I've been at the new job for a little over a month now. The new job is, in some ways, not that different from the old job. I used to be a rising midlevel associate at a 250-lawyer general practice law firm, practicing in the patent litigation group, with a little patent prosecution on the side. I am now a midlevel associate in a 20-lawyer intellectual property law firm, practicing patent litigation, and I expect I will eventually have a little patent prosecution on the side. So it's not like I've quit the legal profession and become a steamshovel operator. In the grand scheme, the job is pretty much the same.
There are differences, however, that are small yet apparent almost daily. Some have nothing to do with the law firms themselves, but only reflect the differences in location - my former job was in a remote corner of the city, by the waterfront, with little in the way of retail civilazation to recommend it. My new job is nestled next to MIT, within a few blocks of grocery stores, restaurants, a post office, a florist, several bookstores, a Starbucks or three, a large shopping mall, and the best art-house movie theater in greater Boston. I get to take a little walk every day at lunch, and it's very pleasant even in the crappy weather to clear my head and discover something new.
But that's the location, not the job. The job is different too. On the whole my cases are a bit smaller, more manageable, than the epic cases I was involved with at the previous firm. On some of them there is no one but me, the senior partner, and the paralegal. This is great for my communication and organizational skills. At the old firm, I certainly took charge of aspects of a case when it seemed I should, but there were times when I definitely hid behind other attorneys - deferring questions to more senior attorneys rather than learning to trust my own judgment; waiting for someone to ask me to do something I knew needed to be done rather than just doing it.
Here, there's no hiding. I have to anticipate more and respond to more, because there's no one else who will pick up the slack if I don't. There's no waiting for a bigger associate to call me up and ask me to update our disclosures or supplement an interrogatory response. No one is going to carve out a chunk of documents for me to review or assign me just one of three key depositions to prepare for. And so, while the cases are smaller, they actually feel bigger, because I have to keep track of more of the threads.
Another palpable difference is that this firm is still small enough to feel like a small, close, warm, informal business, while my old firm - at more than ten times the size - was run more like the giant corporate shop it was. I can feel the informalities in aspects of daily life, and on a larger scale too. For example, the firm is working on a buildout plan for some additional office space in our building, and at the monthly all-attorney meeting the plan was discussed - not announced by some management subcommittee as it would have been at my old firm, but actually discussed. I had been with the firm for three weeks, but my opinion was sought and considered.
That's not to say that all the differences are necessarily better. My old firm had a huge, in-house copy center that could handle many of the document-proliferating aspects of litigation. Here, I am preparing for a deposition in a few days, and I need to consider that my secretary is going to have to spend hours in front of a photocopier preparing all the exhibits. Still, it's been an interesting education to see how different small-firm life can be. So far, so good.