Working at a big law firm can provide many great experiences to junior lawyers. You spend your days (and often your nights) working on a number of large, complex matters. You deal with complicated questions of law and fact, and the sink-or-swim environment encourages you to develop management and delegation skills, hone your attention to detail, and manage your time if you ever want to do anything other than work. Sure, you start at the bottom, reviewing documents or assisting with the most minor tasks relating to a filing, but even these basic tasks help you to understand how large cases come together, which will in turn help you to be a better senior associate when tasked with delegating those tasks to junior lawyers years down the road.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Your daily work life can be a slog. And to what end? The path to partnership is long and uncertain.
So how can you get experience as a young lawyer?
The reality is that as an associate, even if you find yourself moving up the food chain at a good clip, certain tasks are beyond your reach or years away. It can take several years before associates act as first chair for a deposition on a billable matter. And even longer before they argue a motion in court.
You can learn a lot watching senior attorneys take a deposition or argue a motion (assuming you get to go – with clients cracking down on bills, associates often find themselves left in the office while the partner goes to court). But there is a huge difference between watching an argument and doing one, and between preparing for a moot court, and standing in front of a judge hammering you with questions on the record.
So, in an environment where many clients expect that junior associates do a lot of the prep work to save on bills, but at the end of the day, want the big guns arguing in the court room, as a junior lawyer, what can you do to get more experience earlier in your career?
Here are a few options:
- Pick a firm, office, or practice area where you’ll get these opportunities sooner. For many lawyers, this is not biglaw. How can you figure this out? At your interviews, ask the junior attorneys what they’re working on. Are they getting courtroom and first chair deposition experience? How often? Ask the senior attorneys (who worked at this firm as juniors) when they first took a deposition or argued in court. These answers will be illuminating.
- Take on a pro bono matter where you are lead counsel. This is often the easiest way to get more experience quickly.
- Ask to handle a deposition or argue a motion – you will be surprised how many times an associate gets to do something simply because they show initiative and ask. Sometimes partners just don’t think to offer you the opportunity, but if they know you want it, it’s yours.
- Even if you are not permitted to take the lead, ask to attend every hearing, deposition or key meeting you can. Observational experience isn’t as good as the real thing, but it is incredibly helpful to understanding the logistics of these events as well as give you a chance to observe different styles or argument or questioning.
- Raise the issue within your firm. Do you have an associates’ committee? A mentor? A trusted advisor? The more people who raise this, the more likely it is that the firm will take action to encourage senior attorneys to delegate more responsibility earlier.
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