Interviewing for and Working at a Large Law Firm

Charles Taylor ’11 is senior corporate counsel at Salesforce. At the time of this interview, he was a litigation associate at Lathanm & Watkins LLP.

I entered YLS planning to become a public interest lawyer. As a law student, I volunteered at New Haven Legal Assistance and participated in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project. During my 1L summer, I clerked at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California. I had never seriously considered practicing at a firm until the Fall Interview Program email went around before the start of my 2L year. I was intrigued. After getting feedback from some classmates who had summered at big firms, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. A few weeks later, I found myself with callback offers from a number of firms in the Bay Area.

I had no experience with callback interviews at the time, but I came to realize that they are one of the most important parts of deciding whether to join a firm. I had researched the types of work each firm did, I had studied the firm guides, and I had pumped my friends for gossip about the firms’ summer programs; but until you are actually onsite, speaking with your potential colleagues, you can't get a real sense of the firm’s culture and whether you would be a good fit. Ultimately, it was my callback experience at Latham that drew me in. At other firms, I spoke with associates who seemed sullen, bored, or unexcited about their work; I asked them to describe things they would change about their firm and received troubling answers; and I met partners who seemed like they would be difficult to work with. Not so at Latham: the associates were upbeat, the partners were pleasant, and I could tell that the office as a whole would be a positive environment in which to start my law practice. Better still, Latham had the most generous pro bono policy I had encountered: no cap on pro bono hours, with pro bono hours counted the same as commercial client hours towards the annual hours goal. Like the other firms I interviewed at, Latham was doing very interesting work; but it was the fit that sealed the deal.

My experience at Latham has exceeded my expectations. My colleagues are incredibly supportive, and the firm invests a great deal in training its associates. For litigators, Latham hosts multi-day deposition and trial academies where associates can moot and receive valuable feedback from seasoned partners. I thought I’d be doing nothing but document review for my first year or two, but in fact I was fortunate to work with supervisors who insist on giving associates meaningful work. When I joined the firm, I was placed on a case headed for trial and spent my days retaining experts, developing witness testimony, compiling fact outlines, and drafting motions. In the years since, a typical day would include research and writing, meetings with colleagues, calls with clients or opposing counsel, or preparing talking points for a hearing or a witness preparation session. My days are varied, which keeps me engaged.

I enjoy my work for three main reasons: first, I like to be challenged. At a large law firm, most clients are seeking help with complex problems. Solving these problems involves a fair amount of creative thinking. Second, my practice has involved a lot of work with witnesses. This human element is very exciting, and it is always fascinating to elicit stories from other people. Third, Latham encourages its associates to take on pro bono work, and I have been able to maintain a robust pro bono practice. This work is very rewarding, and important to me on a personal level.

As a law student considering going into litigation, the main thing you should keep in mind is that your practice will involve a great deal of research, reading, and writing. You will be reviewing documents, case law, and the facts of your case, and you will be expected to present cogent arguments drawn from these materials in polished briefs and memoranda. You needn’t have perfect writing skills right out of law school, but writing is such a significant part of a litigator’s craft that you must be willing to put in the effort to continually improve your writing ability.

You should also be assured that there is room for many personality types in the law firm. Many younger attorneys assume that unless they are extroverts, firm life is not for them. This is a misconception, at least at Latham. In our office you will find people from across the personality spectrum, from gregarious and outgoing to reserved and pensive. The common thread, however, is that we work well together. We draw on each other’s unique perspectives, and our work product is made better in the process.

The final piece of advice I would give is that you must be master of your own career. You should seek out mentors at the firm, and work to find meaningful opportunities that will help you become a well-rounded practitioner. Be sure to set goals and regularly assess whether you’re meeting them. As a firm mentor of mine told me, no one cares as much about your career as you. So work hard and make waves; you’ll thank yourself later.

Updated August 2021