When I arrived at law school, Big Law was not on my radar. Frankly, I had never even heard the term—I showed up without personally knowing a single lawyer, much less any one law firm. I assumed that my future career would revolve around my prior academic interests in policy and public health; though, at the time, I was unsure how those interests might manifest themselves professionally.
As my first year of law school progressed, I started to consider what I wanted for myself after school. I spoke with older students, professors and reached out to attorneys. The more I learned about what it meant to practice, the more confused I felt — I simply was not feeling excited about the careers I was exploring. This disillusionment stemmed in large part from the fact that my prior academic interests did not map cleanly onto a job that felt like the right fit for me. Gradually, I began to let myself consider what it would look like to have a job that did not center around public health, evaluating my professional goals individually from some of my academic interests. I discovered that what I wanted was not necessarily a specific field or industry, but rather a job where I felt I could develop myself professionally – a job where I could learn collaboratively and where growth was consistent and encouraged.
Separately, the inertia around on-campus interviewing (OCI) was growing. I initially kept my distance. Without any business background or familiarity with Big Law, I was intimidated and making a total 180 felt wrong. Still, I made a concerted effort to speak with Big Law attorneys about their experiences and better assess what that career path would actually look like. Throughout these conversations, I did not pretend I was in an interview or seek to impress – I asked sincere questions about Big Law practice. Nobody shied away from these conversations (in fact, I ended up with a few interviews because of them). My concerns and apprehension about this type of practice were far more common than I ever would have realized.
Big Law was quickly becoming demystified. Sure, many of the practice groups still sounded foreign—in fact, I am now a private equity attorney, and I would not have been able to venture a guess about what that meant even just a few years ago. But through these conversations, it became clear to me that success in Big Law was measured in what you were willing to learn, not showing off what you know.
More importantly, I began to recognize what separated each of the Big Law firms from the others. What was once a litany of last names, shiny brochures and firm swag became colored by anecdotes, approaches to mentorship, and training opportunities. I fell back to what originally piqued my interest in Big Law – professional growth. I began focusing on firms that did more than talk the talk about associate development. For me, that meant smaller class sizes, time to explore different practice groups as an associate, and opportunities to contribute beyond billable hours. These criteria ultimately led me to my current firm – Jones Day – a place that has prioritized my growth and given me the flexibility to try my hand in different practice groups.
Many of my (frankly, less nervous) classmates focused on “prestige;” I knew, though, that nearly all Big Law firms operate at a high caliber as a default and that there would be no shortage of challenging and noteworthy work. With this in mind, my focus stayed on the right fit for me and finding a place where I could best achieve my goals.
While I can’t speak to every firm out there, the resources and opportunities I’ve found at Jones Day are abundant. I have been able to explore numerous different industries and practice areas, work on deals that presented new complexities and legal issues, and learn from top practitioners in their respective fields. I also realized that I could have an impact beyond client work. I didn’t want to walk away from the sense of community I valued at law school and, at the firm I ultimately chose, I found that I did not have to.
Jones Day gave me opportunities to jump right in to projects that made my job feel more fulfilling and well-rounded. By joining committees and raising my hand for various firm projects, I have collaborated with attorneys from a variety of backgrounds on social events, panels, and other non-legal programming. Further, the opportunities for pro bono work have been incredible. I’ve been able to explore the social justice issues that drove me toward law school in the first place. And, crucially, my firm fully embraces my commitment (and that of my colleagues) to this type of work.
Big Law can be daunting—but it does not have to be insurmountable. By engaging with attorneys earnestly, the Big Law experience can be tailored to your interests, goals and background. Few people are born to be Big Law attorneys. Yet, so many different people find success as first year Big Law associates. Being honest with yourself throughout the interview process and during the start of your career can make all the difference. Ask the questions you think are too silly, reach out to people you trust, and most of all, take the time to consider what it is you want for yourself coming out of law school. Tuning out all the other noise made all the difference for me.
Molly McGreavy is an associate in the New York office of Jones Day.
The views and opinions set forth herein are the personal views or opinions of the author; they do not necessarily reflect views or opinions of the law firm with which she is associated.
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