Early on in my career, I received a fantastic piece of advice from a former colleague: It’s ok not to know. What he meant was that, in the legal profession, we answer questions with varying levels of confidence, and it is important to convey how certain you are when answering a question. For example, if you’re asked to write a research memo on whether a party has standing in a particular matter, the answer isn’t always a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s important to explain where the answer falls on a spectrum of certainty, and why you reached that particular conclusion.
It is lessons like this that will stick with me throughout my career and I’m grateful to have come away from MoFo’s Summer Program with some new important nuggets of wisdom. Each week of the program dealt with a different theme, but I found that the fifth week on “Networking and Building Client Relationships” helped me clarify what I know and what I don’t about what I would like to do in my career. In particular, the Summer Program hosted an alumni panel with four former MoFo lawyers who have since moved on to jobs at other organizations.
What I found particularly helpful about this panel was that each attorney had a different experience when it came to developing within their current practice area. One attorney, who had done mostly intellectual property work during their early years of practice, wound up shifting her practice to focus more on contractual disputes. Another entered the firm with the broad notion that he wanted to do litigation, and quickly found that he fit well in the antitrust group. Another joined the firm as a lateral, but had worked in the same practice area for his entire career.
What I took away from this discussion is that some associates enter the firm with one interest and continue in that practice for the rest of their careers, while others change paths, or find their path when they get to MoFo. Another benefit of hearing from MoFo alumni is that I was reminded that there are some really great opportunities outside of the firm as well, and that no matter which route you choose, you will be supported by the firm. Until this panel, I wasn’t aware of the existence of a few of the potential positions I could take on.
One of the main things I took away from this summer experience is that I am not destined for success as a bartender, thanks to our Summer Program’s virtual mixology event. Another is that there numerous paths you can take within your career at MoFo. While I found the alumni panel to be particularly useful, our class had a number of opportunities to interact with lawyers from a variety of practice areas. In the D.C. office, we heard from almost all of the office’s practice groups, and all of the partners and associates we engaged with were open to answering whatever questions we had. While many of my interests remained constant over the course of the summer, the program showed me how those interests can be applied to a number of potential areas.
James Dionne is a rising 3L at the University of Virginia School of Law and attended Harvard for his undergrad years. He is a first-year summer at MoFo who is interested in litigation and also hopes to explore work in the National Security, SLEW, and Privacy Practices. He’s been to 15 baseball stadiums with his dad and hopes to get to all 30; a project that is currently on hold.