Last week, I shared some thoughts regarding Biglaw summer associates. I thought it would be interesting to interview a current summer associate, and I was happy to hear from some brave volunteers.
The summer associate who is the subject of this interview has an impressive résumé and is off to a solid start at their highly-rated law school. That their credentials are strong is not surprising, considering the challenging job environment for those hoping to land a summer associate position in the first place.
The words of our interviewee are unedited, except to protect their anonymity. I’ve added some responsive parenthetical commentary after each response. I thank our interviewee for their candid observations and thoughtful opinions in response to these questions….
AP: What has been the most surprising thing about your summer associate experience so far?
I think the biggest surprise has been how friendly and fun many of the people in my office have been. I expected it to be much stuffier around here and the lawyers to be more introverted. There are definitely some awkward people and I’ve had some mildly awkward interactions, but nothing on the magnitude I expected. I think I just got lucky that there is a sizable collection of cool people working at this office.
(AP: Says a lot about the reputation of Biglaw that the presence of normal people is taken as a surprise by those joining the party. As anyone who has worked in Biglaw knows, there can be great variation in the likability of your co-workers. The variation can manifest itself on geographic grounds within the same firm, or within practice groups. Learning how to relate to everyone is a major key to Biglaw success.)
AP: What thought have you given to the issue of business development, assuming you want a long career in Biglaw?
I definitely plan to make a long career in Biglaw. I have thought a little bit about business development, but my thoughts have been limited to wondering how that actually happens. Given my family’s background and social circle, I have no idea how I’ll begin trying to find clients in 8-10 years (I’m guessing that’s the timeline, but I really don’t know). There are a couple counsels here that are about to put themselves up for partner; I asked each of them what they are doing to get a book of business, but they seem only slightly less clueless than I am. One of them has been going to lunch with friends and more distant contacts, the other doesn’t seem to be doing anything.
(AP: Why law schools don’t engage alumni to talk to current students about business development is beyond me. Nor do I know why many firms don’t try and demystify the process for their summers and associates (and service partners.) Our SA interviewee is making two rookie mistakes here, but they are forgivable considering the circumstances. First, there is no need to wait 8-10 years to think about generating business (unless you get explicit instructions to the contrary from your firm — in which case you should still get comfortable with referring potential work to others). You should be thinking about why clients should choose you as their lawyer from day one of your legal career, and think about how you can make the decision an easy one for them to make. Second, our SA interviewee asked the wrong people about business development. You learn from people who have done it, not people who are trying to figure it out. It is an indictment of this SA’s firm that lawyers who have bled for the firm (or Biglaw) for about a decade are left rudderless when it comes to developing the tools that will allow them to move their careers forward. That will change going forward, I expect, as more lawyers will get some sales instruction in the “new normal.”)
AP: Did you face any jealousy at school or among friends for landing a summer associate position in Biglaw?
I go to a top 10 school, so most of my classmates who wanted a Biglaw job managed to land one. However, there is a good deal of self-righteous indignation oriented at those of us who chose to do Biglaw coming from students who chose to work for a public interest organization. Unfortunately, there are definitely a couple clients my firm represents who make me wonder if my public interest classmates are correct. That said, I have two friends who chose to go the public interest route and recently told me they think it would have been smarter for them — financially and professionally — to work a couple years in Biglaw first…. I’m hoping my superiors here are as supportive of young associates doing pro bono work as they claim to be.
(AP: If anyone needed a reminder about why you go to the best law school you get into (absent a major scholarship), here it is. Our SA should tell anyone who tries to make him feel bad about his initial career choice to stuff it. There is nothing wrong with starting your legal career in Biglaw — even if you eventually hope to do public interest work. Conversely, there really is no excuse for someone in Biglaw not to do some kind of pro bono work, or at least generously support the public service organizations that their classmates are joining. It is telling though that his friends are looking at the Biglaw bucks and reconsidering their choices….)
AP: What importance, if any, do you attribute to the “social events” aspect of the summer associate experience”?
I think the social events are very important. I’ve been to all of them so far and I’ve actually had a pretty good time at most. I try to steer clear of the big-shot partners during work hours because I know how much their time is worth. Social events are a nice time to get to know those partners a little better. There also seems to be some nice self-sorting whereby the attorneys who go to these events are more sociable and cool people…. [T]he alcohol helps too.
(AP: Our SA is confirming some of the points I made in last week’s column. Most importantly, that firms continue to “select” who gets to interact with the summers. In terms of advice to our SA interviewee, he should not miss the opportunity to follow up with any of the “big-shot” partners he meets at the social events, especially those he hits it off with. If he plays it right, there is a good chance that he will be allowed to tag along on some interesting work activities. A summer associate’s greatest success would be to get in the good graces of a big-shot partner or two.)
AP: What effect did the Weil announcement of major layoffs have on you personally? Around the office?
I definitely took note of the Weil layoffs. I heard one senior partner tell an associate that he thinks there will be more layoffs or “Latham-ings” in the near future. I’ll admit I took a moment to compare what I think the partners here think of me and what I think they think of the other summers.
(AP: This could be an interesting year-end in Biglaw. It is indicative that conversations about more industry layoffs are happening in the normal course at firms like the one our SA is at. The more firm success correlates only with the personal success of a few important rainmakers and firm leadership, the less secure everyone else in Biglaw will be.)
AP: If Biglaw did not offer such a huge compensation advantage for entry-level students, would you still consider it as a career path?
That is a difficult question to answer because I think getting rid of the best thing about working in Biglaw ($$$) would largely eliminate the second best thing about working in Biglaw — my perception that this is where a disproportionate amount of the best attorneys practice. So, if they got rid of the salary, but somehow kept the talent and prestige, I’d probably still start in Biglaw.
(AP: Money talks. And money is what gets “a disproportionate amount of the best attorneys” through Biglaw’s doors. Whether that will continue to be true will depend on how willing some of those best attorneys will be to answer to those who may not be their legal equals, but are good salespeople or office politicians.)
I thank our interviewee for their candor and cooperation in sharing their experience as a summer associate so far. I wish them the best of luck in their Biglaw career, and hope that the initiative they showed in contacting me will serve them in good stead going forward. Finally, I continue to extend an open invitation for individuals concerned about making Biglaw’s future a bright one to contact me, and potentially share their thoughts with this audience.
In the meantime, you can comment below or reach me by email….
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.