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Fourth-year Bay Street Litigation Associate - AMA


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#26 Uriel

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 01:18 PM

If you strike out at OCIs, does that mean you will never be able to get big law? That is pretty much the boat I am in right now. 

 

This is an insidious myth.

 

If you strike out at OCIs, you've lost the easy-street approach to Bay Street.  So it is a loss, but it's far from the end of the road.

 

First, there's the articling recruit.  We all have a friend or five that didn't get a job at OCIs and then found themselves articling at a Bay Street firm, but you'd never know it from talking to current students... because we sometimes graduate (or close to it) by the time those people find out they got the gig.

 

Second, you can lateral.  We lateral all the time.  When you lose two real estate associates within six months, you need to get another one and sometimes poaching from another Bay Street firm doesn't work, or isn't practical.  We ask around about who to get from people in that bar, or get recommendations from people that went to law school with them, and pop them an interview.  So, for example, I got a call last year asking me about Person X and whether I knew them from school.  I sure did, she was great, and apparently she'd been in a mid-level tax practice and had expressed interest in moving up.  We needed a new tax associate, boom.  Here she is.

 

It's easier to lateral if you articled on Bay Street.  It's not necessary to article on Bay Street to lateral in.  What you really need at that stage is a good reputation, connected friends and (ideally) either an impressive resume or a few clients of your own.

 

Typically, if you miss the articling recruit as well, your first lateral opportunity will probably come around your third year, so keep hustling.  Or, take a look at how well you can do hustling in your existing situation and ask yourself if there's really that big a marginal difference between killing it at a mid-size firm where you'll make partner for sure, or working on Bay Street for a high salary but riskier partnership prospects, especially coming in from the outside.

 

As someone who is potentially interested in litigation, what sorts of activities did you do to improve your public speaking skills? Or were you always gifted in that area and didn't need much practice? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being a really really damn good public speaker), I'd rate myself a 5. I've been told that I can carry a conversation well and am fairly articulate, but there are definitely a lot of room for improvement, AND, I get super nervous when I have to speak in front of a class, especially during in class participation. I mean, my palms get super sweaty, my voice starts to shake, and I start to slur my speech and I start sounding like I just immigrated here a week ago......even though I pull myself together just fine during less formal interactions. 

 

Just going to cringe my way through this one.  Sorry; I've always kind of been a public speaking guy.  Drama classes, speeches, videos and presentations even when unnecessary for school, and I was a speechwriter for a while.  I started doing public speaking at a young age in arts festivals and liked drama so much I studied it in college.  I've been in a few plays and operas.  I wouldn't say I'm a great public speaker, but I don't have any fear of crowds.  (As it turns out, everyone wants you to do well and sympathizes or falls asleep if you don't.)

 

A lot of people do, though, and manage to overcome it.  I might leave those tips to them, but in the meantime I'll say that while I wasn't scared of public speaking, I was afraid of public screwing everything up.  And nothing helped my confidence more than sitting in a few courtrooms over the first year or so and watching just how spectacularly poorly prepared some people are, and watching self-represented litigants make presentations in court.  Impolite as it might sound, you can get a lot of confidence from the knowledge that with a little elbow grease, even if you do stutter and sweat, you can still be one of the more effective people that judge is going to see today.

 

Just a couple of questions I randomly came up with!

 

I think I read awhile back that your not from Toronto, so were you ever faced with a dilemma about where (city, province) you wanted to work and settle down? This is more for some friends I know who are faced with a decision of having to leave home and with the possibility of not coming back because of distance, competition and the somewhat black hole that is life after law school. 

 

Also, I'm in third year university with the intention of applying to law schools in the fall. Do you have any advice regarding applications, LSAT, preparing for what's likely to be a very busy final year with highs and lows while waiting to hear back from schools?

 

I didn't have that dilemma, really.  I had already decided to make Toronto my home and that kinda makes it easy.  It's home and it has the most jobs in the areas I'm interested in.  But I'll always echo the most common advice out there: go to school where you want to practice.  Your network is so important; arguably the second most important thing you'll get out of law school other than your degree.  If you want to practice in Calgary, do not go to a 'better' school elsewhere.  The vague sense that maybe you're smart is not nearly as great a benefit as having 50 friends nearby that might be hiring.

 

I applied to law school after taking a year to work, so I didn't have to do any balancing (man, this is like four "not me" questions in a row!).  My big tips at each stage, though:

  • Applications: Remember your audience!  Think about what they are trying to do here, more than what you want to say, and tailor your application appropriately.
  • LSAT: Don't get the flu the day of.  Also take a few weeks to practice, be merciless with timing yourself, and always read the question before the background info.
  • Waiting to hear back: Insomnia has $3 shooters on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

Sort of a follow up question regarding not knowing what type of law you want to go into. You mentioned making a list of things you don't want to do, which is definitely something I will try, but as a 0L, is it bad to go into law school clueless (for lack of a better word)? Should you have some sort of idea as you begin law school or is it alright to take a very open minded approach and use that first year to find an area of law that you would be well suited to?

 

Absolutely that last part.  And you'll still have no idea when you graduate, though you might have a few clues.  Like, I did so badly at Tax that even though I was really open to doing tax litigation I knew I just wasn't cut out for it.  You'll get a few of those "no"s, but generally you might just get a vague sense of what interests you.  You're going to require some practical experience before you really know what area of law you're well suited to, though.

 

For example, you might really really love Aboriginal law in law school, but then in practice see what it's like to litigate against the Crown for a couple of years and change your mind (or vice versa).


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#27 artsydork

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 01:21 PM

Work a few of these in there

 

http://trailerpark.w.../wiki/Rickyisms

 

Pfft. I've already said "custardly" instead of "custody" in court once (see: Embarassing Lawyers thread).


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#28 Hegdis

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 01:28 PM

*
POPULAR

As someone who is potentially interested in litigation, what sorts of activities did you do to improve your public speaking skills? Or were you always gifted in that area and didn't need much practice? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being a really really damn good public speaker), I'd rate myself a 5. I've been told that I can carry a conversation well and am fairly articulate, but there are definitely a lot of room for improvement, AND, I get super nervous when I have to speak in front of a class, especially during in class participation. I mean, my palms get super sweaty, my voice starts to shake, and I start to slur my speech and I start sounding like I just immigrated here a week ago......even though I pull myself together just fine during less formal interactions.


Exposure exposure exposure.

If you avoid speaking in front of groups of people all you are doing is confirming to yourself that it is something to fear and building it up more and more in your head.

If you tough it out - repeatedly and in a short period of time - you are challenging that anxiety and proving to yourself that nothing bad is going to happen. Your fear then recedes.

Trust me when I say eventually all you have to deal with are the usual butterflies almost everyone experiences just before rising to their feet in court to make a complicated or unpopular argument. Managable and something you can acknowledge and safely ignore.

So join toastmasters or a debate club or try out for a moot or anything that makes you feel that fear. And then do it again. And again. There is no shortcut.
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#29 Uriel

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 01:31 PM

What would you recommend for a junior call taking files into the court room? Mainly, what are the absolute Uriel TM things to look out for when litigating or words of wisdom you wish you had when you were a ~1 year call.

 

... I, um, ask for a friend. ;-)

 

Well one of these days we'll just have to get a pint and I'll tell you!

 

But generally... at least in my case I neglected the advice you keep getting from judges.  Keep it simple, keep it short, establish a theme and a theory.  I could put together really beautiful, nuanced arguments and the court would always give me the alternative relief.  If I can give you an award because that's what's been done in 50 other cases, that's much easier to rubber-stamp than an argument that you should get the award because of a first-principles argument from natural justice.

 

Judges are very, very, very busy people.  They're capable of great intellectual calisthenics when it's called for, but it's rarely called for.  Just state your case if the facts are on your side.  State the law if they're not.  And if neither are going your way, settle.

 

And always establish a theme and a theory.  In law school you're taught a little bit about a theory: how does your side win?  And so when I'm judging moots or facing off against junior calls (OMG I can call someone a junior call what is happening) they'll often start in the middle of the law and wander back out to the relief they want.  The judge often has to stop them and ask factual questions.

 

What you want to do is establish both a theme and a theory.  The theme is, "Why should your guy win?"  Good theories are things like "the other guy has been stalling forever", or "this guy's out $500,000 because he trusted the other guy", or "this guy has never been made to pay for his sins".

 

Then, once you have the judge interested in helping your client, the theory of the case clicks in.

 

So,

 

Step 1: In any fair world, my client should get the relief she seeks.  

 

Step 2: Here's how you get there --- first, you find as a fact the other side did this, then you find that her interest outweighs the privilege the other side claims (here are two cases you can cite), and boom.  You've made a real difference to someone deserving of help today.

 

"What's the right thing to do, and how do I do it?"  Right there you're off to a better start than 75% of the cases on the docket with you.


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#30 Uriel

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 01:33 PM

Exposure exposure exposure.

If you avoid speaking in front of groups of people all you are doing is confirming to yourself that it is something to fear and building it up more and more in your head.

If you tough it out - repeatedly and in a short period of time - you are challenging that anxiety and proving to yourself that nothing bad is going to happen. Your fear then recedes.

Trust me when I say eventually all you have to deal with are the usual butterflies almost everyone experiences just before rising to their feet in court to make a complicated or unpopular argument. Managable and something you can acknowledge and safely ignore.

So join toastmasters or a debate club or try out for a moot or anything that makes you feel that fear. And then do it again. And again. There is no shortcut.

 

Also, small groups are almost always scarier than big ones because you can kind of have a relationship with everyone in the audience.  If you can join a club that lets you speak in front of a large crowd, it might be easier.  I hate singing (no good at it) or reciting things for friends, but I'll happily do a speech for an anonymous sea of 200 people whose reactions are so predictable that you can actually build them into the running time of the speech.  It's like talking to an ocean or a virtual audience; it's not people, it's a mob.


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#31 Hello12345

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 02:34 PM

Another question, how did you know that you wanted to be a litigator? Is there an opportunity during law school to experience both solicitor and barrister work? I am just curious as to how one decides which direction take.  



#32 Uriel

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 03:34 PM

There's virtually no exposure to solicitor work in law school at all.  As a result, a lot of people show up to article hell-bent on litigation and only gradually come to the realization that they prefer the lifestyle elsewhere, or that the challenges of certain solicitor practices are a lot more interesting and fun than they expected.  It very rarely works the other way around.

 

If anything, it's a good thing there's so much exposure to litigation in law school because it scares off easily as many people as it attracts.  You might not have to know you enjoy solicitor work to know you never want to do barrister work!


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#33 SpecterH

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 06:02 PM

Before even beginning my summer job as a 2L, I'm already finding conflicts in my schedule. Life is always going to happen. I'm going to have out-of-town weddings, a friend's birthday party, etc. How do you balance everything on your plate? As I start at my firm this summer, I am viewing it as a clean slate; I can be whoever I want to be. I feel like I've slacked through high school, undergrad, law school, and every single job in between. I want this summer to be...different. I want to impress everybody that I work with because I know this could very easily become the place I work for a very long time - and that excites me.

 

I just know that...life happens. And work is a bit different than school (school is much more flexible). For lack of better way to phrase it - how do you manage your life? There will be large events that come up regularly (as mentioned earlier) but then there will always be the things that happen on a day-to-day basis like making sure you get your workout in or meeting some of your university buddies for drinks. I want work to be a priority - and it should be. I just don't know how to balance everything to make sure that work isn't 100% while social life, family, friends, personal time, etc. is hanging low at 0%.



#34 bernard

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 06:24 PM

A lot of full service firms sell the fact that students can decide what they want to practice pretty far into the summer/articling/associate process. I'm wondering when you think that freedom ends. Can a first year associate decide that litigation isn't for them after all and try to move to transactional work? Can an articling student campaign for a different practice group with 1 or 2 month left?

 

I guess I'm curious to hear when you feel an individual gets "locked in" to their given area, within the firm (obviously leaving the firm really broadens the options).



#35 Another Hutz

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 06:58 PM

As someone who is potentially interested in litigation, what sorts of activities did you do to improve your public speaking skills? Or were you always gifted in that area and didn't need much practice? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being a really really damn good public speaker), I'd rate myself a 5. I've been told that I can carry a conversation well and am fairly articulate, but there are definitely a lot of room for improvement, AND, I get super nervous when I have to speak in front of a class, especially during in class participation. I mean, my palms get super sweaty, my voice starts to shake, and I start to slur my speech and I start sounding like I just immigrated here a week ago......even though I pull myself together just fine during less formal interactions. 

 

Adding to Hegdis' point. Anything that's a "performance" counts. It doesn't need to be theatre or toast masters. Sports helps. You're out there on the field or on the court, you feel the pressure, other people are relying on you to make it happen, you know you can but you question yourself. Even if you miss, it's easier the second time. Exposure, exposure, exposure.

 

Here's a nerdy example. I recently attended a video game tournament. I'm not bad, I'm not great, I did prepare though. That first match ...  your hands tremble and your fingers are jittery, and you have use the adrenaline without letting it take control over you. You know people are watching, you don't want to do anything stupid, but no one really cares and everyone understands. You have to make decisions, take risks, start a string of hits without being sure how it's going to end. 

 

Even if you lose, as long as you focus on your effort, it'll be a positive experience. Practice makes perfect. 


Edited by Another Hutz, 22 February 2016 - 06:59 PM.

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#36 realpseudonym

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 07:32 PM

I like this thread a lot. 



#37 Uriel

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 08:00 PM

Before even beginning my summer job as a 2L, I'm already finding conflicts in my schedule. Life is always going to happen. I'm going to have out-of-town weddings, a friend's birthday party, etc. How do you balance everything on your plate? As I start at my firm this summer, I am viewing it as a clean slate; I can be whoever I want to be. I feel like I've slacked through high school, undergrad, law school, and every single job in between. I want this summer to be...different. I want to impress everybody that I work with because I know this could very easily become the place I work for a very long time - and that excites me.

 

I just know that...life happens. And work is a bit different than school (school is much more flexible). For lack of better way to phrase it - how do you manage your life? There will be large events that come up regularly (as mentioned earlier) but then there will always be the things that happen on a day-to-day basis like making sure you get your workout in or meeting some of your university buddies for drinks. I want work to be a priority - and it should be. I just don't know how to balance everything to make sure that work isn't 100% while social life, family, friends, personal time, etc. is hanging low at 0%.

 

Oh, that's super easy.  You can't!  Not at all.  Not even a little bit.

 

But here's the secret --- ready?

 

... yet.

 

I'm just now getting to a point where I'm scheduling motions on days that work for me.  I set up client meetings after 11:00, when I know I'll be awake.  I ask students to get me research two days early in case something crazy comes up.  I'm in a place now where Mrs. Uriel can ask me what the week looks like and I can tell her I'm staying late Monday *cough* and Thursday, and I'll be home early Tuesday and Friday.  

 

There's absolutely no way that would have been possible as a student or a first year associate.

 

As a student or first-year, you are often brought in to deal with emergencies.  The lawyer might do a good job of making it not sound like an emergency, but unless you were added to a file early just in case something came up, odds are you're dealing with 60% emergency matters instead of the typical 20% (or whatever it is in your practice group).

 

It gets a lot better with seniority, but most people get so freaked out by the complete dumpster fire that is their social life that they quit and go work somewhere else before they realize that.

 

It's going to be bad.  Maybe really bad.  For quite a while.  But then, eventually, you're in charge of more and more of your life.  Not all of it, but more of it every day.  And it gets easier.

 

In the meantime, you just have to schedule things you normally didn't have to schedule.  Get your friends together next Tuesday at 7:00 and check in on all your files Monday night to increase your odds that it'll work out.  Especially at the junior levels, sometimes things only come up at the last minute because the lawyer in charge is too busy to call you in to give you instructions, and if you check in the day before you might get yourself some extra lead time.

 

Or, if you're not on any files, set up a trade with another student.  You cover me as I take off early on Tuesday, I'll get your back on Thursday.

 

You can't control your schedule as a student.  You can only maximize your odds and wait out the storm.  Just remember when your time comes, to take all the steps you can to make it easier for the students working for you.

 

A lot of full service firms sell the fact that students can decide what they want to practice pretty far into the summer/articling/associate process. I'm wondering when you think that freedom ends. Can a first year associate decide that litigation isn't for them after all and try to move to transactional work? Can an articling student campaign for a different practice group with 1 or 2 month left?

 

I guess I'm curious to hear when you feel an individual gets "locked in" to their given area, within the firm (obviously leaving the firm really broadens the options).

 

Never?

 

It really, really depends on the firm.  Smaller or less regimented firms can do this, with some hassle, all the way through associateship.  Certainly most, I think, are more than happy to have you seek hireback in an unexpected group, as long as that group is receptive.  Happens all the time.  I have friends that segued into related practice areas after six years of practice, and unrelated areas after one or two.  But it's going to depend on the needs of the firm and their view on you as an investment.  If you're doing bankruptcy litigation, moving over into the bankruptcy group isn't that big a switch.  

 

If, however, you're doing real estate and you want to do competition law after six years of practice, that causes all kinds of chaos.  How can we charge sixth-year rates for you when you have no relevant experience in competition law?  Why are we giving up a $550 hourly rate for you to go do competition law when we could just get someone junior and keep you in real estate making money hand over fist?

 

I like this thread a lot. 

 

Well, I like your very fine hat.


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#38 SpecterH

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 08:09 PM

That is not reassuring, haha. I figured things would get better in time; at a large firm, I am supposed to 'know' what I'm getting myself into. I guess my question is how much of your life do you have to sacrifice in order to do well at your work (as a student and young associate)? I fear I may have to miss out on a lot of my life with my friends, family, relationships, etc. in order to truly excel in the early stages of my career at a large firm. Is this accurate?

 

What about relationships? Are they even remotely possible as a student or young associate? Would you have to essentially live with your partner in order to ensure you saw them more than once every two weeks?

 

How did you approach the early stages of your work - as a summer student, articling student, and as a young associate? Did you just never make plans with friends or family out of concern something may come up at work? Did you miss out on a lot? Were you unable to do a lot of the stuff you wanted to do (i.e., go to the gym daily, play a sport, etc.)? I realize my question is quite vague and I'm doing my best to phrase it in a way that's easy to respond to. I'm just concerned about maintaining a balance in my life from the get-go but I fear it's not possible.


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#39 Uriel

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 08:24 PM

That is a big question.  You could write a book on it. 

 

I'm probably not the right person to answer.  I did a terrible job of balancing it all out.  I worked a lot more than I probably had to.  I still don't see my friends as much as I'd like, but I'm at the stage now where I don't feel like I'm being a bad father that's gone too often, and I feel good about having achieved that small measure of balance.  I see Urielette every morning for two or three hours and we hang out two nights a week and all weekend long.  It's pretty good.  

 

Of course, to get that kind of time with her I have to really do a dance to fit in friends and the gym.  Every minute is taken up with something.  There's not a lot of Netflix going on over here.

 

Everyone's got stories about the toll the hours can take on relationships.  And yet, virtually everyone winds up in a relationship and with kids somehow.

 

You'll get a lot of different advice.  Some people will say, just bite the bullet.  You're going to put your head down for one summer, and then for 10 months.  That's nothing in exchange for the kind of career you can strive for if you do that successfully.  That was basically my school of thought, and it worked and I'm pretty okay with it.  

 

Others are going to say you have to defend your personal time jealously.  That might work, but I've also seen it not work.  When everyone else in the office has been working around the clock and giving up important things in order to respond to a crucial client emergency, it's not going to go over well when you dump the rest of your work on someone else because you have a family brunch every Sunday.

 

So much of this depends on your firm, and who you work for.  If you're working for organized, reasonable people that care about your sanity for the most part, you might have an easier time of it.  I made a conscious decision to work for the partners that are tough to get along with, who are very demanding and very brilliant and who are absolutely dedicated to their practice.  I'm learning more than I ever thought possible from these people, but at this point Mrs. Uriel knows what it means when I tell her I've been "Michael'ed"* at 5:00 when court lets out, with orders to have a fresh affidavit to respond in court the next morning.

 

Anyway.  I should probably stop prattling about that.  I have friends on Bay Street that bill 1900 hours and roll their eyes at how much I work, so I really am probably the very worst person to give that particular kind of advice.  I'll probably only scare you.  I'm the only person in the office right now, that probably tells you all you need to know.  :)

 

* Names changed to protect my bosses


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#40 102mike103

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 10:06 PM

How much would you say your answers translate to big firms outside of Toronto (say, Ottawa)? 

I'm keeping in mind your disclaimers that you are not a mega authority on any specific issue and that your answers revolve around experience in a big firm in Toronto. But I'm curious if your experience working in a firm, or in dealing with firms, that have offices nationwide, means you can say with any degree of confidence that the circumstances you describe are likely similar in big firms in other big cities. 



#41 SaucyIntruder

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Posted 22 February 2016 - 10:30 PM

Thanks for your time Uriel. This is awesome.

 

If you'd indulge me, I have a few more questions.

 

What makes a good principal? What makes a bad principal? 

 

What kinds of questions do you (or your peers) like being asked by students on firm tours?


Edited by SaucyIntruder, 22 February 2016 - 10:30 PM.


#42 Skweemish

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 07:32 AM

What is the correct response to 'do you like my bird?'


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#43 KOMODO

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 08:15 AM

A lot of full service firms sell the fact that students can decide what they want to practice pretty far into the summer/articling/associate process. I'm wondering when you think that freedom ends. Can a first year associate decide that litigation isn't for them after all and try to move to transactional work? Can an articling student campaign for a different practice group with 1 or 2 month left?

 

I guess I'm curious to hear when you feel an individual gets "locked in" to their given area, within the firm (obviously leaving the firm really broadens the options).

 

I have a different take on this than Uriel, so I figured that I'd give you another perspective. For reference, I work at a large full-service Bay Street firm (but am not a litigator).

 

I don't think it's really practical to switch groups within a big firm as an associate. Once you're hired into a group, you're generally there to stay unless you lateral out. If you're lateralling to another large firm, you're likely to stay in the same general practice area, though you might be able to wiggle slightly (i.e. you're in the Banking Law practice group at Firm A, but banking is a part of the general corporate department at Firm B, and once you're hired into the general corporate department at Firm B you can begin to dabble in securities as well). From what I've seen, it takes lateralling to a smaller or mid-size firm (or gov/in-house) to switch practice areas entirely.

 

Even as an articling student, relationships form early. I think that by halfway through articling, most people know where they'd like to end up and the average group will have their eye on a few students who have done well. There are a few outliers who are hired into a practice group that they visited later in articling, but they're more the exception than the rule.

 

As a result, summer is really your time to experiment. Be eager and enthusiastic wherever you go, keep an open mind, and ask associates about the aspects of practice that they like and dislike. Past the barrister vs. solicitor divide, you're likely to choose a practice area based on the individuals working there rather than the work itself, so try and get to know your colleagues as people if possible!


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#44 maximumbob

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 08:30 AM

I'm with Komodo.  Although I have known very junior associates to move within firms, it is rare, and typically it represents an evolution of their practice using overlapping skill sets rather than a radical shift (e.g., corporate lawyer to corporate litigator dealing with corporate governance, corporate lawyer to finance lawyer, etc.).  And the reality is, if the firm hires you as a corporate lawyer, not a litigator, it's because they need a corporate lawyer, not a litigator - you can only make a change if it fits with the firm's needs.  In practice, there aren't many opportunities, and it becomes harder and harder as you become more experienced and specialized in a particular area. 

 

Try to get as much exposure to different practice areas while you're a student, so you can make an informed decision about what you want to do in the future.  


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#45 KOMODO

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 08:38 AM

That is not reassuring, haha. I figured things would get better in time; at a large firm, I am supposed to 'know' what I'm getting myself into. I guess my question is how much of your life do you have to sacrifice in order to do well at your work (as a student and young associate)? I fear I may have to miss out on a lot of my life with my friends, family, relationships, etc. in order to truly excel in the early stages of my career at a large firm. Is this accurate?

 

What about relationships? Are they even remotely possible as a student or young associate? Would you have to essentially live with your partner in order to ensure you saw them more than once every two weeks?

 

How did you approach the early stages of your work - as a summer student, articling student, and as a young associate? Did you just never make plans with friends or family out of concern something may come up at work? Did you miss out on a lot? Were you unable to do a lot of the stuff you wanted to do (i.e., go to the gym daily, play a sport, etc.)? I realize my question is quite vague and I'm doing my best to phrase it in a way that's easy to respond to. I'm just concerned about maintaining a balance in my life from the get-go but I fear it's not possible.

 

There's no easy way around it - you'll need to make significant sacrifices at times. Articling is unlikely to demand 100% of your time through all 10 months, but you'll probably have a few months where you do nothing but work, eat and sleep.

 

Several reasons that long hours are necessary when you're a junior:

 

1) There is no substitute for spending the time to learn something from scratch. It might be a pain to spend 50 hours completing research from first principles or drafting a contract for the first time, but once you've done it, nobody can take that knowledge away from you. Our bills are calculated using year of call as a marker because experience is so valuable. The next time you're drafting an agreement, you'll remember to add an anti-contra proferentem clause because it was in the last 20 contracts you reviewed.

 

2) When your client calls the partner and needs an answer in two days, the partner may take a few hours to think about the work and assign part of it to an associate. He'll want the associate to return the work in a day so that he can review it. The associate will take an hour or two to review the assignment and re-assign part of it to a student, and again, will want buffer time to review. As a result, the student has only 6-8 hours to complete the required research. What began as a reasonable two-day request just turned into an emergent late night for you.

 

3) Students are generally younger, more flexible, and less likely to have a family. In my experience, it's generally accepted that you (as a student or first year call) will sacrifice your night at the movies so that the senior associate doesn't miss his son's baseball game. If something urgent comes up, you're the most likely to be on call (assuming it's something within your skill set).

 

So....the short answer is that maintaining a balanced life will not always be possible. However, you will get breaks and you'll learn to make the most of them. Hopefully your friends/family/partner are understanding if you need to reschedule something last minute. It is possible to reserve time on occasion (if something is really important) but you must be careful not to block yourself out too often. Remember that even if you "escape" work without incurring the wrath of a senior, you will have sacrificed the experience and you'll be less prepared for the next assignment. As you get more comfortable, you'll know when you can pass on something and when it's essential to reschedule your personal plans.

 

These heavy demands make it even more important to ensure that you actually enjoy the work. I couldn't do this job if I didn't love it.


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#46 realpseudonym

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 09:21 AM

These heavy demands make it even more important to ensure that you actually enjoy the work. I couldn't do this job if I didn't love it.

 

 

This feels like a strange question to ask. But what constitutes enjoying work? I think I like law school. The cases are sometimes interesting. So is class. And compared with other jobs I’ve had, some areas of practice seem appealing (i.e., occasionally exciting, sometimes meaningful, not usually mind-numbingly tedious and rarely physically painful). 

 
I don’t have a tonne of work experience. Most of it's pretty low-level. However, I’ve never really had a job I liked very much — just ones I hated and others I could tolerate. Where’s a good place to set my expectations? I assume I’ll be able to create little revenue early on. Given that, if I get a job that doesn’t make me noticeably sad, then is that a good job to stay in for a while? Is tolerable good? 

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#47 KOMODO

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 10:12 AM

 

This feels like a strange question to ask. But what constitutes enjoying work? I think I like law school. The cases are sometimes interesting. So is class. And compared with other jobs I’ve had, some areas of practice seem appealing (i.e., occasionally exciting, sometimes meaningful, not usually mind-numbingly tedious and rarely physically painful). 

 
I don’t have a tonne of work experience. Most of it's pretty low-level. However, I’ve never really had a job I liked very much — just ones I hated and others I could tolerate. Where’s a good place to set my expectations? I assume I’ll be able to create little revenue early on. Given that, if I get a job that doesn’t make me noticeably sad, then is that a good job to stay in for a while? Is tolerable good? 

 

 

Ooh, tough one. I think you need more than tolerability but less than perfection. There need to be days when you look forward to going in - they usually happen when you spend a long, hard day solving a problem and are excited to share the answer with your client/partner. If you get satisfaction from the work, and you're pumped to move on to the next step, that's a win. If something good happens and you can't wait to tell your colleagues, you're probably in a good place.

 

Conversely, it's fine to have days that suck. I have had nights that ended with crying in my office after realizing a screw-up or just from pure exhaustion. It's okay to have some files that you'd rather not handle, and everyone has times when they'd rather be doing something other than work - it's still work.

 

The red flags for me would be the following:

- you dread seeing the people you work with/feel sick about having to work with them/feel like they don't have your back

- when you finish a file, it gives you no pleasure/sense of accomplishment

- there's nothing to look forward to - you're not working towards landing a new client or handling a new type of matter that would be exciting for you

- you daydream about escaping or doing something else


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#48 Uriel

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 11:23 AM

How much would you say your answers translate to big firms outside of Toronto (say, Ottawa)? 

I'm keeping in mind your disclaimers that you are not a mega authority on any specific issue and that your answers revolve around experience in a big firm in Toronto. But I'm curious if your experience working in a firm, or in dealing with firms, that have offices nationwide, means you can say with any degree of confidence that the circumstances you describe are likely similar in big firms in other big cities. 

 

Hard to say, but I imagine it's largely the same.  The billable targets don't fluctuate that wildly, so I have to imagine the schedule and attendant time management issues don't change that much.

 

Thanks for your time Uriel. This is awesome.

 

If you'd indulge me, I have a few more questions.

 

What makes a good principal? What makes a bad principal? 

 

What kinds of questions do you (or your peers) like being asked by students on firm tours?

 

What makes a good or bad principal:  I'd say empathy is the main factor.  I've had three "formal" mentors at this point --- we rotate based on evaluations --- and the good ones were the ones that followed up about whether I was actually okay with the hours in a given month or if I was just being a cheerful soldier; that introduced me to their families and gave me a sense of what it would be like joining the partnership.  

 

The less good, but still not bad one, I valued for his blunt honesty about the nature of the legal business.  But I wasn't too keen about his "more hours is objectively better no matter what" approach.  That being said, I did get a really, really important piece of advice out of him to the effect that people quit Biglaw too soon.  First you work for everyone at a moment's notice, which is stressful and frantic, and then you're sandwiched between being everyone's monkey and being responsible for students that might be terrible (this is where I am now), which is even more stressful --- and at that point you start getting offers to leave.  But right after that phase is the part where you're in charge and really just collaborating with senior counsel that trust you and include you in scheduling and strategy.  He was of the view that you should always stick it out for five years, because that's how long it takes to get a sense of what it's actually like.  Not sure I buy it 100%, but it's been a valuable viewpoint.

 

Best questions:  Anything that suggests (respectfully) that you're actually using your brain and getting engaged in your own career.  85% of students at OCIs and firm tours ask the three or four questions that their CDO recommends.  I've had tough questions asked of me by students about the firm's prospects and exposure to certain subjects; or fairly blunt questions about hireback or articling, and I've appreciated that because it shows someone that doesn't just float from task to task like a robot.  It shows someone that is really trying to plan out what career move to make.  

 

But, I would refrain from prefacing such a question with "Let's cut the bullshit though, bro".  That was less of a glowing moment.

 

What is the correct response to 'do you like my bird?'

 

"Is enough made of the fact that some birds can speak English?  Because I don't think so."

 

I have a different take on this than Uriel, so I figured that I'd give you another perspective. For reference, I work at a large full-service Bay Street firm (but am not a litigator).

 

 

I'm with Komodo. 

 

This is a great demonstration of why you should really, really take my caveats seriously.  Every firm is a completely different business, and each is run differently.  It looks like my firm is the exception to a rule here.

 

That should also twig you to the fact that there are some really good questions that you can ask during OCIs and firm tours about how the firm actually operates and what its business model is, instead of asking us to describe our mentorship and pro bono programs.

 

There's no easy way around it - you'll need to make significant sacrifices at times. Articling is unlikely to demand 100% of your time through all 10 months, but you'll probably have a few months where you do nothing but work, eat and sleep.

 

Several reasons that long hours are necessary when you're a junior:

 

1) There is no substitute for spending the time to learn something from scratch. It might be a pain to spend 50 hours completing research from first principles or drafting a contract for the first time, but once you've done it, nobody can take that knowledge away from you. Our bills are calculated using year of call as a marker because experience is so valuable. The next time you're drafting an agreement, you'll remember to add an anti-contra proferentem clause because it was in the last 20 contracts you reviewed.

 

2) When your client calls the partner and needs an answer in two days, the partner may take a few hours to think about the work and assign part of it to an associate. He'll want the associate to return the work in a day so that he can review it. The associate will take an hour or two to review the assignment and re-assign part of it to a student, and again, will want buffer time to review. As a result, the student has only 6-8 hours to complete the required research. What began as a reasonable two-day request just turned into an emergent late night for you.

 

3) Students are generally younger, more flexible, and less likely to have a family. In my experience, it's generally accepted that you (as a student or first year call) will sacrifice your night at the movies so that the senior associate doesn't miss his son's baseball game. If something urgent comes up, you're the most likely to be on call (assuming it's something within your skill set).

 

So....the short answer is that maintaining a balanced life will not always be possible. However, you will get breaks and you'll learn to make the most of them. Hopefully your friends/family/partner are understanding if you need to reschedule something last minute. It is possible to reserve time on occasion (if something is really important) but you must be careful not to block yourself out too often. Remember that even if you "escape" work without incurring the wrath of a senior, you will have sacrificed the experience and you'll be less prepared for the next assignment. As you get more comfortable, you'll know when you can pass on something and when it's essential to reschedule your personal plans.

 

These heavy demands make it even more important to ensure that you actually enjoy the work. I couldn't do this job if I didn't love it.

 

That's a great answer, especially #2.  I think I did a bad job explaining that above.

 

Also, in terms of #3, every organization --- whether it's a union, the military, or a law firm --- treasures the idea of paying your dues.  Someone has to do the crap work sometimes.  And Mrs. Uriel has been through so many broken dinner dates and say-hi-to-your-friends-for-me drinks that it's just a fresh spring breeze to see her face when I can promise to be somewhere.  

 

There's a post on this forum somewhere where I rage about an articling student that pouted until I agreed to take back the work I assigned to him because he had a Christmas party to go to, and I had a dinner party.  I've been taking these bullets since 2009.  It's my turn to have someone dive in front of them for me.  More importantly, it's my wife's turn to have someone take these bullets for us.

 

And don't think for a moment we don't remember how crappy it is, or that we don't appreciate it.  But let's be real.  Where else is a 25 year old going to get paid $110,000 at an entry-level position?  You're not making that kind of money because you're good at e-mail.

 

 

This feels like a strange question to ask. But what constitutes enjoying work? I think I like law school. The cases are sometimes interesting. So is class. And compared with other jobs I’ve had, some areas of practice seem appealing (i.e., occasionally exciting, sometimes meaningful, not usually mind-numbingly tedious and rarely physically painful). 

 
I don’t have a tonne of work experience. Most of it's pretty low-level. However, I’ve never really had a job I liked very much — just ones I hated and others I could tolerate. Where’s a good place to set my expectations? I assume I’ll be able to create little revenue early on. Given that, if I get a job that doesn’t make me noticeably sad, then is that a good job to stay in for a while? Is tolerable good? 

 

 

I've had a slate of really terrible jobs that I hated, and I had one job that was really cushy.  That one was tough to leave for law school; I would have been making $70,000 with a killer health plan for 35 hours a week and really slack duties.  That would have been a good job to keep, but I went to law school instead.

 

So here's what I've gathered in my 32 wee years so far on this planet.  A job that pays you enough to live comfortably and doesn't make you want to die is at least an okay job.  Not a lot of people get to enjoy their job, and you shouldn't expect that as a baseline entitlement.  People might enjoy parts of their job, but virtually no one is having a good time, all the time.  I mean, look at George R.R. Martin, living the life, being a rich and famous celebrity by making up fairy tales and writing for a living.  And the stress is killing him.  Professional athletes are miserable a lot of the time: performance concerns, criticism, lack of job security... no job is simply enjoyable from top to bottom.  Every job consists of supplying a demand in the market.  Responding to demands isn't usually fun.

 

The jobs I hated were the ones where I woke up in the morning and dragged myself to work.  Where I had to steel myself, let out a breath, put on the headphones and push the button.  Ugh, here it goes.  A job where you're constantly watching the clock and doing the math about how much longer until you're done.  You know it's really bad when you start doing analogies.  "Okay, well, it's another two hours and ten minutes but that's basically how long the movie was last night and that roared by, so you're basically done."

 

The two good jobs I've had --- the cushy one and this one --- were ones where I just felt neutrally about going to work.  Up in the morning, and off I go.  Maybe I think a bit about what I'll do first when I get there.  A big plus in terms of this job is how often I get out of bed excited to get to work and to pop into a courtroom or to write something that's really going to take the other side down.

 

What makes a job good for you requires a lot of uncomfortable introspection.  The reasons why I like this job aren't all noble and shiny, but you have to take the time to consider your motives.  

 

I was going to be a professor, but I'm too goal-oriented and too bad at self-motivation.  I need deadlines and I need to win things, overcome things, in order to feel satisfied.  

 

I thought about being a writer for a while but I really just wasn't that good at it.  

 

I'm terrible at doing the same thing every day and I get bored easily, and litigation gives me a new case with new facts in a new industry every couple of months.  

 

I like having a job that is pretty cool, and that lets me know some stuff that most people don't know, and to be useful in ways that other people aren't.  Being an electrician, a lawyer, a nurse... having a useful skill and a valuable perspective is important to me.

 

I hate just being a cog, doing a job anyone else can do --- I don't even like shooter games because my outcome is the same as everyone else's --- and this job lets me be creative and to approach problems in my own way.

 

I like being my own boss, and I prefer not to know for sure that I'm going to hit a cap on my success.  In theory, if I really work hard, I could make millions in this job.  I almost certainly won't, but I like the feeling of knowing that I get paid according to my performance and not just X dollars no matter what I do.

 

I'm terrible at working with my hands, and this job lets me just use my noodle and my words.

 

And if I'm being totally honest, being a big shiny lawyer isn't that bad for the ol' vanity.  Though I'd probably be equally proud of running my own little shop somewhere.

 

So it all kind of worked out.  The last job was pretty good too, but what ultimately tore it for me was that I didn't really have any friends there, and was unlikely to make any.  I love working with lawyers: other critical, well-informed, reasonably discerning people that aren't afraid to be interested in things like the arts, or food, or culture, or to talk politics or philosophy.  That's made a huge impact on my quality of life.

 

TL;DR: A job is good enough if it makes you comfortable without making you wish your life would pass by faster.  A job is actually good, and should be treasured, if you don't resent going in and there are flashes of actually enjoying the work and the people you work with.  Just my subjective opinion.


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#49 Diplock

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 12:30 PM

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I just want to say that I'm jealous of Uriel's AMA and I think I'll do one around the end of next week when I have time.

 

I also want to say that it's utterly fascinating to watch the evolution of people's careers, over long periods of time, on this board. Uriel is one of the best examples, but still just one of many. It's amazing to be reminded where Komodo is now. I still catch myself thinking of Komodo as a student, and of Uriel as a newly minted associate (which I had to update from my impressions of him as a student) and of others in similar ways. Bob showed up here as a lawyer already. He's just Bob. But man, everyone else...

 

This board, for all the drama and the shit sometimes, really is one of the best resources around - increasingly not just for law students but for legal professionals full stop. And huge props to all the folks who are making that happen.


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#50 kcraigsejong

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Posted 23 February 2016 - 12:36 PM

It seems like Sam Walker from Henein Hutchison has done some work that was related to international human rights. I thought reading his bio was really interesting; it helped me appreciate how exceptional you need to be.

 

 

"Samuel Walker’s practice is focused on criminal and regulatory litigation. Prior to joining Henein Hutchison in 2013, he was a law clerk to the Honourable Justice Morris Fish of the Supreme Court of Canada and trained for a year at leading barristers’ chambers in London, England as a Harold Fox Scholar.

 

Sam is a graduate of Yale University (B.A., History) and McGill University’s Faculty of Law (B.C.L., LL.B.), where he earned a number of academic distinctions. He studied as a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge, Trinity College, graduating in 2011 with the Clive Parry Prize for receiving the highest standing in the master’s programme in international law (LL.M.)."

 

 

 

Uh, guys. He went abroad AND he has an LLM. I think we all know what that means.


Edited by kcraigsejong, 23 February 2016 - 12:45 PM.

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