Chambers Associate's 2018 wrap-up

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Is it that time already? Here's a round-up of what the Associate team got up to in 2018, their highlights and takeaways, and what's to come in 2019.

Antony Cooke - Editor

ACIt all got a bit Elon Musk in the legal profession in 2018 – and I don’t mean trolling rescue workers. If you weren’t debating tech advancement or creating innovation hubs, could you even call yourself a law firm? Having a disruptive client was suddenly a good thing. A few trendsetters sought clever ways to automate the menial legal work and forced the rest of the market to talk AI regardless of their level of understanding – me included. One firm keeping on top of it all was MoFo, who we partnered with on Blockchain and the Law, in the hope of guiding students around this likely interview talking point. Follow us early next year when we’ll be asking Dykema to explain the legal debate surrounding self-driving cars, and quizzing White & Case on what AI means for the law. we can take a maniacally positive comment from an associate and bring it down to earth with a healthy dose of data-driven cynicism...

With increasing zeal, our readers reminded us of their need for nuance and demand for data. “All BigLaw firms seem the same,” is a grumble we hear a lot, and which we attempt to address in our reporting on law firms. And for the crowds of overwhelmed 1Ls we published this Beginner’s Guide to Law Firm Research. Interview research has always been the bedrock of the Chambers guides, but this year the Associate team pushed on with digital surveys, which implanted more contextual analysis and comparison into our reviews of law firm life – now we can take a maniacally positive comment from an associate and bring it down to earth with a healthy dose of data-driven cynicism.

                                       ...soon you'll be seeing more of the Chambers crew on campuses in the US...

2018 has been a dramatic yet very positive year for us at Chambers: the company was taken over by private equity house Inflexion early in the year. Since then we’ve held in excess of a million meetings, but the product of them has been immensely valuable to the whole company and to you, our readers. Our resources will only become more useful and more detailed, and soon you’ll be seeing more of the Chambers crew on campuses in the US. This period of company analysis has revealed two things: what staggeringly large reserves of industry research we haven’t yet made public; and how lucky I am to be working with such a talented and imaginative team of researchers and writers.

Thank you for your support of our research this year. Make the most of the Holidays!

Thomas Lewis - Deputy editor

TLIt has always been our goal to help the lawyers of the future make educated, rational decisions about their careers. From speaking to our contacts in the admissions and careers teams at law schools through the year, it struck me that law students face the prospect of making life-changing decisions in a wildly condensed period. Where is the wisdom in slotting into a firm, and moreso a practice area, which you have decided upon under the dark cloud of impending OCIs?

   ...We're broadening our scope. The earlier you consider your legal career, the better...

That pressure and uncertainty seems unnecessary. As a result, we're broadening our scope. The earlier you consider your legal career, the better. How else will you truly know if the legal profession is for you? 

If you've followed us this year, you'll have seen content covering the LSAT and the GRE (the Associate team even took the LSAT and qualified, hypothetically, for a school just outside the top 100) plus a timeline for law school, so that students can plan ahead to avoid rushing major decisions. We also set out the distribution of junior associates among practice areas – now readers can be realistic about their chances of crushing BigPharma or selling Manhattan real estate.

                 ...we've started asking about how these partners started out. The results have been intriguing...

Everyone needs some inspiration too, right? We're currently undertaking dozens of interviews with the senior leadership of the firms we research – in those, we've started asking about how these partners started out. The results have been intriguing, and have added something extra to the crucial market insight the partners usually provide. We're extremely fortunate to have the contact we do with an ensemble of such inspiring lawyers – so we'll be sharing those interviews with you from the start of next year. 

In short, there's lots to come in 2019. We're constantly adding to our range of resources – and that's always influenced by you the reader. I'm hugely excited to get to meet some of our readers at our campus visits in 2019 (details to follow) – if we don't see you there, we want to hear from you on Twitter or Facebook, or even by email – let us know what you want to see! 

Nat Bertram - Senior researcher

NatalieYou're probably sick to death of hearing it, but arguably no figure has had more influence in 2018 than President Trump. He's impacted our work too. Over the course of 2018, I've been taking a closer look at trends in the pro bono sector that emerged because of the Trump administration. 

          ...the current administration's policy decisions have meant certain types of work have seen undeniable spikes...

It's worth highlighting that there has never been and never will be a lack of pro bono opportunities – it's an ingrained part of many law firms' identities – but the current administration's policy decisions have meant certain types of work have seen undeniable spikes. 

Immigration-related matters have garnered the most attention, as lawyers across the country have been working with organizations such as The Door, Sanctuary for Families and The Unaccompanied Minors Project to assist in multiple immigration and asylum matters. This reached its zenith when BigLaw partners and associates hit the streets, providing real-time advice as the 'travel ban' first came around. LGBTQ+ rights and abortion access have been two other hot topics, while voter protection matters gained traction in the lead up to 2018's Midterms.

                          ...we have a duty to enable our readers to understand the opportunities that await them...

Regardless of which side of the political fence you fall, Trump's decisions are inspiring more people to act and get involved. Whether spurred by support or abject horror, associates are reinvigorated and spending more and more hours on pro bono. If this is to be a significant part of associates' lives at their firms, we have a duty to enable our readers to understand the opportunities that await them. Watch this space.

Michael Bird - Assistant editor

MichaelWhen first approaching research for a firm, it's temping to zero in immediately on the location of its HQ – I know it's something I make a mental note of. A firm born in the cut and thrust of New York's Wall Street will differ quite a bit from a home-grown Midwest firm, after all. What is important however, is not to take the firm's presence and character in its home city as a template for all its offices, disregarding the potential differences between them.

...What is important however, is not to take the firm's presence and character in its home city as a template for all its offices...

Taking a deeper look at practising BigLaw in a small office gave me greater appreciation for how different working in a satellite office can be. There are so many variables to consider here – does the office generate its own work, or does it come from a larger one? Will the social life be affected by smaller headcount? A smaller firm that's been swallowed up by a larger one will inevitably have its own quirks, and integration can take time.

Future editions of Chambers Associate are going to place even greater emphasis on regional differences. It's crucial that our readers know not only what the firm as a whole does, but how each office fits into the network and which practice areas are more prevalent in which locations.

Leah Henderson - Senior researcher

LeahOf the research I undertook in 2018, my investigation into the retention of female lawyers proved the most revealing. One thing that shocked me was how extremely narrow the window of time is for women to be effectively integrated at a law firm – just twelve weeks! Then again, if you think about all those studies suggesting people form an impression of someone else in as little as three seconds, it makes more sense. Given lawyers don’t have much time on their hands, it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to see lawyers making these sorts of snap judgments when it comes to mentoring.

                                 ...That’s disappointing, and dangerous – these stories ought to be shocking...

This was actually a common theme in putting the article together – I'd be taken aback by a piece of research or an anecdote, and then very quickly arriving at the conclusion that it wasn’t shocking. That’s disappointing, and dangerous – these stories ought to be shocking. It makes organizations like the Center for Women in Law and the research they do at the University of Texas all the more invaluable for young women facing the male-heavy landscape of BigLaw partnership.   

Something that prompted a discussion between a friend and I was the significance of whether women are mentored by men or by other women. She wasn’t convinced it was important for women to have male mentors as well as women, while I would personally value having both. It comes round to what Charlotte Wager of Jenner & Block said. BigLaw needs to be accommodating for women who have different needs because they aren’t a homogeneous group.

We want to know about the numbers at Chambers Associate – but more importantly I want to know about a firm's mentoring. Is the firm investing in associates, and how? Are female associates getting the same quality of work as their male counterparts? Those are the sort of factors that signal to me how much a firm values its women.

Laura Bishop - Senior researcher

LauraDuring 2018 the research team and I have spent hundreds of hours interviewing junior associates up and down the country. That experience never fails to entertain and educate. The associates we speak to are at the forefront of many of the defining issues of our time, from climate change to the #metoo movement. One thing never changes, however, and that’s the fact that good snack provisions will never go unnoticed. Of the firms I spoke to during the course of the year, a special shoutout has to go to Adam Leitman Bailey, who received the most acclaim for providing an array of healthy treats in the office. In a year where mandatory arbitration clauses have caused consternation among law students, it makes me think that treating associates right shouldn't be that hard.

    ...One thing never changes, however, and that’s the fact that good snack provisions will never go unnoticed...

I've also spoken to an eclectic cast of influential characters in the legal industry, from partners, to law school deans. In April I spoke with Jim Leipold of NALP about recruiting trends in the legal profession, and a couple of issues really stood out. The first was the question of a ‘Trump Bump’ – an increase in law school applications as a result of the current administration. It’s simply too early to say whether the stats back this up, but the administration’s impact on pro bono is undeniable. This month, for example, I’ve been speaking to associates at Hogan Lovells, who spent a week down in Dilly, Texas during the separation crisis at the border.

The second issue was that of diversity. That firms are still struggling to achieve parity when it comes to ethnic minorities and women won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but what Jim pointed out – and what we’ve seen time and again in our research – is that the bigger issue is retention. More and more of our research is now committed to understanding what works and what doesn't as firms aim to foster inclusion and build careers – only our interviews with associates can tell us that.

Alex Radford - Writer/researcher

AlexWhat role do ethics and morals play in BigLaw? Not much, we hear you cynics cry. But for those idealists considering the legal profession, it's a worthy question. My current research project involves investigating how lawyers deal with a client requesting something that is legal, but they personally find morally dubious.

...What role do ethics and morals play in BigLaw?...

There's a tight code of professional ethics lawyers have to adhere to, but there's a separate question of how legal professionals actually react when asked to compromise on their moral beliefs. I'd like to find out how often that occurs, what they do when it does and if you have to have a certain personality or set of beliefs to practice law effectively.

I'm currently gathering my evidence, speaking to lawyers from both the bottom and top of the profession, and my interviews have already included a couple of managing partners. First impressions? It seems that moral protest is rare, either because practitioners find the professional ethics code to be sufficient for conflicts to not arise, or because lawyers actively select practice areas or work where it's less likely they'll compromise their beliefs. But this is a work in progress: I'm curious to see if the early results hold out, and what this ultimately implies about the qualities students really need to become attorneys.

Sal Francis Morton - Writer/researcher

SalDuring 2018 I've focused on the complex issue of law firm diversity, examining it from a number of new angles. I've researched the emerging understanding of intersectionality and, in a personal highlight, produced an article on the relationship between law firms and LGBTQ+ diversity, through the eyes of Jenner & Block. My hope for this research is that it will not only help readers of ours who face unnecessary barriers in their careers because of their identity, but will also educate others to aid them in being effective and outspoken allies.

                                    ...I've researched the emerging understanding of intersectionality...

As a team, we've also been spending a lot of time continuing to develop our practice area guides. For me, that's meant taking a particular interest in the lives of antitrust and IP lawyers. In my humble opinion, lawyers in these fields have a certain pizazz that differentiates them from other juniors we speak to. I’ve found that both areas tend to house juniors who are in their second or even third career – usually something economics-related in antitrust and engineering-themed in IP. Researching these backgrounds is going to make it easier for us to help undergraduates interested in these fields in making the right choices for their career. The more information we have about those early stages, the better!

Here's to a 2019 chock-full of advice, information and insight. Thank you to all of our readers, researchers, interviewees and contributing law firms – we couldn't do it without you!