Life at the Firm Part II

If you’re just tuning in, I’m now halfway through my Summer Associateship at a fantastic law firm in Seattle. My last blog talked about initial impressions and how much I’m enjoying my colleagues and projects. I did, however, promise to devote this next blog to my greatest challenge: Billing.

Nothing from my prior careers in teaching and advocacy in the nonprofit sector remotely prepared me for accounting for my time in six-minute increments. This practice derives from client billing conventions, but even when I’m not working on projects for clients, I must still notate where all of my time goes: lunch with partners, research workshops, an eight-minute project check in (still only counts as six minutes!) Hourglass_(PSF)

Even for a punctilious record keeper like myself, this practice is incredibly stressful. Never have I been so painfully conscious of how long it takes me to do any single task during my day. From picking up papers from a printer tray down the hallway to refilling my water glass in the kitchen, I always wonder, “Just how long is this taking me, and how can I accomplish this more efficiently next time?” Fortunately there are nifty electronic aids that help capture exactly how long that email to Human Resources took to write and how many minutes elapsed while I reviewed all 22 webpages and documents since clocking in. But what about that 14 minute gap that included chatting with a friendly Legal Secretary on my way from a meeting? Time slips away like fine grains shooting down an hourglass.

They say billing gets easier with time. I hope they’re right.

Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale: Must-do in Boston

Let’s be real: 95% of those in law school are (open or undercover) nerds, the ones who love learning, the kids who would read books for fun as soon as they learned how to read. I’m no exception, and while reading 286 Constitutional Law cases temporarily dampened my desire to read other books for fun, summer is here and that means leisure reading is back in business!

In late May my boyfriend and I finally found the time to head to Brookline Booksmith, just a ten minute walk from our apartment. This legendary and classic Coolidge Corner staple did not disappoint. It reminded me of Barnes & Noble by the way they carried anything and everything, but has that local and independent feel that can’t be beat. Also, they have multiple discount tables, which is music to a poor law student’s ears! The tables featured books I hadn’t heard of and plenty that I had, including “Everyone Brave is Forgiven,” a recent release that was getting a lot of coverage on the blogs I follow. Brookline Booksmith is the perfect place to pick up that book you’ve been waiting to read in addition to discovering a book you hadn’t known you wanted!

And now, here’s the real secret I’m sharing with the rest of you bibliophiles: the Harvard Book Store has a warehouse sale. And it. Is. AMAZING. This event probably isn’t a secret to anyone who has lived in the Cambridge/Somerville area, but when my boyfriend and I discovered it a few days before the sale it felt like the most amazing thing we had ever stumbled upon. It’s a two-day, all-day event and is located at their warehouse in Somerville.

The warehouse sale was what dreams are made of. You walk in and take in two massive rooms stocked with library-esque bookshelves and tables in-between. It was remarkably well organized by section, and featured everything from novels to old textbooks. All the books have price-tags that are heavily reduced, and then you get a 15% discount on top of that. I think I got a book for $1, no joke. Some of the used books are discounted up to 70%. Together my boyfriend and I got 14 books (and this was after putting quite a few back) and spent $60. That evens out to a little more than $4/book, which not even Amazon can beat. And we shopped local, which is huge!

My favorite part of this sale is that we got 14 books that neither of us had ever heard of before. There were certainly books I had seen rave reviews about and classics scattered among the shelves, but we used this opportunity to really shop outside of our GoodReads “want to read” list. He got mostly historical fiction and non-fiction, while I got a mix of novels and international relations books. I was even tempted by an old law textbook (it wasn’t a casebook, I promise I’m not that boring) but figured I would have enough textbooks to read next year.

All in all we had an amazing time perusing the shelves and growing our library. And we also came out with a stack of books as tall as my torso. So, that was pretty exciting too. I’m not sure if this sale is yearly or semi-annually, but I know we’ll be back each time they have it. If you’re in Boston in June keep your eyes peeled for the announcement, because this is an event you won’t want to miss!

 

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Take it to da In-House

I recently caught up with one of my friends from law school and they told me one of the things I love hearing most: “You were right.” In this particular instance, the friend was referring to my recommendation that he get an in-house counsel summer internship. In-house counsel refers to the group of lawyers that handle legal issues directly within a company. These positions are rather difficult to obtain mostly because applications for openings don’t begin until very late in spring semester, a time at which most students already accepted an internship offer. I was able to somehow obtain an in-house internship with Barneys New York for my 1L summer job in New York City and, having loved the experience so much, pursued another in-house position this summer—which I successfully obtained.

So what’s so good about in-house anyway? The biggest and most often talked about incentive for in-house positions, whether its in the form of an internship or a full-time job, are the hours. I’m sure everyone has scared you by now with the talk about Big Law Firms working 90 hour work weeks. Well, that is not just a scare tactic—that is the accurate truth (though I’m sure some firms are the exception…maybe). Friends I’ve spoken with working full-time Big Law Firm jobs attest to the fact that the first few years as an associate are some of the hardest, longest years ever. Although the compensation is very generous, some people value getting home before 2am and not working weekends. In contrast, in-house counsel jobs are what some people would describe as “cushiony.” You have more of a 9 to 5 schedule with some flexibility since you’re only responsible for the legal issues of one client (the company you work for) rather than a whole portfolio of multiple clients (as in a law firm). Personally, I can attest to the “cushiony” mentality—I can’t say I remember a time where I wasn’t able to leave work in time to make a happy hour if I wanted.

In-house counsels positions also exposes you to many types of law while at the same time narrowing the breadth to just the single issues of a single client. For example, I was able to research federal labor and employment law, draft policies concerning manufacturing laws in the fashion sector, and work with real estate law through a bevy of contracts and leases. It was so insightful to see how one single company had to deal with so many different areas of the law in order to function as a successful, profitable business. My in-house position this summer is with a telehealth company and I’ve already got to learn the interplay between federal and state health laws as well as the anti-trust issues that could arise. For anyone like me, who has never been able to pinpoint their exact interest in a one singular thing, in-house counsels are a goldmine for keeping you interested in the work you’re doing.

Of course there are some cons to in-house counsel since nothing is perfect. Probably the biggest drawback is the fact that most in-house counsel jobs are filled by well-seasoned, veteran lawyers who have spent years working in the law and would be able to handle the multitude of various legal issues a company could face. While there are some companies that could hire associate in-house counsel lawyers who are bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and barely experienced, I think it’s more rare than common. All the more reason to try really hard to experience in-house counsel life as an intern so you know it’s something you want to work toward as you become a seasoned vet out in the legal world!

Life at The Firm

After three full weeks as a Summer Associate, I feel like I’ve finally found my groove. Each morning commences with a cup of strong coffee as I take stock of the day ahead—appointments galore and ambitious productivity slots neatly stacked in 30-minute increments on my electronic calendar.

View from my office on the 39th floor

View from my office on the 39th floor

The number one question my 1L friends ask me is “what exactly do Summer Associates do?” My firm has an empowering system that grants us discretion to pluck intriguing projects from an assignment pool. The pool includes transactional and litigation projects covering every practice group—from labor & employment and real estate to intellectual property and startups. We are strongly encouraged to dabble in unfamiliar areas of the law and work with as many attorneys as possible. I recently wrapped up a research memo on admiralty law; tomorrow I will delve into the worlds of private arbitration and construction; and July will bring administrative law and data security to the fore.

Coming into the firm, I did not expect to engage with such a wide array of legal topics, nor did I expect to produce work product beyond standard research memos. This rapid-fire exposure to new substantive areas of the law is nothing short of thrilling, as is working on law review articles and summary judgment motions with amazing attorneys.

In addition to the interesting tasks that funnel down through the project pool, experiential learning opportunities constantly pop up. Within my first two weeks, several colleagues personally invited me to observe them argue motions in court, depose witnesses, and counsel clients in mediation sessions. If that wasn’t enough, these busy attorneys took the time to solicit my opinions, answer my questions, and include me in strategy discussions about next steps. Generosity is a constant theme at this firm.

Finally, I feel incredibly privileged to work alongside such thoughtful attorneys and staff. Not a day has gone by without someone new welcoming me to the firm or inquiring how my summer is going. They all want to hear that I’ve been given meaningful and challenging work, and every conversation ends with offers of open doors and support.

Welcome bouquet!

Welcome bouquet!

Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I’ll discuss some of the more challenging aspects of my life at The Firm. (Hint: Billing in six minute increments is not my forte.)

 

Summer (school) Events

Leading up to finals week I caught myself daydreaming all the time about the fun summer events I had planned: my close friend’s wedding (and bachelorette party!), my niece joining the world (hi, Savannah!), the Boston Pizza Festival, James Taylor at Tanglewood on the 3rd of July… the list went on, and soon my weekends were all filled up with non-school events. At that point in time the last thing I wanted to do was be at the law school, doing law-school things.

And yet… within a few weeks I found myself back at the tower covering the Law and Economics Guido Calabresi symposium. And just this week I attended a panel about legal advocacy for Tibet. And while these non-school events have been the best mental and emotional reprieve, I found that the law school events were academically engaging, reminding me why I was in law school in the first place and re-energizing my passion and excitement about the upcoming year.

The Law and Economics symposium frankly just blew me away. I was asked to cover the event for the communications department (blogger perks!). I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about the event going into things, beyond what the announcement flyer detailed and a bit of googling. About halfway through the first panel it hit me: I was in a room with some of the most brilliant legal (and, let’s be honest, brilliant in general) minds that I would ever meet. The caliber of academia in that room alone made my head spin. These individuals had started the field of law and economics, they had been leading scholars for over 70 years, they had illustrious and decorated careers in different fields, and were absolutely brilliant. While I felt small and inexperienced, I was also awestruck and inspired; and being inspired was the most overwhelming feeling from that day. I also was filled with a little hope- you see, it was said (by Guido himself if I remember correctly) that Guido Calabresi, the father of Law and Economics, one of the most brilliant legal scholars of our lifetime, got a B in Torts. Grades really aren’t everything folks!

Then I went to the panel about Legal Advocacy for Tibet. This panel was humbling, motivational, and reaffirmed my passion: international human rights. The panel featured Professors Sloane and Akram, a former political prisoner and survivor from Tibet, and one of the leading advocates for the Tibetan movement who did most of his work on universal jurisdiction in Spain. The discussion ranged from the hands-on work Professors Sloane and Akram have been pursuing domestically and abroad, to the way Spain used universal jurisdiction to push the issue farther and saw more success than anyone thought possible, to the humbling and heart-wrenching experiences of a woman who became a political prisoner at age 13 but never stopped fighting. That flame of passion for international human rights had been on the back burner until that night, flickering and struggling to stay alight as my mind was focused on Constitutional Law and Criminal Law and Property and the like. But now it is back, shining bright and propelling me toward 2L, the international law classes, and the opportunities to make a difference.