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Finding Purpose in Plaintiff-Side Work | The Legal Intelligencer

March 20, 2024

This next generation of attorneys is coming to view plaintiff-side work as a preferable and more fulfilling alternative to the types of Big Law jobs that have historically dominated law school recruiting. In his recent byline for The Legal Intelligencer, partner Lee Rudy discusses the professional and personal benefits of plaintiff-side work and how the next generation of lawyers are finding purpose in this exciting field.

I am seeing a clear generational shift in the way that younger lawyers think about careers in the legal profession. More than ever before, law school graduates say they are seeking a sense of purpose in their work, driven by a keen sense of social awareness and an earnest desire to make a difference in the world.

Increasingly, this next generation of attorneys is coming to view plaintiff-side work as a preferable and more fulfilling alternative to the types of Big Law jobs that have historically dominated law school recruiting.

At my firm, where we primarily represent investors and consumers harmed by corporate malfeasance, we see this trend reflected in nearly every aspect of our business. This includes the growing and diverse pool of resumes we receive, to the composition of our teams fighting for clients in the courtroom. Here, I discuss some factors that are driving law school graduates to pursue careers at plaintiff-side law firms like mine, as well as the culture, cases, and opportunities that are unique to this kind of work.

Train to Think Like a Partner

Our cases seek to secure value and vital reforms for investors and consumers who have been wronged. Law school recruits are finding that this mission-driven commitment aligns with their values. It also satisfies their desire to work for the public good, like they might at a nonprofit organization or government regulatory agency. These recruits find satisfaction in a private law firm setting that melds the purpose of public interest work with resources, compensation, and a high-profile litigation experience more comparable to Big Law.

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In addition to providing fulfilling work, plaintiffs firms can offer a number of additional benefits that garner increased interest among today’s law students. For example, we are not tethered to the billable hour in the way that many Big Law firms are. Instead, we work primarily on a contingent-fee basis, which means that our firm gets paid a certain percentage of the total recovery if our clients win or settle their case.

For junior attorneys, this structure encourages a creative, entrepreneurial, and collaborative culture of mentorship, which places a premium on enterprise and brings associates directly into the decision-making process. Crucially, for more junior associates, that means less time spent on document review and more hands-on experience crafting actual case strategy and contributing directly to high-level work that goes to the very heart of the litigation. Under a Big Law billable model, more meaningful work tends to stay with senior lawyers (possibly due to billing-based bonus structures). But at firms like ours, we just want to win as a team; partners have every reason to give junior attorneys as much work, and as many opportunities, as we think they can handle.

So, while an associate at a defense firm may draft a case memo for partner review, that associate may not ever hear if or how the memo was used. In a firm like ours, we aren’t just asking associates to draft memos to create billable work—we only assign memos if they will help the team achieve a specific goal. We want associates to be in meetings where we set strategy so that we know for sure that the entire team is aligned. We are constantly calling on our associates to provide input on the strengths or weaknesses of a case or to give their opinion on substantive matters that impact the outcome of litigation. Junior lawyers are trained right away to think like partners, and they are expected to offer their opinion on the direction of our cases.

High-Stakes Matters

When your business is going up against corporate America, you are going to find yourself litigating against the biggest companies and most elite litigation firms. This means that junior attorneys at our firm are given the opportunity, early in their careers, to cut their teeth against and alongside some of the best litigators in the world. Litigating at this high level also ensures that our associates work on challenging, cutting-edge legal issues, and have a real opportunity to drive positive change in constantly developing areas of the law.

Take, for example, the $612 million jury verdict we and our co-counsel secured last summer for shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In this unique class action, we were able to prove, after a decade of fierce, hotly-contested litigation, that the Federal Housing Finance Agency had improperly swept Fannie and Freddie’s profits into the U.S. Treasury at the expense of investors. The jury verdict, which was only achieved after multiple appeals and an earlier hung jury, ranks among my firm’s proudest moments.

Our trial team included both seasoned trial attorneys and young associates. The substantive, in-depth work that our associates did both leading up to and during the trial was critical to securing this excellent result. Our associates were involved in every aspect of the trial: drafting motions, helping craft trial strategy, ensuring that crucial evidence was admitted, and helping prepare witness examinations. In addition to gaining valuable first-hand experience on a high-profile, high-stakes case, the hard work they put in contributed to a meaningful recovery for injured shareholders. This momentous verdict underscores not only the investments that an elite plaintiff-side firm can make in deeply litigating its cases, but also the professional and moral satisfaction we derive from our work.

To be sure, life at a plaintiff-side firm is demanding on junior lawyers. The stakes are high, and the calling is not for everyone. But for the growing number of law school graduates looking to launch meaningful careers in the law, it offers the opportunity to do high-level work they are proud of. Our firm’s long-term success depends, in large part, on our ability to attract and develop top-tier legal talent, and we are committed to creating avenues for newer attorneys to thrive.