Throughout these years, a number of law graduates and junior lawyers have commented that international law firms, especially those renowned as the Magic Circle or White-Shoe firms, are so aggressive that even if you get a chance to work there, only the cream-of-the-crop will thrive and progress up the ranks. We believe that every driven lawyer can succeed if they are committed to their professional development. Below, we share 5 tips to help law graduates and junior lawyers adapt to the BigLaw environment.
1. Sufficiently research the firm before joining
Prior to joining, conduct sufficient research about the firm. In addition to the general information on the firm’s website, you can also check their social media pages, such as LinkedIn and Instagram, which will provide insights to their firm cultures. Some BigLaw firms also have a YouTube channel for business development and recruitment purposes. You can easily access these platforms to see the general vibe of the firm, including its culture, core values, environment and more importantly, the people and working style.
If you have friends working in BigLaw, don’t be shy to ask them about their life there. You may also consider attending law fairs where you can directly meet and have conversations with the partners, associates and recruitment managers at international law firms so that you can get a general sense of the personalities you will be working with if/when you start working there.
2. Be prepared for high expectations
When joining a BigLaw firm, you may already anticipate and foresee the culture to be extremely demanding and fast-paced. Candidates who have not worked at international firms before may feel excited to enter the world of BigLaw and be able to apply what they’ve learnt in law school or the technical skills they’ve honed at smaller firms, but it’s critical that they are also mentally prepared for the high expectations. You will be expected to multi-task, and if you are unfortunately supporting a senior who doesn’t give clear instructions, you may feel those matters are obscure and incomprehensible. But don’t panic! Don’t be ashamed to seek clarification or to ask for advice from your supervising associate or other associates around you. Focus on learning the ‘big picture’ of the matter you’re working on and provide possible solutions accordingly. It is your responsibility to ensure your work product is accurate, precise, and to your supervisor’s (and client’s) satisfaction and so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel unsure.
3. Find a mentor
Whether you are in BigLaw or in small-to-medium-size firms, it is beneficial to find a mentor who can give you good guidance and help you navigate. International firms will often have a “buddy system”, but in the event they have not assigned a more senior lawyer to you as a mentor, you should not feel shy to ask for one. It could be any senior lawyer with experience at the firm and does not necessarily have to be in the same practice group as you. A good mentor will give you guidance on integration at the firm, share their insights, advise you on your career planning and help you get through any difficulties and obstacles at work, or even in your personal life.
It is important for lawyers to constantly expand and maintain their network, regardless of the size of your firm. Working in BigLaw will give you an edge by providing you the opportunities to work with topnotch lawyers. This is undoubtedly a great opportunity for you to expand your network, especially when you are still a junior lawyer. Once the relationships you establish become lasting friendships, you will find it extraordinarily rewarding. Not only will constant networking give you career support, it will also possibly provide doors of opportunities to you.
5. Stay away from gossip
Whilst it’s helpful to know what’s going on in the office or in your industry generally, we think we will all agree that gossip does more harm than good, and it certainly won’t help you fit in at an international law firm. One may argue that it is difficult to stay away from office or industry gossip because there is so much going on in BigLaw firms. Even though that’s true, and yes, we agree there’s always a lot going on, we highly advise you not to participate and be part of it.
Gossip at work can result in low morale, diminished productivity and even disciplinary actions. In addition, those who like to gossip or spread rumours in the office are viewed at less trustworthy and reliable. Therefore, we advise you to abstain from spreading or participating in any office gossip.
International law firms are now much more transparent than decades ago. Thriving (or surviving!) in BigLaw is undoubtedly challenging, but it’s not impossible if you perform sufficient research, be prepared for high expectations, find a good mentor, expand your network and stay away from gossip in the office, and most importantly, stay authentic. We believe if you can master the above 5 tips, you will be equipped for a good start!
Contributor: Austin Lee (Business Development & Client Account Manager, Hughes-Castell)