be to get let go in big law; (2) does being a shit litigator in big law mean I'm going to suck at litigation no matter where I may end up; and (3) if you do get fired from big law or a clerkship, how screwed are you for the future? I have debt and I don't want to disappoint my family.


Posts: 185
Joined: Wed Mar 16, 2022 11:15 pm

Re: Big law associate and I feel like I suck at litigation -- what do i do?

Post by talons2250 » Wed Jan 31, 2024 12:11 pm

The fact that you can so perceptively identify your supposed deficiencies suggests to me that you're not actually as terrible as you think you are. Just hang in there and don't analyze everything so much. To be fired as a biglaw junior, you have to be significantly worse than you currently are or make some glaringly egregious and consequential mistake that nothing in your post comes even close to. So much about being a lawyer you just learn on the job and learn as you go. Mostly everyone feels like this when they start. Try therapy. (I'm not saying this dismissively; a therapist would really help you, and has helped me and people I know with imposter issues like the ones you're describing here.)

Anonymous User
Posts: 427428
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Big law associate and I feel like I suck at litigation -- what do i do?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jan 31, 2024 4:31 pm

I guess I’m confused why being told in your review that you need to strive for as close to perfection as possible means that you've been doing so badly? That sounds like a sort of generic “we need to give you some kind of criticism” to me. Did this also involve specific feedback about specific things you’d been doing wrong?

Also, what evidence do you have that you’re actually behind people in your class? What you describe struggling with seems kind of typical for new attorneys; some people are just good at hiding their mistakes/uncertainties.

If no one has said anything to you and you’re still getting work, I’m not sure you actually have anything to worry about, as opposed to reading the worst into more neutral actions.

Also, none of this suggests any likelihood at all that you’ll get fired from your clerkship. Your written product has earned praise; a lot of what you do will be writing; and it’s very rare to get fired from a clerkship.

I honestly agree with talons about therapy, for the same reasons. I think sometimes the drive for perfection that can get someone through law school to biglaw can really turn negative and be more harmful than helpful in many settings. When you’re used to being one of the smartest people in the room, it’s easy to catastrophize about what you don’t know when you’re actually just facing a normal learning curve.


Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Feb 26, 2015 3:22 pm

Re: Big law associate and I feel like I suck at litigation -- what do i do?

Post by forsanethaec » Sun Feb 04, 2024 1:38 pm

OP, I am a mid-level at a V10 in lit — and would be delighted to work with someone like you.

It sounds like you are trying hard and introspectively seeking to improve where you believe you fall short.

Honestly, at your level, attitude and a willingness to work — and learn from mistakes — is most of the battle.

I would rather work with someone who is earnest and trying than someone who is self-assured and cocky but not dependable, even if the latter person had more raw talent.

You are probably coming up against two things in your reviews, and both of them are actually good: one, your reviewers are trying to help you identify the areas where you can improve, and that means they are desirous of and invested in your success; and two, your reviewers are pointing out small things (like attention to detail) that matter a lot more than being able to develop the perfect abstract legal theory (that’s not your job and it probably isn’t called for, unless you are doing something like appellate work) and are encouraging you to focus your efforts there.

And I would second that (second) point. Don’t worry about getting the high-order things just so, but do make a concerted effort to be precise, to understand the relevant rules, to take care of the more mechanical tasks effectively. (I know this distinction may seem subtle, but try this as a helpful hermeneutic: you have a job and your are learning and being trained on the job; if someone were doing your job, would it be reasonable for them to be able to do a given task after two years or not? If not, then trust that it isn’t you but is, rather, something that takes more time to learn and learn well.)

I still struggle with many of the demands you have listed, and the stress of the job is real. Crafting legal arguments is challenging and often imprecise and open ended, especially as you are tasked to shoehorn odd fact patterns into under-developed areas of law, etc.

Hang in there. You are doing great!

And congrats on the clerkship. You will enjoy it a lot, I’m sure.

Want to continue reading?

Register now to search topics and post comments!

Absolutely FREE!

Post Reply Post Anonymous Reply  

Return to “Big Law/Private Practice Jobs”