How to Prepare for Life in BigLaw
Published: Mar 24, 2023
Congratulations on your pending start in BigLaw! Although you have a lot of hard work ahead of you, there’s a lot behind you as well-getting here is a major accomplishment, and you’re about to work among the industry’s best. No matter how much time you have left before you start, you would be wise to take advantage of it to prepare as best you can. Here are a few tips on how to do this.
Practice legal research.
As a junior associate, the vast majority of your billable hours will be spent on research projects. You will need to be able to work both quickly and thoroughly—partners will come to you with the urgent need to have a question answered, and the answer you give them must be complete and correct. If that sounds daunting, the good news is you have time to practice. If you’re still in school, consider an advanced legal research class, or see if you can work as a research assistant to one of your professors. You should also attend any research workshops given by the school’s Lexis and WestLaw representatives. Practice is never quite the same as the real thing, but the more prepared you are, the better you’ll do.
Get practical experience.
While you have the chance in school, learn all you can about various practice areas. Use opportunities for internships, clinics, and other hands-on experiences as often as possible. You won’t ever understand what practicing law is really like until you’ve tried it. As a student, you don’t yet have to commit to a practice, so it behooves you to experience as much as you are able. This time investment now will help you narrow your interests, which can in turn create a road map for the work you try to get at a firm. Conversely, even if you think you know exactly what you want, keep an open mind when you turn up to work at the firm. You never know how much you might end up enjoying something completely unexpected.
Network with your future coworkers.
Within reason, do your best to research your new colleagues through the firm’s attorney directory. In a remote world, it’s more important (and frankly easier) than ever to be proactive with networking. Reach out and ask for a coffee, whether it be by Zoom or in person. Don’t only network with partners; reach out to associates in practice groups of interest to you. You should also try to acquire a working knowledge of the firm’s leadership structure and the partners in charge of each practice group before you get there if at all possible.
If you aren’t already, get organized.
No matter how much prep work you do, the learning curve ahead of you is a steep one, and a variety of mistakes are inevitable. Some mistakes, however, are eminently preventable with a simple commitment to organization. You can avoid blowing deadlines or misunderstanding directions if you use (and adhere to) a calendar for deadlines. You probably have plenty of law school files; practice organizing them so that it’s easy for you to find precisely what you’re looking for whenever you need it. Set up a folder system now, as you will absolutely have to as an associate. Finally, whether electronic or analog, get used to carrying some form of note taking device *everywhere* and write down *every* key detail when a partner or senior associate gives you directions. No matter how good your memory is, you can’t rely on it for BigLaw deadlines.
At the risk of sounding dramatic-get your personal affairs in order.
Spoiler alert: none of the people telling you how busy you’ll be as an attorney are exaggerating. Take as much care as you can to ease both the logistics of your personal life and the people you care about into the pending dramatic drop in your availability for non-work...anything. If you’re moving to a new city, take the time *now* to find things like stylists, doctors, dentists, a bank branch, a dry cleaner, etc. If you want to have an exercise routine (and you should), get in the habit *now* of doing it early or late enough that it can fit around your future work schedule. Talk with your loved ones, partners or otherwise, and warn them about how much less time you’re about to have. They will be your support system once you start, you will absolutely *need* them, and clear communication and establishment of expectations will be key to keeping those relationships happy. This is a big thing. Do your best to be ready for it.