November 21, 2011 Articles

Large Cases at a Smaller Firm: A Young Litigator's Perspective

At a small firm, a young litigator can get a better and closer grasp of the factual issues in the case.

By Jeff Goldman – November 21, 2011

Oil and gas environmental contamination cases (as I’ve experienced them, at least) are hefty affairs. There’s a full deck of experts on both sides, plus fact witnesses to dispute who spilled what, when, and where. Whether any spill even occurred, or whether there was anything there to spill in the first place, and whether the ducks, or vegetation, or alligators, or crabs, or mice, or birds appear to be suffering—or not—because of it. These are not generally the kinds of cases that fit on a single shelf or that can be handled by a single partner with an associate and a secretary for backup. Nonetheless small(er) firms do handle these leviathans, and they do well even without some of the resources that larger firms enjoy.

I enjoy the small-firm practice of big cases. Without multiple paralegals to do your factual reviews, a young litigator can get a better and closer grasp of the factual issues in the case. Plus it’s fun to put down the code book and reporter to spend a day or two playing investigator. Also, having fewer people involved keeps you hopping from one task to another, preventing boredom and over-specialization—which is not to say that I haven’t wished that I had an over-specialized, dedicated expert on certain subjects when to-do lists were long and time was short.

Upon graduation in 2006, I was hired by Slattery, Marino, and Roberts (SMR), a small New Orleans firm specializing in oil and gas law. I had never clerked for a law firm; all my summer legal experience was limited to judicial clerkships and externships.

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