DC in DC: “At the Firm This Summer”

by ursavoice

Denny Chan

J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law


If I had a penny every time one of my UCDC classmates began their sentence with, “At the firm this summer…” I might have a dollar. Maybe it is because many of my close friends at UCI did not work at BigLaw over their 2L summers, but it certainly feels like many, if not most, of my UCDC classmates did, and they will return after graduation. As someone who did not participate in on-campus interviewing and who has a marginal, if any, interest in working for a large law firm, the conversations about BigLaw amongst my classmates have been extremely eye-opening.

    The first order of business, of course, is to acquaint oneself with the myriad of BigLaw names. Similar to acronyms and alphabet soup, the names of large law firms can easily blend together and get mixed up to the untrained ear. Still, there is hope for those who still get confused; although I hardly claim to be an expert now, I’ have found that you can eventually pick up many of the BigLaw names through osmosis if you are around long enough.

    Once you have got a basic grasp of the key players, you can focus on the substance of what people are saying. I was privy to conversations that would have seemed unfathomable – and perhaps slightly ridiculous – prior to law school. I distinctly remember one conversation where a group of UCDC students were fully engaged in the minute details of their office: whether they each had their own administrative assistants, how large their own offices were (whether there were windows became a sign of status), the extravagant wine and dine experiences all on the firm’s tab, etc. Having worked at a medium-sized private public firm my 2L summer, where the four summer associates all shared one windowless office the size of a large closet and where we were our own administrative assistants, I found myself with little to say during these conversations.

    Don’t get me wrong: there is legitimacy in BigLaw. It would be far too easy to simply vilify it. Many public interest folks have repeatedly emphasized the importance of working as an associate at a large law firm; the litigation training can be invaluable. There is also the amazing pro-bono work that many firms do, partnering with legal services and advocacy organizations on critical and groundbreaking cases (although one can question to what extent firms are in it for marketing and to make themselves feel better, and whether such organizations would have to rely on BigLaw if adequate funding and resources existed). And some firms even organize fellowships for young, public interest lawyers working on innovative projects. BigLaw has the power to effectuate social change.

    I wish, however, that we as a group of young, fresh-faced pre-professionals engaged more critically in our socialization into this profession. It is fine – albeit maybe slightly pretentious – to talk about the luxuries of wining and dining on the firm’s tab and compare office sizes, but can we at least concurrently ask and discuss where the money is coming from to pay for these perks and to fund critical pro-bono projects? Is it coming from clients who are large corporations that regularly underpay their blue collar workers and who engage in unfortunate employment discrimination? Some public interest-minded people believe that working for BigLaw necessitates selling one’s soul. I am not sure I fully agree. With great power (and money, there’s plenty of it in BigLaw) comes great responsibility, and change can come from within and outside of systems. As students at the law school of the 21st century, if we train ourselves to be critical and ask hard questions, we can start some meaningful and worthwhile conversations, souls intact.