When I started law school I was sure I would be a litigator. In part this was because the task of constructing and criticizing arguments was what appealed to me about law in the first place; but it was also because I had virtually no idea what a transactional lawyer did. Finance had never much appealed to me, and my background prior to law school had been largely in academia, not business. Litigation seemed like a natural fit.
But for a variety of reasons, I ended up choosing to begin my career doing corporate work. The more I learned about what such work entailed, the more interested I became in it, and I realized that while litigation seemed to be a much better fit with my background, corporate was a better match for my personality and what I wanted out of my career.
There were some practical concerns that made corporate the best choice for me. For instance, I knew that I wanted to spend at least part of my career working outside the U.S., and there are far more opportunities abroad for U.S.-trained corporate lawyers than there are for litigators. While you may hear about some American lawyers working abroad in international arbitration, these positions tend to be few and far between.
More important, however, was the fact that I realized the type of work corporate lawyers spend their days doing was more appealing to me than the litigation counterpart. Junior litigation associates are largely tasked with performing legal research and writing memos. I had gotten my fill of this during LRW, and this summer I quickly came to appreciate not having to spend my days logged on to Westlaw. While junior corporate associates do more than their fair share of menial and mind-numbing work, my impression is that the work is oftentimes more interactive than that done by litigators, at least early on in one’s career. I had been told that corporate partners spend their days on the phone, and I found that even as a summer associate, much of my time was spent communicating with parties involved in the transaction on which I had been assigned. I found this interaction to be more satisfying than I had found legal writing and research, which is by its nature generally a solitary pursuit.
On a more abstract level, I realized that I had become disillusioned by the basic fact that litigation is at its heart a matter of persuading another individual of the correctness of your position. It’s an inescapable fact that it doesn’t matter if you’re right, so long as you’re able to convince someone else that you are. The fact that the winning side may be wrong but more persuasive is not bothersome to me so much because it offends my sense of justice, but rather because it makes the skills honed by litigators seem trivial.
It’s a commonly uttered refrain during the 1L Ames competition that many judges deem the briefs of HLS 1Ls to be better than many that are submitted in their courts. While this remark is meant to be encouraging, hearing it always made me question why I should devote my life to developing skills that can be competently deployed by students in their second semester of law school. I felt that if I couldn’t get excited about trying to master the skills of an effective litigator, then litigation was probably not the path for me.
Transactional work, on the other hand appealed to me because I was attracted to its complexity, and I felt as though the skills and knowledge I would acquire were more tangible. Transactions have a sort of puzzle-like nature to them, and the fact that I had had so little exposure to them prior to law school made them seem all the more intriguing. Only time will tell whether my interest in transactional work will withstand the beating it will surely take as a junior associate asked to make countless seemingly inconsequential revisions to some minor transaction document. But many law students must make a choice without having the luxury of much experience in the work they’re signing up for, and as things stand now, I’m pleased with the choice I made.
One Foot Out the Door is a column written by an anonymous Harvard Law 3L. The column runs every other Thursday.
The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record.
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