Biglaw, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners, Summer Associates

The Practice: Small Law Firm Advice For Biglaw Summer Associates

Man it’s been a rough week around here at ATL. With the addition of Eric Turkewitz, or as I call him, E.T., I now see you all weren’t kidding when you told me the only reason I was here was because Lat and Mystal just go down the alphabet.

I was also invited to experience misery at its peak have drinks with Elie during his visit to South Florida where he continued to call B.S. spoke on a panel to a conference of “all our graduates get jobs” law school admissions folks and apparently experienced what can only be described as “commentariat live.”

Our meeting was just your typical conversation between an angry short Jewish lawyer from Miami who successfully overcame academic probation at a state college and third-tier law school and a big fat black guy with dual degrees from Harvard. We left before the Boca Raton Resort and Club noticed we were there.

Now let’s talk about Biglaw summer associates….

As I was riding down the elevator from my penthouse office through the 7 floors of a certain Biglaw firm to attend my monthly lunch with 13 lawyers that practice in 13 different practice areas (there was a tip there, take your time figuring it out), the elevator stopped at a Biglaw floor. Enter a group of very happy, young, well-dressed people. Hmmm, I thought (I often think “hmmmmm”), these weren’t the unhappy, complaining, praying for the weekend staffers. Then I realized: it’s the end of May. Summer Associates. They’re far too happy, far too well-dressed, and, of course, clueless.

That’s where I come in. I know you’re thinking “damn Brian, will your generosity towards the clueless in our profession ever end?” No need to thank me. I do it for you, because I want you to wake up at some point in your career before you become a shadow of what you thought you would be as a lawyer and try to be relevant.

Biglaw Summer Associates, listen up.

You’re not getting a job at the firm. Stop smiling, stop thinking that dressing like a lawyer may actually be convincing someone that you look like a lawyer, and cut the happy crap — you’re setting yourself up for severe disappointment. Stop talking in elevators about all the interesting garbage you’re working on, and stop acting like you matter. You don’t need to “get back by 1” to look for one word repeatedly in 10 boxes of documents “review discovery in a very big matter.” You know that whole “look to your left, look to your right” thing that everyone told you happened in law school but never did? Well, look to your left, your right, behind you, around you, in the mirror — assume none of those people will be there after the summer.

Additionally, all the fun that’s planned for you — the cocktail parties at the partners’ houses, the baseball games, the nice lunches — enjoy it while it lasts, because if the above paragraph isn’t true for you and you actually get an offer, all the fun stops. Don’t cry, it’s true. Summer associate programs are like Halloween: you get led around to the nice people’s houses with the good candy and whisked past the dark houses where the mean people live.

When you get the job, they’ll be sports tickets, but you won’t be able to go. They’ll be parties, but you’ll be trying to impress the partners by not showing up because you wanted to “bill some hours.” Capital Grille again? Uh, no.

Here’s some advice, and I would write this down, or type it on your iPad.

Use the time to learn about the practice of law, not just your firm. The guy in the elevator without a suit on, the other one, the one with the baseball jersey and shorts on at 4:30, and that other one, the one pulling in the parking garage in the 1986 Porsche convertible — talk to those lawyers. Those are the ones that your Biglaw people refer to as “solos” and “small shop” lawyers. Some of them are very happy. They are likely making more money than you and your friends have been told. They do interesting things, they’re happy to spend a few minutes talking with you about your future.

That a big firm thought enough of you to ask you to spend the summer with them is great. You should be proud. That you think it’s anything more than an audition in which only a few are chosen, and probably not you, is a mistake.

See you in the elevator. I’m the one with the smirk on his face.

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

(hidden for your protection)

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