Young lawyers in Northwest Arkansas apparently aren’t putting in the long hours that some big-city law firms require, but that’s one reason they decided to stay in the area.
“We don’t want to turn it into Dallas or Atlanta,” said Christine Daugherty, a lawyer with the Fayetteville office of Wright Lindsey & Jennings, which is based in Little Rock. She is also a mother of two children.
“To me, it’s important to make sure I get to the Little League T-ball game because I’m a member of the community,” she said. “Wright Lindsey & Jennings wants to keep employees for the long term. If you burn them out at 80 hours a week for the first two years, they’ll just get cooked and go somewhere else.”
Daugherty, an intellectual property lawyer who works primarily with patents and copyrights, said she works about 45 hours per week. She graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in May 2000.
Other area lawyers we spoke to were working a similar number of hours per week. But in nearby cities, the story was often different.
“There are national and international firms here in Dallas where young associates are working 80 hours a week, and there are times when I’ve put in 80 hours a week, but I’d say on average I work 50 hours a week,” said Mark Torian, a Conway native who graduated with Daugherty from the UA law school.
Torian is now a lawyer with the Dallas office of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, which has about 800 lawyers in its 11 offices. Torian, who does primarily commercial litigation, said there are about 80 lawyers in the company’s Dallas office.
“If a big firm is going to pay you six figures,” Torian said, “they’re going to get their money out of you.”
Torian said it’s a “myth” that large firms work young lawyers so much that they don’t have a social or home life.
“I really enjoy the big firm,” he said. “We stay busy. It’s what I thrive on. I don’t regret it one bit.”
Scott Wray, a 1996 UA law school grad who became a partner with the Bassett Law Firm of Fayetteville in January, said he doesn’t believe first-year lawyers are required to work a heavier load, but it takes them longer to do their work because they’re still learning.
“The hardest thing about being a first-year lawyer is you really are so inexperienced when you get out of law school,” Wray said. “You’re suddenly shoved into a new environment. All of a sudden, you’re taking home other people’s problems at night in addition to wondering if you’re any good at this job. If you make a mistake, there’s always somebody there to point it out to the court.”
“The first two years, it was just a constant learning process,” said Shannon Fant, a 1997 UA law school grad who is also with the Bassett firm. “I think if you’re doing your job right, that will continue. The law is always changing. It’s rewarding work, though.”
“There’s such a steep learning curve when you get out of law school,” Torian said. “Law school doesn’t really teach you how to be a lawyer.”
Jason Bramlett graduated from the UA law school in 2001 and now works as a lawyer doing primarily business bankruptcies and corporate reorganization for Gardere, Wynne, Sewell LLP of Dallas.
Bramlett said he usually works about 55 hours, but he admits he recently put in 80 hours one week while working on a trial in Portland, Ore. Bramlett said he believes several factors affect a lawyer’s workload.
“I think it’s probably a function of where you work, what kind of work you do and whether your firm is busy,” he said. “You’re definitely going to work hard those first couple of years. You’re a new lawyer. You’ve got to get your feet wet. You get a lot of things thrown at you … When you choose to be an attorney, you kind of accept the good with the bad.”
Josh Sanford, who graduated from the UA law school in December 2000, decided to sidestep corporate law by hanging up his own shingle in Russellville.
Sanford spent his first year out of law school at Wright Lindsey & Jennings.
“I [left the corporate world] on purpose,” he said. “If I’m going to bust my hump, I’m going to do it for me. I’m not going to do it to make somebody else rich. I’m not working more than 8 to 5 really. I’m only working on cases I want to work on, and I tell the crazy people to get out of my office.”
Law School/Real World
A law school education is necessary to be a lawyer, but such an education may gloss over the practical aspects of the job.
“I think in school there’s a lot of theory of law, but you don’t learn the real practical aspects of law,” Daugherty said. “They don’t tell you where the clerk is in the courthouse … The basic ins and outs: That’s on-the-job training.”
“The real world vs. academia are two different things,” said a first-year lawyer in Fayetteville who requested anonymity. “Your ability to get an ‘A’ on things in school has nothing to do with the real world. There are so many practical things that are overlooked in law school … Grades were the door opener for the job. If you made ‘A’s, you would get the jobs at the big firms. I think what you do with your education is up to you, but law school alone is not going to cut it.”