Second year associate getting ready to move from a small firm to big law in the SE. Any advice or tips to help prepare for the transition?

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Depends on what you mean by biglaw, which is so imprecise that it’s more or less useless as a differentiator. Leaving that aside as a JD+7 who’d made partner a year early at a highly respected 100 year old regional firm of about 150 lawyers, I lateraled to a branch office of a very serious v25. The best lawyers at the firms were on the same plane. But the median and mean ability levels were way, way higher at the new firm. Likewise the problems we were asked to solve at the new firm were almost always way more difficult and consequential. That’s why I moved - I wanted to be the guy who got the call on bet the company lawsuits. But clients who hire you to solve existential problems are much more demanding than those who hire you to solve problems that are annoying. That fact permeates every element of working in a serious law firm. It’s why people at Cravath, Latham, Wachtell, and like firms endure intense work pressures. It’s not bad cultures or a-hole partners. The work demands it. One concrete example of this comes from a young woman we hired a few years ago. She was a superstar a year from partnership at the kind of firm I started out at. We hired her knowing that she needed polishing but believing in her potential. She stepped back three class years, so even though she had 8 years of experience she was staffed as a fifth year and subjected to 5th year expectations. She and I are pretty close and she’s candid with me. Her first year she almost melted down over the demands, especially concerning the quality of her written work. She had no idea what rigor looked like. Now, three years later, she’s getting there. But it’s taken enormous effort and resilience on her part to essentially re-learn to think at write at the level necessary for our work. So, while there are great lawyers in small firms, large firms, and every other kind of firm, in general the quality demands in serious firms are vastly higher than in other settings. And there is a level of intensity that’s created by the nature of the problems and clients’ related expectations. If you’re going to a serious (not just large) firm, that’s what you’re facing. I found and find it exhilarating, because as I said I wanted to do the most demanding work. If you take it as a challenge and are resilient and demanding of yourself you’ll be fine. But it’s going to be very, very different. If you’re going to a firm that is large but handles more commoditized work (think DLA, Dentons, Polsinelli, etc) then the jump won’t be as great.

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Got it. Representing individuals is challenging in its own way but I wouldn’t worry about the big law as death march dynamic. Congrats on the new job. Good luck to you!

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