You learn a lot of lessons practicing in Biglaw. A big one is that you can never be prepared enough. There is always another opinion of your presiding judge to read, or a brief drafted by your opponent in an earlier case to review. Anyone who makes it more than a few years in Biglaw learns that lesson. But as much as preparation is valued, and pursued with fervor as an ideal onto itself, there is absolutely no way for even the most idealistic Biglaw recruit to fully appreciate what they are getting themselves into.
As many know, law school itself has little to teach about the realities of Biglaw, other than to idealize it as a fantasy land of big paychecks and “interesting work.” And everyone’s Biglaw experience is so unique that anecdotal tidbits are of limited utility. Does the professor, who so proudly includes on his resume a two year stint as a M&A associate at a white-shoe firm two decades ago, have much actionable advice to give a graduating 3L headed for a first-year post at even that same firm? Not really, except to perhaps suggest that the best type of relationship with that firm is one where it is your former employer….
Of course, most budding lawyers are by nature curious, and want to know what they are getting into. So they dutifully read ATL, set up Google news alerts for information about their firm (a good practice, even when you are senior and are smart enough to set up alerts for news about your clients too), and take to message boards for information that can give them an edge. It is a worthy pursuit, but if all you look for is information about your future or current firm, your scope of inquiry is too narrow. Especially since the likelihood of a lawyer spending their entire career at a single firm has entered “would be nice, but is not realistic” territory. What young lawyers, and even more senior ones, need to make sure they have timely information on is their practice area. Absent someone willing to share about what practicing in a certain area is really like, there can be a steep learning curve, especially for young lawyers entering a specialty.
While I had plenty of adjustments to make growing up professionally in Biglaw, there was one piece of information about practicing patent litigation that I completely overlooked as a young lawyer. In hindsight, it would have been difficult for me to learn that information before I got into Biglaw, but at the same time it is so obvious to me now that sometimes I can’t believe I never realized it. Thankfully, it would not have changed my decision to enter patent litigation, and it has actually become one of the more enriching parts of my professional career. So what did I miss? That I would be traveling for business. A lot.
No one told me this, even though I graduated law school with enough credits for an LLM in intellectual property. It was never mentioned during any of my OCI interviews, or the interviews I had with firms after passing the patent bar. Should I have realized that most Biglaw firms that have patent litigation departments service clients nationwide? Maybe. What I do know is that I consider myself fortunate that I enjoy traveling. Because if I did not, my odds of having a fulfilling career would have been much lower. It seems silly that being comfortable with something as non-legal in nature as travel could have so much impact on a lawyer’s career fulfillment. But it also underscores the importance of knowing what practicing in a particular area truly demands.
And modern patent litigation requires a willingness to travel, in a way that a city-centric real estate practice may not. Of course, Biglaw partners do a fair bit of travel regardless of their practice area, whether it be for client development, less-frequent but still to be found partner bacchanals, or leisure travel for the necessary “realignment” necessitated by a high-stress career. But certain practices within Biglaw demand much more. Patent litigation is one of them, both because of the concentration of many cases in a few core district courts, and the increasing globalization of technology companies both large and small. In fact, for many patent litigators, their travel schedule is a good proxy for how in demand they are, and more importantly how insistent their clients about having them personally handle aspects of the case. The presence of the latter is a good sign for a lawyer, of course.
For me, traveling started innocuously enough. An occasional trip to help a partner with a deposition or witness interview. Or a presentation at a client. When trial rolled around, it was a given that it would be an intensive month-long stay away from home. As my career gained momentum, the frequency and variability of my travel intensified. Depositions, client meetings, skills training, firm retreats, hearings. Three cities in a week, months where there was a trip every week, and years when I would earn elite status on more than one airline and hotel chain. It was part of the job. An unexpected part, but an important one. Of course, Biglaw’s resources helped reduce the burden. Make friends with your firm’s travel agent — it could mean the difference between getting home for a family event or getting stuck during a winter storm in an airport hotel room. Expense was never really a concern, even as I took care not to abuse clients. Was I a thrifty traveler? No, but by neither was I enjoying extravagance either. My goal was always to get in, get the job done, and get home as soon as possible.
Because of the nature of my practice, I actually anticipate that I will be doing more traveling, not less, in the years to come. I have definitely learned a fair bit about business travel along the way, knowledge that should serve me in good stead as I try to balance my professional and personal lives while in a “travel-required” line of work. One of the advantages of being in a true partnership, as we are in our new firm, is that the travel load can be shared somewhat. That can be a great thing, even though we already have had days where at least two of us were on the road for work. In fact, I am writing this column on an airplane, while looking forward to another trip later in the week. Starting out, I may not have realized that travel was an important job requirement, but I have learned that lesson well. Some lawyers may like travel, and some may hate it, but I hope that younger lawyers at least consider the likelihood and necessity of travel before committing to a certain career path. See you on the road.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. He can be reached at email@example.com.