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On this page, you can browse the latest articles posted up by users in the biglawrefuge community on a variety of topics, ranging for an average day in the life of a biglaw attorney, to faqs, to stories about how users have left biglaw.

Advice on BigLaw and OCI from a Stanford Law Grad

Created on Saturday, Aug 22, 2015

I recently did a piece for thegirlsguidetolawschool where I shared some of my thoughts about 1L and 2L OCI.  I've reproduced it in part here.  If you like it, check out thegirlsguidetolawschool!  There's a lot of really great content there:



Codesandcodes is a Stanford Law graduate and creator of the website, Biglawrefuge. We asked him tough questions about scoring that Big Law job after graduation and advice for surviving on-campus interviews.

Here are his answers:

I’m an incoming 1L who wants a BigLaw job. What are these firms looking for? How can I maximize my chances?

Getting a summer associateship in Biglaw as a summer associate is pretty much a crapshoot. There are lots of factors that can have a large impact on whether a 1L is able to land one of these coveted positions.

  • First, timing: 1L students start looking for these positions as early as December of their 1L year, which often times is before grades come out. Some students through their zealousness manage to finagle their way into phone screens and callbacks without and substantive grades to back up their application. These students are generally in the clear, even when their 1L grades come out. Unless their grades are really bad, they most likely won’t have their offer revoked.
  • Second, market: The bigger markets have more bandwidth to hire associates (1L or 2L), so they have more capacity to take a chance on a 1L. Sometimes this could work in a firm’s favor. If a 1L is outstanding, and the law firm’s reputation is less than stellar, they may be able to secure the 1L all throughout the student’s career and afterwards as well.
  • Third, grades: Because as a 1L you’re competing on a level playing field with respect to your peers, one of the only distinguishing factors are grades. Can a 1L who got an A on a property exam do a better job than one who got an A- when it comes to late night diligence on a hot deal? Who knows, it’s largely irrelevant in my book. Yet that’s the way the game is played.
I’m a rising 2L who’s getting ready to bid on firms for OCI. What are the three most important things I need to think about, to ensure I receive an offer that’s acceptable to me?

I’m going to rephrase that question into three things I wish I had known:

  • Your first law firm doesn’t have to be your last. In a lot of ways, law firm recruiting is a outdated process. Top law firms all tend to be followers of one another. Law firms follow each other with respect to compensation, hiring timelines, interview structure, offer rates, layoffs, bonuses. Thus it becomes very hard for 2L to tell the difference between say, a Skadden and a Cravath. At the end of the day, the work done is similar (at least for junior associates). Lateral rates are high, so don’t feel that the firm you pick will be the one you end up at permanently.
  • Law firms with higher PPP enjoy those for a reason. There’s a reason PPP is the metric “profit per partner” and not “profit per lawyer.” For those firms where the billable hour is king, higher profits per partner is essentially tantamount to lower operating costs. Yes, higher billing rates do make a difference, but even within the Amlaw 100, there are some firms that outearn other firms by a factor of 4. Lower operating costs can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including reduced staff, benefits, etc., but in my estimation, law firm accountants probably would just prefer to maximize the efficiency (read: hours worked) per associate.
  • Talk to the attorneys. Most attorneys I know would have been very frank about their situation at their law firm. Biglaw attorneys, as a group, are probably not the happiest bunch of employees around, and there are lots of good reasons for that. Talk to the attorneys, and they will tell you things about the firm that the partners wouldn’t want you to know. It’s not too forward to ask, even if it seems that way for a 2L. As a lateral, everyone asks these questions.
Could you talk a bit about what you do in an average day at work, and how it’s the same as (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you started law school?

Before starting law school, I was that obsessed incoming-1L who read all the reviews on law firms and dreamt of myself being at a top 5 law firm and seeing my picture on the firm website. I remember being impressed by all the accolades of all the attorneys and thought to myself that I would have made it if I ended up there. I strove for that all throughout law school, and eventually ended up as one of those attorneys.

Unfortunately, the day to day reality of my work wasn’t what I had expected, and within a year I ended up quitting to start biglawrefuge.

Now my days are very different. I spend my time from the mundane task of testing and fixing software bugs, to dreaming up new features to add (and adding them), and reaching out to old colleagues and friends to help get the word out there. It’s never what I had expected going into law school, but I’m happier for it now.

Thanks, Codeandcodes!

Posted by codeandcodes
How I Left Biglaw (Part III)

Created on Thursday, Aug 20, 2015


... Dejected, I made the long trek back to my office, where I closed my door and contemplated my future as a lawyer.  I looked at the spreadsheet that I had made, counting down the months until I my net worth was $0.  Still over two years away.  I knew I wouldn't make it.  I abandoned my plan to stay in law, and began to draft a new resume...

This is the final part of my story, and follows the trek from abandoning my plan to go in house to the decision to leave the law entirely.  On above the law, you often come across stories of biglaw associates who burn out and leave the law to do something else entirely.  For example, there's the lego guy and the cupcake girl.  If you've been reading along, you'll know my story isn't as glamorous as the stories of those attorneys.  It's just an ordinary tale of one biglaw associate who in desperation, decided to leave.

Part II of this postHow I left biglaw (Part II)

Part I of this postHow I left biglaw (Part I)


It turns out that no one outside the legal community cares that you work for a V5 law firm.  Lawyers, however, and law students in particular (myself included), are obsessed with prestige: "Where do you work?", "How much were your bonuses?", "Where'd you go to law school?", "Where'd you clerk?", "What's your class rank?"  While in law school, I adopted this attitude, and it heavily influenced my decisions when applying to outside jobs.  After abandoning my plan to go in house, I was left with the alternative to reapply for engineering positions.  I had never stopped considering going back to engineering (from my first application submitted during Thanksgiving of the previous year), though I thought it would be more rational to try to get another job in a legal capacity first.  But after a string of failures, I reconsidered my reasons for wanting to stay in the law.  When viewed in retrospect, my reasons for wanting to stay in the law were very similar to the reasons I went to law school in the first place.  I wanted to continue telling others that I was a lawyer, I wanted to make my parents proud, and I wanted the financial security and social stature that came with being an attorney.  Compounding that was the harrowing sunk cost effect -hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of my life spent devoted to law, the mental effect of giving up, of facing my friends and family after the fact.  However, conspicuously absent from my set of reasons to stay was the desire to actually practice the law.  Law school was an isolated experience free from the restrictions of looming bills, demanding partners and a professional career.

By March, I had fully turned my attention from going in-house to going back to engineering.   When I began applying for software engineering jobs, my resume was still structured as a legal resume.  At the top, I listed my accolades: law school, legal journals, published papers, leadership experience, law firm.  Towards the bottom, I broke out my work experience into two sections, "Legal Experience" and "Software Engineering Experience."  With each application submitted, I attached my cover letter, which I refined multiple times over the next several months of applications:

Dear [Company X],

I am a software engineer and attorney who has been working on coding projects for the [Y] since 2011 and was previously employed with [Z] in 2009 as a developer for our web portal on the __ team. I spent the last three years furthering my studies through attending law school and received my Juris Doctor degree from Stanford Law School in 2012. Since graduating and becoming an attorney, I have come to realize that my passion remains in software engineering. Though studying law is intellectually demanding and stimulating, I find software engineering to be a better outlet for my career goals. In short, I want to create products that help others and software engineering gives me that opportunity.

To that end, while I was in law school, I kept up with my software fundamentals through coding projects on the side. I am eager to more deeply engage in my software engineering career again, and I hope to be able to continue learning and doing so with [Company X]. Thank you for considering my application.



I spent the next two months applying without any success.  At first, I targeted only well known companies, thinking that a bigger company would have the resources and financial security to take a chance on an ex-software engineer to do their coding.  But application after application was rejected or ignored.  By this point, I made my desire to leave biglaw public among many of my non-lawyer friends, many of whom were working in the software engineering field.  Some of them, to whom I'm still grateful, put their faith in me and referred me to positions with their companies.  I found, however, that even with their endorsement, I wasn't able to even get past the resume screen. During this time, I kept an ace up my sleeve. I had spent several years in the software industry prior to going to law school, and one of my former companies had an office in my town. My old boss still worked there, and I had departed on good terms (for law school). I was fairly confident that if I reached out to him, he would be able to get me through the initial screen. However, I waffled back and forth on whether to reach out to him again. Part of me knew that by doing so, I had to commit to actually leaving the law or else burn bridges and perhaps my best hope of getting out. It felt final, and I kept asking myself if I was really prepared to leave everything I had spent the last four years working for. But after all my mental debate, I eventually decided to make the call. I was going to do this.

After contacting my old boss, the mental burden of leaving was lifted. I decided to widen my net.  I redoubled my efforts and by this point, 100% of my free time was devoted to applying to jobs or preparing for interviews.  I would come home weary from work each day, spend an hour or two looking at relevant job postings on any site I could find, and then spent a few hours brushing up on algorithms, data structures and catching up with the last several years of advancements made in software.  It was grueling.  Balancing individual study with a biglaw job is obviously not easy, but the allure of freedom kept up my morale.  At first, the challenge seemed insurmountable. However, with time, my efforts began paying off.  A few weeks after I started applying to startups, I actually began hearing back from recruiters.  Some were willing to talk with me, many others were simply curious about my background.  I still had many rejections.  However, even getting the opportunity to speak with a recruiter was a step in the right direction.  I even had a few phone screens in the beginning (all of which I failed miserably).  The software world had changed dramatically in the past four years that I had been out of the game.  Though I had kept up with programming on the side, I was woefully unprepared for jumping straight back in.

Then one day, which I consider the turning point of my application process, a contract recruiter contacted me regarding one of the many applications I had submitted.  She saw my background, was intrigued, and decided to submit my application to her client because she thought I was a good fit (that client eventually rejecged me without interview).  However, the most valuable thing she did for me was suggest that I remove references to my legal accolades from my resume, something I never considered.  The idea of removing my legal accolades was foreign to me. After all, they are the factors by which lawyers as distinguished.  I was skeptical about this advice, but since I wasn't having much luck, I prepared a second resume (I still have it, and called it [codeandcodes SE.pdf).  I widened my net yet still, and began to apply to every job I could find, some with my SE.pdf resume, and others with my hybrid law/engineering resume. By the peak of my application cycle, I was applying to thirty jobs a day.  And I started getting hits back.  Previously, with only my hybrid resume, I had a response rate from recruiters of about 5% -for every 20 resumes and cover letters I wrote, I would receive about one response.  Out of all of those responses, I received only one phone screen.  With my new resume, which left off every tie to law (except my law school), my response rate from recruiters jumped to 20%.  And because my resume had no reference to the law firm at which I was currently employed, these recruiters viewed me without bias (except maybe as an unemployed software engineer with a very large gap on my resume).

Meanwhile, my late night study sessions were also paying dividends.  The concepts that I used everyday in the past as a software engineer started coming back to me, and I grew sharper and more familiar with the current technical buzzwords.  I also purchased several software engineering interview books, and attempted each problem, no matter how long it took me.  Slowly, I started getting more phone screens, and they started to go better.  I was still far from a callback, but my efforts showed promise.  This process continued for months.  By July, I had applied to hundreds of jobs and was speaking with recruiters on a regular basis.  Finally, the day came when one of my phone screens went well enough where the interviewer wanted to bring me in onsite interview.  The CEO of this startup told me that he would have his Director of Engineering contact me first to verify the interviewer's feedback.  Long story short, after a conversation with the Director of Engineering, which fortunately was less technical in nature, the CEO and the director agreed to bring me in. The director gave me a homework assignment before my onsite interview, which I still have to this day.  He was experimenting with Scala (a functional programming language that runs on the JVM) and wanted me to research the pros and cons of Scala versus Java.  I had never heard of Scala or functional programming before, but I attacked this assignment with incredible vigor.  Before my onsite interview, I researched dozens of articles on Scala, Java and functional programming languages.  I put all my notes into a digestible chart in Microsoft OneNote, ironically my favorite application for note-taking in law school.  When the day of the onsite arrived, I was well-prepared.

The rest is mostly history.  Once I finished the onsite interview, I had a strong suspicion that an offer was coming.  But when it finally came, I didn't celebrate or rejoice.  It wasn't the compensation or the company.  Again, it came down to the decision to leave. Leaving the law was no longer just a fantasy.  It came down to the simple choice that I had debated all this time. All my work in the past half decade, from studying for the LSAT, to applying to law school, to my 1L year, my hours at the law firm, passing the bar, was about to become my past.  All of my fears were coming to a head.  I wasn't sure if I was making the biggest mistake of my life by leaving the law behind and again, and the fears and doubts that I was just being immature about my job situation resurfaced.  I began reaching out to everyone I knew (including several people I didn't know) who had left biglaw to do something else.  Over the next two weeks, before accepting, I sought the advice and counsel of many of these people.  All of them told me to take the leap of faith and leave.  In the end, their reassurances were all unnecessary, because I already knew what I wanted.  I finally realized that my life was being spent doing something I didn't want to do.  I called up the recruiter and accepted.


After accepting the position at the startup, I told my partner I was leaving.  He was respectful and supportive and wished me well.  It was done.  That moment, the moment where I gave notice that I was leaving, remains one of the happiest moments of my life.  It's hard to describe the relief or joy, or whatever feelings that accompanied that decision.  It's been two years since I departed, and I haven't regretted my decision for a day.

Posted by codeandcodes

How I left biglaw (Part II)

Created on Wednesday, Aug 12, 2015


... Of course, nothing happened at first, but even the act of sending out my resume made me feel triumphant.  Though my grand plan to work for several years and go in-house flew out the window, I felt all right.  I felt hopeful for the first time since starting work that there was an exit, and that the wheels were in motion.  It turns out however, that it would be a long and arduous eight months before I finally had my opportunity...

The following is a continuation of my story of how I eventually escaped from biglaw.

Part I of this post: How I left biglaw (Part I)


Silence.  It turns out that getting a job requires a lot more than sending out a resume.  I was also unsure of my decision to apply outside the law.  I had just spend the last 3 years in law school, just passed the bar exam, and had secured a position at one of the nation's top law firms.  On paper, I looked great and outsiders looking in were impressed.  On the inside however, I felt a mounting desperation that working in biglaw was unsustainable.

After my Thanksgiving plans were interrupted by the 'short-fuse' deal, I sent out my resume to several engineering job ads which I had been browsing in the preceding weeks.  To me, it represented a mental hurdle that I had overcome.  I was no longer the golden example, the one people envied, but I was a quitter.  That was hard to come to terms with.  Law students in particular are a stubborn breed; the vast majority make the calculated decision to go to law school, and when there, attack their coursework with tenacity.  I had done the same, passed all the hurdles to landing the biglaw job, and now after three months, was ready to quit.

To describe my thought process as clear and rational at the time would be giving myself too much credit.  I didn't know what I wanted.  Part of me thought that I was complaining about nothing, that all biglaw associates went through the same thing, and that though attrition rates were high, the vast majority still took their licks and made it out.  No one had ever heard of someone lasting only three months in biglaw.  Another part of me however, possibly the more emotional part, thought that I was uniquely unsuited to being in biglaw.  I'm different.  I have a background in computer science, which happened to be in high demand.  I had a backup plan.  However, my rational side constantly warred with my desire to leave: "why would you spend three years and $200k to get a J.D., go through all the suffering of law school tests, applying, the summer associate position, and the bar exam just to quit in three months?"  This was my constant debate over the next several months, even up to the point where I left.

Thanksgiving came and went, and work actually slowed down.  My partner, to be fair, recognized that I had been burning the candle at both ends and thought I needed a break.  He avoided staffing me on a deal for the remainder of the year and my holidays were actually pleasant and restful.  And I forgot about sending out my resume.  Of course, this respite didn't last very long.  That's an inescapable truth of biglaw.  Come the new year, I found myself in the same position as before, my personal life and time living and dying by the lifecycle of the deal.  It turns out that my work product on past deals was commendable, and I was ready to start operating without the guiding hand of a senior associate, at least with respect to the due diligence.  My workload increased again, but this time without my senior associate interceding and turning down the demands of other associates and partners.  I found myself buried again.  Yet this time around, I held onto my quiet defiance with knowledge of the fact that my resume was out there, circulating.

Work continued to mount and I continued my late nights, while attempting to push back against senior associates hounding me for work product and my partner staffing me on new assignments.  I closed my door purposely, in order to deter passerby's from dropping in and in the natural flow of any conversation, deciding I needed more work.  I kept busy, and learned to work faster and more efficiently.  By the end, diligence became old hat, and I no longer feared the large document drops as I had in the first few months of my job.  However, new challenges always presented themselves.  I got staffed on a few licensing deals, which I knew nothing about.  Often times, as a specialist, I would jump onto a deal mid-cycle, feeling lost and inundated with deal documents.  I still rarely took a Saturday or Sunday off.  On one occasion, on the eve of deal signing after spending the last several nights working, I fell asleep instead of hopping on an 11PM conference call for the corporate attorneys.  I had already submitted my portion of the diligence memo, fully negotiated the IP reps and warranties, and thought I was in the clear.  Early the next day, I remember turning to my nightstand, saw that I had missed over 100 emails and felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.  I saw that the senior associate on the deal (my friend and also a mentor) had been up all night and took my place on the call while sending out emails at 4AM.  The deal had signed overnight.  I truly felt bad that I had dropped the ball by going to sleep instead of staying up for the call.

After that experience, I renewed my desire to get out.  By this time, it was around March, so I had around six months of experience under my belt.  As I said before, my rational side thought that by going back to software engineering, I would be throwing away years of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Yet I was still desperate to get out.  So I thought I would try my hand at applying for in-house positions.  There's a website, called, that lists in-house job postings.  I would check this site and linkedin daily for job postings for junior in house counsel positions.  Nothing took.  I prepared a detailed cover letter and resume, and submitted it to every junior in-house position I could find, but never received any response (some to this day).  I tried my network as well.  One friend, a director at his startup, told me of an opening on their legal team.  I applied there and most likely due to the strength of my friend's recommendation, had a phone screen with the startup's attorney.  I cleared my schedule that day and hopped in my car, trying to drive to a secluded parking lot where I could do the phone screen in peace.  I didn't get far enough in time by the time the phone screen started, and ended up taking the call from my car.  The end result: while the interviewer was "impressed with my knowledge", I was too junior.  Another time, my friend referred me to Google and I was rejected within a day for not having enough experience.   Another law school classmate I knew was working as a legal intern at a local tech company making a third of my salary.  Her internship was coming to an end, and she would have some discretion into who succeeded her.  I remember calling her up, asking how I could get the internship.  Again, I was rejected.

After a string failures, I finally found a position for a junior transactional attorney on goinhouse with a new legal startup.  It was a contract position, which I had avoided until now.  For those readers who are not attorneys, contracting positions are generally looked upon with disfavor by law firms.  It's a black mark on one's resume.  Yet I was desperate enough to not care.  I reasoned to myself that even if I was leaving my law firm job after only half a year, I would still be leaving it for a legal job.  I could then evaluate whether I really wanted to leave law, so I wouldn't be completely throwing away my education and time spent in the law.  I submitted my resume and to my surprise, heard back from the lead recruiter within a few days.  We had an initial phone screen, and she wanted to continue the conversation.

This legal startup is geared towards working mothers.  They call it "high end contracting" and claim to hire high-caliber attorneys to do biglaw type jobs at a cheaper rate.  The hours were flexible, and work could be picked up at the pace of the contract attorney.  It sounded perfect to me.  I scheduled the on-site interview for early in the morning, so I could wake up early and drive into the city, do the interview, and drive back to my law firm before the day started.  Anyone would just expect that I had gotten a late start.  On the day of the interview, I ended up underestimating traffic, and was five minutes late to the meeting.  It turns out that it didn't matter.  I walked into the startup's well-appointed office, took a seat and waited for my on-site interview to begin.  After a few minutes wait, the lead recruiter with whom I had spoken on the phone brought me into her office.  We started talking about my background, why I wanted to leave my law firm, and what this startup was trying to accomplish.  After half an hour of talking, the lead recruiter rejected me on the spot.  She told me that I was too junior for them to hire me, even for a contractual position.  She told me to reapply when I had more experience, and sent me on my way with some mints and lip balm.

Dejected, I made the long trek back to my office, where I closed my door and contemplated my future as a lawyer.  I looked at the spreadsheet that I had made, which counted down the months until I my net worth was $0.  Still over two years away.  I knew I wouldn't make it.  I abandoned my plan to stay in law, and began to draft a new resume.

Posted by codeandcodes
Day in the Life of BigLaw Lit, Part 1

Created on Tuesday, Aug 11, 2015

codeandcodes gave you a decent breakdown of a day in the life of a BigLaw corporate attorney.  I'm here to give you a perspective on BigLaw lit.  Unlike codeandcodes, I'm still in BigLaw and generally OK with that.  I'll be posting from time to time on various subjects that I think would be of interest, but if anyone has any requests in particular feel free to email codeandcodes.

Unlike codeandcodes, I find it difficult to break my day down into hours.  Litigation associates and transactional associates are different.  Transactional associates are perpetually on short-term deals.  They work a deal for a few days, maybe weeks, maybe (at most) a month or two.  Then they're done.  They're constantly looking for their next deal, in a feast/famine mode.  At least that's how I understand it.

For litigation associates, you get on one or two cases and that's enough.  You can go up to three or four depending on your role, but after that you're in kill-self territory.  The upside of litigation is that, most times, tasks don't come out of nowhere.  Everything has to be scheduled, either with the Court or with opposing counsel.  The downside is that if a case settles that was taking up 50% of your time, it might be a few weeks or months until you find enough hours to fill the void.

Instead of breaking my day down into hours, I'm going to tell you the type of stuff I normally do on a day-to-day basis.  That's Part I.  In Part II, I'll attempt to describe what a typical day is like.

Here's a non-exclusive lists of tasks I (and all BigLaw Lit associates I know) perform during a normal workday, along with a brief explanation.  If you want more information, on a particular subject, you should google.  If nothing on google, ask me for more details.

  • Respond to discovery requests (RFPs or Rogs).  This includes interviewing client employee's to obtain necessary information, drafting objections to overbroad requests from opposing, draft a rog response, or reviewing documents that are going out in response to an RFP.  Mind you, people talk about document review like it's awful.  In truth, doc review isn't bad as long as it's not eating up 50% of your time.  For me, doc review constitutes maybe 5% or less of my time.  Everyone uses contract attorneys now.
  • Draft a motion, including researching relevant caselaw (or an opposition, or a reply, or a sur-reply).  This task is highly variable depending on the type of motion.  Five page discovery motion?  Draft in a day and do an hour of caselaw research.  50 page summary judgment motion?  Draft over the course of a month and prepare to dig in on the research.  
  • Draft correspondence to opposing counsel, mostly about discovery or something else silly.  Usually you're just setting the plate for some type of motion or making sure your position is clear when opposing files a motion.  Usually I'm drafting this for a partner to send, but sometimes I'm the one sending.  Depends on the issue.
  • Take and defend depositions, or prepare for taking or defending a deposition.  This includes figuring out what the important documents are, drafting an outline, and either taking the dep or meeting with the deponent the day before to prep, then defending.  These usually happen in a flurry at the close of discovery or for some other deadline. I can go a few months without hearing the word "deposition," then have five scheduled in the next two weeks.
  • Draft correspondence to client.  This includes case status updates or sending off drafts of a brief for client review.  This is often tricky, as there's a need to manage client expectations while simultaneously keeping the client as informed as possible.  Often requires some finesse, depending on the issue.
  • Draft expert reports, or attend meetings with experts to prepare their expert reports.  Depends on the subject matter on which the expert is opining, and how difficult the expert is to work with, and how much of the report you're drafting (versus the expert). Highly case-dependent as to how much expert work is required.
  • Prepare for a hearing or attend hearing.  Doesn't happen that often, but when this happens it's important.  This includes drafting the presentation that goes along with the hearing, summarizing the important points from the briefing for the partner arguing the motion, and making sure all bases are covered.\
  • Pretrial disclosures.  Lots of things have to be done pretrial.  That includes exhibit designations, deposition designations, and rebuttal/counter designations.  Draft of direct and cross outlines.  Motions in limine.  Lots of stuff goes on behind that scenes that people don't see.
  • Trial.  It's just like what you see on TV.  Except 99% more boring in terms of what's happening in the Court and 1,000% more intense in terms of what's happening behind the curtains.
That's about it.  There are of course meetings that go along with many of these, including "case meetings" to ensure everyone's on the same page.  If all this sounds boring, you should reconsider BigLaw litigation.  If all this sounds interesting, great.  You might enjoy BigLaw.

In Part II, I'll talk more about how to manage the workflow and what a "typical" day looks like, to the extent I can call any day typical.

Posted by biglawlit

How I Left Biglaw (Part I)

Created on Friday, Aug 07, 2015


Another popular question I received when I made the decision to leave biglaw was how I got out.  This is my story, and it won't apply to everyone.  However, I hope that other associates can relate to the fears and feelings I had when I was planning my exit.  And I hope that it gives some hope to those friends and colleagues who feel they are stuck.  The story is long, so I'll have to give you some background first.


My desire to leave biglaw really started during my summer associateship.  Bear in mind that this was back in 2011.  The legal economy was still reeling from the economic recession, law firms were facing bleak times, and though things were improving, law firms had still not recovered.  Salaries were still frozen, offer rates were way down, and law firm layoffs made the news daily.  I think Cravath's class size had dropped from 120 to about 30.  Everyone I knew was worried about getting a job, even at the top law schools around the country.  I monitored ATL on a daily basis, had a massive spreadsheet of every law firm that had conducted layoffs (I purposefully bid them all lower during OCI) and concerned myself with finding the best law firm (read: most profitable and highest offer rate) I could get into.

The circumstances at the time colored my decision and my actions during my summer associateship. Essentially, I arrived for the summer with my other classmates fearful for my job and potential offer, so I was ready to hit the ground running.  I wanted to make sure that I stood out even among my other peers (no small task), so I would produce the best work quality I could while putting in the necessary time.  It turns out that that is a lot easier said than done.  On the third day of my summer associateship, I agreed to help one of the other junior associates with some bookkeeping tasks before a public filing goes out, a process called "circle ups."  A circle up, for non-corporate attorneys, is essentially the process of going through a public filing (in this case, about a 100 page 10-K), identifying all the "material" numbers, then cross-referencing them with previous filings to see if they were missing any relevant information.  Then, the associate takes to the task of verifying these material numbers with accountants or other experts based on their level of significance.  It's a ridiculously tedious task (you can imagine how many numbers there are in a public filing about 100 pages long). 

That day I ended up staying in the office until around 1:30AM to finish circling and sticking post it notes next to all the numbers in the 10-K.  Tired from the long task, I turned in my work to the junior corporate associate thinking that I would finally go home.  However, much to my surprise/dismay, she said that we would be hopping on a call shortly to go over the results with a senior associate (also my associate mentor for the summer).  I was completely shocked.  It was already 1:30 in the morning, I had just spend the last 15 hours in the office circling hundreds of numbers and now it was time to verify them?  This was my first taste of the "real work" that corporate attorneys do.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  Things progressed much the same for the rest of the summer, but still at the end, and despite the long hours, I stilled needed a job offer (which I ultimately received).  I already knew I wouldn't like the job, but I needed one because my student loans were mounting.  I remember on the last day of my summer associateship when my offer arrived, I felt a wave of relief but also the first feeling of desperation that this would be my life.  While waiting to go home on that day, I started browsing our school's career website for other firms to interview at 3L year in case I wanted to go somewhere less intense.  I never tried.

Fast forward a year to my orientation week at this same law firm.  The law firm flew the incoming first-year associate class out first-class (my first time), put us up in luxurious accommodations and eased us into the law firm experience with relaxed sessions where other more senior lawyers told us battle stories and how to succeed at the firm.  In short, orientation week was good.  We celebrated the end of the week with a night out where we heard whispers of new associates already being contacted by partners looking for people to work the weekend (the partner eventually changed his mind when he learned that the new associate hadn't been issued a laptop yet).  Though I laughed it off nervously, it turns out that this practice was not out of the ordinary at all, and the same fate was about to befall me.  

Orientation week was the last time while at the firm that I called it a night at 5:00PM.  Pretty much from the next Monday on, I started getting slammed with work.  The trial run was over; this was real life.  I had chosen this career, my fate, my means of survival, and it would be a long stretch before getting out.  For the first three months, I never took a day off. I was on back to back deals, learning the ropes, drinking from the firehose, and working all the time.  I hated it.  My original plan of just biding my time for 4 years until I had saved enough to pay off my loans and gotten enough experience to jump in house eventually decreased in duration to three years, then to two, then finally to one.  Each day was tortuous, and while I liked my coworkers and the pay, I lived in constant fear that my schedule and life would get interrupted by a "hot" deal.  By November, I felt like I was burning out, and I looked forward to some respite over Thanksgiving.  I made plans with my family to go away for the long weekend, to relax somewhere and not think about work.  The plans were made, we were set to go.  Then it hit.  The Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 5:30PM, I received an email from our of counsel: "We just found out about a 'short-fuse' deal and need someone to staff it.  Looks like it will run over Thanksgiving.  Sorry.'  My heart sank.  I felt empty, broken, powerless.

I had thought about leaving before then.  It only takes so many late Friday night emails to break one's spirit.  Maybe my peers or others have more guts or a stronger will than me, but every time I got a message like that, my desperation grew.  Somewhere during the two month marathon of work, I had actually prepared a resume, highlighting my software engineering background, which I planned to send out if things ever got really bad.  It was a symbol of defeat, my ace up my sleeve, but something to keep in the back pocket just in case.  I sent it out the same day the email came.

Of course, nothing happened at first, but even the act of sending out my resume made me feel triumphant.  Though my grand plan to work for several years and go in-house flew out the window, I felt all right.  I felt hopeful for the first time since starting work that there was an exit, and that the wheels were in motion.  It turns out however, that it would be a long and arduous eight months before I finally had my opportunity.

Posted by codeandcodes

A Day in the Life of a Biglaw Attorney

Created on Thursday, Aug 06, 2015


This has been a popular request, so I'm going to describe what a normal day was like for me.  My experience will obviously vary greatly from others' experiences, and for practical purposes, only represents a homogenized look at what a day is like.  With that said, here it is:

7:45AM - Wake up, go back to sleep.

7:50AM - 8:15AM - Wake up, check my blackberry which I stow in my nightstand each night so I won't have to look at the red blinking light.  See that I have 15 messages, most are just law firm announcements, a few I see are related to the deal I'm on.  Read them, decide whether or not they're emergencies but fortunately they're not.  Crap -one more email I missed from intralinks.  25 new documents in the dataroom.  Get out of bed, throw something on, grab my briefcase and jump in my car.

8:35AM - Arrive at work after a short drive, where I try not to think about work and stare blankly out of the windshield.  (Seriously, this was my quiet time).  I'm one of the first ones in the office, so I can usually make my way to the kitchen without bumping into anyone (I never liked making awkward small talk with partners).  Wednesdays are bagel days, so I grab one, toast it and get a coffee that someone has brewed (if it's out, I make a new pot; I'm a good citizen.)

8:45AM - Bring everything back to my desk and check my email again.  See that there are some questions from the senior corporate associate regarding the deal I'm working on that I don't know how to answer.  I load up the diligence memo which I've been working on, and pull out the relevant diligence agreements.  Reread the provisions, read what I wrote in the memo, add some notes and context.  Draft email to senior associate with response.  

9:40AM - Open up intralinks to the current project, see that there are now 30 agreements waiting for me.  Have a client call at 11, which our senior is leading so I can just half pay attention.  Start printing the documents (yes I kill trees).  Our services department handles the printing for me, which I always felt was a nice convenience.  They arrive with a big stack of papers.  I thank them and get started.  My strategy is to tackle the small contracts first -they're more easily digestible.  I also like to ignore contracts with lots of addendums.  The self-contained ones are the best.  Get through one or two, highlighting relevant reps and warranties, and note them in a big document that contains all of my notes on every document for this deal.

11AM - Client call begins.  Senior associate gives client a status update and describes outstanding issues.  There's give and take and client asks some follow up questions that we don't know the answer to.  I hope that the question is just for corporate (I'm an IP specialist), but the question is related to a license to a trademark, what rights were assigned and what rights were retained by the target. I don't know who has the current assignment, so will have to work with our legal assistants who run the background checks.

12:15 - Lunch time.  I head to the kitchen, heat up my lunch and grab a soda.  Lunch back at my desk today (like most days), so I can pound through more documents.

1:45PM - Partner walks in.  Crap.  My partner asks if I'm busy.  I've gotten through a few more diligence agreements, have to research the client question, but I say "no."  I jump on a call with the partner about another smaller deal I'm staffed on.  I'm handling the drafting the IP reps and warranties for the deal, which "shouldn't be too complex" since it's for a non-tech client.  Client describes the deal situation, and we hang up.  Partner goes over the scope of the assignment, asks if I've got it or not.  I nod, "yes."  It's a "short-fuse" deal and he wants a draft by tomorrow.  We're buyer-side again.

3:00PM - Back to my desk, am swamped and try to get through some more documents.  Have about 10 more emails in my inbox now, senior associate has new comments related to the diligence memo and asks how long to turn the memo with her comments and additional summaries.  She needs the diligence memo by tomorrow morning. (Why does she need it by tomorrow? It's not going to the client until next week).  Silently utter profanities, feel indignant and get that hot pins and needles feeling when stressed.  I've barely started going through the documents in the data room.  Decide that it's going to be a late night for the third night in a row and email services to order dinner.  I should order the salad, but feel too stressed and overworked.  Go with spaghetti & meatballs instead ... throw in some dessert too.  Still under budget .. who cares?

3:15PM - Second deal's merger agreement comes in via email.  Ignore it.

6:15PM - Been working steadily, have gotten through most of the smaller agreements and have addressed the comments in the memo.  Senior associate calls me (9:15PM) her time.  I update her that i'm about half way through.  Decide that I need to go for a run and change into my running gear, which I keep stashed under my desk.  

6:45PM - Back from my run, my head feels clear, I'm tired and grab some water.  Services sends out the dinner bell email.  Grab the food from the kitchen and head back to my desk.  

9:00PM - Continue pounding through documents.  Have about 5 more big agreements left.  Thankfully, many of the documents contained similar language and weren't too complex.  Updating the diligence memo should be easy.  Senior associate's nightly sync email comes back.  I'll have to draft her a status update.

10:45PM - Finished updating diligence memo, and send it out to the senior associate.  Update the three diligence trackers with outstanding issues, agreements that we still need, and agreements reviewed.

11:15PM - Decide I hate being in the office, and will just work on the reps and warranties for the new deal from home.  

11:45PM - Log into our VPN, open up the second deal's merger agreement.  Feeling sleepy already, I do a bad job reading.  Looks like there are some standard IP reps & warranties which I feel good about.  At least this deal isn't too complicated.  Go through several precedents and find some missing provisions. especially those related to IP assignments.  Don't know if it matters because the seller doesn't really have much IP.  Decide to just throw it in anyway, fixing up language per the merger agreement, probably unnecessary but too tired to care.  Meanwhile, phone is blinking because counterparty is adding more documents to the dataroom.

1:45AM - Have a crappy draft of the reps and warranties.  Create a redline and save it so that if partner comes asking for it, at least I have something to show.  Decide unwisely to look at dataroom one more time.  Thankfully, they look like mostly corporate documents so I can sleep easy.  Phone has also thankfully remained quiet for the last couple hours.  Brush my teeth and try to get some sleep.  Do it all again tomorrow.

Posted by codeandcodes

Biglawrefuge FAQ

Ask me (codeandcodes) anything!

Created on Tuesday, Aug 04, 2015

Since the launch of biglawrefuge 1 week+ ago, I've received several emails asking about my background and about my law school experience.  I'll try to answer a few of the questions here.  Disclaimer: These are just my opinions that I've formed over the course of my legal career.  Perspectives will differ.

Who are you?

I'm a 2012 SLS (Stanford Law School) graduate who spent a year in biglaw, burnt out, left law to go to a startup (which didn't pan out), and ended up building this site.  I was a software engineer in my former life.  Currently working as a software engineer again.

Why did you go to law school?

I have a few reasons for originally going to law school.  First, I was working as an engineer on the East coast, where a lot of the work relates to government & defense contracting.  Engineering there isn't so exciting, and it also didn't have the presence that it has today.  I felt that if I continued to work as an engineer, I was stagnating my personal growth.  Second, I loved the idea of being a lawyer and being a big shot.  Turns out that the novelty of that idea wears off very quickly, especially when thrown into the daily grind of working at a big law firm.  I found the work to be terribly boring and unfulfilling.  Yes, you may get to work on deals that show up in the WSJ, but when you're going on your third all-nighter, it doesn't mean that much.  Probably the biggest factor I failed to consider was whether I actually wanted to be a lawyer.  It sounds trite, but it wasn't hard to convince myself otherwise.  My reasons were off from the start.

Why did you build biglawrefuge?

Our profession is too clandestine.  When I was seeking legal employment, it was very hard to get meaningful data on the firms I was bidding on (From my school or online), leading me to bid all over the map on firms I knew nothing about.  It was also hard to get a straightforward review of a law firm.  Most of the firms I interviewed at espoused their collegiality and opportunities to get meaningful work (of course, no firm is going to badmouth itself).  Those are fine, but the reality is that most biglaw associates won't make careers out of biglaw, so generalities are less useful.  Attrition rates at firms are high, work life balance is low, and pay has been stagnant.  I'm a big believer in balance, but the circumstances are such that law firms can continue to be choosy about the associates they hire.  As long as it's a buyer's market, I don't think conditions will improve.

I'm not sure how things quite got that way, but I feel like there's a sea change coming.  There are more websites cropping up now debunking the law school myth and raising awareness to the reality of law school debt and the conditions at big law firms.  Certain facts remain astounding to me, such as firms with the highest profits-per-partner paying associates the same as law firms that make half as much.  Law firms that operate in "lock step" (i.e. salaries increasing by a fixed amount by class year) provide no little incentive for associates to work harder.  For these reasons, it's worthwhile to me to help empower my fellow colleagues, classmates and future law students with information.  I hope that the earnestness of law students and lawyers to help one another will motivate them to share their experiences on biglawrefuge, and that together we can bring transparency to our profession.

Do you have any advice for incoming 1Ls?

I'll answer from a big-picture perspective first:
1) Make sure you want to be a lawyer.  I'm sure that you've heard this from your family and friends and it seems like an extremely obvious question to ask.  The answer, however, as I explained above, is not always so clear.  With me, for example, the allure of being a lawyer was strong enough to sway any tepid feelings I had towards the everyday practice of law (for a time).
2) Consider the cost-benefit.  If you seek a biglaw job, consider the systemic hurdles in place that have the power to deflate your ambitions.  You've already passed the first hurdle (congratulations!) by getting into law school.  Next, you need to perform well during your 1L year (in my opinion, a semi-crapshoot), land the summer associate position, perform well during the summer and finally secure that offer.  It's a long trek, and I've known unfortunate situations where hard-working and intelligent law students were left scrambling because of external circumstances (e.g. the economy).
3) Build a strong network.  I wouldn't have made it this far without my network of friends and supporters in law school.  When I left my law firm, they encouraged me with kind words, shared their own struggles with me and helped me to have confidence in my own ability to succeed in different ways.  I owe much to them, and their companionship is honestly worth more than whatever law school classes taught me.

Now for the little-picture:
3) Work smarter.  I'm sure lots of biglawrefugees (that's what I'm calling you users) can chime in here, but you'll be overwhelmed with case reading.  Not only are there tons of cases, but there are corresponding case notes and cases to each case you read.  It's basically impossible to read and know everything.  However, if you understand the format of a case (some procedural notes, a synopsis, some facts, then all the relevant holding), you can understand the crux of the case without having to read everything in detail. 
4) Do what works for you.  Again, another obvious point.  For example, you'll most likely encounter some students who will want to form a study group for some subject matter (e.g. the erie doctrine).  I never worked well in study groups because I would get distracted and we would end up talking for long periods of time without much focus. I learned this early on, and continued to go to study groups, but only as reinforcement of my own learning (which I did on my own).
Finally, relax!  You'll figure it out.

Is it just you (working on biglawrefuge)?

So far, yes.

How do I get in touch with you?

You can email me at codeandcodes at gmail dot com [avoiding spam bots].

Posted by codeandcodes