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Victoria Pynchon

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She Negotiates

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Negotiating Your First Law Job: Listen to Your Head and Follow Your Heart

(photo:  Tempus Ex Machina by Gisela Giardino based on Dali what makes you tick by Phillipe Halsman)

I'm sending my law student (and job seeking lateral lawyer) readers over to Health Bolt Blog this morning to read 26 Reasons What You Think is Right is Wrong -- a list of cognitive biases that interfere with "rational" decision-making.

While it's great to know about these biases, it's good to remember when job-seeking that you cannot make any decision whatsoever without emotions.  In the absence of emotion, the brain scientists tell us, we would spend our lives making pro and con lists without ever coming to a decision, a kind of existential hell depicted so well by philosopher and playright Jean Paul Sartre.

Because my Advice to Young Lawyers column is a repository for unsolicited advice I try not to give to my step-"children" (who are starting their professional careers this year) here's a little of my own experience to highlight the heart/head conundrum.

When interviewing with BigLaw during my second year in law school, I answered one of Mr. Big Firm's questions (during a call-back interview) in the following manner:

Mr. Big Firm:  "Hmmmmm, I see here Ms. Pynchon, that you're in the top ten percent of your law school class.  Why aren't you a member of the Law Review?" 

Ms. Pynchon:  Because I don't like to write [!!???!!!!???]

Mr. Big Firm:  Well, writing is pretty much all you'll be doing your first several years at Blank, Blank and Blank . . . . .

O.K., this was either the stupidest (not to mention most inaccurate) response ever given during a job interview or I was being driven by my true desire, which was to have courtroom (and preferably trial) experience during my first year of practice.  Unfortunately, my class standing made employment in the AmLaw100 highly likely unless I sabotaged my interviews -- which you can see I did.

The result?  I started practice with a two-man personal injury law firm and appeared in court to try my first one-day court trial the day after being sworn in to practice law in the great State of California. 

Everyone, by the way, all of my mentors, professors, and, advisors, urged me not to start my practice with a small Sacramento P.I. firm because I'd never ever be able to move "up" from there to the kind of practice I was supposed to desire (and you know what that is).

Turns out, I had more fun practicing law (and no billable hours!) during those first three years of my practice than I'd ever have again.  Also turns out that my courtroom, appellate and trial experience made me very attractive to future AmLaw100 employers because none of their associates had any courtroom, let alone trial and appellate experience, by their fourth year as I did when I decided I wanted to switch from P.I. to commercial litigation.

Lesson learned?  Only you know what's "best" for you.  It can never be a mistake to follow your own dreams.

Comments (1)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
Chris Annunziata - August 22, 2007 11:18 AM

Great story. I second your advice becuase I had a similar experience. Started out in a smaller firm and got loads of practical litigation experience. Everyone should find their own way. BigLaw isn't for everyone and nowadays it sure isn't for anyone who wants to learn to be a real trial lawyer.

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