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March 03, 2012


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junior mint

Interesting post. I think you might be missing one key point, but on the other hand I went to Yale so our perspective may be different given anyone who wants to go to BigLaw from YLS can. But to me and many of my classmates, BigLaw was simply understood to be the place to get the best training possible, assuming the "what you're looking for" is something for which BigLaw skills are helpful (in my opinion it very often is). Given the lifestyle sacrifices, many of us who go to BigLaw after graduation view it as a place to spend the first 2-4 years of our 10+ year plan (in addition to paying down some of our debt), so competition for those slots doesn't necessarily translate to a desire to try to make partner.

I agree with you completely that it's not the best place for everyone and students should give real thought to how they want to spend their lives after graduation, just as schools should be wary of positioning it as the holy grail. I just think that a) for many, BigLaw is a great stepping stone to the life they ultimately want, and b) the interest in BigLaw that students seem to display may be partly a function of timing (the same 2Ls competing for these jobs may already know, or come to know within a year or 2, that the BigLaw firm functions best for them as a training ground and finishing school).

I have received excellent formal training, informal mentoring, and concrete experience at my firm, and I am fortunate to also enjoy the work. But now I'm going to leave before my husband leaves me for never being around.


I enjoyed this post immensely. As a graduate of a top 5 law school, a great majority of my peers went to Biglaw. Many of them, as the poster above says, to receive a certain kind of credential and training. I never interviewed with a Biglaw firm because I knew it was not what I wanted to do. Instead I've had a very fulfilling career and I have never practiced as a lawyer. But my law degree was absolutely indispensable to my career. I certainly do not condone fudging statistics of job placement but the whole debate about graduates having a law job or non-law job definitely reminds me of my law school years, where searching out extra-legal employment (but related) was somehow deemed lowly. And the schools will push graduates more toward firm jobs too (as if there isn't enough pressure to go this route already) because it will reflect in their numbers. So the graduate who wants to do community organizing work, or certain types of public interest law that doesn't require a JD necessarily, will face even more institutional pressure against pursuing such an option. That seems a shame to me.

The 99%

It is an interesting post, though completely irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of law students nationwide, including the majority of the students the regular contributors of TFL are charged with educating. Beyond navel gazing for law profs who ground out a few years in BigLaw before entering academia and the perhaps 1-2% of students who will have the "privilege" of serving the interests of their corporate masters in a similar vein, this post smacks of whistling past the graveyard of a legal industry that has little room for graduates of middle of the road schools with crushing debt, the 99%. Indeed the post is not unlike standing in the checkout line of the grocery, clutching a fist full coupons, and reading a tabloid stuffed with the travails of celebrity lifestyles. Put simply, who cares?


There can be posts about lots of different things, and different perspectives. It was worthwhile.

Bernie Burk

"Junior Mint" raises an important point: The many graduates who take BigLaw jobs to achieve some combination of training, resume dressing and debt defrayment, but without any serious thought of trying to stick it out there long-term. Over the generation preceding the Great Recession, it became more and more difficult for more and more hires get any meaningful experience or training as leverage rose and legal process work began to predominate junior associates' dockets. (The money, partly to compensate for the the loss of the other benefits, not only remained good, it kept getting better and better.) It remains to be seen with falling leverage and increasing insourcing, outsourcing and downsourcing of legal process work whether better experience and training for more junior lawyers will return to BigLaw. But Junior Mint's experience of good mentoring and training had in recent years become increasingly rare.


junior mint

Bernie, you're right to point out that outsourcing--especially of document review-- is having and will have a major impact on what junior associates do. I expect as the trend continues, the life and work of a BigLaw junior will get better, but the opportunities will get fewer. Of course, firms are getting creative: mine, for example, is willing to charge substantially reduced rates for associate time on that task to remove clients' incentive to demand that litigators farm out doc review, so it can keep new associates busy, keep the work in-house, and keep the overall litigation costs competitive.

Bernie Burk

But Junior Mint, let's be very direct about this: why would you as a junior associate want your firm to do this? The more time you spend on tedious and repetitive legal process work, the less time you have to work on tasks that actually allow you to develop practice skills and judgment. And the more time you spend being billed out at a "substantially reduced" rate, the greater the likelihood that you, and all associates similarly situated, will get paid less. This is not a sustainable model, and it is not one that is materially better for you than the pre-recession model of semi-clerical bloat that characterized most large firms.

Your firm's management should put away the duct tape and chewing gum, and get out some saws and wrenches. Your firm's competitors (WilmerHale, Orrick, McDermott Will) are forming departments of lawyers who are moderately compensated and located in affordable cities (Dayton, OH; Wheeling, WVa). These "discovery" or "staff" attorneys can concentrate on this legal process and routinized form work, get really efficient and effective at it, and leave more challenging work for a smaller number of full-freight associates. They get a decent salary, benefits and respect (or at least that is the public face of the program).


Civ Pro Prawf

An extremely important topic, thanks for raising it Bernie. This is something I talk about with my students (not that BigLaw is beating down most of their doors at this point, but still). To the extent that schools give their students the impression that working in BigLaw or, even worse, that being a "partner" in BigLaw is THE WAY to be a success in the law, we are doing our students a major disservice. The lifestyle of a BigLaw associate is, often, unpleasant. BigLaw associates are, as a group, unhappy. Yes they are well paid and have some measure of "prestige" among other lawyers, but for most people that is small recompense for actually being a BigLaw associate and the constant stress and grind that comes with it. The real-world "training" that occurs in many BigLaw firms is next to nonexistent. Plus, partnership is virtually unattainable for most associates -- and it is a meaningless term as most (all?) BigLaw firms now have multi-tiered structured, with only the biggest rainmakers as true equity partners. [My former firm had at least 5 levels of "partnership" and only a very, very few ever even sniffed the top, true equity level]. Finally the BigLaw model is simply not conducive to any sort of work-life balance (even when the firms swear otherwise). There is more to life than $$ and more to life than the ego padding of a BigLaw gig on your resume. Now, some folks take to BigLaw like fish to water and love it and there are, of course, thousands of wonderful attorneys in BigLaw. But, there are also thousands of wonderful attorneys who are not.

Chicago Jordan 10

so great.congratulations to you.

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