I’m an associate at a boutique law firm working on complex litigation and regulatory matters. I’ve worked at the same firm as a summer associate and the last three years directly after graduation. I’m worried that I’m not getting enough “practical” experience. I haven’t taken a deposition, only attended two oral arguments, and tend to write parts of briefs or motions but never in their entirety. (Continued in comments)

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I feel like I’m being underutilized and stuck working on one-off mundane research tasks. The partners are great people and my performance reviews are positive, but I never get redlines or really much feedback at all on my work. Yet, the partnership prizes themselves in their mentorship (although all the associates feel
like they are not getting any). I’m worried that as I enter my fourth year at the firm that I’m not getting enough practical experience and as a result feel unmotivated and honestly burnt out. I’m contemplating making a switch, but want to know what skills and experiences should a fourth year associate have? Thanks!

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Thanks—it’s definitely helpful to know I’m not the only one!

If you want litigation experience then a change may be good. I determined in my second year that I wasn’t getting enough practical experience and made the switch. Similar situation with no EBTs, court appearances, trials although a stretch (first seat, second seat, watching, prepping or helping in any way shape or form). Made the switch and literally got all the above. I imagine by your fourth year you should be doing depositions and oral arguments.

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Thank you that’s very helpful!

I would consider a mid-size law firm or another boutique where you will get more hands on experience. I’m a 5th year at a mid-size and I’ve done depositions, handled oral arguments, written summary judgment and appellate briefs (in their entirety), served as “primary” counsel (with significant partner oversight), conducted arbitrations....the list goes on and on. I would think at a boutique you should be getting more substantive experience by now. It’s definitely worth looking for something better.

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You should be getting hands-on work fairly early at a boutique firm. That’s one of the biggest practical benefits. That you’re not could say something about your work, but you’re getting positive feedback at reviews, so doesn’t sound like that’s the case. Sounds like it’s a firm mentality.

At the same time, it’s on you to be the squeaky wheel and at your reviews or just informally, be assertive. “Hey, do you mind if I make the first pass on that entire motion?” Once you get the motion back, ask for feedback.

As for depos and motion practice, complex litigation tends to be rife with each. There must be ways to carve yourself a niche and get a solid base with less pertinent witnesses and hearings. Ask questions to the partners post depo: “XYZ happened. Here’s how I handled. How should I have handled it?” Show intellectual curiosity and a desire to expand your skills.

Your concern should be that if you’re in the same spot in a year or two, employers are going to be confused why you don’t have that experience, especially with a boutique background. For now you’re probably ok, but it’s something that will be an issue sooner rather than later if not rectified.

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Thanks, that’s really helpful insight. The reasons you articulated is exactly why I opted for a boutique experience. If I can’t get that experience though I think you’re right, it would become an issue if I left.

Unfortunately, I was in this situation as a paralegal student. My managing attorney utilized me as a secretary/placeholder at the front desk and did not give me enough practical experience. It was impossible to find a job in the local oversaturated market after graduation. As an attorney, I've been in the unique position to handle depositions, hearings, and motion/brief writing during my first year. Don't give up hope in finding that mentorship which allows you all of these experiences in law, but I'd suggest pushing into that uncomfortable space with your employers or even looking at a new firm. Your current employers should understand the desire of an associate to continue developing a variety of marketable skills.

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