Remembering TCPaul, 2016-2019

The Biglaw vs. Small And MidLaw Skills Gap Is Real

As a general rule, associates at smaller firms have better s passportfan304/23/19
As a general rule, associates at smaller firms have DIFFEREN williamdrayton04/24/19
You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about this issue. bostonlawyer.204/24/19
LOL - unless you count doc review, I have never spent a minu williamdrayton04/25/19
The debate is being explained as Biglaw v small law. That is bostonlawyer.204/26/19
it's a different skill-set. Also, your firm may have been r dingbat04/26/19
I'm a small firm guy a d have been for 10 years, but I spent napoleone04/24/19
I think something a lot of small guys don't get, aside maybe superttthero04/24/19
This. More importantly, it's much easier to move from handli midlaw04/25/19
Biglaw firm are starting to put a lot more resources into tr irishlaw04/24/19
Is it fun editing an 80 page Asset Purchase Agreement? superttthero04/24/19
initial drafting of an APA - usually not that fun. Negoti lionelhutz04/25/19
As a general rule, OP doesn't know nothing. Not only is b dingbat04/24/19
As someone who worked their whole career at "small law," I r patenttrollnj04/25/19
also consider that wherever you met the big law lawyer might whiteguyinchina04/25/19
These types of meetings are so rare. Unless, of course, patenttrollnj04/25/19
Like many in-house people, I've hired my share of biglaw fir onehell04/25/19
You pick up different skills at each. I've been in litigati nyclawyer04/25/19
the quick answer is that transactional work in biglaw is com dingbat04/26/19
passportfan3 (Apr 23, 2019 - 11:02 pm)

As a general rule, associates at smaller firms have better skills.

They do more. They go to court. They prep or depose witnesses. They take small cases from start to finish. They write their own settlement agreements.

By contrast, I once met a Biglaw tenth-year (!) litigation associate who had never been in court. While that's extreme, I routinely see Biglaw associates who don't know much beyond the rules of discovery and how to draft a mediocre 12(b)(6) motion.

Does the job market care that Small and MidLaw associates have more skills?

Of course not!

Law is an aristocracy, where pedigree trumps everything except rainmaking.

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williamdrayton (Apr 24, 2019 - 9:31 am)

As a general rule, associates at smaller firms have DIFFERENT skills.

They do more IN TERMS OF HANDS-ON LITIGATION BECAUSE THE FIRMS DON'T HAVE THE MANPOWER TO DELEGATE EVERY LITTLE TASK.

Fixed it for you.

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bostonlawyer.2 (Apr 24, 2019 - 7:53 pm)

You seem to have a chip on your shoulder about this issue.

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williamdrayton (Apr 25, 2019 - 11:23 am)

LOL - unless you count doc review, I have never spent a minute in biglaw so I have no real skin in the game. it's just annoying to watch small-law guy try to lord his "real" experience over everyone's head. it's almost like he feels the need to prove or validate his worth as an attorney.

I wonder if medicine is like this: try to imagine a general practitioner at the East Podunk Medicaid Clinic bragging "I diagnosed that four-year-old's tummyache in a matter of seconds. But the bigshot neursosurgeon from Mayo wouldn't have the first clue". one doctor is not better than the other, they just have different skill-sets and knowledge base

simply put, these small-law braggarts conflate "different" with "Better"

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bostonlawyer.2 (Apr 26, 2019 - 5:36 pm)

The debate is being explained as Biglaw v small law. That is not what I am talking about. I was in a small firm of about 10 attorneys at the start of my career. But it was not a crappy DUI/Divorce/Dog Bite law/slip and fall.

The represented big clients in serious injury and death cases - think Goodyear, BMW, Mercedes, Chrysler, Husqavarana etc...

product liability, medical device, drug litigation (Reglan).....in state and federal court.

So when I worked on these cases we sometimes working with national counsel Biglaw. Granted - I made shot money....think $55 to $75k.

What I am saying is that we were doing all the substantive work.

The Biglaw associates were very bright...as I said. And don't get me wrong I would have taken a Biglaw job over my job any day of the week.

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dingbat (Apr 26, 2019 - 11:01 pm)

it's a different skill-set.
Also, your firm may have been representing big clients, but not on big matters. Generally speaking, the amount of money involved in product liability and medical device pales in significance to M&A, IP, regulatory work, etc..

Yes, there are exceptions when the litigation ends up costing billions, but relatively speaking, it's small potatoes stuff compared to e.g. revenue shifting or EPA/FDA approval.

(please don't think I'm demeaning anything, but there's a reason they're hiring the kind of firms that pay associates shot money, whereas for other matters they hire firms that pay associates a multiple thereof)

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napoleone (Apr 24, 2019 - 12:11 am)

I'm a small firm guy a d have been for 10 years, but I spent 3 years at a big firm. I would say the big firm lawyers are better at researching a d writing, but the small firm lawyers are better at knowing the judges.

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superttthero (Apr 24, 2019 - 1:36 pm)

I think something a lot of small guys don't get, aside maybe from class-action shops or or some products liability practices is the scope of some of the cases biglaw associates work on.

So you are great at depos involving car accidents......ok. Let's see how you respond, manage, and handle hundreds of discovery requests that cover your clients' complex corporate structure that has changed over time in a substantive area you have no expertise on. These people, more often than not, are very sharp (the BIGLAW folk) and the ones that aren't are gone quickly.

It's a different skill set. Taking depos and "taking a case to trial" are less important when you're part of a 7-20 attorney team litigating most 5+ year, $250M+ cases.

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midlaw (Apr 25, 2019 - 12:55 am)

This. More importantly, it's much easier to move from handling the massively complex to the relatively simply than the other way. I've seen plenty of biglaw washouts thrive in small and midlaw (I am one!) but the mid and small laws that came into biglaw tended to washout very quickly - I can think of only two exceptions.

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irishlaw (Apr 24, 2019 - 8:02 pm)

Biglaw firm are starting to put a lot more resources into training their litigation associates because they know they get very little experience, and can't have new Partners unable to take a depo.

My firm sends the litigation associates to a 1-2 week litigation training with a full mock trial every year.

Thank god I do corporate work...legal writing is "fun" in school when you get to write a cool constitutional MSJ...but not in complex commercial lit.

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superttthero (Apr 24, 2019 - 8:49 pm)

Is it fun editing an 80 page Asset Purchase Agreement?

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lionelhutz (Apr 25, 2019 - 10:25 am)

initial drafting of an APA - usually not that fun.

Negotiating / marking up one - in person M&A negotiations with skilled M&A specialists are a lot of fun. doing the edits after the negotiation, not as much fun.

Telling your outside counsel to do the markup and get the document out overnight - always a lot of fun.

M&A as a GC - a lot of fun

M&A as a midlevel Biglaw associate - not so much

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dingbat (Apr 24, 2019 - 9:14 pm)

As a general rule, OP doesn't know nothing.

Not only is biglaw a different beast than small law, even small law can be a different beast from small law.

Family law requires a very different skillset than crim, which require a very different skillset from T&E. Likewise, white collar crime requires a completely different skillset from regular crim. T&E for the ultra-wealthy is completely different than simple wills & probate for the small folk. Helping a client buy/sell a small business is completely different from buying/selling a large multi-national. Closing on a residential home is very different than complex multi-use real estate projects.

Sure, from your perspective, lawyers who don't do what you do seem like they'd suck at it, but you'd suck at what they do too. Nothing bothers me more than general practice lawyers who completely f-ck up because they don't know much about anything, but think they can do everything.

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patenttrollnj (Apr 25, 2019 - 2:27 am)

As someone who worked their whole career at "small law," I respectfully disagree with the OP.

At small law one deals with "small potatoes." HOW can one possibly learn any skills if the most challenging thing they do is write wills for little old ladies?

OK, sure, you may get to go to court more often, but that court you're going to isn't exactly the Supreme Court. It's not like you're arguing motions before Federal Judges. More like you're in traffic court haggling to get "Crossing on Red" dropped down to "Failure to Keep to the Right."

Of course, there are exceptions to this. Some small law is legitimate law, but I think that's more the exception rather than the rule. Plus, those type of "quality" small law firms are extremely selective, and they normally only take people with big law experience (or some other unusual credential).

Bottom line: small law sucks!

The only possible advantage to small law over big law is less stress, fewer hours AND you can generally keep your job for a few years longer before they let you go.

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whiteguyinchina (Apr 25, 2019 - 2:29 am)

also consider that wherever you met the big law lawyer might have been a large thing for you, but in his or her case it may have been a small item that did not allow so much prep or was not worth so much prep.

it's a different thing, that's all.

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patenttrollnj (Apr 25, 2019 - 2:39 am)

These types of meetings are so rare.

Unless, of course, it's an insurance defense type matter, but that doesn't really count.

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onehell (Apr 25, 2019 - 1:06 pm)

Like many in-house people, I've hired my share of biglaw firms. I've never worked in one, but I have been a biglaw client many times, with some other biglaw firm on the other side of course. I've also hired local firms, and there's even a solo I use on one specific kind of issue that comes up from time to time.

My impression of biglaw is this: It's simply the difference between hiring a person and hiring an army. There is definitely a difference as well between people who litigate all the time and people who just do transactions, but the big firms have both and can draw on either as-needed. This stuff isn't rocket science, so once you reach a certain level of competence, all that pedigree crap is diminishing returns anyway. But the pedigree is one way they differentiate themselves and justify stratospheric billing rates. It also helps me impress the business-side people who I need to convince that I hired "the best" when something is important.

So I don't know if they really are "better lawyers," nor do I even think it matters all that much if they are. Also, on the transactional side, so much depends on what's "usual and customary." And what's "usual and customary" is often whatever an oligopoly of biglaw fims think it is. You can't look that stuff up the same way you can look up precedent; services like practical law make a valiant effort but it's still not the same. So that army metaphor also means they have institutional knowledge that the smaller places (unfair as it may be) do not have and cannot get, which is another advantage that has absolutely nothing to do with them being "better" or "worse" lawyers.

But between the sheer number of people they can throw at things and the way in which their name recognition (deserved or not) gets the people on the other side to take you seriously, it's worth it. I have no doubt there are tons of solos and small firms that, as individuals, are just as good or better at lawyering. But even the smartest pharaoh couldn't have built a pyramid without his vast army of laborers, so it is what it is.

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nyclawyer (Apr 25, 2019 - 3:33 pm)

You pick up different skills at each. I've been in litigation at BigLaw, midlaw, and solo practice. I found midlaw to be the most beneficial. I had cases against both Biglaw and small firms. Midlaw is where I learned the most.

But I would agree that there are a few BigLaw associates who are totally clueless vs. someone from a smaller firm who has better skills in the courtroom. You learn to do research and writing very well in BigLaw, but that's about it.

I cannot comment on transactional practice as that was not my area.

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dingbat (Apr 26, 2019 - 10:26 am)

the quick answer is that transactional work in biglaw is completely different to transactional work in small law.

Let's say we're talking about the sale of a business. Solo, you're talking a store worth maybe a few hundred thousand, the agreement might only be a few pages, and let the accountant figure out the tax ramifications.
Biglaw you're talking M&A of a company with multiple types of assets, probably in several countries. You're doing due diligence to find out what kind of liabilities are involved, and negotiating who's responsible for which. Figuring out what kind of licensing and regulations matter, whether the FTC or the justice department may get involved, if there are securities issues that need to be addressed, whether the international operations pose potential issues, etc. etc. Tax considerations are also a major concern - how to funnel the maximum amount of profit to the lowest possible tax jurisdiction?

There's nothing really comparable between the two.

Likewise estate planning. Small-law you're talking wills, maybe a simple revocable trust to avoid probate or a medicaid trust, and on rare occasion a QTIP, Cabin Trust, or Charitable Remainder Trust.
Biglaw, you're worried about the estate tax, GST, probably talking IDGT, GRAT, ILIT, maybe offshore trusts or private placement insurance products. Perhaps ESOPs or 1045 exchanges.

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