Careers at Edelson

We’re glad you’re interested in working at Edelson, but first we’d like you to answer a quick question.

I AM A...  lateral  OR  law student

Return to Careers Readsons not to summer at Edelson
I just want to practice law how everyone else does it—everyone else seems to love their career, right?

Our firm’s mission extends far beyond doing great work on important cases. We believe that there is a fundamentally better way to run a firm and practice law.

When we started out, we were acutely aware that most law firms were incredibly successful businesses that were miserable places to work. Attorneys were being told (either implicitly or, at times, explicitly) that the best way to get ahead was to keep their heads down and keep billing. Even the partners – who were being rewarded with handsome salaries – were miserable. And it’s not much of a surprise why. With the numerous law firm mergers over the last decade, clients have exceptionally similar firms competing against each other for business, leading to incredible downward pressure on the firms “lucky” enough to land that big case. That means that key elements of job satisfaction – like security and autonomy – are missing from the top of the food chain at Big Law. It’s no wonder that “low morale” is often a critical concern for most law firms.

We have a very different view. One of our starting principles is that unhappy people do not do their best work. That sounds fairly obvious, but most firms simply miss this key point. So how do you create an environment where the attorneys have a true chance to enjoy their work?

The answer, luckily, is not rocket science. People want to work on cases that energize them. They want to continue to learn and challenge themselves. They want to be autonomous. And they want to feel like their contributions are noticed. As founding partner Jay Edelson explained in his article, “Trust Young Lawyers and They Won’t Let You Down,” ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels – Remaking the Profession (Oct. 15, 2009), most decisions made in cases are not actually outcome determinative. The best way to train young lawyers isn’t to hover over them, making all of the decisions without their input. Instead, provide meaningful oversight, but put associates in the driver’s seat.

We’re not a “top heavy” firm—everyone has the opportunity to add value and contribute to our success. And the more you put in, the more you get out. Visit www.nalpdirectory.com to learn more about our compensation and benefits.

Because if I wanted to play ping pong at work I’d have gotten a job at Google.

High-stakes litigation is fast-paced and full of pressure. Whether you’re in need of a quick break or seek a place to talk strategy with others, our KillerSpinTM ping pong table isn’t just for show. Aside from being the spot of many intense matches, it’s also our key meeting place, doubles (with custom panels) as our conference room table, and plays host to our annual Halloween Party.

We believe that if practicing law is going to be enjoyable, the office has to be designed to promote the right mix of energy and spaces where people can hash out complex issues. The result is a one-of-kind environment where lawyers are excited to come to work, litigate, and have fun. Not into table tennis? It’s a good thing we bought a pool table.

I’ve already discovered my full potential.

For some, just becoming an attorney is the goal. Not for us. At our firm, we strive to be at the very top of our games, all the time. Our lawyers practice with a near fixation on self-improvement. “Know it alls” need not apply and we have a fairly low tolerance for pretension—we’re looking for those who want to be great lawyers and who understand that getting there requires more than simply graduating from law school and then passing the bar exam.

New lawyers aren’t ready to offer opinions until they’ve been practicing for several years.

Why do we have a third year associate sit on our Executive Committee?  Why were we flying a law student out to California during the school year so he could have an active role in the mediation of one of our largest cases?  Why have we had first and second year associates handle major appellate arguments and hotly contested hearings and lead settlement negotiations for some of our most significant cases?

Because we fundamentally don’t believe that people’s contributions are limited by the number of years they’ve been practicing.  Rather than adhere to a strict top-down structure, where the person who often knows the most about the case has the least amount of say in how it’s pushed, we encourage even our youngest associates (and – gasp – summer associates) to participate in case strategy and management decisions.  Especially given our focus on emerging technologies, often it’s the youngest person in the room who best understands what is going on and has the right answer.

Case in point: some of our youngest associates lead the development, litigation, and resolution of our cases. But, they’re not just taking instructions from up high. Instead, they actually come up with case strategies and execute them, which includes everything from managing other attorneys and staff at the firm, to communicating with opposing counsel, to arguing in court. They also play key roles in the management of the firm, like leading committees on marketing, hiring, and our summer associate program.

Don’t get us wrong, even though we believe that our attorneys – all of them – can handle just about anything, one of our biggest focuses is training. Our attorneys don’t get more experienced by spending years doing document review or writing memos—they gain experience by taking on meaningful parts of cases from the second they walk in our doors.  Having this philosophy means taking on a unique responsibility.  Since we don’t work on very many small (or training) cases, all of our attorneys are aware of the stakes that come with their work.  Given that, we pay very close attention to mentorship.  Although most training comes through informal give and take with the partners assigned to a respective case, we frequently take time to gather as a firm, or even just a few attorneys, to go over new or interesting case events, briefs, and the like—giving everyone a chance to review, ask questions, and strategize the next steps together. Ultimately, the goal of all this is to ensure that our attorneys are always developing their skills and not losing sight of our basic principles of litigation (i.e., acting intentionally and aggressively). You don't have to take our word for it though—look at the results or just ask one of our associates what type of work he’s getting.

I like cats.

Well that’s just not fair. Now you’re just saying anything so you don’t have to interview with us. The truth is that we like cats – or at least most (or ok, some) of us do. Kidding. We were lead counsel in the largest pet food class action in U.S. history, where we successfully fought for dog and cat owners and helped recover $24 million for their losses.

My passion is defending multi-national corporations that break the law.

In June 2011, Business Insider wrote an article calling us the “most feared and loathed law firm in Silicon Valley.” Like many press articles, some of the facts were wrong. But the overall thesis of the article – that there are plenty of companies who, in the words of one in-house lawyer, wished we would “just go away” – had some truth to it.

We do not believe that there is a clear line separating those who support consumer rights and those who oppose them. Nor do we believe that all consumer suits are good and that all corporations are bad. But, at least at a 30,000-foot level, class actions are about holding corporate giants accountable when they hurt people who can’t protect themselves. We represent the little guy, get paid if we win, and like it that way.

At the same time, we understand that our cases and the way we litigate aren’t for everyone. When defendants lawyer up, they seek big firm protection so they can bog down the process and ultimately minimize the recovery their victims will get. Some attorneys are well suited for such defense work—and a select handful even seems to revel in its trappings. As talented as they may be, new lawyers who’d prefer defending corporate America are better off sticking to the Big Law model.

If I got a free lunch everyday I’d have to get a gym membership. That’s included, too? Well, I hate the gym.

It’s true—we provide free lunch for everyone at the firm, every day. People gotta eat, and it’s a good time to relax and just hang out. And just to make sure the calories don’t add up too fast, each attorney receives a discounted membership to East Bank Club, Chicago’s premiere athletic club and fitness center (just ask Oprah if/when you see her). For detailed compensation and benefits information, visit www.nalpdirectory.com.

Meeting a billable hours requirement is the best measure of my abilities as an attorney.

At traditional firms, the overriding emphasis is on the number of hours you bill. And, so that no associate misses that point, these firms directly tie your bonuses to your billables. Sure, these firms will tell you that they value associates who do the best work. But the truth is that someone who bills 2,500 hours a year brings in significantly more money than someone who bills 2,000 hours a year – even if the higher billables were the result of inefficiencies or were coupled with mediocre work product. Big Law is doing more and more to “capture associate value,” which, in practice, means making sure that every minute of your time is accounted for. It’s certainly the right of Big Law to do this – law is a business after all, right?

The problem with having the primary focus on hours billed is that it creates some really bad incentives. Lawyers actually lose value if they are too efficient. And, there are inherent pressures to not win (or resolve) cases too quickly. The biggest problems, however, are with the message associates are getting every day: they are fungible commodities who really are just (well paid) time-clock punchers.

Our model is completely different. Sure, we have to bill. But because we generally take contingency cases – meaning we get paid only if we win – our most valuable attorneys are the ones that do the best and most efficient work. Since our founding, the firm management has never once considered how many hours our attorneys billed in a year when determining bonuses. Instead, we look at how valuable our attorneys are to our cases and our practice.

At the end of the year, we perform extensive 360-degree reviews. This means that each attorney gets to review everybody—from incoming associates to the named partners. We focus the reviews on standard performance categories: the attorneys’ participation in case development and strategy, the thoroughness of their research, the clarity of their writing, their attitude, and their capacity for growth and improvement. But then we ask a more fundamental question: putting aside whether the attorney is a partner or an associate, whether she has been at the firm for 3 months or 5 years, whether she went to Harvard Law School or a regional school, how valuable has that attorney been to the firm’s success over the last year?

This is the standard by which we judge ourselves. Your billables never even factor into it.

I need to wear a suit and tie to work every day to feel successful.

We believe that lawyers perform at their highest level when they are comfortable—physically anyway. Jeans, shorts (but pretty please, no jean shorts), slacks, sandals, slippers—it’s up to you. Save the suit for court and mediations. It doesn’t help you write or research any better. And please don’t get us wrong—it’s completely ok if you think being a great lawyer means donning a three-piece and telling your paralegal and secretary what to do…its just not us. We have a different view of our wardrobes (and our kick-a-- support staff).

The idea of litigating cases of first impression sounds kind of scary.

There’s something different about litigating a case of first impression. By definition, there are no decisions directly on point that can be relied upon to build your case. And with all due respect to our legislators, most statutes leave as many questions unanswered as solved. The one thing that we know when we’re bringing these types of cases is that defendants are going to fight pretty hard. At the end of the day, many of our cases are going to be resolved by a few very closely watched federal appellate courts.

So what does that mean for the attorneys litigating these cases? It depends. To some it’s really frightening. Because there isn’t controlling authority, our attorneys have to have the confidence to dissect some pretty challenging statutory frameworks—relying on little more than their hard work and brainpower. And any mistakes that are made are going to be played out on a very public stage. Perhaps even more to the point, we know that these cases are going to affect millions of people.

We faced this issue recently when we were considering whether to appeal the dismissal of one of our cases dealing with whether homeowners can sue banks that fail to honor loan modification contracts. As much as we would all like to pretend that we’re cowboys and never fear a bad result, we were well aware that if we got a bad ruling from the appellate court, people – many of whom had never met us and never asked us to file suit on their behalf – were going to lose their homes. That’s pretty weighty stuff. We had calls from other consumer law firms telling us to drop the case and that the Seventh Circuit was too conservative to give our clients a fair shake.

In the end, we decided to counsel our clients to appeal. And then we put everything we had into making sure we were best positioned to win. When the Seventh Circuit accepted our arguments and reversed the lower court decision, it similarly recognized the importance of the litigation. As the concurring opinion specifically remarked, “prompt resolution of this case is necessary not only for the good of the litigants, but for the good of the Country.”

We are extremely proud that we’ve had the collective courage and appropriate humility to go where few firms have gone before. Privacy and technology class actions, cases against national banks relating to changing federal programs, and actions involving industries that are often just taking shape—these are areas of the law that are still being developed, allowing us to help mold the way entire industries do business.

My motto is: the less you’re responsible for, the less trouble you can get in.

There are two types of attorneys: the ones who want to continually challenge themselves and improve their skills and the ones who don’t mind fading into the woodwork. There are plenty of firms that allow for – or even encourage – the latter. Ours is not one of them. We talk about bringing in attorneys who have a bit of a selfish streak. What we mean by that is we want associates who want to get better as quickly as possible. It helps them, and it helps us. And because our partners have bought into this philosophy, there is plenty of “good” work to go around. That means that when an associate asks to handle an oral argument, take a deposition, or negotiate with opposing counsel, her “selfishness” isn’t taking away opportunities from another attorney. It is simply giving her a chance to grow.

The flip side is that we are not a place for people who want to develop slowly. If you think you need years of “grooming” before you want to take on that big assignment, or if are unsure if you even want to be a lawyer, we are not the firm for you.

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Join us at Edelson

Fall 2012 OCI Schedule:

  • UC Berkeley: Thursday, August 9
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
    Chicago-Kent: Wednesday, August 15
  • University of Illinois: Thursday, August 16
  • DePaul: Friday, August 17
  • John Marshall: Monday, August 20
  • Northwestern: Wednesday, August 22
  • University of Colorado,
    Boulder: Thursday, August 23
  • University of Michigan: Friday, August 24
  • University of Chicago: Monday, August 27
  • Loyola (Chicago): Tuesday, August 28
  • Stanford: Thursday, August 30

Please email your resume and cover letter to Sema Lakhani