David Brown: There's a lot of really good resources we have that can help you through it and, like, get that thing done so you're not burning the midnight oil.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, we present a webinar with former 7Sager David Brown. David was first featured in episode 2 of this podcast. Back then, he was just a 1L at Harvard, and hard as it may be for me to believe, he's already a full-time associate. And that's just what he speaks to us about today, and very candidly, I might add.
What is life in Big Law like? How do you manage between so many competing demands? And when should you start thinking about exit strategies? It's a great webinar, so let's get to it.
David Busis: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the webinar. Thank you for coming. I'm here with David Brown, better known as Accounts Playable, a longtime 7Sage alum. And we've hosted you for at least one podcast, right, David? Maybe two podcasts already?
David Brown: Yeah, one or two, one or two. Definitely at least one.
David Busis: And so now we're checking in with you to see how it's going. So first of all, David, just give us a little summary. When did you start law school? When did you start working?
David Brown: Yeah, so first thing, thank you for everybody attending, and thank you, David, for setting up everything logistically, and everybody at the back end of 7Sage. Really happy to be here, to answer questions about everything.
So I'll give everybody a high-level timeline of when I did everything. It seems like it was yesterday, but the more I think about it, the more it's a long time ago. So I took the June 2016 LSAT. With the help of 7Sage, I did very well on that exam. I applied to some law schools. I didn't really have a lot of, you know, decent work experience. I think that kind of hurt me in my application, so I decided to reapply the following year.
So I started law school at Harvard Law School in 2018. We went remote because of COVID in March 2020 when everything shut down. During the shutdown and remote coursework, I moved to Texas to complete my 3L year in Houston. That was where my job offer was, and I'll get to that in a second. I finished up my 3L year in May 2021 in Houston. I had taken the February bar exam in Texas. I had passed that, so I began work a little bit earlier than my class peers.
So I began at Vinson & Elkins out of the Houston office, practicing mergers and acquisitions and capital markets, and just kind of general corporate work in early June 2021. So I'd been there 9, 10 months, not quite a year, but it's kind of getting close there. Kind of, also kind of hard to believe that that's been almost a year. But that's sort of a high-level timeline of law school to job and where I'm at today.
David Busis: And David, can you give us a high-level description of your firm and your work and compare it to some of the alternatives, some things that your peers are doing?
David Brown: Yeah. So I would say there's a few options that I've seen a lot of people from my friends and colleagues, like at Harvard, when they graduated, quite a few clerk, whether they clerk at the district court or they clerk at the circuit court. Clerking is a very popular option, especially for those that want to do litigation.
I've seen some people, particularly those who were getting JD/PhDs, you know, try their hand into going into legal academia. I don't know the ins and outs of clerking, I don't know the ins and outs of legal academia. That wasn't something I went to law school to do. I went to law school, really, to go to a firm.
You don't see a ton of people start in-house legal department at a company, that sort of comes later, so you don't see a lot of that. There's quite a few I know that went into government, whether that's state and local government or federal government. There's a pretty large contingency that did that.
But I'd say most people at HLS, they go to a firm, and a firm typically does sort of oversimplify it. You have your litigation practice and you have your corporate practice, corporate transactional practice. And like I said, people who do the litigation side, it's not at all uncommon to clerk for a year and they get hired in as a second-year.
I work on the transactional side of a Big Law firm called Vinson & Elkins. It's headquartered in Houston. We have offices in New York, San Francisco, Dallas. Also we have a London office, so we have some international, I have some international colleagues. My work being transactional, it's not really what law school sort of prepares you for. Law school really more prepares you for the litigation side of things, at least in my experience.
But I would say the majority, if I'm going to throw out a figure, 60% or so HLS go to a firm, and I'd say the majority of that 60% probably do transactional practice. There aren't as many HLS people doing litigation. I'd have to double-check that, but that would be about what my gut would tell me.
David Busis: Is Vinson & Elkins a big firm?
David Brown: Yeah. So it's considered, it's considered a Big Law firm. Typically there's something called the Am 100 that are, I believe it's by revenue. It's the largest 100 firms by revenue. And Vinson & Elkins is, I think it's something like middle in there, like 50, 40s, 50s, something like that by revenue. It's sort of squarely into what's considered a Big Law firm.
Big Law is not only defined by the size of the firm, by revenue. It's also typically defined by, you know, to put it bluntly, the salaries. So Big Law firms pay typically a lockstep salary scale from your first year until about your eighth year, when you're either up for partner or you go to counsel or you're made of counsel or something.
So, typically, if you pay that top scale, you're sort of what's qualified in the just everyday parlance, you know, a Big Law firm. Also, what sort of makes not just the Big Law distinction, but maybe a distinction from firms that are not Big Law, you might call them Mid-Law or something, are the hours requirements.
So, typically, firms, there is some variability on this, but typically, if you're going into Big Law, you have 2,000 hours of billable requirement to meet your bonus criteria. Mid-Law firms, those sort of outside that salary scale, those sort of outside that top 100, you might see something like 1,700 hours, 1,500 hours. It just kind of depends. But I'd say that's what really sort of defines Big Law. You're sort of sized by revenue. Do you pay the big bucks, and what's your, what's your hours?
David Busis: Well, I want to hear all about the actual job, but first I want to hear how you got the job.
David Brown: Yeah. So interesting sort of stuff. So I am working out of the Houston office, I should say, working out of my home. I very rarely go in the office. I'm remote. I've been in the office like, you know, maybe 10 times or so over the last year. But I'm not from Texas, I'm not a Texas native, my wife is not a Texas native. I had pretty much no ties to Texas. I'm from Illinois, originally. I lived in Indiana, I met my wife in Indiana.
So when I was interviewing for jobs, like, you know, one of the first questions I get was, why do you want to work in Texas? You know, Vinson & Elkins is a great, you know, it was founded in Texas. It's a great Texas firm. It sort of struggles nationally brand-wise, I'd say. I'd say like in New York, you know, Vinson & Elkins is not, it's peers with, you know, a lot of New York firms, but it's a Texas firm through and through.
So the only questions I get was, why do you want to work in Texas? And so I would, I'd have a story. I'd go, you know, I was tired of cold weather, was part of my answer. Illinois to Indiana to Massachusetts, I was tired of cold weather, but then, you know, the year I moved down, we had the shutdown and we had a week with no power, and it was 40 degrees in the apartment.
So, and whether that panned out or not is yet to be seen. But yeah, you know, you just try to, you try to answer, you know, some questions, personal and professional. The weather was big for me, no state income tax, the partners that I interviewed with really liked that answer, you know, it's much cheaper cost of living than New York City.
But I'd say the primary thing that I said that really helped was I knew about the Texas market. I had done my research. I had looked up Vinson & Elkins. I knew they were an established Texas firm. I knew what they did. I had a CPA, I have a CPA, so I was able to sort of really play up that I want to work in the M&A transactions practice, doing that sort of stuff. And that's what Vinson & Elkins, that's their moneymaker practice.
And I talked about some of the deals that they were a part of and why I think I'd be a good fit at the firm. And that was what I found was really helpful, that high-level, firm-specific professional answer on top of, hey, personally, you know, my wife and I, we want to be in Texas. Because I think there is some skepticism when 70% of the class, you know, ends up going to work at a firm in New York and 5% of the Harvard class wants to work in Texas. Like, why would you, why would you come to Texas? And if you have a very good answer for that, it's not a hindrance, at least in my experience.
David Busis: David, I'm actually curious about the preamble to that job interview, because I get the sense that you didn't graduate law school and then send out a bunch of applications and get some people responding and then do a bunch of interviews. Is that the case?
David Brown: Yeah. So, good question. So how I started the job search, I summered at a firm. I had, I was a summer associate at a different firm in between my 1L and 2L year. That was in Houston. And that was kind of my first in to Texas, and how I got that job, the rules around when firms can reach out and directly like kind of solicit applications has like changed since I was in law school.
It used to be before like December 1st, firms could not actively like try to recruit 1Ls. There actually were like guidelines around that, and those have been since relaxed. But as a 1L, yeah, I mass applied. I went to, there's something called the NALP, I forget what it stands for. It's like the National Association of Legal Practice, something like that.
There's a website. I filtered it by Big Law because I knew I wanted to work at a Big Law firm, filtered it by cities I was comfortable working in my 1L summer. I had a cover letter that I had sort of drafted that was very easy to sort of sub in and out firms. It was generic enough but specific enough to where it didn't really require a ton of work. I had my resume ready to go, and I would reach out to HR people who are listed on NALP, and I got a couple of bites and I got a couple of interviews.
Other ways that really helped was when those firms would come and actively recruit. They already knew sort of who I was because I had talked with them on the phone. I'd say, "Hey, XYZ firm, you have an office in Boston. Can I go grab lunch or coffee with an associate at your office?" And so, kind of being very proactive about that.
I think I was able to pull a little bit above my weight grade-wise. I was probably middle of the road at Harvard. I wasn't top-tier, I wasn't bottom of my class. I was probably in the middle, but I pulled above my weight, I think, in some of the interviews, because I was very proactive with the search.
And then once I had a summer associate position at a firm that had a Houston office and I worked in the Houston office, it really wasn't, and I knew my 2L year that my wife and I wanted to move to Texas and I focused my search essentially on Texas. It really was pretty easy from there to really think, hey, I've worked in Texas before. I understand the market firsthand. I could do a much more tailored search.
David Busis: Okay, as a 1L, you are applying to a bunch of summer positions, and then you got one, you worked at a different firm over the summer after your 1L year, and then as a 2L, you applied to a bunch of other positions, and then you got your position at Vinson & Elkins?
David Brown: Yes, that's right. Yes. So I had an offer to return to my firm in Houston. It's a great firm. It's another Big Law Am 100 firm. I can't speak highly enough of the people I met there. Why I chose Vinson & Elkins over that firm is Vinson & Elkins, it had a more, you know, kind of growing practice for the stuff I wanted it [unclear] more deals, it's on, it has a stronger M&A presence, I think.
When I was applying to firms, I initially thought I was going to be a tax attorney. So I sort of was geared towards maybe doing tax, and I found out I got there, it wasn't really my thing. So then I kind of shifted gears and I re-evaluated like, well, what firms do more so what I think I want to do? And V&E was at the top of that, especially for working in Texas.
David Busis: Is it common for students at law school to apply to summer positions, or can people just get jobs by going to on-campus interviews?
David Brown: Yeah, so I would say as a 1L, it's more of like a hustle kind of thing. At least that was my experience, where, especially at Harvard, I don't want to speak for other law schools, because Harvard's career services department's a little weird in that if you don't play by Harvard's rules, when it comes to timing and stuff like that, they won't let those firms come on campus and like interview.
So Harvard, in a lot of respects, is behind timeline-wise. You know, so when these firms are sort of hiring for their summer associate positions, they might have, say, 20 or 30 slots, but they're filling those up, and by the time Harvard lets you recruit, you might be not fighting over 20 slots, you're fighting over like five slots. So, as like a 1L at Harvard, it's a real hustle game as a 1L.
It's actually not very common for a 1L to snag, really, not just at Harvard, really anywhere, a lot of firms really only want 2Ls because they want you to accept their employment and avoid going through the rigmarole of applying to a whole bunch of, like I did, applying to places your 3L year. They want, they want to lock you in. So they hire a lot of 2Ls.
So it's very rare for a 1L to get a position. And I touted up, I had some work experience before law school. I was a CPA, you know, I could really sell that in my interview. So as a 1L, I'd say it's a real hustle. Like you've got to be fully willing to have, sending out 50 emails, make sure there's no typos in those emails, because that'll just tank you right there, but really going to town like yourself.
As a 2L, though, I find it's a much more passive process. Harvard in August, and the pandemic kind of messed up the timetable with this too, my 3L year. They shifted that to the on-campus integrating to January. But, typically, Harvard has its on-campus interviewing in August for 2Ls, and you essentially go through, they rent out a big hotel, all the firms come in for a week or two, and they just hold initial interview rounds for 20 minutes a pop.
And you can sign up for as many as you want. You're most likely, unless something is super niche or super popular, you're most likely going to get whatever you want with at least an intro interview, and then you'll get called back and they'll fly you out to whatever office you applied for and do like a second-round interview thing.
So when I was applying my 2L year, I did a ton of interviews and then I had like a week and a half of I was flying all around Texas to Dallas to Houston, trying to get everything in some reasonable timeline. But as a 2L, it's much more passive because that's really your prime hiring. But as a 1L, it's definitely much more of a hustle.
David Busis: Do most people get offers to work at the firm after a summer position?
David Brown: Yeah, that, yeah, I would say your expectation, just to put it bluntly, a hundred percent offer rate. That has been the trend in recent years. Was not always the trend, especially in more kind of precarious, although we live in precarious times, I guess, but you know, in the 2008 financial crisis, like there were, there were things where like summer associates were not getting offers to return, even though they were good summer associates.
But yeah, that stigma really reputationally, I think, hurt some firms. And so it's very, very, very rare. Like you have to cause like an HR scenario where you're not going to get like an offer. That's just very unusual.
David Busis: You mean that if a firm does not hire a summer associate, it gives the firm a stigma?
David Brown: Yeah, very much so. In fact, I was on the board of the Texas club at HLS, and we didn't outright like say we weren't interested in firms coming and speaking at eight Texas club events, because they were going to pay their airfare, they were going to give us all a bunch of money, but even, you know, think about, think about this.
I mean, this is, you know, 2019, 20, 21 when I was sort of on the board, and we were still talking about like certain firms who laid off associates or didn't hire 100% of their summer class, like from 2009, 10 years prior.
David Busis: Wow.
David Brown: You know, and it's like the people, you know, think about that. You know, typically, the attrition rate at Big Law is so high. Like the people, it's a completely different management. Almost none of the associates who were at these firms in 2008 or 2009 are there anymore. The partners have probably turned over quite a bit. But there's still that stigma remained, right? Does it make any sense? Probably not.
So firms have really tried to say like, you know what? We're just going to offer 100% of our associates something. And to be honest, like, the work is, everybody's busy. They can't be really turning down, to put it again bluntly, like warm bodies to do some of the things, like they don't have that luxury of sort of doing that when everything is blowing up.
David Busis: Okay, so if most people who get a summer associate position after their 2L year are hired, where's the funnel? Are these law firms turning away a lot of people who want to be summer associates?
David Brown: Yeah. So I think it can depend on the firm. So there are some firms that are big time in growth mode. They want to grow a practice area or from a, just a pure head count perspective, they don't have enough associates because the work is, they have more work than people to do the work. And if anything that a firm hates doing, it's turning down work, like they will work an associate to three in the morning before they will try to turn down something to work.
So if you're in some of these firms that are trying to really expand their office, like, for example, I'll just name a firm, like Kirkland & Ellis. Kirkland & Ellis, not a Big Law firm. I think they're headquartered out of Chicago. They just opened their Salt Lake City office a few months ago, so they're in big-time growth mode in Salt Lake City. So if you're at BYU or if you're interested in moving to Salt Lake City, working in a Big Law firm, I'd say apply there. They will likely not turn a whole bunch of really good qualified applicants down.
But if you're at a firm that's revenue-wise, like, pretty stagnant and it's not in growth mode, I think, or it's in a smaller, like, satellite office, they might have like a very small class, like my first firm, for example, that I summered at, that I referred to earlier, we had a small summer class. It was like maybe 10 associates. And that's because it had a larger, its main office was in New York and DC. Like those offices had a lot more summer associates.
Vinson & Elkins, on the other hand, has, I think, 40 or 50 summer associates, like every summer. You know, it's just a completely different, it's very office dependent. It's very firm dependent. It also matters what you're going into. I would say right now it's a lot easier to snag a corporate transactional job than it is a litigation job.
So if you're on the fence of like, should I be a litigator or should I be a transactional attorney at a firm, you know, first and foremost, like do what you like to do. Like don't take transactional if you hate transactional work, don't pick litigation if you really hate litigation.
But if you're really like, I really don't know, I would say your corporate side is a little bit more secure in like getting an offer than putting litigation. And that's just a margin thing. Like firms just don't make as much profit-wise on the litigation stuff than they do, what they can bill to corporate clients. That's just the economics of it.
David Busis: Well, let's turn to the job. David, what is corporate transactional law? What do you do?
David Brown: Yeah. So, like I said earlier, it's sort of a big, I think it's an oversimplification to just designate things as litigation and transactional. There are certainly things that I do that can involve the litigation team, and at the same time, there's things that litigators do that they have to get the transactional team on.
So I particularly work in the mergers and acquisitions and capital markets practice. We abbreviate it MACM at Vinson & Elkins. There are other transactional practices that are not MACM. For example, there's the fund formations practice, there's real estate transactions, intellectual property and tech transactions, there's a group focused solely on energy, there's tax transaction, there's also tax controversy, which is litigation but there's tax transactions, there's employment aspects of transactional work.
So when you say like transactions, like there's a lot, there's like a whole bunch of different subgroups of transactional stuff. The corporate governance, another big one. And same with litigation. Like when you say litigation, okay, well, there's employment litigation, there's complex commercial litigation, there's antitrust litigation, there's tax controversy. And they're all very interconnected.
So what I do as an M&A attorney, mergers and acquisitions attorney, is at a high level what in a capital markets attorney is. From a capital markets perspective, if a company wants to issue debt, or if a company wants to issue equity, it has to comply with a whole bunch of rules to do that. And that's sort of what I help the company do at the end of the day.
From a mergers and acquisitions perspective, if one company wants to acquire another company, for example, how does it do so in a, say, tax-efficient manner? How does it do so from a risk of loss manner? Like who, what liabilities are being transferred, and that's all borne out by the merger agreement.
So a lot of stuff that I do is reviewing these negotiations that are going back and forth between acquire and target to make sure, all right, there's nothing crazy here, right? Making sure that the right things are being disclosed. That's kind of at a very high level of what I do. There's a lot of nitty-gritty stuff in there. Like, I do some corporate governance advising too.
I did some shareholder activism stuff when I first started, but that's typically out of the New York office. Very different than what you might have as a transactional specialist. Like I was saying earlier, like funds formations, they really do that, or tax really does, it's, you know, tax and that's it. M&A kind of touches all of those things, so you kind of get your hands dirty with sort of every different practice group, which is good and bad.
You know, it's good because you become a very diversified attorney where it's like, okay, I've got to think of environmental issues, even though I'm not an environmental attorney. It's bad because if it's a leanly staffed deal and you're the only associate on it, you've got to manage a million different moving parts and blow up your weekend with, like, the diligence.
David Busis: How many projects are you working on at once, typically?
David Brown: Yeah, so that's kind of hard to say. I'd say like, I would say typically, you know, when things are going fast, there's maybe two or three things happening at once, but then there might be like five or six things happening in the background that you kind of do small things for, small things for, until they become like the primary focus.
So I'd say at once there's like, two, three kind of deal stuff happening at once with a handful of things like one-off things that can happen at the same time. It's sort of hard to, it also, like not every, not every matter is also as complicated. So you might be on one thing and it just monopolizes your whole time, but you also could be on like 10 things and they all like add up.
I would say the more specialist you become, like, for example, I'll say tax, tax is super specialized. You might be on like 15, 20 different deals at once, right, because you really are only needed for like that one thing. But like from an M&A perspective, if you're in charge of like the disclosure schedule and it's a hundred pages and you've got to make sure everything in there is right, you can only really handle a couple of those before your work product, like, really kind of suffers. It can vary widely.
David Busis: Can you walk us through what you did yesterday at work? Actually, walk us through what you did yesterday all day.
David Brown: Yeah. So what I did yesterday, yeah, so I'm much more of a morning person than a late-night person. I try my damnedest to not stay up late. So I turned 30 in September and I find staying up late as much harder than it was than when I was like in undergrad where I would pull all-nighters, like all the time. So I try to really avoid staying up really late.
There are some people, though, that will work until all hours of the day, and I don't know how they do it. Like I'm falling asleep at like 9:30, 10 o'clock at night. But to answer your question, so yesterday, I like to get up, I prefer to get up early. I don't go in the office, I work from home. There's a lot of reasons for that. I like it. I also am immunocompromised, and so I have a lot of, you know, doctor's reasons why I want to stay at home, but it's not a big deal.
Like, if I have a computer and internet, I can do whatever I want. But yesterday I got up at like maybe 6:45, 7 o'clock. I run, I do some things to kind of wake up, you know, I brush my teeth, I make my coffee. I try to log on by like eight. So at eight o'clock, I'm logged on. The first thing I'll do is I'll check my emails.
Did anything come through from the prior night that I haven't gotten to yet that needs to be like addressed? Yesterday, no. Nothing had blown up. Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes you get like 10 emails and it's like, oh my God, what happened? Nothing much. After that, I had some, you know, one-off requests to, hey, can you take a look at, because right now it's early March, so quarter end for financials, you know, a lot of companies are starting to go through their disclosure process.
So I'm helping some companies like through their 10Ks and 10Qs. Okay. So in all the 10Ks, it's their financial states, right? Their income statement, balance sheet, all that. Making sure, okay, can you take a look and see, are they in compliance with everything they need from a 10K? So I have the 10K instructions open, the checklists open, I'm just going through meticulously, like, okay, everything is ticking and tying, everything looks okay.
I'm also on a sort of shareholder activist matter right now, and what that entails, like, that is kind of getting into the litigation stage, because it's gotten very ugly. So our litigation counsel sent over the countersuit that the opposing counsel, when they sued our client. So I read through that. I'm looking for what are just ridiculous, you know, things that opposing counsel says in their complaint.
Again, I'm not a litigator, so I really don't know what I'm doing when I'm looking at that, because I'm like, I don't know. Should this be removed to federal court? Who knows? Litigation team, what do you do? But I'm really looking at like, okay, from a financial transactional side, where can I see, like, yeah, that's not right, or that doesn't add up right, or no, that's not really the financial position. That's very rare, anything involve a litigation.
You know, I took a look at, yesterday, there's a high-yield offering I'm sort of on, on the back burner, so I do some diligence with that, with respect to making sure that their financial, it's a private company, so making sure their financial statements, they were audited. Are the auditors going to say that those are okay?
And if that kind of doesn't sound like a lot, but it's very time-consuming, because you have to be very detail-oriented, and that can take a long time to sort of do, so that's when I say, like, how many matters am I staffed on at once? It might only be like three or four, but that can easily take up, you know, 40, 50 hours of your week, or you might be on like 10 things, and that's, that take up the same amount of time.
I will say it's been a lot slower work-wise I have found this year than last year. I think that has everything to do, not to get into politics, it has everything to do with some of the new SEC rules regarding SPAC transactions and the Biden administration's dislike of SPAC transactions. And so you're seeing a lot fewer of those types of things, and that was a lot of what I did last. So last year I did a whole bunch of that. I don't think I've done a single one this year, and that was a big chunk of my work this year. So right now it's kind of a slow time.
David Busis: What is the most fun thing, if we can even talk in terms of fun, that you get to do in a typical week, and what's the least fun thing for you?
David Brown: Well, the most fun thing is the twice-a-month paycheck. That's kind of nice. But no, but that's kind of, you know, a facetious answer, but I would say the most fun thing is everybody's like really smart, and so, I don't really, like, it's very weird, because I had a job before law school and the people at my old company were like really good too, and I still am really good friends with them, but there were, you know, there's just some people that I didn't really work with directly, but if I ever sent an email to somebody outside of my group at my old company, before I was a lawyer, you know, the quality of, like, a lot of times what you'd get back would just be not good, and I'd have to like redo it.
I don't find that at all about Vinson & Elkins. If I have, like, hey, I don't know how to do this, or I need kind of this done, but it's not like my expertise, there's a lot of really good resources we have that can help you through it and, like, get that thing done, so you're not burning the midnight oil. A lot of times when you're burning the midnight oil, it's because somebody has mismanaged their time somewhere, and not really because, oh my God, there's some deadline. It's a time management issue, and I can speak about how, in fact, I'll probably talk about that in a second.
But I would say what's most fun is like, if I have a, it's kind of weird, because it's work-related, but it's like, I have a whole bunch of resources to help me through stuff and everybody's like really good at it. And so that's fun in the sense, like, if there's like a really novel question, there's like four or five people I can call on the phone and go, you know, what do you think about this? Or let's go grab a drink after work and sort of talk about that. I find that kind of fun, right? Kind of engaging.
I'd say what I least like about working at a law firm is certainly some of the time management skills that I find with lawyers. I, again, I'm an accountant as my, you know, second, you know, this is my second profession, and I like working very efficiently, and I don't like staying up for the sake of staying up, and I like doing things in a very time-efficient manner.
But the billable hours requirement is just anti that, right? You have every incentive to take a long time. You have every incentive to get to things like sequentially and not concurrently. So a lot of times you get a request late at night or in the afternoon, and you read the timestamp, and it's like, well, this was hanging out in your email at 8:30, 8:30 in the morning. It's now eight o'clock at night. Could have, you know, emailed me that at 10. Why am I getting this now?
And so I find a lot of the time management skills like really lacking. And I don't think it's the fault of any individual people. I think it's the fault of 26 years old, a lot of them are 26 years old as first-year associates or something, and they'd gone straight through undergrad. They've never worked before. They don't teach these things in law school. You know, for me, like I had to take operations management one-on-one when I was in business school. Like, that's the first, one of the first things you learn in business school is like, how do you just manage your time?
And as those people get more senior and they're starting to lead, you know, deals, they don't improve necessarily their time management skills. And so you might have somebody that you just really don't like working with because they're just on their own schedule. And there's really not a lot as a junior you can do about that other than like, by the time you're senior, you're just, hopefully you're better at that.
So I would say like that I certainly really dislike, but you know, if I'm senior enough and I'm still at a firm, like I'm going to try to make it a point to go, things that can be delegated ASAP, you're going to get delegated, and the things that have to stay with me, you're going to stay with me. Because I like going to bed. I like seeing my wife. I like go grabbing dinner at six or seven o'clock. I like to go to the gym. You know, a lot of people will stay up till one or two in the morning, and it's just not how I, it's not really how I function. So, but that's really hard to manage as a junior.
David Busis: Well, if anybody has questions for David, this is your opportunity. We like to hear your voice. So if you raise your hand, we'll call on you. We can also get to questions that you type out, but we prefer to hear you. And in the meantime, I'm going to keep asking David a couple of questions. David, talk to me about your work-life balance. So how many hours do you find yourself working, and when do you usually get to go to bed?
David Brown: I think it's become a lot better with the flexibility of remote work. If I wanted to go into the, this is why, one of the reasons why I dislike going into the office, I just have to get up an hour earlier, shave, get dressed, drive down to work, and when I want to leave, say I leave at, leave the office at five or six, I know I'm going to have to come back on and log on.
And it's just another, like, you know, where it's like, well, if I'm always at home, like I can always be logged on and I don't have to waste, you know, that sort of two-hour chunk of time, I can be much more time-efficient with my day.
I feel like I'm much healthier, you know, working from home, because I can, my apartment complex has a gym. I love to cook, I'm a pretty good cook. I don't really like to eat out that much. I can make myself something quick to eat in my kitchen that's infinitely healthier than the Chick-fil-A that's in our building. If I have 10 minutes of downtime, like, okay, I can throw in some dishes, I can throw in a load of laundry.
So I like that flexibility, right? Because it saves me a whole bunch of time where like, I'd have to do it at some point. I typically try to log off by eight or nine o'clock, depending on if things are, the expectation is like to be up. I find you're incessantly always going to have to check your email because you just don't know when something's going to come through.
You have to give yourself the boundary of like, okay, at this time, I'm just going to log off, and people are just going to have to be okay with it. You just have to push back on stuff and go, I'm asleep. I can't do my job if I don't get some sleep. But there are other days where I'd been up till one in the morning doing stuff, but that's, I knew I had to do that.
It wasn't like, well, I really haven't had a ton of time where my day has been blown up and I didn't really know about it in advance. It was like, okay, a week in advance, like, okay, we know the closing is going to be on Wednesday. So just FYI, we gotta be up for everybody to sign the documents and stuff like that.
Work-life balance, like, is it great? To be honest, no, it's not. I mean, it kind of sucks, but there's one school of thought that goes, that's what the money's for. I had a conversation about this with a colleague a few, a few weeks ago. You're paid to be logged on, you're paid for your time. I have also had conversations with my colleagues that go, I would be totally happy with a nine-to-five job that pays me 75% or 50% of their gross, if the, you know, firm would allow.
So there's a big conflict, I think, generationally, and there's a big conflict, even among the classes on like what work-life balance should look like. I won't let you know, like, where I fall into that camp, just because, you know, it's my own personal thoughts, but it's very divergent, I think, views. And I think the work-from-home thing has to stay, because I just think from a talent management perspective, there are firms that are much more flexible than my firm, and there are firms much more flexible than some of the other firms that are all peers to each other.
And you're just going to, it's so easy to lateral. You can call up a recruiter and have a job offer at a different firm within two weeks, and conflicts clear, and it'd be remote only. And so if these firms are serious about managing their head count properly, they have to offer some of these better work-life balance perks.
David Busis: Thanks, David. We're going to take a question from Daniel now. So Daniel, you can ask.
New Speaker: Hi. Thanks to both Davids, by the way, for hosting this. It was very interesting and helpful.
David Brown: Yeah, no worries.
New Speaker: But I have a question for you, David, David Brown. So you said you worked as a CPA. Did you enjoy working as a CPA? And why did you decide to move into law instead?
David Brown: I did like work as a CPA. My master, so I went to law school thinking I was going to be a tax lawyer. I did a, after my undergrad, I did my undergrad at Indiana University. I was an accounting, finance, and economics major, and then I did a one-year master's in accounting with a focus on tax. And I thought I was going to go to law, and I had always sort of wanted to go to law school.
And so I thought I was going to be a tax attorney and like a strategic, you know, kind of M&A sort of tax attorney, and I kind of found, like, doing that, it wasn't really my jam. But CPA was always sort of my backup, because I always knew I wanted to go to law school, so if like this law thing didn't work out and I got, say, you know, like my dad, you know, my dad passed away like a year ago.
He always said like he always wanted to go to law school and he just got too old or it didn't make any sense. So I was always kind of like, well, if that ever happened to me, like I am employable as a CPA. That's fine.
My second thing was, well, a lot of my friends from undergrad and my master's went to go work at like Big Four, and I knew what lawyers at Big Law firms made, and you do kind of the same type of work for the same kind of hours, and you make three to four or five times as much. And that I found much more interesting from a, just a money management perspective. Like if I'm going to be working a lot of hours, like I want to sort of maximize my investment.
And, but to answer your question directly, I did like working as a CPA. I didn't go, I didn't work in Big Four. I worked at a, I worked at Caterpillar, I worked at a Fortune 500 company doing internal cost management. I liked it a lot. It paid well, but the things I was doing, I would sometimes have to work with some of the lawyers on some trade stuff. And I just thought, hey, they're doing stuff that I think is more interesting. They're making more money than I am. You know, let's see about this law school thing. And then I was lucky enough to get accepted to Harvard, and I don't think, I couldn't turn that down.
New Speaker: Yeah. Thanks. That was a great answer. And I really appreciate that. A related question then would be, how come you decided to go into law instead of going into finance? Because it seems like you're interested in capital markets and the market, all that. So why did you decide?
David Brown: Yeah, so I thought about that. So I did, I am a, I did pass level one in the CFA, and I thought about that. I still think about that. So that's kind of one thing I'm thinking about. Like, I don't foresee myself working at a law firm. Really, your exit options really start to material, really good exit options start to materialize, like your third year at a law firm. And if you're doing M&A and capital markets, that I find, because it's not so niche, that I find sort of offers you the best exits.
If you were, for those business-minded, you know, litigation, you know, that's its own separate thing I don't know too much about, but like if you're sort of business-minded, you want to go work in a business role or a finance role, I find that in M&A or capital markets practice is probably the best rather than something like tax, because you have to think about, like tax is super niche. Like why would somebody hire like somebody that only does tax? I want somebody that can understand the macro level of the business and stuff like that.
So that's still something I'm considering. You know, after a handful of years in Big Law, I'll evaluate, do I like this enough to continue it? Do I want to do something else? I really don't think you can really know whether you truly like a job or not until you're, you know, maybe about two years into it, because the first year you're just learning your role, you're learning, what are you doing?
And then I think the second year should be devoted to process improvement. You know, I'm nine, 10 months in, I don't know if I have enough information to say, like, oh, I hate this, or I love this, or I like this. I do what they tell me to do, and I try to learn a lot. And then once as I become more mid-level to senior, and then I can evaluate, what are my exit options?
Having the CPA, I haven't decided if I want to do level two of the CFA. I mean, I don't know when I'd have time to study for it, but having that background is going to be, I think, very good, very helpful for me to keep my options open, especially in an M&A capital markets practice.
New Speaker: Yeah. Well, thank you, guys, for both your, for your time. And it sounds like you've got a lot of qualifications, so nice job, David.
David Brown: Yeah, no worries. Yeah, thank you.
David Busis: Sergio. Let's go to you.
New Speaker: Yeah. Thank you both for having this call. This is really helpful. For David Brown, so you talked about, you know, sending applications, I guess, for having, you know, working at a law firm, you know, your first year, your first summer, and you know, I'm just kinda like thinking, like, you know, once we start law school, some of us are probably gonna have like this shock, right?
Like, you know, starting, you know, your first quarter or semester in law school and just being super busy, trying to learn, right? How did you, do you have tips, or how did you prepare, I guess for, I guess, doing the research and submitting applications for applying for these summer internships?
David Brown: So I had a lot of stuff like on autopilot. You know, the one nice thing about being a business major is like, I always had an updated resume and I always had like a template cover letter. You could do that now. I mean, you can, there's no reason why, before you go to law school, you can't get a high-level template cover letter that can be easily adapted and a resume ready to go. Because that's, that's really all you need. You need that and an internet connection to apply to a job.
Now, where to find a job, like I said before, there's the NALP website, the NALP. I don't know if it's nalp.com, but if you just Google NALP law jobs or something, you'd see it's really easy to find. And you just go to the, I went to the, this is literally what I did, I went to the website, I filtered, there's a whole bunch of filters you can filter through, I made the filter selections I wanted to, and on one of the tabs, you know, it's like HR contact, but with their email address.
And I would just literally email the HR contact, Hi, my name's David Brown, I'm a first-year at Harvard Law School, a couple of sentences about I'm very interested in this kind of practice, this firm and this office, please see my attached resume and cover letter. I'd be happy to take a phone call or, if permitting, you know, grab coffee with some associates in the Boston office, that kind of thing.
And, you know, I would at least get a response most of the time. Sometimes, you know, you're ignored, sometimes you go, no, sorry, go away. Other times it's very favorable, but you've got to be okay with that, right? You know, not everybody was looking to hire 1Ls. But if you email enough, people just love big numbers, like you're going to find somebody to bite. But how do you do that, like, while you're studying? You carve out, you just carve out some time for it.
Like, I, you know, like I said, I was a middle-of-the-road law student at Harvard. I, after my first semester grades, I was like, well, I'm not going to clerk on the Supreme Court now. So what am I going to do? I'm going to, you know, my goal was to always work at a large law firm in, you know, some sort of transactional practice. So I just, I would carve time out when I could and apply from there, and, you know, balancing that with your schedule and your readings.
Harvard's also a law school that doesn't really have grades, you know, it's like pass, honors, and DS. I don't even know what DS stands for, but, you know, you can kind of, it's not the end of the world if you got to take a few days to apply to jobs. At the end of the day, this is why, and I could post another webinar about my issues with law school education, the end of the day, it's a professional degree.
The whole purpose of going to law school is to be a lawyer, not an academic, and law school is so much geared towards the academic side of law and not the practice side of law that I think it does a real disservice to people who are like, this is a transaction. Like, I am going to law school, paying a lot of money to go to law school in order to get a job. And why do these barriers exist for getting a job? Doesn't make any sense to me.
Now, if I was getting a PhD in jurisprudence, that's a totally different ball game. Then, all right, you want to be an academic, makes sense, focus on the academic side of things. But to practice law, teach me to get a job, teach me these tangible skills about how to network and things like that. You really don't get that in law school. So you just have to make time for yourself to figure that out.
David Busis: Well, thanks, Sergio.
New Speaker: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you both.
David Brown: Yeah, no worries. Great questions. If we don't get to your question, please shoot me an email. You can email me at my work email, so email@example.com, v as in Victor, e as in elephant, law.com, and I'll try to get to everyone's questions. I will try to answer your question. If I don't answer your question, it's because it's my issue and just remind me, bump it up. I do not intend to ignore any questions.
David Busis: That's very generous of you, David. Hi, Audrey. Are you there?
New Speaker: Hi. Hi. Yes, I'm here. Thank you, David, for this very helpful introduction. And I have a question. If I actually missed it, I apologize for it. But I wonder, you mentioned about, you had take a gap year before attending to law school. And I wondered, like, how did you use your gap year, and what is the best way to spend that year? And then I wonder, like, would a paralegal job be a good choice to just get familiar with this kind of work?
David Brown: Yeah, I would say during a gap year is, practically speaking, do something, do something interesting, whether that's working, whether that's traveling, I would say do anything but just sit on the couch, because that gap year is going to, it's going to be, it's not gonna be a red flag, but it's going to come up.
David's a great resource for me on this one. Like when I, I applied to law school, two sessions, and because I spent some time studying for the LSAT, I sort of had this like very weird time where I really wasn't doing anything other than studying for the LSAT. And I think that really hurt me on my applications because it was like all I was doing.
And then I applied, got into some places, didn't get into places I wanted to get into, I reapplied again, but now I was working. I was working at Caterpillar, I had some very good experience. And from an application standpoint, I wrote, I think, a very, a much better personal statement than my first personal statement, because my second personal statement was about, here is some concrete, like, stuff I've done.
And so, that doesn't have to be working, necessarily. It could be traveling. It could be, you know, I spent this year in this really, it had this really interesting experience. But your personal statement should be active, right? It should be about you doing something, not I saw somebody else do something, or I saw this thing happen and that made me feel this way. It should be, this happened, and that made me do X. And this is what I did while I was doing X.
Now, your question about being a paralegal, yeah. Being a paralegal's fine. Plenty of paralegals go to law school. Is it going to prepare you for the work? I think it depends. It depends like what kind of work you're doing, but law firms need paralegals. Paralegals at V&E are great. Is it going to help you in law school? I'd say really nothing really helps you in law school. Law school is its own weird bubble of stuff. Is it going to help you be a practicing attorney? Again, I'd say, again, probably not, because you're going to just kind of learn by doing, but you know, being a paralegal is great.
New Speaker: Thank you so much.
David Busis: Good luck, Audrey. Okay, we're going to go to the last question. I'm sorry that we're not going to be able to get to everybody, but Kristen, we'd love to hear from you.
New Speaker: Hi. Hi, David. Thank you so much for speaking with us today. I think you mentioned this a little bit about the exit options after spending a few years in the law firm. I was curious what your next step professionally would look like and what you've seen from others. Typically, what they do, what their next chapter looks like. Is it getting promoted within the law firm or, you know, finding other options that are outside the law firm? And relatedly, I'm curious about the performance evaluation process as well.
David Brown: What happens in a law firm, at a Big Law firm, you're sort of auto-promoted every year until your eighth year, and then you kind of are up for partner or you're made counsel. So, I mean, you're not pushed out. Some firms push you out if you don't, if you're not hitting like your billable hours, but, you know, unless you're, unless you're billing like something super low, and again, you don't cause like, say, an HR issue, it's, I think it's very hard to get fired from a law firm.
It's also very easy to lateral to different firms. I know plenty of people who, every two years, three years, they lateral to a different firm and they're comfortable doing that indefinitely. And so they go, you know what, I've made enough money, I want to go do something way more, more chilled out, and do that.
I will say, like, after, if most people leave a firm in that kind of three-to-six-year range, after six years, you're kind of, you're kind of a little bit too senior. You're kind of too expensive. You're kind of too qualified for some, like, in-house role at a company. Three to six years is sort of the sweet spot, which is why you see so much attrition there.
By then, most Big Law attorneys, if they've been handling their finances properly, they no longer are in law school debt, and they go, well, I'm net worth zero. I did my time at a Big Law firm. Let me go make, you know, $150,000. It's a pay cut, but it's $150,000 I get to keep rather than making, you know, $2,000, $3,000, $4,000, you know, debt payments. And I'm fine, and you're fine with that.
I will say expect, I will say expect a pay cut. Like if you're leaving as a fifth-year, you're making 300-something thousand dollars, there are very few in-house legal departments that are going to pay you that, so if you're very salary conscious at that like level of seniority, there's almost nothing better than a law firm unless you get like a senior counsel job or a general counsel job at like a FANG or something.
But in the three-to-five-year range, it's very, I think it's very doable from a Big Law firm to get a $200,000 base job, maybe with another 20 to 50K in bonus and benefits and that stuff, and it's like, hey, if you're making $200,000 to $250,000 for the rest of your career, you're going to be fine. That's probably what I'm going to end up doing, either in-house or I'll go try something in finance. I have a lot of contacts in finance, so I can call up or something like that. That's most likely my next career step.
Super long-term, I'd love to teach. When I quasi, my quasi-retirement plan is to go teach at my alma mater at Indiana University for, I don't know, 100K a year, by then, the money, to me, I don't think will matter, and watch my Hoosiers lose to Rutgers every year. That'll be my retirement plan. My family's in Indiana, my wife's family is in Indiana, my family is in Indiana, so it's just kind of what we want to do.
Your second question was about performance evaluation. My experience is that it doesn't matter. I mean, as long as you're hitting your billable, again, it's very difficult to get fired from a Big Law firm, and to be perfectly frank, if you're on the cusp of like getting the talk, lateral. Call up a recruiter, you can lateral to a different firm within three weeks. You can probably do that indefinitely every three years. Right now, people are snagging $100,000 signing bonuses as fourth-years.
The market right now is completely wacko, and from a performance evaluation perspective, like, it just isn't all that useful. Again, perhaps another webinar could be something like a business-minded or business majors evaluation of the internal management of law firms, because I have a lot I could say about how I think sort of nonsensical lockstep salaries are and how nonsensical auto-promotion is and things like that. But performance reviews are very low on my sort of care list.
New Speaker: Got it. Thank you so much. That was so helpful.
David Brown: Yeah, no worries.
David Busis: Thank you, David, and thank you, everyone who came. I hope you learned something. David, I like how you were, you gave us a lot of practical advice and, I don't know, I feel like you're so level-headed. You've imparted some of that clear-eyed thinking on us.
David Brown: Yeah, no worries.
David Busis: You can send us the bill later for your time.
David Brown: I will. Yeah. So that's the thing, like, this is getting billed to client development, so. But yeah, it's my pleasure, it was absolutely my pleasure. I hope to do more webinars like this in the future. Whatever topic you think would be interesting to discuss, I'm down for it. You know, even if I know nothing about it, I'll just make something up. That's my, that's mostly my job anyway.
David Busis: Perfect.
David Brown: Exactly, right? But yeah, but like I said, my offer that I said a few minutes ago still stands. Like if I did not get to your question, or if you want clarification on something, please shoot me an email and I will get to it. 7Sage was a very important part of my law school journey. Without it, I would not have been able to get into Harvard. David was instrumental in making my application awesome. And again, I don't think I would've gotten into Harvard without David's help. So any way I can give back, I'm totally, I'm totally willing to do so.
David Busis: David, we really appreciate it, and I'm sure we will be tapping you again. This is a great webinar.
David Brown: Absolutely, my pleasure.
David Busis: Well, good luck, everyone.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you're studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.