Are you an entry level attorney or law student interested in biglaw? Here’s a brief top-level overview of the different stages of attorney development on the biglaw path.
Summer Associate Program
Most summer associate programs are approximately 3 months long, and will expose attorneys to entry level work on a variety of matters. Typically law firms will make an effort to expose you to different groups of attorneys and potentially multiple practice groups. This is your chance to get a feel for which area of law you are interested in, and if there are any groups of partners you would like to work with.
In general, the quality of your work will not be harshly judged during your summer program. It is much more important to have a good attitude, show responsiveness, and show the team you’re willing to try your best to contribute. You can expect to report directly to mid- or senior- associates and perform entry level tasks such as legal research.
You can also expect a full slate of summer activities scheduled by your firm. As firms return to office, the days of “wining and dining” the summer associates are returning. Events range from office parties, dinners, retreats at a partner’s beach house, sporting events, etc. Mostly, this is an opportunity to bond with your peers who will become your colleagues for years to come. The people you summer with will often become lifetime friends and potentially even future clients.
Junior Associate (Years 1-2)
As a junior associate in biglaw, initially you’ll be working primarily for senior associates. You’ll receive entry level assignments and as you develop, you’ll begin to receive more substantive work. There’s no denying that some entry level work may be considered “busy work” and not always the most intellectually stimulating. But as you complete tasks you’ll quickly begin to see how the process works, and before you know it you’ll be assigned more substantive and challenging work.
Junior associates also get the opportunity to work with several different teams. This allows you to find which group of partners and associates you work well with. Every team has a different style. Some teams are ultra organized and complete assignments well in advance of the due date, while other teams seem to thrive on a time crunch.
It’s important to use these first couple years to figure out what direction you want to head in. Finding the right practice group and the right team can set your next few years up to be a success. A solid mentor can do wonders for a young attorney and provide you the confidence needed to advance in this profession.
If you do find yourself unhappy during these early years, don’t give up. Every year thousands of attorneys switch firms, and sometimes your first job just simply isn’t the right fit. It’s expected that attorneys will change jobs multiple times during their career, and you should not be afraid to make an early move.
Mid-level Associate (Years 3-5)
As a mid-level associate you’ll do a mix of work for senior associates while also reporting directly to partners. By year 3, you’ll have the baseline knowledge to perform most of your day to day work with a certain degree of confidence. Unique issues will still pop up which require guidance from your seniors.
Realistically, if by year 3-5 you have not found a team at your firm that you “click” with, you may want to consider lateraling to a new firm. There is no shortage of law firms and a change of scenario can help you feel refreshed and motivated. Mid-level associates are highly desirable and you can hit the market confident that you’ll have options.
Also, by year 3 you’ll have several specific legal experiences which you can speak to during interviews, which makes the process much less stressful. While many law students struggle with interviews because they may lack real world experience, as a mid-level you’ll be much more prepared. You should also have a better idea of what area of law you enjoy, and it’s very possible to pivot during these years.
Senior Associate (Years 6+)
As a senior associate, you will be running day to day operations on most of your matters. The partners will still be involved and oversee your work, but senior associates are the engine that makes law firms run. You will increasingly be confident with your work product and you will begin to have supervisory responsibilities of junior associates. It’s important for your career development to make an effort to learn how to delegate work and you should start thinking about ways in which you can develop clients.
As a senior associate, if you’re unhappy with your firm, it’s important to make a switch as soon as practicable. These years are critical if you desire to become partner. You are still highly marketable during these years and firms will hire you without a book of business. It’s important to find a team you enjoy working with and start building up equity with that group of people. Law is a relationship business, and every associate needs to find partners they enjoy working with who will support them and help them elevate.
Long story short, biglaw can be an excellent career choice for hardworking ambitious attorneys. Whether you desire to become a partner or ultimately switch to in-house, biglaw can be a great for your career development. Working at a top law firm can often act as a stamp of approval on your resume for the rest of your career, and open interesting opportunities in the future.
If you are interested in a career in biglaw, contact the Big Law Hire team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re happy to help!