I’ve been outed. My jealousy about never having sat in the front row of a courtroom gallery to take notes and hand documents to partners trying cases has now been discovered by the crack anonymous commenters. No, I never worked in Biglaw. No, they would never hire me. I didn’t have the grades, or the personality… I will forever regret not spending the first 5-7 years of my career hoping that the timesheet would evidence my ability as a lawyer and that I could brag at judicial receptions I was sent to for the purpose of meeting judges I never practiced before, about my (document review) work on a big corporate case (sorry, “matter”).
And so it appears that I am not a big fan of Biglaw — but that’s not true. Actually, Biglaw has been very good to me, and it can be good to you as a solo or small firm lawyer. Just don’t steal any of the embossed coffee cups, and consider some of these ideas….
Biglaw doesn’t do what you do
You’re a criminal defense lawyer. You see the Biglaw firms all seem to have a criminal practice. Yes, they do. They don’t call it that though, they call it “White Collar and Corporate Compliance.” “Criminal Defense” doesn’t go well with oriental rugs or those who sit on expensive furniture placed on oriental rugs in marble-laden offices.
The White Collar folks don’t answer the phone at 2 a.m. They don’t run down to the jail to meet a newly arrested client. They don’t really, well — they just review a lot of documents and have a lot of meetings. Although they like to keep things “in house,” sometimes they can’t. Maybe it’s a case involving a family member, close friend, or just too small, insignificant, or “controversial” for Biglaw.
Whatever your practice area, meet the Biglaw lawyers that do what you do. Let them know you’re available to take their scraps. Their scraps can buy a lot of Starbucks and maybe even pay your rent for a couple months. The next time a firm-wide email is sent around about a “small matter,” (and every Biglaw lawyer calls anything they are referring out a “small matter”), your name may get circulated as “the” lawyer to contact.
Get back in touch with your law school classmates. Yes, even that dork.
When I first started, someone gave me the following advice: “Some of the people you graduated with that are young associates in Biglaw, will eventually be the firm’s leaders in their practice area, or managing partners, and will be asked to refer cases. Don’t lose touch with them.” Seventeen years later, I can tell you it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received.
So get back in touch. I don’t care how you do it — coffee, lunch, a quick email of congratulations for being named in a beauty-pageant lawyer magazine, whatever. Out of sight, out of mind. Do it.
Biglaw hosts CLE seminars in their offices
Nothing says “why go out to lunch” than a wild and crazy CLE seminar hosted at the office. This use for Biglaw only works if you have something interesting to say and can speak in front of people without looking like Gov. Rick Perry.
Call your local Biglaw contact and see if they have a CLE program. If you have a topic other than “I’m a commercial litigator and need work,” see if they will accept an outline and résumé from you and put you on the agenda. They like outside speakers, as the bench of interesting people who actually work at the office is not that deep.
OK, time for the folks down below to pop open the cheetos and start typing.
Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at email@example.com.