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US biglaw attorneys taking questions [merged]


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#1 aspiringsolo

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Posted 22 September 2014 - 09:28 PM

I have benefited from forums like this in the past, and so I thought I would put out the offer to answer a few questions if there are any about what practicing in this type of firm is like. I'm an associate in US biglaw. I've been here for some time and I'm leaving. I have some insight into the recruitment process. I can say that there are fewer Canadians coming down here every year than there were before. Part of me would like to change that. I'm going to be really vague on personal details and no, I can't help you personally get a job - sorry. 


Edited by aspiringsolo, 22 September 2014 - 09:30 PM.


#2 HoFChaos

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Posted 22 September 2014 - 10:45 PM

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and no, I can't help you personally get a job - sorry. 

 

Oh, beggin' ya pardon, sir, beggin' ya pardon.


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#3 aspiringsolo

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Posted 23 September 2014 - 09:42 AM

Ok, I deserved that. But still, I am trying to be helpful. 



#4 danman99

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Posted 23 September 2014 - 10:05 AM

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How's the cocaine over there?


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#5 bluechip

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 12:34 PM

I have benefited from forums like this in the past, and so I thought I would put out the offer to answer a few questions if there are any about what practicing in this type of firm is like. I'm an associate in US biglaw. I've been here for some time and I'm leaving. I have some insight into the recruitment process. I can say that there are fewer Canadians coming down here every year than there were before. Part of me would like to change that. I'm going to be really vague on personal details and no, I can't help you personally get a job - sorry. 

hours? bonus? why are you leaving?



#6 Comstock

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 01:58 PM

How was the lifestyle and work culture? I'm assuming you're Canadian (which is why you're on this forum), so what made you want to go to US big Law in the first place? Along the same lines, if you could do it again, would you pick US big Law over Canadian Big Law? 



#7 Uriel

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Posted 25 September 2014 - 02:51 PM

Are you coming back to practice here?  If so, have you looked into what the NCA requirements are going to be, and how ridiculous are they?


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#8 benjuryon

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 09:03 AM

Are you coming back to practice here?  If so, have you looked into what the NCA requirements are going to be, and how ridiculous are they?

 

I just met a UofT trained lawyer that went down to New York for a few years but is back in Vancouver. I believe he said he has to article, formally, but his firm is paying him at his year of New York call. I don't think there were any other requirements, but that's because he went to school here.



#9 pineapple21

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Posted 26 September 2014 - 11:15 AM

How much money did you earn as a first year associate, what was your debt total at graduation, and how long did it take you to pay it down? 



#10 Marlo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 05:08 PM

Im guessing you were in NY, how much of that 160k after taxes and living expenses do you think you could use to pay back in loans each year and still live comfortably? 20k?30?50k?



#11 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 07:23 PM

hours? bonus? why are you leaving?

 

Well, the target is normally around 2000 hours- which is often equivalent to big firms in Toronto. Many of my colleagues worked a lot harder than that. The bonuses for each year can be found on Above the Law and are standard across the market. Here is the 2013 scale: 

 

Class of 2013 — $10,000 (pro-rated)
Class of 2012 — $10,000
Class of 2011 — $14,000
Class of 2010 — $20,000
Class of 2009 — $27,000
Class of 2008 — $34,000
Class of 2007 — $40,000
Class of 2006 — $50,000
Class of 2005 — $60,000



#12 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 07:33 PM

How much money did you earn as a first year associate, what was your debt total at graduation, and how long did it take you to pay it down? 

 I went to Canadian law school so my debt load was pretty normal. The extra NYC cash helps a lot. 

 

How was the lifestyle and work culture? I'm assuming you're Canadian (which is why you're on this forum), so what made you want to go to US big Law in the first place? Along the same lines, if you could do it again, would you pick US big Law over Canadian Big Law? 

Yes, Canadian. The culture is pretty intense (but I am not sure that this is so different than Bay Street). I would totally pick US biglaw over its Canadian counterpart. If you don't have geographic preferences for Canada (which I now do hence why I am leaving), and you are interested in spending some time in a large law firm  you can't beat the US (especially NYC). The hours are largely equivalent to Toronto and the money is more. If you are interested in a transactional practice, the transactional practice in NYC is one of a kind. Litigators run into more trouble because all that the big US firms (the ones that tend to hire Canadians) do is BIG commercial litigation files. So you are unlikely to get any substantial experience. At the same time, based on friends' experiences, I am not sure if this is so different than at the big Toronto firms (perhaps Toronto is a bit better experience wise). No question - if you have a transactional practice go down if you can. Litigators should evaluate a bit more thoroughly depending on career goals

 

I just met a UofT trained lawyer that went down to New York for a few years but is back in Vancouver. I believe he said he has to article, formally, but his firm is paying him at his year of New York call. I don't think there were any other requirements, but that's because he went to school here.

This is correct. In Ontario, you can actually do your articling at your US firm so you can actually get called in Ontario while you are in the states and return with little difficulty (procedure wise). 

 

Im guessing you were in NY, how much of that 160k after taxes and living expenses do you think you could use to pay back in loans each year and still live comfortably? 20k?30?50k?

 

I think you can easily do 35-40 K a year if you don't live in a really expensive part of town and get sucked in by the money. 

 

 

 

Are you coming back to practice here?  If so, have you looked into what the NCA requirements are going to be, and how ridiculous are they?

I'm Canadian trained  - so no NCA for me. But I understand how stupid the NCA is and think it should be abolished. 



#13 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 08:07 PM

A couple of random thoughts. 

 

Visas - the most common visa that you get at a law firm is a TN (NAFTA visa). These are really very easy to obtain. The downside is that they have no permanence to them. If you are interested in staying for the long term, a lot of people have issues obtaining a Green Card because the firms will not provide it to them. So this is one thing to look at if you have the luxury of picking between firms. 

 

Returning to Canada - a lot of Canadians want to go and practice down here for a few years and then leave biglaw and return to do something in Canada. For an aspiring transactional lawyer, the US experience is solid gold in Canada. You will be a hot commodity when you return - having worked on some significant matters. Your experience is largely transferrable and is seen as beneficial. Further, because Canadian law firms get a lot of their work by doing the Canadian piece of a deal driven by a US or international firm, your connections are seen as valuable as your experience. As you get older, so will your colleagues at your US firm and Canadian firms will rely on you to make introductions for business development purposes (assuming you stick around for a bit and actually get to know people). This can be an excellent way to distinguish yourself for partnership consideration. 

 

For litigators, the situation is a bit murkier. Big US firms do high dollar and complex litigation. This means large teams and as a junior you are not necessarily going to get the kind of experience you need to be a real litigator. There are stories I have heard of people coming back from the US having been at some of the top firms for 5 or 6 years and then joining a large Canadian firm. At their new Canadian firm, they don't have the comparable  experience of a Canadian fifth or six year lawyer and thus shortly run into difficulties. The way to avoid this is to to as much pro-bono as you can. And the US firms offer exceptional pro-bono opportunities that you can leverage into learning the skills you need to be a real litigator after you exit from biglaw. I know that some Canadian big firms have this same problem (massive commercial litigation where the junior people are never given real responsibility) but the sense I get is that it can become a real problem if you stay in the NYC too long. That said, there is a long track record of people coming back from NYC to various parts of Canada and having extremely successful careers. So the negative experience may be a bit of an outlier. I would say the vast majority of litigators I know who have gone to NYC have had no problems coming back to Canada. In fact, their NYC experience has been extremely positive for their Canadian careers. Most of these people tend to have very solid profiles so that may be part of it. I mention the experience drawback as a cautionary tale (and one that Canadian employers are very aware of). 

 

Getting hired - Back in the days before the financial crisis it used to be relatively easy to go down to the US (mostly NYC) as a Canadian law grad if you were at McGill or U of T (Osgoode also sent a number of people down; aside from Osgoode it was pretty hard from less well known schools - including UBC -  but not impossible and the people who went down tended to be gold or silver medalists). One guy I know had a 3.0 (median class position) from McGill got a job. After the financial crisis, NYC biglaw became a lot harder for Americans to break into (fewer jobs). This has changed somewhat this year as the number of positions has increased. Due to a reduction in the number of summer associate positions,  many firms which had hired a lot of Canadians stopped looking in Canada. Now, it seems that you need Dean's list or close to from U of T or McGill to have a shot at NYC. I don't know about the situation at Osgoode. The attention of NYC firms has not returned to Canada and it may never. That said, there are some tips you should follow if you are interested in it: 

 

1) Law journal - for reasons that I have never really come to understand US firms LOVE law journal. Get on it. 

2) Grades - all the US firms expect deans list or near dean's list grades (top 10-15 %). There may be some flexibility on this, but this is my general understanding of current trends.  

3) Clerking - If you clerk at the SCC, you'll have access to NYC biglaw even if you didn't summer. Other clerkships don't seem to generate interests from firms (for those who weren't summer students at those firms). 

4) Networking - there are a lot of firms that have a history of hiring Canadians that stopped doing OCI. There are still a number of Canadians at those firms.  If you send those people an email, they may be willing to help you out (especially if they are an alumnus of your law school). That may be a way into these firms that don't do OCI with a higher likelihood of success than simply sending your CV to the email address on the webpage. These firms receive thousands of unsolicited applications and so getting a position without going through OCI's is quite difficult. Going through the side door may be helpful in this instance.

 

Clerking - if you want to clerk, going to a US firm can be tremendously advantageous. My friends' experience has been that Canadian firms do not really love clerkships. They will tolerate them, but they really want you to clerk after you've articled and even then many of them will not promise you a job after your clerkship. The US firms, on the other hand, love clerkships. If you are a summer associate and you receive a full-time offer after your summer and you then get a clerkship the US firms will delay your offer until you have finished your clerkship. On top of that, many of them will give you a $50,000 bonus for clerking and promote you by a class year (you would start at $170,000 vs. $160,000). They tend not to care what Canadian court you clerked at and so will offer this bonus to those at the Federal Court (clerkships (wrongly) viewed somewhat suspiciously by large Canadian firms) as well as the provincial courts of appeal and certain provincial superior courts. So if you are interested in clerking, summering at a US firm can be an immensely smart (and lucrative) thing to do - especially when compared to the uncertain benefit of clerking to a Canadian employer. I have long found the Canadian employers attitude towards clerking to be silly and shortsighted but what do I know. 


Edited by aspiringsolo, 27 September 2014 - 08:14 PM.

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#14 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 08:11 PM

I realize this is very focused on NYC. But that's the market that tends to hire the most Canadian law grads from Canadian law schools. Some do go to Boston and a few have gone to California but the most common entry point is NYC. 



#15 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 08:18 PM

One more thought: it is certainly much much easier to get into US biglaw from a T14 US law school than from Canada now. So if US biglaw is your goal, and you can hack a T14, that makes the road smoother (not easy, but smoother). 



#16 Marlo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 08:28 PM

^Since partnership is even that much harder to get in the US, what have people you worked with exited to after biglaw?


Edited by Marlo, 27 September 2014 - 09:27 PM.


#17 kurrika

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 08:46 PM

 

Clerking - if you want to clerk, going to a US firm can be tremendously advantageous. My friends' experience has been that Canadian firms do not really love clerkships. They will tolerate them, but they really want you to clerk after you've articled and even then many of them will not promise you a job after your clerkship. The US firms, on the other hand, love clerkships. If you are a summer associate and you receive a full-time offer after your summer and you then get a clerkship the US firms will delay your offer until you have finished your clerkship. On top of that, many of them will give you a $50,000 bonus for clerking and promote you by a class year (you would start at $170,000 vs. $160,000). They tend not to care what Canadian court you clerked at and so will offer this bonus to those at the Federal Court (clerkships (wrongly) viewed somewhat suspiciously by large Canadian firms) as well as the provincial courts of appeal and certain provincial superior courts. So if you are interested in clerking, summering at a US firm can be an immensely smart (and lucrative) thing to do - especially when compared to the uncertain benefit of clerking to a Canadian employer. I have long found the Canadian employers attitude towards clerking to be silly and shortsighted but what do I know. 

 

Having clerked and looked for a job (and being tied into the network of other clerks in ottawa) I can confirm the general disinterest Canadian firms have for clerks and the lack of hireback for folks who articled and then clerked. Most tax court clerks ended up at big four accounting firms or government.

 

My 2nd hand impression was that fed court and fca clerks had it worse than we did.



#18 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 09:41 PM

^Since partnership is even that much harder to get in the US, what have people you worked with exited to after biglaw?

 

Partnership is basically off the table. Many colleagues who have left have gone to other firms (if <5 years of call) and government/in-house if more senior. Most Canadians from Canadian law schools tend to go back to Canada. They usually land at the top litigation boutiques, good government posts, or outside of the practice of law. 



#19 aspiringsolo

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Posted 27 September 2014 - 09:43 PM

 

 

 

 



#20 Uriel

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 08:09 AM

Well, the target is normally around 2000 hours- which is often equivalent to big firms in Toronto. Many of my colleagues worked a lot harder than that. The bonuses for each year can be found on Above the Law and are standard across the market. Here is the 2013 scale: 

 

Class of 2013 — $10,000 (pro-rated)
Class of 2012 — $10,000
Class of 2011 — $14,000
Class of 2010 — $20,000
Class of 2009 — $27,000
Class of 2008 — $34,000
Class of 2007 — $40,000
Class of 2006 — $50,000
Class of 2005 — $60,000

 

Just FYI for the benefit of law students that wouldn't otherwise know --- NYC has much higher salaries and lower taxes (I think) but the bonuses are significantly higher than this in Canada.  Pulling 2000 hours in Toronto will generally net you $20,000 as a first-year call.  (The math goes 10% of salary for making target and another 5% for every 100 hours after that.)  Of course, Toronto being Toronto, only $12,000 of that will get through Her Majesty and make it into your pocket.

 

It depends on the firm, as well.  I have known people that have done so much great work, such insane hours and brought in enough clients that they have reportedly doubled their associate salary through a more holistic bonus structure.



#21 kurrika

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 08:43 AM


Quote function appears to be borked.

#22 Chrysander

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 08:54 AM

Having clerked and looked for a job (and being tied into the network of other clerks in ottawa) I can confirm the general disinterest Canadian firms have for clerks and the lack of hireback for folks who articled and then clerked. Most tax court clerks ended up at big four accounting firms or government.

 

My 2nd hand impression was that fed court and fca clerks had it worse than we did.

 

I know Fed and FCA clerks who have then gone on to both U.S. and Canadian big law.



#23 conge

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 09:30 AM

I know Fed and FCA clerks who have then gone on to both U.S. and Canadian big law.

 

Same. Most ppl I know who clerked at a superior court or a federal court found employment within a short time after clerkship (and pretty good gigs too). For those who had a hard time finding employment in a private firm, it probably had little to do with their clerkship.



#24 Jaggers

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 09:40 AM

Just FYI for the benefit of law students that wouldn't otherwise know --- NYC has much higher salaries and lower taxes (I think) but the bonuses are significantly higher than this in Canada.  Pulling 2000 hours in Toronto will generally net you $20,000 as a first-year call.  (The math goes 10% of salary for making target and another 5% for every 100 hours after that.)  Of course, Toronto being Toronto, only $12,000 of that will get through Her Majesty and make it into your pocket.

 

It depends on the firm, as well.  I have known people that have done so much great work, such insane hours and brought in enough clients that they have reportedly doubled their associate salary through a more holistic bonus structure.

 

Bonuses in Toronto are wildly variable between and within firms. It is really difficult to give a rule of thumb or to suggest that bonuses in Toronto big firms are higher than those figures given for NY.



#25 Uriel

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Posted 29 September 2014 - 10:17 AM

Sounds reasonable.  I only have info from three or four firms, and they have similar structures (or at least similar results).  Near-uniformity over a small sample size.