Question & Answer
Best of Three Worlds?
December 11, 2012
I am a Columbia grad who is in the middle of the first of two federal clerkships. My first clerkship is with a district court, my second, with a prestigious judge on a U.S. Court of Appeals.
After the completion of my clerkships, I plan to return to NYC, and to go to work for one of three firms. I am interested in developing a career as a firm litigator, and I am also interested in eventually leaving private practice (at least for a few years) to go to a U.S. Attorney's Office.
My options are as follows (and I assume the names of the firms will be omitted):
(1) Return to (a firm that is made up of several merged firms) where I spent my 1L summer.
(2) Return to (a top tier New York firm) where I spent my second summer.
(3) Go to (another top tier New York firm). I know a number of the top litigation partners at this firm through Columbia programs, informational interviewing during my 1L year and the like. I keep in contact with a partner, and I know the firm is eager to have me join them, with interviewing for a post-clerkship position basically just a formality.
I have outstanding offers from (1) and (2), and the offers will remain open until next summer. I enjoyed both of my summer positions, but I'm not sure whether (firm #1) is a good place to begin a career, nor am I sure if I would enjoy being an associate at (firm #2), despite its sterling reputation for litigation and the interest-level of the work there. And I don't know which place would be best for me as I return to NY to begin my career as a third-year associate. I am also uncertain as to which firm would enhance my prospects of becoming a prosecutor in the future.
I could answer your question with one sentence if I so desired: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush meaning you have two offers from two good firms and no offer from the third firm.
Firm #3 is a terrific firm. I have placed many partners there and we have also placed many associates at that particular firm. They are all still there and very happy. The litigation department is extremely busy and they work very hard - probably just as hard as the associates work at Firm #2. Quite frankly, I don't think there is much of a difference in the hours billed. I will say that I have found the firm to be corporate driven although the litigation practice is working its way up to becoming an extremely important department within the firm.
I think it is just great that you know a number of the top litigation partners at this firm through different programs and informational interviewing and that you actually keep in touch with one of the partners. However, when it comes right down to it, you don't have an offer there and a lot can happen between now and the time you finish your clerkships. Those partners you "know" could have long moved over to other firms by that time and the partner you are in contact with could also be in contact with other junior associates, for all you know. Or maybe he doesn't have enough business or clout to keep himself busy during the day and so he is more than happy to enjoy emailing back and forth with a junior attorney. Who knows?
There is no such thing as interviewing for an associate position being a formality. That is a very naïve statement. Indeed, from what you have told us, you have an impressive resume but why haven't they made you an offer just like the other two firms have done? Don't assume that an offer from them is an absolute.
But let's move on to Firm #1 and Firm #2 where you actually have offers. There is no contest here. Firm #2 is the clear winner. This firm has one of the best if not the best litigation departments in the country. If you are looking for the top training and the most interesting cases, you have hit the jackpot by signing on with this firm. Read the reports from the past years and check out which firms are always winning for best litigators and are considered to have the top litigation department. Wow! You have hit the jackpot. And read some resources a bit further and see how your path to being a prosecutor might be beautifully paved after working at this firm.
Firm #1, while certainly having a good litigation department, is trying to stay afloat by merging with firm after firm after firm. Not a good sign. And so much of their work is international, not really what you are looking for, is it? Don't you think this firm is driven by their corporate department instead of by their litigation practice? Without question Firm #2 has a great corporate practice but their firm is driven by litigation. Firm #2 has a reputation that is beyond sterling. There is no question that, should you decide not to stay there forever (don't be so sure you wouldn't enjoy being an associate there the associates I know seem to be very happy working there), it is a strong resume builder. Of the three firms in question, and in my opinion, this is a no-brainer. And congratulations this is a beauty of an offer! Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel