Law Students

There is not nor probably will there ever be a definitive novel or film depicting the law firm experience. Law firm lawyers viewing The Firm or Michael Clayton or Ally McBeal are not going to identify with what they see on the screen. Novels like The Partner Track by Helen Wan or Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman might be the closest thing (affiliate links).

A truly realistic portrayal of that particular white-collar salt mine would surely be too boring for the public. On the other hand, the comments from the ATL Insider Survey (14,000 responses and counting; thanks everyone) constitute a sort of undistilled document of the Biglaw hive mind. So what do we hear from this depressing, inspiring, contradictory chorus of lawyerly voices?

The ATL Insider Survey asks practicing lawyers to evaluate their employer in terms of compensation, training, culture and colleagues, firm morale, and hours. The survey also asks, “What would be useful or interesting for a law student or potential lateral to know about your firm?”

Reading through all the responses to this question, a handful of recurrent themes emerge….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Here’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Our Law Firms”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Alison Monahan looks at the pros and cons of joining a study group.

My first week of law school, I heard a rumor (which I’m pretty sure was true) that one of my classmates was forming a study group. Great, right? What’s not to like? However, this study group was special — you could only join if you’d gone to Harvard for undergrad!

After I finished cracking up (particularly since this story was conveyed to me by a Yale undergrad), I decided to stay away from study groups, if this is what they were about.

Was that a good decision? Maybe not….

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

The law firm on-campus interview process is a peculiar institution. No other industry entrusts its entire entry-level hiring process to a series of superficial 20-minute “cattle call” interviews two years ahead of when the candidate will actually become a full-time employee. There is something contrived about the whole thing. (This old-ish video clip gives a good sense of the inherent absurdity.)

OCI is still underway at law schools across the country. Firms are currently hustling to interview students nationwide, make callbacks, and extend offers within an arbitrary 28-day window (per the NALP guidelines).

As we recently noted, opportunities to participate in OCI — which continues to be the primary entry point for law students into the largest and best-paying firms — are increasingly harder to come by in the current job market. The reality is, most students are on the outside looking in. Most will never be afforded the opportunity to land one of the few gigs that will actually give them a plausible chance of being able to pay off their student loans.

If you are one of the fortunate ones who just went through or is continuing to take part in OCI, we want to hear about your experiences….

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As was vividly demonstrated by our recent infographic, Biglaw’s summer associate classes have undergone a major and seemingly permanent contraction. For the most part, large — arguably bloated — summer associate classes are a thing of the past. Among the Am Law 50, only eight firms are bucking this downward trend, with actual increases in the size of their summer classes since 2007. These firms are a collection of Wall Street’s oldest and most elite white shoe mainstays: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, Davis Polk, and their ilk. On average, these firms were founded 112 years ago (i.e., during the McKinley Administration). The outlier here is the relative upstart litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel, founded only back in 1987.

Besides the durability and strength that comes with such a refined pedigree, what other trends are apparent in this great downsizing of Biglaw’s summer associate classes?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Alison Monahan shares some practical advice for new law students.

There’s a ton of (virtual) ink being spilled these days over what to do as a new law student. Everything from “buy all your books and read ahead” to “hire a tutor to explain the Rule Against Perpetuities.” (I only wish I was making that last one up. For the record, don’t do it.)

Since I don’t like to be boring, here are a few less obvious things you can do, to make your life easier and better later on. Trust me, I learned most of these the hard way!

1. Set up automated backups on your laptop. Seriously, if you only do one thing before law school starts, do this. Have you ever lost years of work in a hard drive crash? It’s a nightmare. Imagine you’re a week from exams, and your computer dies, taking EVERYTHING you worked on all semester with it. DO NOT let this happen to you. Go to Dropbox right now, and sign up for the free version. Make a folder called “Law School” and add it to your Dropbox. Save every file you create in law school there. Presto, problem solved. You can thank me later. (I don’t care if you use Dropbox, but it is really easy. Use whatever you like, but do something. I’m paranoid enough now that I back up to Dropbox and to an external hard drive, but that’s probably overkill.)

Read more at the ATL Career Center…

Washington, D.C. has the most densely concentrated population of lawyers in the nation. The capital has an astounding 1,356 percent more lawyers per capita than New York. One in 12 District residents is an attorney. The nation’s capital is home to just one-fifth of one percent of the national population but accounts for one in every 25 of its lawyers. Could there be some correlation between this total saturation of D.C. with J.D.s and the seeming contempt that the rest of the country holds for the place? Washington’s negative perception problem is such that Slate’s political gabfest felt compelled to devote this week’s podcast to explore the proposition “Washington Is Really Not That Bad.” Examples of this not-badness included the fact that people don’t have to bribe officials to get their social security benefits. So it was kind of a low bar.

In any event, D.C.’s lawyers work in myriad capacities in Congress, government regulatory agencies, non-profits, and lobbying firms. But obviously Washington is very much a Biglaw town as well. The frustration and malaise brought on by the sequester and partisan gridlock seem to be affecting the business of Biglaw. As Lat noted yesterday, large firms there are struggling: revenue, demand and productivity are all lagging at D.C.-based law firms when compared to firms nationwide. So this might not be the ideal time to check in on how lawyers at large D.C.-based firms perceive their professional experiences. But we’ll do it anyway.

Our ATL Insider Survey (13,500+ responses and counting) asks attorneys at firms to evaluate their employers in terms of compensation, hours, training, morale, and culture. After the jump, we’ll look at how firms in Washington stack up in these categories — and how they compare to the national averages…

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For a couple months now, we’ve run an occasional series, drawing on the ATL Insider Survey, comparing firms and law schools in various geographic locales. Thus far, we looked at Boston, Chicago, New York, and “the South.”

Today, we turn toward Texas. Texas is beloved here at ATL as an apparently bottomless source of colorful legal news. The state is a frequent battleground for high profile constitutional fights while also generating a steady stream of tabloid fodder, from “judges behaving badly” to “tragic homicidal mayhem.” (Of course, there’s also the running joke among the ATL commentariat that, for what a New York Biglaw associate pays for his cramped studio apartment, one can buy a 3,500-square-foot wife house in Texas.)

But of course this is a limited, distorted view of the legal industry in Texas. Texas is a huge, diverse state with a relatively strong economy and a unique legal culture. Biglaw firms thrive in all three major cities, both local outposts of national firms, or more significantly, Texas-bred firms such as Baker Botts and Vinson & Elkins. Our ATL Insider Survey (13,000+ responses and going strong, thanks), asks attorneys at firms to evaluate their employers in terms of compensation, hours, training, morale, and culture. After the jump, we’ll look at how firms in Texas stack up in these categories — and how they compare to the national averages…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “ATL Law Firm Ratings: Texas Edition”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Kristina Tsamis shares some career advice for JD/MBAs from a panel discussion hosted by Duke Law in conjunction with other peer law schools.

We spend a lot of time discussing the dismal employment outcomes for JD grads. Things aren’t so rosy for MBA graduates either. To talk about a dual JD/MBA degree in this context seems like a double fail — a one-two punch of more work and potentially more debt in exchange for the same sad outcome.

Enter the panelists of How to Use the JD/MBA Degree in Business and Entrepreneurship: all JD/MBA graduates who touted the usefulness of a dual degree during a discussion hosted by Duke Law in conjunction with other peer law schools. The panelists centered their advice on four main areas: what to focus on while pursuing the dual degree, how to select a good mentor, how to interview well, and how to stop being risk-averse.

1. Maintain the Right Focus as a JD/MBA student

That class in early English case law will leave you painfully ill-equipped for the modern practice of law. But there are some courses you should be paying attention to, both on the JD and MBA side.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sarah Powell helps new associates face their own unrealistic expectations about life in Biglaw.

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” — Bruce Lee

If you read Above the Law, you know that law school, the legal profession, and Biglaw especially are not like the movies, not like the grand old days, and certainly not like partners pitch it to you at on-campus interviews. Still, a main source of junior associate misery is false expectations. Some examples…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From the Career Files: Biglaw Practice Today — Cruel Expectations”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sunny Choi interviews a fifth-year associate at a Biglaw firm who has some advice for summer associates.

If this is your 2L summer at a Biglaw firm, then you’re probably reveling in a copious number of three-hour lunches and nightly open bars, courtesy of the firm’s unofficial summer wallet. However, as a summer associate, this is also your time to make a lasting impression on the firm where you’ll most likely settle down for the next several years of your legal career.

I’ve conducted an unofficial interview with “Lady G,” a fifth-year associate at a certain Biglaw firm in Manhattan. She has kindly offered tips on how to be a stellar summer associate, based on her experience serving as an assignment coordinator for the summer associate program and working with summers in general.

How big is the summer associate program at your firm?

Pretty big, I would say 100+ associates divided into six teams. Each summer gets matched with an associate mentor and a partner mentor.

Could you describe your role as an assignment coordinator for your firm’s 2011 program?

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

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