Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

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Anonymous User
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Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 15, 2014 7:34 am

Where I work: Regional biglaw firm in a tertiary market - think Des Moines, even though *SpOiLeR aLeRt* I do not work in Des Moines. In this market, my firm is considered probably the top dog and local practitioners consider it biglaw. In actuality, it is a mid-sized firm. We aren't ranked on Vault, the NLJ-300, or Playboy's annual list of party firms. We are ranked #1 on the list of "Law Firms For Which I Currently Work." It's a short and relatively unprestigious list. We do pay market, though - this being Des Moines - "market" is substantially less than $160,000.

Who I am: Second-year litigation associate in my first year working for this firm.

What I do: Because of the size of my firm, I am not strictly bound within a practice group, and my practice varies according to which partner needs something done in a given week. Once I'm staffed on a case, I have a pretty high degree of autonomy, which is nice. My assignments generally break down as follows:

50% research - Formal memos or quick "email me an answer to this question right effing now" projects.
25% law and motion - I do a lot of drafting and opposing motions. Right now I'm working on a motion to get a receiver appointed. Last week I did an opposition to a motion to compel and an opposition to an MSJ.
25% misc - This would be propounding and responding to discovery, finding and retaining experts, client meetings, cranky letters to opposing counsel, etc.

As a general matter I'd say my practice is about 75% general business litigation with the rest being some combination of white collar defense, bankruptcy, and even a little transactional stuff (I've done a few workouts for a bank). Desert Fox might call me a jackoff of all trades.

What I don't do: A lot of document review. Because of the size of the firm, we just don't handle a lot of ultra-complex litigation. Want to work on Apple v. Samsung? Midlaw probably isn't your shop. The good news here is that I probably haven't done more than 10 hours of doc review since I started here.

Do I love my job?: 100% yes. In my experience, the old saw about getting more substantive work at a smaller firm has been true. The reality is we just don't have enough attorney (wo)manpower to insulate me from consequential work for 3-5 years, so I was pretty much thrown into it from the outset. After about 3 months, people realized that I could handle things about as well as could reasonably be expected given my experience level, and I was given some pretty cool assignments, including attending mediations, taking depositions, and appearing in court for little law and motion things. I'll be doing a solo appearance in court next week to oppose an MSJ, for instance.

OK but hours: My hours are as bad as those of any associate at a firm in my market (again, "regional biglaw") but, on balance, better than associates in SF/DC/LA/Chi and significantly better than NYC associates. In an average month, I bill between 165 and 180 hours. This month, I'm on pace for significantly north of 200, despite the fact that I'm taking a short vacation. It just depends on the workload, which depends on how frequently people feel like suing our clients.

Advice for applicants: So you'd like to work for a mid-sized firm, eh? I don't have any great advice for applicants, apart from the usual "get good grades and don't be weird." If you're going for a regional firm like mine, ties are a *huge* asset, but that's not really advice you can act upon, unless you're willing to get into a time machine, go back to 1988, and grow up in Des Moines. I guess what I'd say is that when you're asked about a lack of ties in an interview, don't BS people. I didn't have ties here and got the job by just being frank about the fact that I want to work for the firm and showing that I knew a bit about the city and was interested in living there. Mid-sized firm associates make good lateral candidates because we do projects on *relatively* sophisticated cases that would typically be reserved for midlevels and seniors at biglaw firms, which means that the partners who run mid-sized firms are very keen to avoid hiring flight risks. If people think you're just targeting mid-sized firms because you don't quite have the grades for biglaw, you're probably sunk. Though again, I say "probably" because I was exactly that sort of candidate (I was top-20% from a good-but-not-great law school) and it worked out for me. At a certain point, getting the job just involves a bit of luck, which means it's hard to give meaningful advice.

Also, understand the risks. At a mid-sized firm, fit is critical and one sinker on the payroll can really bring down the ship, which means that we no-offer more summers than a biglaw firm. My understanding is that over the past 5 years or so, we've no-offered about 20-25% of our summers. If you're applying to a firm like this, understand that risk before you go in, and make sure to work extra hard to get an offer (I won't get into how that works since there are a million threads about that, but suffice it to say that here it might take more than the usual "don't get hammered and steal a forklift.")

Advice for midlaw litigation associates: OK, here's where I can actually be maybe useful. Here's what I wish someone had told me from day 1:

1.) Your central mission, which you absolutely must choose to accept, is getting yourself a steady stream of work. Midlaw shops are too small to just hide out billing at or below the minimum for a few years. If you're not making money for the firm, expect that to become an issue sooner rather than later. When I arrived, I had this notion that law firms had some kind of project-streamlining work genie that simply pooped out billable projects into associates' inboxen. This is not necessarily true. On TLS, most of the associates are at giant firms, which is why you're more likely to hear "I work too many hours" instead of "Help I'm not making hours," but trust me that the latter is the more frightening.

2.) Re #1, the single best way to get yourself work is to make sure that your research is immaculate. You literally cannot ever be wrong. If partners know you're never going to miss a case, they're going to depend on you for their research. You want this. If you're still in law school, noodle around with Westlaw until you feel like a pro. I can't tell you how many incoming associates never did this, and it's a huge mistake. Also do not miss deadlines, period. If that means you pull an all-nighter, do it. Your goal for the first 3 months should be proving that you are dependable. Don't try to write like Learned Handjibber; just be a machine about doing the work you do get. Do not worry about taking too long. Your hours can (and likely will) be cut a bit.

3.) At a mid-sized firm, your work is likely to come directly from partners instead of midlevels or senior associates. This means that a good way to keep yourself in a steady stream of work is to just become buds with the partners who do work you like. Don't kiss ass or act like a creepy gunner psycho, but by all means go out to lunch with them, grab drinks after work, talk baseball with them, and generally just be someone they like. If a case looks like it's going to trial, they'll want the associate who does the best work, but if that's a tie, they'll want the associate that they won't mind working closely with. For good or ill, this is often a social calculus.

4.) Out of work? Get out there and shake the motherfucking trees. Do not under any circumstances sit at your desk reading Jezebel and wondering when someone is going to walk into your office with something to do. People are busy, and you are not their priority except insofar as they've already assigned you something.

ERod3191
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:43 pm

Re: Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby ERod3191 » Thu May 15, 2014 8:20 am

-Do the courses you take in law school matter for either working in mid law or getting a mid law job? For example, Tax/Bankruptcy/Corporations/etc?

-What other ways can law students make themselves attractive to your firm besides the requisite grades/LR? Do Clinics matter? Internships? Moot/Mock Court?

-Is this your long term job? Or do you have other plans?

-Related to the above question, would you ever consider moving to a BigLaw firm?

-Realistically, what are your chances at making partner if you stayed?

Anonymous User
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Re: Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 15, 2014 8:43 am

Do you have a sense for whether your positive experience is more linked to your market or the size of your firm? I would like to wind up in a mid-sized boutique in DC/SF/LA, and I'm hoping that my hours and access to substantive work will wind up similar to your experience.

Anonymous User
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Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 15, 2014 9:17 am

ERod3191 wrote:-Do the courses you take in law school matter for either working in mid law or getting a mid law job? For example, Tax/Bankruptcy/Corporations/etc?

-What other ways can law students make themselves attractive to your firm besides the requisite grades/LR? Do Clinics matter? Internships? Moot/Mock Court?

-Is this your long term job? Or do you have other plans?

-Related to the above question, would you ever consider moving to a BigLaw firm?

-Realistically, what are your chances at making partner if you stayed?

1.) Primarily, the courses you take in law school matter only insofar as you are able to get A's in them. This is as true in midlaw as anywhere, I suppose. I took BS like "art law" to fluff up my GPA as a 2/3L, which appears to have been a good strategy. That said, if you want to do bk, then I highly recommend taking (and doing well in) bankruptcy, secured transactions, and business associations.

2.) For some reason my firm loves hiring people who did research for profs, so maybe that? Otherwise the same stuff that looks good elsewhere (LR, etc.) looks good here.

3.) It would take a whale of an offer to get me to do biglaw. Essentially, I'd need to be guaranteed that I could come in doing the work of a senior associate, because that's what I'm doing now. Going from my current work spectrum to doc review all day would drive me out of my mind and not even be close to worth the pay bump.

4.) Handicapping your partnership chances in the first 2 years is a fool's errand, but I have been told in my performance reviews that my prospects look good. 3.5 years to go, so I'll keep you posted. Mainly, my goal between now and then is not to have any big screw-ups which might derail that. Re whether this is my long-term job plan, I'd say yes. Hours aren't insane, I love litigation, and I would do fine financially to stay here. It's a stable firm that's been around for over 100 years, and job security is at a premium in this business.

Anonymous User
Posts: 299712
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 15, 2014 9:19 am

Anonymous User wrote:Do you have a sense for whether your positive experience is more linked to your market or the size of your firm? I would like to wind up in a mid-sized boutique in DC/SF/LA, and I'm hoping that my hours and access to substantive work will wind up similar to your experience.

My *guess* is that the substantive-ness of the work will be similar at any similarly sized firm. As a general matter, if a firm has, say, 30-100 attorneys, then you're big enough to get some juicy matters in the door but small enough that they pretty much have to put you on projects in order to get them done.

I really can't give you an answer as to hours, other than to say that if you're talking about top-shelf boutiques like Keker, you will be working longer hours than me, pretty much guaranteed.

ERod3191
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:43 pm

Re: Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby ERod3191 » Thu May 15, 2014 11:33 am

Anonymous User wrote:
ERod3191 wrote:-Do the courses you take in law school matter for either working in mid law or getting a mid law job? For example, Tax/Bankruptcy/Corporations/etc?

-What other ways can law students make themselves attractive to your firm besides the requisite grades/LR? Do Clinics matter? Internships? Moot/Mock Court?

-Is this your long term job? Or do you have other plans?

-Related to the above question, would you ever consider moving to a BigLaw firm?

-Realistically, what are your chances at making partner if you stayed?

1.) Primarily, the courses you take in law school matter only insofar as you are able to get A's in them. This is as true in midlaw as anywhere, I suppose. I took BS like "art law" to fluff up my GPA as a 2/3L, which appears to have been a good strategy. That said, if you want to do bk, then I highly recommend taking (and doing well in) bankruptcy, secured transactions, and business associations.

2.) For some reason my firm loves hiring people who did research for profs, so maybe that? Otherwise the same stuff that looks good elsewhere (LR, etc.) looks good here.

3.) It would take a whale of an offer to get me to do biglaw. Essentially, I'd need to be guaranteed that I could come in doing the work of a senior associate, because that's what I'm doing now. Going from my current work spectrum to doc review all day would drive me out of my mind and not even be close to worth the pay bump.

4.) Handicapping your partnership chances in the first 2 years is a fool's errand, but I have been told in my performance reviews that my prospects look good. 3.5 years to go, so I'll keep you posted. Mainly, my goal between now and then is not to have any big screw-ups which might derail that. Re whether this is my long-term job plan, I'd say yes. Hours aren't insane, I love litigation, and I would do fine financially to stay here. It's a stable firm that's been around for over 100 years, and job security is at a premium in this business.


Thanks for the replies. I believe I might want to do litigation as well. How do you feel about your exit opportunities? I have read on here that litigation has a tough time exiting to say in-house and that your only real options are staying with your firm or going into government work. Also I'm glad to hear you enjoy your work!

Anonymous User
Posts: 299712
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Midlaw litigation associate taking questions/droppin wisdumb

Postby Anonymous User » Thu May 15, 2014 11:39 am

ERod3191 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
ERod3191 wrote:-Do the courses you take in law school matter for either working in mid law or getting a mid law job? For example, Tax/Bankruptcy/Corporations/etc?

-What other ways can law students make themselves attractive to your firm besides the requisite grades/LR? Do Clinics matter? Internships? Moot/Mock Court?

-Is this your long term job? Or do you have other plans?

-Related to the above question, would you ever consider moving to a BigLaw firm?

-Realistically, what are your chances at making partner if you stayed?

1.) Primarily, the courses you take in law school matter only insofar as you are able to get A's in them. This is as true in midlaw as anywhere, I suppose. I took BS like "art law" to fluff up my GPA as a 2/3L, which appears to have been a good strategy. That said, if you want to do bk, then I highly recommend taking (and doing well in) bankruptcy, secured transactions, and business associations.

2.) For some reason my firm loves hiring people who did research for profs, so maybe that? Otherwise the same stuff that looks good elsewhere (LR, etc.) looks good here.

3.) It would take a whale of an offer to get me to do biglaw. Essentially, I'd need to be guaranteed that I could come in doing the work of a senior associate, because that's what I'm doing now. Going from my current work spectrum to doc review all day would drive me out of my mind and not even be close to worth the pay bump.

4.) Handicapping your partnership chances in the first 2 years is a fool's errand, but I have been told in my performance reviews that my prospects look good. 3.5 years to go, so I'll keep you posted. Mainly, my goal between now and then is not to have any big screw-ups which might derail that. Re whether this is my long-term job plan, I'd say yes. Hours aren't insane, I love litigation, and I would do fine financially to stay here. It's a stable firm that's been around for over 100 years, and job security is at a premium in this business.


Thanks for the replies. I believe I might want to do litigation as well. How do you feel about your exit opportunities? I have read on here that litigation has a tough time exiting to say in-house and that your only real options are staying with your firm or going into government work. Also I'm glad to hear you enjoy your work!

This might be a bit oversimplified, but not grossly so: Do litigation, if at all, because you enjoy it so much that you don't care very much about the exit opportunities.

My only "exit opportunity," at least as far as I'm aware, is doing more litigation at another firm. Because of that, I'm not terribly concerned with exit opportunities. It's not the same for us as it is for the corporate folks, where they can go work for banks doing, upon information and belief, circus tricks and other assorted deviltry.

If there's some kind of crazy sea change and I decide I hate business litigation, I'd probably do one of two things: (1.) Try and become a public defender, (2.) go solo and do a debtor-side bk firm, or (2.a.) quit law altogether and teach poli sci at a junior college somewhere with foxy coeds, maybe Santa Barbara.




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