Big firm, little firm


One of the most difficult tasks students face during OCI is eliminating firms from among the hundreds that will be interviewing on campus this fall. Students can feel overwhelmed by the number of firms coming to Harvard Law School and daunted in attempting to choose one over another. But whether a student decides a small firm is preferable to a big one, or it is the city that matters, two HLS summer associates prove that rewarding experiences can come in all cities and firm sizes.

Two-L Geoffrey McGovern spent his summer at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., a “beautiful building right next to the Capitol” in a city that is “like New York without overpopulation,” as he described it.

With over 2000 partners and associates worldwide and offices in Milan, Brussels, Shanghai and throughout the United States, Jones Day is an established powerhouse firm that ranks among the best in the nation. But, says McGovern, Jones Day did not let such rankings go to its head. “The firm pushed its partners and associates to do their work and do it well,” he said. “I appreciated that.”

“I never had envy for other law firms because Jones Day stands alone on its merits,” McGovern acknowledged.

Although Jones Day made clear that the firm does not normally hire 1Ls and there was a large incoming 2L and 3L summer associate class for the summer, McGovern was offered a summer position three weeks after his interview. He was the only 1L among 36 summer associates and only one of two Harvard students.

Jones Day’s summer associate program assigns students like McGovern three mentors, one partner and two associates, who are meant as guides and resources for the summer. The actual work comes from a committee of four attorneys who then evaluates the summer associate’s performance and gives a rating from one to five.

The size of the firm was a major strength because of the different areas Jones Day concentrates in, McGovern explained. “I had a well-rounded experience in many different areas of the law,” he said, listing his work on a publication in a summary of the law in trusts, pro bono employment discrimination, international trade work, whistleblower claims, insurance and litigation.

“That said,” McGovern continued, “I would be interested to see what a small firm is like. It may contrast sharply with the training opportunities available at large firms. You get the sense at large firms that if you would like a large role to play and if you do put in the time and effort over the years then it will certainly be available.”

“The key is to be patient.”

Two-L Hannah Bate did not need to be patient at DeForest Koscelnik Yokitis & Kaplan, the firm she worked at this summer in Pittsburgh. “The first day they handed me a research assignment that needed to be done,” she said. “Their attitude was that we are paying you and you are working. The work I did this summer is the work I would do if I accepted a job.”

Unlike the powerhouse of D.C., the Pittsburgh firm is only ten years old and has five attorneys, two founding partners and three associates. Despite their small size, Bate says they are a firm that is on the rise. “They hired their last associate in March and one of the summer associates I worked with was offered a job at the end of the summer,” she said.

Asked what she thought of the large versus small firm, Bate said she was sure a place like DeForest Koscelnik Yokitis & Kaplan is “a lot more informal than a larger firm in that everyone knows each other, which can be good and bad.”

“There is also no politicking,” she continued. “I did not have to go out of my way to meet people. I don’t know if this is typical for a small firm, but they worked hard.” Bate said a typical day went from 8:30 in the morning to 7:00 at night, but it was not unusual to be at the office until 10:00 or 11:00 at night.

Although the firm does not have a formal summer associate program, Bate said there were two or three times throughout the summer when the two founding partners called her into the office and told her what was really good and what needed improvement.

As for Pittsburgh, Bate admits she did not see very much of the city because of her hectic work schedule. “It is a nice small city with good shopping, industry, the theater district is better, they built the new football and baseball stadiums, and there are a few colleges there with a decent number of students.” She admits that “socially it may not be the best place to be as a young summer associate. The nightlife is not that great and it does not have that community yet, but it is definitely a changing and beautiful city.”

But that may be okay with Bate, who is looking to live in a smaller city where she can drive ten minutes from downtown and be in a location with lawns and trees. “I can’t imagine sitting in traffic everyday for two hours just to get to work,” she said, referring to the commute into Washington, D.C.

“Pittsburgh is definitely a place I could see raising a family.”

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