One of the best things about nearing the end of any endeavor is that you start to feel like you have a handle on the way things go. Of course, this is also the curse of life; don’t we all wish we had the knowledge of senior year going into freshman year of high school??? (I sure wish I’d known how little I’d care about that Bio grade….) But with that knowledge, I think, comes a responsibility: to pass on that information to those who can use it most. And so, this year I plan to give as much advice as possible to anyone who asks. I’ve been incredibly lucky to get to mentor some fantastic now-2Ls and help guide them through their first year, their first summer, and, for some of them, choosing a law firm. So I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve been giving on how to choose a law firm.
Let it first be known that when I came to NYU, I was DEAD SET against the law firm life. It sounded awful—just a sweatshop existence designed to crush your spirit and dull your senses with money. I had come to NYU in search of a different life than the one I had led in the theater: one that would give me more time for family, primarily. Law firms seemed the exact wrong path for that result. But I spent my first year being super-open, trying to talk to as many lawyers as I could, exploring areas of the law I couldn’t have imagined before I came to NYU, and seeking something that would spark my intellectual interest while still giving me the kind of day-to-day work that would make me excited to go into the office in the morning.
To my surprise, I found myself drawn to the practice of bankruptcy. Every lawyer I met loved their job, it seemed really suited to my take-charge and get-it-done attitude, and there was a real chance to have some courtroom time as a young lawyer. So, I decided to interview for the big law firms, where most commercial bankruptcy work is done. This is my first piece of advice: be open to being surprised, be willing to adjust your expectations, and have faith that something will be interesting to you, even if it doesn’t seem like that when you’re stuck in the contracts/civ pro/torts grind of 1L. This goes for choosing a law firm, too: even if you may have heard something about a particular firm, let yourself interview there, and if you get an offer, really try to put aside what you’ve heard and give them a shot. You may find that they have a practice area you’re interested in, or that you click with the people, and that their reputation is based on old practices or disgruntled employees.
Second, focus on the work that the firm does. Even if you’re not sure exactly what area you plan to practice in, try to identify one or two areas you think you might end up in, and see what kind of work the firm does in those areas. It can be easy to get swayed by the general, but in the law firm context I think the specific really governs. A particular practice area or office may have a totally different vibe than the firm at large, and it’s a good idea to locate at least one practice area you would be happy working in, based on the work they assign. I am a nerd, so I suppose you should take that with a grain of salt, but we all must be a bit nerdy to have ended up at NYU!
Third, trust your decision-making process. Everyone I talked to said something to the effect of “You’ll know the firm is right for you, you’ll just feel it!” I felt a bit like I was picking a wedding dress, not a place of work! This mantra stressed me out a little, because I tend to be a more analytical decision maker. Although I do like to feel a click, often the click follows when I’ve decided that a certain decision is the “right” one, objectively. So I decided to throw that advice out the window, weigh the pros and cons of the offers I’d been given, and just go with the one that made the most sense, regardless of the “click” I felt with the people I’d met at the firm. And in the end, this was absolutely the right choice. Although I didn’t work at any other firm, obviously, I ended up absolutely loving my experience, and I’m 100 percent sure I made the right choice.
Finally, I recommend that you ask for help. You can ask me, any person at the firm you’re interviewing at, any person who worked there before (NYU is great at providing access to alumni for current students to contact). This is advice for every stage of law school, and advice that I wish I had used more as a 1L. But now you know me, and you can ask me for advice on choosing a law firm, or anything else!