Firm Flexibility

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some OCI expertise with you, 2Ls. After a full year at a law firm, it’s about time that I speak with expertise on something.

Let’s call a spade a spade: OCI is chaotic. Each of you has the opportunity to interview with dozens of law firms. Among those firms, you’ll select one or two for your 2L summer. And spending a summer with a law firm leads, more often than not, to post-HLS employment. Facing a major career decision, you’re narrowing a lot of law firms down in a very short amount of time, too often on too little information.

Right? Maybe. But it needn’t be that way. At least, it wasn’t that way for me. So here’s a bit of free advice, for what it’s worth.

First, a quick recap of how I ended up where I am:

I came to law school sure that I’d graduate, move to the West Coast, and practice Intellectual Property law. Well, to be more specific, “Internet Law.” (It didn’t seem so ridiculous at the time. Honest.) But within a couple months, I lost interest in the subject, and started to broaden my pursuits.

Sending out forty-odd resumes, I landed a 1L summer spot at an international law firm based in Chicago, doing tax litigation. It was a great firm, with great people. Had I wanted to do tax litigation in Chicago, I would have ended up there. But I didn’t. So I didn’t.

My 2L year, I was sure I wanted to practice securities and antitrust law in Washington. So I interviewed with a good number of D.C. firms; got a callback with my number one pick; but didn’t get an offer. I went with my number two pick, one of the two or three “elite” Beltway firms. I had a fantastic time, got an offer, and planned to return after graduation.

But I wanted to clerk, so the following fall I sent out a handful of resumes. As luck would have it, the only judge I heard back from was the judge I wanted to clerk for most of all. As luck would further have it, I got the job. Per my judge’s request, I politely declined the firm’s offer.

The clerkship was a real joy. And it was in that clerkship that I found an area of law that sparked my interest: Energy Law.

Most D.C. Circuit clerks do their best to avoid FERC (i.e., Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) cases; they find them complicated and boring. But for whatever reason-probably my background in economics and my interest in Administrative Law, lousy course grade notwithstanding- I loved them.

So when it came time to think about firms, I knew what I wanted: A firm where I could practice Energy Law, and Appellate Law more generally. A firm that was smaller than my 1L and 2L summer firms, yet had a range of quality practice groups, and one that put a lot of responsibility on new associates. I looked around, asked around, and quickly found a firm I thought fit my criteria. I couldn’t have picked a better firm to suit me.

My point is not to advertise my firm to you. (You’re getting more than enough advertisement this month, and I’m not going to waste your time with a shameless promo for my employer.)

My point, rather, is what I think my experience exemplifies: the need for you to maintain your flexibility and open-mindedness as you meet with law firms and pick your 2L summer firm.

You may be dead-set on what kind of law you want to practice. (If so, I’d bet dollars to donuts that you’re an ex-engineer who wants to practice IP.) But unless you’re absolutely sure, then I can’t stress enough how important it is to avoid fixating yourself on a narrow practice.

My interests shifted from Intellectual Property to Securities to Antitrust to Energy. Had you told me at the beginning of my 2L year that I’d be doing what I’m doing today, I wouldn’t have believed it; in Fall 2002, Energy Law had never occurred to me. But by keeping my mind open, even as I worked through my 2L, 3L, and clerkship years, I managed to find a subject matter that (unexpectedly) fit me.

So take the subject or two that already interests you, and look for a firm that will let you work in those areas. But also look for a firm that will let you try other things. And during your summer, try a few different things.

Flexibility in figuring out what you want in a firm has an added benefit: It vastly reduces the pressure you’ll put on yourself in picking a firm. As I noted above, I don’t work today at either of the firms I summered at. And I’m not the only one. Go into OCI knowing that if you decide that your 2L firm isn’t the right fit, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to look around again.

Or, as in my case, even the firm that feels right may not be the firm you end up with after all. Trust me, things could be worse.

Best of luck this week.


Adam White ’04 is an associate at Baker Botts L.L.P. in Washington, D.C. and was editorial page editor of The Record. The views expressed in this essay should not be taken to represent the views of his employer.

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