THE UNNAMED ASSOCIATE SPEAKS #3: Prestige at Biglaw or Experience at an Insurance Defense Firm? The Debate Continues. . .
by the Unnamed Associate
This week I've been out of my mind, preparing for and taking another bar exam, and simultaneously preparing for my first trial. It's a good confluence of circumstances – one an opportunity for the state to inform me that I shouldn't be practicing law; and the other an opportunity to prove it.
Color my underpants important, but it's days like today when I'm glad that I was less concerned about prestige when taking this job, and more concerned about getting experience as a litigating lawyer. I know I could have enjoyed researching and writing for other lawyers who will never give me credit – I can enjoy a whole lot if I'm well paid for it. And I could have swallowed my pride for the crazy egos and their volatility – again, for a lot of money I can be pretty humble. I know from experience that I enjoy the bigfirm culture. But when I count back and realize that my first trial is happening less than six months after the day I was sworn in as an attorney, I'm both intimidated and elated about the choice I made.
This prestige v. experience musing was prompted by Stankowski's post last week. Don't get me wrong – I had to think very hard about jumping from law school into an insurance defense ("ID") firm. I had always anticipated a cushy bigfirm job, post-law school, and all of the pressures and perks that go with it. I am one of those rare weirdos who thoroughly enjoys spending my days in the library and pecking away at the keyboard. But I got this wild hair and decided to see what being a trial lawyer is like. I had some idea that actual litigation experience might be valuable later on, in my ultimate quest to do solely appellate work. Whether the whole trial lawyer thing fits me or not remains to be seen, but it seemed like a good idea at the time; and I'm sure, after my trial next week, it will seem like a good idea again sometime real soon.
I guess what I'm getting at is this: Evan requested first year associate guest-posters so that people could get an idea what it's really like. Here's what it's like: I don't know if I made the right choice. Only time will tell. Stan doesn't know if he should jump ship and go for more day-to-day enjoyment in his life at the risk of sacrificing the perceived prestige enhancement of his big firm job. Will it harm him down the road?
I'm suddenly worried that I've tarred myself for life, having started with ID. I don't know what rock I was under, but I had no idea other attorneys look down on the ID ones. I had been operating under the assumption that if I decided I didn't like the litigating thing, I could move elsewhere and that the experience I gain here would only be a plus. And Ted's comment from the Stankowski post, that another commenter set his career back two years by becoming a federal clerk, really floored me. I'd see clerking for the federal judiciary as a step up for anyone. Talk about prestige – that job has it. Federal clerks can go anywhere and do anything, and there's a reason why employers value that experience in an employee. So maybe my perspective isn't all that unusual, and the ID-sneerers are wrong. The point is that there's no way of knowing where I'm going to be two years from now, career-wise, and what I'm going to want to be doing at that time. Hell, when I went to law school I thought I'd be practicing environmental law, and I could barely stay awake through that class in school.
I guess all of the uncertainty is part of the fun and excitement of being a lawyer.
About the Author The Unnamed Associate is the pseudonym of a first-year litigation associate who works at a U.S. law firm. For more information, see her collected posts or Evan Schaeffer's introduction.