When you are an attorney at a large law firm, you are worked hard. You are stressed. You are pulled in a thousand different directions. But, you are also pampered.
I'm not talking about the large salaries (though those are nice). I'm talking about the support - the paralegals, the copy center, the cite checkers, the research librarians, the e-discovery experts, the graphics team, and I could go on and on and on. At my first law firm, I could drop off the draft of a brief at 11pm, and by 8am, it was back underneath my office door - fully cite checked and proofed and formatted. And when that brief had to be filed? I didn't have to do it. Someone else went to the courthouse or filed it electronically or served it or whatever else it is you do with a brief. I couldn't really tell you what exactly has to be done.
It is a huge help, and in an environment where time is at an ultimate premium, is almost a necessity. But it results in a learned ignorance.
Biglaw attorneys are smart, no doubt about it. But they aren't necessarily skilled in the practical stuff. They never learn the elementary nuts and bolts, and then when it comes to real litigation experience - the kind where you stand up in court and actually speak - they have to wait a decade or so for that. (But they can write really well. And use Westlaw.)
And in terms of getting the work, and finding new clients? They don't worry about that. The work comes from a partner, and that's it. There is minimal networking, minimal business development, and minimal contact with the outside world, really.
We biglaw lawyers don't know how to be "real" lawyers.
This new gig of mine (you can read about it here) has me realizing this more and more - I am going to lunches, attending networking events, and meeting a lot of non-biglaw attorneys. Attorneys who don't have copy centers or cite checkers and who find their clients themselves. They do their own billing, they talk in court (gasp!), and they network. A ton.
That thing called the DC Bar? You know, that thing that your firm pays your membership to and that you occasionally go to when you need your CLE? It's, like, a real thing. With events and lunches and courses and sources of professional support . There are a ton of other bar associations too, by the way, for women, for minorities, for trial lawyers, for all areas of law. And who knew, these organizations have a ton of attorneys in them. I have met the smallest fraction of these "real" lawyers, and I am incredibly impressed.
They are skilled, in a way that I, and my former colleagues, are not. Many I have met have been practicing not much longer than I did, but they have first chaired various trials and taken countless depositions. They find and manage their own clients and learn new areas of law as needed. They represent people instead of corporations. They have small offices and little support staff, and they do things themselves. They are, it seems to me, empowered. They are brave.
There is a biglaw bubble that I think envelopes all who enter it. And now that my bubble has burst, I am in many ways in awe of these "real" attorneys.
It's the kind of lawyer you see in the movies. The kind of lawyer I envisioned myself being when I applied to law school. It's not the kind of lawyer I ended up becoming.
But I suppose it's never too late.