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My Life at a Big Firm:  The First Three Weeks

My name is Laura, and I recently started at Bryan Cave LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.  Bryan Cave has over 800 attorneys in 15 offices worldwide, the largest office being in St. Louis with around 275 attorneys.  My summer class consists of 22 other summer associates from a variety of schools.  All of these numbers totaled up to one feeling the night before I started:  utter panic.  How was I going to fit in?  How was I going to keep track of things like client matter numbers and billable hours?  What are client matter numbers and billable hours?!

 I was always one of those kids who wanted to be a lawyer at a very early age.  I guess I saw A Few Good Men too many times back when we all still thought Tom Cruise was normal...just kidding to all you die-hard TomKat fans.   However, as time went on, I began to love the law because it was challenging and I was constantly encountering something new.  I've always worked hard, and I wanted to work at a place that handled big clients with complex issues.  A big firm just seemed like the right fit, so I figured this was my chance to find out whether I was right or just completely crazy (or maybe a little bit of both).

 My first day was kind of a blur, and I alternated between euphoria and complete mental exhaustion.  The morning started with a meet and greet in the lobby, where I had the opportunity to meet my fellow summer associates and several other attorneys.  They really do a great job of easing you into things, but there is so much to learn in the first week.  We had a full morning of orientation, where we were given a run-down on everything from billing hours to filing tax forms to library resources...oh yes, there is a library and you are expected to at least try to use it before racking up the time on Lexis or Westlaw.  I've come to discover that Westlaw is a lot like free cable.  Law schools give it to you just long enough to get you completely hooked, and then you realize how much those premium channels cost you when you have to start paying for it, but you're completely addicted!  Anyway, after a full morning of orientation, we were taken around to our offices.  After working at a cubicle last summer where I shared one computer with three other interns, I wasn't prepared to see where I would be working this summer.  My office is located on the 33rd floor of the MetLife building downtown, with a huge window overlooking the Arch!  I had a moment similar to Melanie Griffith in Working Girl or the Jeffersons, where I had that rush of adrenalin and I was like, "I have arrived!" ...and then the music in the background stopped abruptly and it was back to training, LOTS more training.  It took an hour and a half to teach us how to use the phone!  I pray that I never have to make a conference call because I would have to pull out the manual to just to figure out what I was doing.  Then I'd probably still end up hanging up on whoever was on the other end.  It's kind of amazing to see the technology and resources that makes a big place like this run as seamlessly as it does, though.

 Bryan Cave gives its summer associates two separate mentors:  one is a junior associate and one is a partner.  It's nice because it gives you two people with two very different perspectives, so you get a view of what life at the firm is like in both the short term and the long term.  I got paired with a great associate mentor who is very personable and outgoing.  We get along really well, and he's been an invaluable resource to have for work-related advice.  For instance, one thing the firm encourages us to do is have our Associate Mentor look over our first few projects before we turn them in.  It's nice because he serves as a "safe harbor" from the hiring process, so we have someone we feel comfortable going to.  He also works in one of the groups I will be rotating through, so I can ask him questions about the firm's litigation practice.

 Bryan Cave's summer program uses a rotation system that rotates you through three client service groups.  Earlier in the year, they send you a form with about 20 choices for practice groups, and you rank them in terms of where you would like to  be placed.  I was fortunate to get all three of my top choices:  Labor and Employment, Environmental and Commercial Litigation.  It's nice because you still get to choose what is interesting to you, but you get a good variety of different projects and experiences.  Currently, I am in Labor and Employment, which is what I am leaning toward practicing when I graduate law school.  I get along really well with my workload coordinator, and I do the majority of my work for him.  So far, I have had two weeks of actual work and a total of 13 projects.  They definitely keep me busy! 

So far, I've handled a lot of discrimination and retaliation-related cases on the state and federal level, with a little bit of work involving collective bargaining agreements and employee benefits.  One of the biggest things that surprised me about this summer is how much work I've done with partners of the firm and how much responsibility I am given on a daily basis.  Most people told me that summer associates at large places get shoved into some little area and do nothing but research memos regarding some small, irrelevant issue.  I have had the opposite experience.  The majority of the work I do has been with partners, and most of what I have worked are things that are either filed in court or things that get passed on directly to the client.  This past Monday, I went with a partner and an associate to observe client interviews on an arbitration case we are working on.  The responsibility has been exciting and a little scary; I try to spend almost as much time editing and proofreading my projects as I do writing them sometimes.  Fortunately, I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from my attorneys, and everyday I feel more confident that I am at the right place.

 Of course, another really awesome thing about this summer is the social events.  Yes, I will be the first one to admit it: they spoil us rotten.  On Monday, I attended a Cardinals game in the Bryan Cave box seats at Busch stadium.  The last time I went to a game was last summer, where I was in the "standing seat" section, so that was another pinch me moment.  On Wednesday, we had a trivia night with our Associate Mentors at the Schlafly Tap Room, followed by drinks at a bar called the Tin Can.  Our team came in 4th place...out of 5 teams, and we only came in 4th because my mentor made me stand up and sing an answer for extra points.  I almost forgot to mention it was the song "Funky Cold Medina."  Last night, Thursday, some of the female attorneys planned a Ladies Only event, where we started with cocktails and then went to go see "Sex and the City."  It was a great event for the women of the firm to get together and do something none of the male summers or attorneys wanted to do--I think most of us had been dying to go see it, and there was only one guy in the entire theater!

 So far, my summer has been great.  It's been a smooth transition, and any anxiety I had about starting disappeared the first day.  I really love my job and the work I've been doing, and everyone has been both friendly and encouraging.  There are times its been challenging, but I feel even more satisfied when I am able to find the answer and take an active part in whatever it is I'm working on.  Our summer class gets along well, and we've actually planned a bunch of events to go to on our own.  I will switch practice groups in a week, so there will be more to come on that! 

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