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Matthew Gibbons and Debbie Jang are associates in Gibson Dunn’s New York office. We asked them to describe their experiences navigating the “free market” system across multiple practice groups, as well as the Firm’s rotation system. Below is a brief description of the “free market” system and an exploration of their career paths through the free market system and the Firm’s rotation system. We hope that their journeys will help aid others as they navigate life as associates (particularly the junior associate years) in big law.
Upon arriving at the Firm, Matthew Gibbons and Debbie Jang had the opportunity to take advantage of Gibson Dunn’s “free market” system, which allows all associates to choose their practice areas and chart their own career path. Instead of a formal assignment system, each associate has a remarkable degree of autonomy to seek out the people with whom they want to work and the types of matters on which they would like to work. Having been summer associates (and for Matt, who was both a 1L and 2L summer), they both worked on a variety of matters with a wide range of partners across multiple practice areas and they both chose to start their careers working in the corporate department.
Notwithstanding their expressed interest in the corporate department, all first and second year lawyers are unassigned and have the opportunity to rotate between practice areas at six-month intervals and, as such, try different departments and types of work before ultimately electing a practice group at the start of their third year. At Gibson Dunn, we want to give our lawyers the opportunity to gain exposure to various practice areas, thereby allowing associates to make a more informed decision about their career paths. Although both Matt and Debbie were very excited about corporate work, they both ultimately decided to pursue other practice areas with Matt choosing real estate and Debbie choosing litigation.
Describe your experiences with the free market system.
Matt: I reached out widely to corporate partners and senior associates to secure work and was able to work on M&A, capital markets and corporate finance deals during my first few months at the Firm, though I found finance work to be the most intellectually stimulating. Eventually, you will choose to work on matters that you like substantively and where the team dynamics feel right to you. While continuing to work on corporate finance transactions, I worked on a real estate transaction and the partners with whom I worked with kept coming to me with more opportunities. For over a year I worked primarily on real estate and corporate financing transactions and ultimately chose to join the real estate practice group where I have been for the past four years.
Debbie: Similar to Matt, I started by seeking out work from a number of partners and associates in nearly all the corporate groups—finance, capital markets, securities regulation and corporate governance and investment funds—to get a taste of all the groups and be exposed to different teams’ working styles. After working in the corporate department over a year, I wanted to take advantage of the free market system and sought out a rotation in litigation. I have been in the litigation group for about 6 months and the transition has not been as difficult as I had imagined. In fact, partners and associates have helped facilitate the transition by guiding me through the process and providing me avenues to find substantive work as I develop as a junior associate in a different practice group.
What is the most rewarding and difficult part of the free market system?
Matt: The most rewarding part of the free market system is having the flexibility to choose the work that interests me most, especially while developing expertise within my chosen practice area. I have used the free market system to diversify my practice within real estate by working on a variety of transactions, which sometimes means saying no to certain types of transactions. Saying no to work is one of the most difficult things about the free market system given that you’re also saying no to an additional opportunity to learn. It is, however, necessary for one’s progression as a lawyer and, by saying no, it will keep a lawyer’s head afloat enabling them to deliver quality work while also keeping them interested in the practice of law.
Debbie: I echo all of Matt’s comments about the flexibility of the free market system. Members of the litigation group welcomed me when I transitioned into the group and everyone has been extremely helpful. And the work and experiences I had as a corporate associate have allowed me to bring a unique lens to my work as a litigator. The free market system is extremely beneficial in that manner as it allows you to build and hone skillsets in one practice area and seamlessly transfer those skills should you decide to switch practice groups.
How else has the free market system allowed for your growth as an attorney?
Matt: The free market system has also allowed me to work with attorneys and paralegals in other offices, which has broadened my perspective beyond the New York market and has proven critical to my development as a lawyer. Associates are also given broad directives to get involved in firm activities based on their interests. I have taken advantage of many opportunities to serve in leadership roles at the Firm in our hiring, diversity and pro bono offerings. I also served as a summer associate coordinator through which I co-lead the New York office’s summer program and continue to serve on the Firm’s hiring committee.
Debbie: Because of the free market system, I have been able to get involved based on issues and causes important to me, including working on a variety of pro bono matters and serving as a co-chair of the Asian American affinity group in the New York office.
What piece of advice do you find yourself most sharing with lawyers junior to you?
Matt: I regularly advise junior lawyers to use the free market system to work on a myriad of transactions within a chosen practice area and to submit to the time demands of the profession early on in one’s career. In so doing, a junior lawyer will have the best opportunity to quickly develop skills as a lawyer and to get to know a variety of lawyers within the Firm. These are the keys to success while at a firm and, perhaps even more applicable, for success after leaving a firm.
Debbie: I tell other junior associates to not be afraid of taking advantage of the free market system; it is there for a reason. Regardless of whether you’re in the free market system or a central staffing system, you have to practice being proactive and intentional about the type of work you do, the people you work with, and the direction of your career. The Firm has a multitude of resources to support us as we develop as attorneys but you must also take advantage of those resources in order to do so. Seek out opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
This is a sponsored blog post from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. You can view Gibson Dunn's Vault profile here.
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