Why I Chose Corporate

Opinion   /   November 29, 2012  / 


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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5 Responses to Why I Chose Corporate

  1. I don’t know who you are, but as an alum a few years out, I have to tell you that each of your columns sounds incredibly naive and full of rationalizations for half-baked decisionmaking. This piece is supposed to explain why you chose corporate law, but instead spends most of the time taking inaccurate shots at litigation. The only thing that we hear about why you like corporate PRACTICE (apart from an interest in living abroad) is that it is “complex[]” and “puzzle-like” — and gives you opportunities to “communicate” that you think you would not have as a litigator. Apart from the prospect of “spend[ing] your days on the phone” should you make partner, you say nothing specific at all about what corporate tasks you expect to enjoy at any point in your career, beyond assuring us that you are not all that interested in your upcoming assignments of being “asked to make countless seemingly inconsequential revisions to some minor transaction document.” This was disappointing to me, because as a diehard litigator, I wanted to hear more about what actually inspires junior corporate folks to pursue that route. All this piece has given me is a vision of living of you in ten years in London talking on the phone and accomplishing ambiguous “complex” tasks.

    Now, as a litigator of several years, let me correct your misconceptions about my field:

    “Junior litigation associates are largely tasked with performing legal research and writing memos.”

    Absolutely you will have to write memos. If you write those memos well in your first year or two (maybe less if you clerk beforehand), you will be tasked with writing portions of briefs and motions – and full briefs/motions, soon enough. Of course, if you absolutely hate writing briefs and motions, I agree that most forms of litigation are a bad fit (except perhaps for criminal trial law, where state ADAs and APDs don’t do much writing.)

    “my impression is that the work is oftentimes more interactive than that done by litigators, at least early on in one’s career.”

    I completely disagree with this, speaking as a former DCt and COA law clerk, a former BigLaw associate, and now a government attorney who does appellate litigation. Litigation requires constant collaboration and strategizing with the other attorneys on one’s team. It requires spending time (maybe more time than you’d like) on the phone negotiating either with opposing counsel or co-counsel (the latter is especially true in large civil multidefendant cases). It involves significant client contact. Even at my BigLaw firm, I was asked to meet with paying clients (as part of a team) often enough and had an abundance of contact with my “real-people” clients, the pro bono ones. In my current position, I do have real-people clients, and I have plenty (trust me :) of contact with them. And as a law clerk, I daily had vigorous discussions about our cases with my judge and my co-clerks. I have never had a litigation position with anything other than “as much contact as I could possibly need” with other people – and I’m a pretty hardcore extrovert.

    “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.”

    Not in practice. One person’s efforts are rarely enough to put together a substantial, potentially dispositive brief. I’m getting ready for a big filing (of a brief), and it’s required multiple 1-2 hour sessions with the other two attorneys involved in the drafting process. (It has also involved client contact and opposing counsel contact.)

    “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.”

    Well, it should offend your sense of justice! :) But in my experience, this seems to happen pretty rarely. Admittedly virtually all of my experience is in federal litigation – and my experiences in state court have left me slightly more skeptical. But in my experience, federal judges are not so readily persuaded by “wrong but more persuasive” arguments, and even if a district judge or appellate panel is in error, it is usually corrected by an appellate panel or en banc court. I’m not saying that the courts never accept an objectively “wrong” argument, but it happens not often at all. The bigger problem for litigators is when the law prescribes a result that may seem wrong to us as a matter of policy/practice, and we’re confronted with the courts reaching a result that we disagree with and is beyond our immediate power to change (unless, e.g., asked by a client to work on legislative/lobbying issues).

    “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.”

    This is one of your most naive comments. As a law clerk twice over: the judges who make that remark are right. Some of the Ames briefs are better than many of the briefs filed in the federal courts. That only means that the drafters of the Ames briefs in question have made a very good start in developing litigation skills that will take them a career to hone. It does not mean that their 2L efforts are all that astounding or that there is little room for them to improve. And the judges’ comment is usually as much a gentle dig at the abysmal quality of some of the briefs that they see as it is praise for the Ames briefs.

  2. Wow, I’m sure glad I looked down to read the comment, which is much more interesting (at least to me, a prospective litigator) than the piece itself. It’s a little funny that Litigator’s comment starts out by picking apart the piece’s assertion word-by-word just as a litigator might do in court, but I really enjoyed the examples from experience.

  3. Man, One Foot Out the Door is suuuch a tooooool. :(

  4. It would be better if you explained more about the topic than going outwards. Anyways, it is well written.

  5. That is a bad article… Sorry.

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