Advice to 1Ls and 2Ls: Consider Small Markets

BY PAMELA FOOHEY

With OCI bidding already under way, many 2Ls are busy choosing law firms. Undoubtedly most of those firms are headquartered in New York City, Washington D.C., or California. I want to take this opportunity to advise the 2Ls currently making their lists and the 1Ls that will be making their own lists in a few months to consider law firms in smaller markets.

I spent my 1L summer at Dorsey & Whitney, a large, international law firm headquartered in Minneapolis. My free time was spent frequenting the Mall of America, paddle-boating on a few of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, running by the Mississippi River, experiencing the Minnesota State Fair, and trying to determine if Drop Dead Gorgeous was based a true story (it’s not). And, as everyone who has asked me about my summer will tell you, I had an intellectually stimulating, informative, and overall very enjoyable experience at Dorsey. So enjoyable, in fact, that I would welcome the opportunity to settle in Minnesota.

From my experience, there are a few factors that students tend to take into consideration when selecting firms: salary, billable hours required, partnership track years, specialties, location, and quality of life. In the delicate balancing act of the decision making process, some factors necessarily play a greater role than others. I hope my experience in choosing Minneapolis and Dorsey will help 1Ls and 2Ls focus or re-focus their job search on those factors that may be undervalued or overlooked.

I came to spend my summer in Minnesota in an unlikely way: my only connection to the state was my college roommate. Before law school, I worked for an investment bank in New York City. When I made my law firm list last year, I took care to not forget the lessons I had learned at the investment bank: the meaning and necessity of “quality of life; depending on firm culture, the importance of working at one of the firm’s larger offices; the value of a good team; and the usefulness of a firm large enough to have extensive contacts and well-known clients. With this in mind, I made a list of the twenty-five largest cities in the United States. Then I crossed out those cities in which work-life balance usually meant lots of work and not much life. Naturally, this resulted in the elimination of all of the cities that most students consider. Nevertheless, I found that the “smaller market” cities that remained housed (albeit in most cases only a few) well-regarded international law firms. I took a chance by applying to those firms in Minneapolis, both in terms of being able to sell myself to firms that usually did not receive applications from students with no ties to the city, and in terms of what I would find if I could convince them to hire me for a summer.

The risk did not go unrewarded. What I stumbled upon was a firm comprised of intelligent, interesting, and very respectful attorneys working on some of the largest, most complex deals in most areas of practice. I also found a collegial atmosphere that expected and encouraged its associates to excel by assigning them challenging work and then providing appropriate support. Overall, I found a firm that possessed the impressive client base, work quality, and talented partners and associates of firms in larger markets, but also possessed a culture that largely avoided treating new associates like expendable (and expected-to-be-spent) meat. Despite what some may subtlety hint, this does not make a firm any less competitive, productive, or worth considering.

In addition to the firm, I found a thriving city, complete with the second largest number of theater seats in the country per capita (next to New York City), a diverse population, interesting nightlife, major sports teams, a host of outdoor activities, and charming neighborhoods that invited daydreaming about what it would be like to make a home of them. While I am clearly an advocate of Minneapolis and of Dorsey, I am certain that this mixture of challenging work, friendly culture, and a thriving metropolitan area can be found in other cities. The key is to not get caught in the herd of students stampeding to the larger markets, but truly to consider not only what you are looking for in a law firm, but what you would be disappointed to find. Do not lose site of the fact that there are Vault-ranked firms in smaller markets. Having made it to Harvard, you have the luxury to take a few risks and fully explore your options, with the knowledge and assurance that it is possible to approach a top firm in a smaller market even if you do not have connections to its home state. If the larger firms in the smaller markets are smart, they will consider students applying from top schools even if they do not have ties to the area. I expect that neither they nor you will regret it.

Pamela Foohey, 2L, misses Minnesota.

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