Career Advice

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Abby Gordon is a Director with Lateral Link’s New York office. Abby works with attorney candidates on law firm and in-house searches, primarily in New York, Boston, and Europe. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Abby spent seven years as a corporate associate with Cleary Gottlieb, focusing on capital markets transactions for Latin American clients in New York and for the last five years for European clients in Paris. A native of Boston, Abby holds a J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. in government and romance languages, magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College. Abby also worked with the International Rescue Committee as a Fulbright Scholar in Madrid, Spain. She is a member of the New York Bar and is fluent in French and Spanish (and dabbles in Portuguese and Italian).

If one of your career or personal goals is to work as a U.S. lawyer overseas, you need to start preparing and positioning yourself very early on. In this two-part series, I will first discuss picking the right practice area and picking the right firm to optimize your opportunities for working overseas, keeping geographical considerations in mind.

In the second part of this series, I will discuss the importance of language skills for various regions and practice areas. I will touch on the potential downsides and sacrifices involved in working overseas for a portion of your career. Finally, I will talk about what you can be doing now to best position yourself for a move overseas….

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Remember the pushmi-pullyu?

It can teach you a lesson about the law.

Years ago, I heard the frustrated 60-year-old head of an IP department at a big firm complain: “Aren’t there any other IP lawyers at this firm? Why do I have to decide everything?”

The problem, of course, was that his subordinates were on the wrong end of the pushmi-pullyu: They were pulling the senior guy back instead of pushing him forward. My sense is that the average lawyer, either at a firm or in-house, suffers from the same affliction: The average lawyer stands at the . . . er . . . back mouth of the beast.

I recently published a self-assessment test to help you learn whether you were a bad litigator. I’ve cleverly designed another self-assessment test, this one to gauge whether you advance the cause or obstruct it when you work on a legal matter. Here’s the test:

Look at the last email that you sent reporting on a legal development and seeking guidance on the next step forward. How does that email end? For many of you, the last sentence includes one of these two phrases, which prove that you stand at the pullyu end of the beast . . .

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U.S. News will release its annual law school rankings next week. That means that a bunch of would-be law students will have another somewhat arbitrary look at which schools have the right to saddle them with lifelong debt, and which schools should be begging them to come with money.

So it’s time to fire up the ATL Decision Machine! You know how this works: you email us with the schools you are choosing between, we tell you what to do, you end up going to the highest-ranked school you got into anyway.

Usually, Lat and I give slightly competing reasons, but he’s on vacation right now, so mwahahaha. Today’s choice is interesting: two good schools, but only one is shelling out any money….

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who will offer an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

Following the publication of my initial column, I received scores of emails from polite job-seekers with specific questions about their current employment situations. While I am not able to reply to all of the notes, I can offer some guidance to assist the majority of these job-seekers.

Insider tip: Biglaw firms tend to avoid hiring candidates who have strayed off of the traditional path to Biglaw firm employment. Such “rogue” candidates make the recruitment committee nervous, and any candidate who makes the committee nervous will not be advanced in the process. If you want to work in Biglaw, get a job in Biglaw during your 2L summer. If this is not possible (because you did not land a job in Biglaw or you have already graduated), get a job at a small- or medium-sized private firm in the exact practice area that you hope to work in when you make the jump after a few years to Biglaw. Clerkships are fine, but law firm experience in your desired practice area is the ideal. Also, of great importance, you MUST do well in all courses related to your practice area of choice. If you received a C in Securities Regulation, it will be a hard sell to land a job as a securities lawyer at a large firm.

What are some other factors that will make the recruitment committee uncomfortable?

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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….

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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, Debra M. Strauss, Associate Professor of Business Law at Fairfield University, offers helpful tips for landing a judicial clerkship.

Now that the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan is officially defunct, the timing of your clerkship applications depends on the individual hiring practices of each judge. This is another aspect of what is essentially a research project, with the primary resources being OSCAR (“Online System for Clerkship Application and Review”) for federal clerkships and Vermont Law School’s Guide to State Judicial Clerkships. See the additional tips on the timing in my first article in this series, “Putting it in Perspective: Understanding the History of the Timing Issue and Making Lemonade.”

So let’s take a closer look at the application process, the components of the application, and strategies you can employ to increase the chances of success in your quest for the prized clerkship.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Keith Lee

To say that people want rewards without responsibility or effort is a trite observation. But often times it seems as though the problem is growing increasingly worse. For example:

Five days to fitness, to three minutes, down to six seconds. Of course, true fitness is a total lifestyle commitment that requires years of sustained effort involving discipline and sacrifice. But that’s an awful lot of work.

Far easier to blow $100 on some get-fit-quick scheme, haphazardly follow it for a few days, and then blow it off. Then you can blame your lack of fitness on the program. No need to take personal responsibility for your position in life….

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One of the questions I have been asked since leaving Biglaw is how I decided to join forces with my current partners. It is a good question, because over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers, both at my firm and at others. I have technically even had hundreds of “partners” between my two prior Biglaw firms. But other than my current partners, I can think of only a handful whom I would have considered opening a firm with.

My professional ambition was never to open a boutique. I very much enjoyed my time in Biglaw, and always thought that I would stay in Biglaw for the remainder of my career. Did that mean that I expected to remain at the same firm for my entire career? Of course not, no matter how appealing that idea sounded. The fraying of the Biglaw social contract as a result of the 2008 recession sealed that deal. But it was a big leap from knowing that my career could involve some moves within Biglaw to leaving Biglaw altogether.

Finding the right compatriots was a critical element of that decision. How did it come about?

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Recently, a group of Harvard Law professors released the results of their survey of 124 attorneys from 11 large firms, asking what courses Harvard students ought to take to prepare for Biglaw practice. Overall, financial courses such as accounting, financial reporting, and corporate finance, topped the list, as noted by Will Baude over at the Volokh Conspiracy. But the study got me thinking: what courses should lawyers interested in starting a practice — either directly after law school or a few years down the road — study in law school?

If you ask this question of solos or consultants, most will argue that law schools need to teach business-type classes like how to write a business plan or how to market a law practice. And while law schools should certainly make those classes available to interested students, I don’t view them as imperative. Let’s face it, most of this material isn’t rocket-science (high school dropouts open successful businesses, after all), and the web offers a bottomless treasure trove of this type of information. (As an aside, one of my personal faves is Canvarise, a one-page template that pulls together all of the elements of a traditional business plan).

Nor do I believe that substantive courses — bankruptcy, family law, immigration, copyright — are all that important. Substantive law is state-specific, so it’s tough to teach and it’s always changing. What you learn as a second-year law student may no longer be valid a few years down the road. Plus, it’s not difficult to pick up the basics of a new practice area on the fly. Think about it: most students studying for the bar gain a quick understanding of as many as 25 different substantive practice areas in a summer. No reason the same isn’t true in practice.

In my view, law students should focus on studying and acquiring the kinds of skills that aren’t easily found or readily mastered in practice. With that as a guide, here’s my top five list of classes that will help prepare students for solo practice…

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I think we’ve all noticed how invested the legal academy is in telling us that they produce “practice ready” graduates. But there is scant research on what actually makes one “practice ready” versus “effectively useless.” Some law deans tell us that clinics and “experiential learning” are particularly important. But are they? Or is that just a nice line you can use to fleece prospective law students who don’t know any better?

A new Harvard study takes a look at what law school classes actually helped graduates once they got into Biglaw. I know, I know, every school outside of the top 20 is now screaming about how “there’s more than BIGLAW, stupid Elie.” But if there are schools that just want to ADMIT that they’re not preparing their students for Biglaw jobs that they’re never going to get, please feel free to ignore the lessons of this study. For everybody else who wants to pretend that their students have a reasonable chance at taking the jobs with the highest salaries, there’s some interesting stuff here…

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