Monday, March 8, 2010

Coddling, Trial by Fire or Somewhere in Between

I had an interesting discussion with a former shitlaw associate turned contract attorney about her experience in the legal industry and I thought I would share and see how your experiences have been in your legal careers.

Basically, this girl was telling me that she practiced shitlaw for a year and the training consisted of trial by fire--literally.  The first day of work, she was sent to court to pick a jury with little instruction.  No one came with her.  She felt that she needed more training or at least a little assistance.  So, as a consequence, she has more experience than MOST attorneys--but suffers from lack of self-esteem for not having received any training.  So, she sticks to contract work.

My experience in shit law was similar.  I had a major trial approaching when I asked my boss if someone could sit second chair and help me with the case.  He told me that my client wouldn't pay for anyone to sit second chair, so I could do it by myself. I did it by myself.  The trial ended up going well, but what if?

When I worked in BigLaw, it was an entirely different experience.  I went from being thrown into the deep end to being coddled.  Most attorneys in BigLaw never go to trial or even meet the client because that is a privilege reserved for high level associates and Partners.  Associates in BigLaw may make a ton of money, but they do not feel as if they can take a case from beginning to end without assistance, because they were never trusted to do anything by themselves.

There has to be something in between these two ways of doing business.  A bit more training in shitlaw, and a bit more independence in BigLaw.

What was your experience?


  1. My ex-husband's first job out of law school was in shitlaw, where at 9:15 a.m. on his first day he was literally handed a stack of files and pointed in the direction of the courthouse! I did two appellate clerkships (state and federal) and landed at Biglaw, where I never got to meet a client or even sit in a deposition for 2-3 years. The paycheck aside, I certainly did not feel coddled, though -- at my first firm I worked for a tyrant who screamed at me, belittled me and, on more than one occasion, threw things at me. After finally leaving, it took about a year for the perma-cringe to disappear.

    Oh, and he still has a TON more trial experience than I do.

  2. Right out of law school, I couldn't find a decent job (and this was back in 2001 mind you). My JD grades were mediocre, so I couldn't get into OCI and the small firms weren't interested. I wound up working for LexisNexis doing research and writing from a home office. The hours were good, the commute was unbeatable, and while the pay sucked, the benefits were good.

    I took advantage of the tuition reimbursement program to move out of South Carolina to Chicago and do an LLM in technology law. Lexis picked up the tab. My first real practicing job was working for a small law firm who needed someone with substantive knowledge of copyright and IT law to help with an infringement case that had bogged down. On my first day, the partner handed me a stack of file folders that was almost everything on the case and said "figure out a way to get rid of their expert witness. His testimony is killing our damages position."

    I hadn't even *heard* of the Daubert case at the time. I had to teach myself what the standards for scientific expert testimony were in IP cases and read through everything this guy had ever said in the case before I realized that, lo and behold, the defense's biglaw firm had botched preparing their guy for his deposition. I wrote up the briefs and the motions and got them filed with the court and helped put together the questions we were going to ask him on his cross-examination. We won the motion, and all of a sudden we got a real settlement offer that our client could live with.

    In a sense, I got lucky. I could just as easily have found that they gave an ironclad deposition and that we were screwed. But yes, small law dropped me into the deep end, but I made me a better lawyer. And yeah, figuring out that the other side's biglaw firm basically dropped the settlement into my lap felt pretty damn good.

  3. Who the hell goes to Biglaw to get trial experience? Other than V&E -- good luck with that.

  4. What about when you get a client & then you're expected to reinvent the wheel all by yourself? This happened to me when answering an online ad placed by someone seeking a new attorney for this case that really needed a more experienced lawyer involved. I had to learn how to do a lot of things on my own & even after that, I had to get out of the representation when the client refused to pay for more experienced counsel + insisted that I stay in charge. At least that client had some loyalty to me, though.

    Now I think that person is STILL going through lawyers like potato chips & not resolved the legal issue concerned.

  5. My experience was exactly like the shitlaw experience described in the posting. I literally had a pile on my desk of things to do, along with a note to make copies of something! I had to go to meetings, do important tasks etc. with absolutely NO background and understanding of the issues, and no one would even help me try to figure it out. My co-worker literally would refuse to answer any questions I had. This practice is completely unfair to the clients that are paying for people to get things done properly. I can't say that this experience made me a better lawyer and I can't say I agree with the practice of "feet to the fire," "thrown under the bus," "hit the ground running" and other cliches used to describe what is an all-around unfair and inefficient way to treat employees, lawyers and their clients.



Blog Template by - Header Image by Arpi