Big Law Experience – Why It Matters

By Andrew Dick, Founder and President, Select Counsel (selectcounsel.law)

Lawyers who come from Big Law backgrounds take pride in their experience – and with good reason. Associates and partners who survive the high pressure, long hours and complex work during their foundational years in large firms come away with top-notch training and a deep appreciation of client service and standards of excellence that last throughout their legal careers.

Big Law experience provides lawyers with a professional bedrock with these constants:

  1. Client service is paramount: The client roster at any big firm boasts Fortune 500 companies, global financial institutions, publicly traded companies and leading investment funds, among other highly sophisticated clients. These organizations operate at the highest level and expect the same of their outside counsel, from the senior partner down to the first-year associate. No matter how trivial the issue, no matter the time of night, attorneys are expected to be available and to be prepared. For the associates, this expectation actually comes from two directions – the partners and the client. Responsiveness is at the heart of client service and is something that’s ingrained in associates from the beginning. Associates are trained to respond to clients within minutes, not days. But it can take time for an associate to run an issue up the ladder and deliver advice to the client. This is where managing client expectations is all-important – a critical skill developed early on at the big firms.Select Counsel member, Kyle Schriner, explains that the attention to client service he learned from his years at Latham & Watkins is just as important today in his boutique litigation practice.

    “You don’t necessarily need to have the answer right away, but you do need to respond right away to let the client know that you are on top of it and will keep them informed,” Schriner says. “Responsiveness and expectation management are at the heart of client service.”

  2. Quality of work: The premium billable rates that Big Law clients pay create an expectation that the work and service will be impeccable. Mistakes are not tolerated. Nothing goes out the door that hasn’t been carefully analyzed, extensively researched, properly drafted and thoroughly proofed. Large clients with deeper resources are willing to pay for their attorneys to leave no stone unturned. This freedom permits outside-the-box thinking and gives room to explore highly creative solutions. The ability to approach problems from different angles is a skill that can be honed and Big Law attorneys learn to excel in creative problem-solving.Big Law firms maintain their standard of excellence with a team-oriented approach. Senior lawyers have a vested interest in seeing the younger attorneys learn and succeed. The tiered system of associates and partners working together in practice areas fosters extensive training, with younger attorneys benefitting from the mentorship of some of the best lawyers in the business.
  3. Experience with sophisticated matters:  Big Law provides intensive experience on complicated matters with lots of moving parts. Lawyers usually only get exposure to bet-the-company litigation, IPOs, public company mergers and major bankruptcies at the big-firm level. Small-firm lawyers rarely have the type of experience working on the complex matters that are commonplace at large firms.The players involved in any given matter further raises the stakes. The client is either a savvy executive or general counsel – in either case a tough, knowledgeable audience. And the other side is typically represented by another large firm with top lawyers attempting to outmaneuver you every step of the way. Given the participants and complexity of the matters, there is little margin for error.

Big Law can be a stressful and challenging environment, but the lessons learned in client service, quality expectations and experience with complex work are unmatched. Ultimately, the experience in Big Law builds better lawyers.

Select Counsel Defined by Big Law Experience

The lawyers in the Select Counsel network bring to each of their practices the training and experience that Big Law instills. With an average of 10 years of experience at AmLaw 200 firms and an average of 20 years of total practice experience, lawyers in the Select Counsel network ensure a consistent foundation in client service.

Lisa Brown, who formerly practiced at Paul Hastings, says the similar backgrounds of Select Counsel members is the network’s core strength.

“All the lawyers in the network spent significant portions of their careers at the big firms, where the training is first rate and client expectations are high,” Brown says. “That shared experience has shaped our practices today and provides a common foundation for how we service our clients, not to mention the service we offer each other’s clients.”

Big Law experience is the common denominator of the Select Counsel members and a key differentiator that makes this network unique. For the first time, the depth, breadth and quality of lawyers traditionally available only at a big firm, can now be accessed through a boutique firm model. The Select Counsel lawyers bring their Big Law experiences to their boutique firms, and Select Counsel brings these boutique firms together on a single platform to enable clients to access the specific expertise they seek to fit their circumstances and budget.