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The litigation associate track at Big Law firms is badly structured to the detriment of associates. The structural problems this article focuses on are not by design and are difficult to see until you are looking backward. My hope, therefore, is to give younger Big Law litigation associates that retrospective view before they reach the key decision points. If you have a better understanding of your future opportunities, you will be better positioned to plan for and take advantage of them.

The key structural problem is the combination of two facts: (1) You will find out if you are going to make partner somewhere in your seventh to 10th year out of law school; and (2) you are at your most marketable somewhere around your fourth or fifth year out of law school. The problems those two facts create should leap off the page, but here are two big ones. First, you need to make the decision about whether you want to try to make partner before you have a good sense of what that even means or how likely you are to get it. Second, every year beyond the fourth or fifth that you are committing to try to make partner at your firm is a year you are decreasing the ease with which you can transition to another job if you do not make partner. Put differently, as your job security decreases because you get closer to an up-or-out decision, your flexibility in replacing that job also decreases.

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