How to Find Out What Your “Day in the Life” Will Be

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Albert Tawil, Founder & CEO of Lateral Hub

Last week, we posted another one of our popular videos poking fun at life in BigLaw.  This video is an “Honest Day in the Life” – a parody of the ridiculous “day in the life” videos that have become popular on social media from employees in various industries.  When BigLaw associate content creators make these videos, they always seem to leave out the annoying assignments, late nights, and urgent deadlines – so we decided to make this parody.  (Of course, many people have positive experience in BigLaw, but most would agree it’s a demanding job, and painting it as a rosy and glamorous “big city” job with all the perks and no sacrifices is misleading.) You can watch the video on the right (desktop) or below (mobile).
This was one of our most popular videos, shared over 3,000 times and viewed almost 100K times on Instagram.  Why?
Because of the Emmy-level acting.  Well, although this was exaggerated for comedy, it touched on several aspects of the BigLaw experience that resonate with a lot of associates: things needing to be done right away, never having a chance to get to the work you need to do until the evening, time sucked up by assignments that are not substantive, partners not interacting in person, and of course ordering the expensive dinner options when you’re stuck in the office and the firm is paying for it (had to).
So this got me thinking.  In our content, we mention often that the hardest part for most laterals (and anybody looking for a new job) is understanding if the next job will actually be better.  You can watch one of our short videos on this topic here.  
If you are looking to lateral, how can you do the due diligence you need to do to understand what your “day in the life” will be at the new firm before you accept an offer?  (For those litigators in the room, “due diligence” is when corporate lawyers think they are doing discovery – instead of sending interrogatories, they send “diligence requests” in an Excel spreadsheet, where nothing is under oath, half of the agreements provided are expired, the other half were scanned upside down and uploaded in the data room, and the person answering your written diligence requests has no idea how to answer the questions or why they are answering them in the first place.)
Here are four key considerations to find out what your next role will actually be like.
1. Candid Conversations with Current Associates
A pretty effective and somewhat obvious way to understand what the next job is like is by having candid conversations with current associates.  You can do this during the interview process of course, and you might catch nuggets of information throughout conversations that provide insight.  (For example, when I was a law student, multiple interviewers mentioned during my callback that they just got from vacation “but you never really sign off during vacation, you know?” — turns out you do, but that firm just didn’t respect vacation.)  But the real information comes once you get an offer.  At that point, the tables turn and you can ask some more direct questions without jeopardizing your candidacy.  (In the words of Michael Scott, “Well, well, well, how the turntables.”)  So, after receiving a job offer, set up conversations with associates in the group that you would be joining and don’t hesitate to ask direct questions about topics that matter to you, such as hours or the working style of partners in the group.
Everyone’s experience is different, so don’t ask subjective and open-ended questions like “do you like the work” or “do you like working with X partner.”  Instead, ask associates to describe their average day, the types of matters they handle, and the specific dynamics within the team.  Then, you can decide if it’s for you.  Going beyond surface-level questions can give you some nuanced details that make a big difference.
I know what you’re thinking: “Won’t the associates just lie to you? After all, they are trying to sell you on joining!”  My answer to that is, “not really.”  People are refreshingly honest sometimes. It is very hard for an associate to look you straight in the eye and lie to your face.  They might paint it more positively (”Yeah, a couple of the partners can be tough, but it’s a matter of learning how to work with them.”), but they will answer the question nonetheless based on their experience.
When I was a law student, I was considering a smaller (but still relatively large) firm for my 2L summer.  I liked the people I met and was curious if the work-life balance and work allocation was better than the megafirms.  I had a long “second-look” visit to ask more questions, which included a lunch with several junior associates.  One person talked about how they have been working really late every night for the last eight weeks on a big project.  At lunch, and in the cab on the way back to the office, the juniors openly complained for several minutes about staffing.  To them, it was small talk.  To me, it was research.  These were current associates, and I was surprised by how honest they were, even in the recruiting context. (I’m sure the firm’s recruiting team would not have been happy about that.)
2. Find Former Associates
Now, although current associates can be refreshingly honest, a great way to get information and different perspective is reaching out to former associates.  You can use LinkedIn to filter people by former company, and then send connection requests or emails to the ones that were in that practice group, with a short message that you’d love to pick their brain about their experience.  To stay on the “due diligence” theme, hearing why they chose to leave can help you find red flags.  Did they leave because they wanted to go in-house as their next step?  Or to focus their practice on something more specific?  Or did they leave because the partner in the group was toxic?  Most people would be happy to hop on the phone and share their experience.
I recently spoke with a friend who graduated law school a couple of years ago.  During 2L recruiting, he was deciding between two large firms, so he went on LinkedIn and found former associates from both firms, within the general practices that were of interest to him.  For one firm, all of the associates had left for an even better opportunity, and enjoyed their time at the firm and the people, despite the long hours and intensity.  For the other firm, all of the associates left to “escape” and went on and on about how negative their experience was.  It was an easy decision for him after that.  I was impressed that he took this initiative as a second-year law student.  All laterals should do this to some extent, especially since laterals have some experience and can ask even better questions.
3. Swim with Caution
Many people turn to anonymous online forums like Fishbowl to get information.  Although this can provide some valuable insight into specific firms or groups, it’s important to approach these platforms with caution, for a few reasons.  
  • It’s amazing and sad what people will say when it’s anonymous and there are no consequences.
  • To get “likes” and experience the dopamine rush that comes with positive social media engagement, people will make overly generalized claims (”everyone there sucks and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”).
  • Everyone has different experiences and expectations, and one or two negative experiences described online may not be an accurate reflection of what your experience will be like.
  • As is the case with many online forums like Yelp or Glassdoor (which happens to be Fishbowl’s parent company), they often skew negative – rarely do you find an associate joining Fishbowl to vent about how much they love their firm.
If you do use resources like Fishbowl, run searches for the firm(s) you are considering and look for common themes rather than individual anecdotes.  Pay attention to recurring feedback about a particular firm and the specific group you are considering, and focus on the comments from people who mention that they actually worked there recently (rather than, “my friend’s friend’s cousin’s friend worked there in 2012 and hated it”).  I even saw a comment thread recently where several people mentioned how terrible a specific partner was, calling out the partner by name.  Oof.  I’ve also seen threads where there was a huge deviation between experiences – some very positive, and some very negative.  Proof that a couple of specific anecdotes online are not enough.
One benefit of these types of forums is the ability to connect “offline” – sometimes people offer to connect and chat more about it, and that can be a good way to find people to speak with under #2 above and get the real info.
4. Don’t Give Much Weight to Marketing Materials or Online Profiles
It is tempting to use online profiles on popular sites to get a sense of what the firm is like.  This is helpful to get basic objective info about the firm – pay, key practices, offices, and history.  However, this is probably the least effective tool to find out what your actual day-to-day will be.  Firms participate in putting these profiles together, similar to the marketing materials that firms put on their website.  I’ll be damned if you ever see a firm mention on their online profile or website “Our firm is prestigious and great for your resume, but actually working here kinda sucks.”  In addition, there are some firms that are known to pressure associates to fill out surveys with certain positive responses, including with incentives.
There is an even more important reason that general marketing materials are not indicative.  When you are looking to lateral, understanding the experience within the specific group you’d be joining is much more important than the firm generally.  As you probably know, your “day in the life” will be based on the team you are on – what your colleagues are like, what the culture of the group is, and how the partners set the tone.  In firms of hundreds of lawyers, you cannot generalize based on one or two people in different groups.  Very rarely do online profiles go that granular; another reason why you need to speak with people in that group (or formerly in that group) and hear their experiences (see above).
One of the hardest things about looking for a new job is getting comfortable that your “day in the life” will be an improvement of what you have now.  That can be an improvement in hours, in substantive work, in culture, or something else – whichever factors led you to look for a new job in the first place.
Hopefully these tips can help guide you to perform proper due diligence and get comfortable that you are making the right move.  So your “day in the life” isn’t as bad as it is in our video. 

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