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by Mary Kate Sheridan | November 07, 2018


Man leaning against wall

When people think of lawyers—especially litigators—they often envision romanticized versions from the media: dramatic closings before a jury, discovery of a loophole with minutes to spare, or heated battles with adversaries. They don't tend to think of the day-to-day work of a litigator, which requires a range of skills and planning to provide the best advocacy for clients. On the flipside, law students frequently believe they'll be locked away clicking on documents all day and never see the inside of a courtroom.

So, what's it really like to be a litigator?

In Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas, four partners from top Litigation practices share their insights on working in Commercial Litigation. Among the areas they discussed are misconceptions about the practice:

Elizabeth (Lisa) Vicens, Partner — Cleary Gottlieb

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions that exists about my practice area is that there is always one right answer. Our clients typically come to us because they have been confronted with a novel or potentially 'bet the company' type of challenge. Often there is no right answer that can remove all uncertainty, nor is there usually an easy answer. Accordingly, our clients rely on our advocacy to manage that uncertainty and help make their position the one that the court or regulatory authority ultimately adopts. Because there are no right or easy answers, learning how to think critically and creatively and developing sound judgment is important in order to navigate that uncertainty. As a result, our job is not just about writing or oral advocacy, which is sometimes a common misconception."

Omid H. Nasab, Partner — Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP

"There can be a misconception that litigation departments at large law firms do not go to trial often, and it could not be further from the truth at Cravath. As an associate, I went to trial on nine different occasions, and it would be rare for some team within the department to not be at trial or be gearing up for trial. At Cravath, we are trial lawyers at our core and I think going to trial is one of the greatest parts of being a litigator generally."

William K. Pao, Partner — O'Melveny & Myers LLP

"In my experience, most junior attorneys’ first impression of securities litigation is that it is very niche and math or numbers heavy, which, of course, is what many of us wanted to avoid when we signed up for law school! But while securities litigation involves reviewing financials, it doesn’t require math, or, at least, there are experts that help us with that. What it does require, however, is a basic understanding of how companies and, in particular, public companies work. If you are fascinated by what makes a Fortune 500 company run, for example, and you want to be a litigator, securities litigation could be for you!"

Gregory M. Starner, Partner — White & Case

"I think sometimes there is a misconception that litigation is all about that 'aha' moment in court or litigating an issue to the death. In reality, while effective advocacy in a trial or hearing is always going to be important and one of the most fun parts of the job, the best litigators are able to recognize the larger context and understand how a particular case or dispute fits into a client’s business or its broader goals. One of a litigator’s most important roles is to evaluate risk and help clients mitigate and navigate that risk. So it is not enough to be able to cross-examine a witness or write a persuasive brief; a good litigator needs to act as a trusted adviser and counselor to help a client achieve the best outcome."

To read more of these partners' thoughts, as well as perspectives from lawyers across two dozen practice areas, check out Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.