Steve Henke ’12 – Today I met with Dustin DeNeal ‘04, an associate at Baker and Daniels and had shorter meetings with Phil Gutwein ‘96, Scott Himsel ‘85, Jim Pope ‘70, and Peter Hatton ‘70. My primary purpose in visiting Baker and Daniels was to discern the difference between large and small law firms. Yet my experience proved far more informative and interesting than I had anticipated.
Dustin taught me a lot about the beginning life of an associate lawyer in a big firm. Associates are treated like professionals (i.e. responsible to keep themselves accountable), but the hours required may vary greatly within the practice. Doing work for one partner may require 24 hour vigilance, while another might be working strictly within set hours. Especially when working for bankruptcy clients nervous to invest in legal assistance, attorneys must keep a record of the time spent on the clock (Dustin keeps a record of what he’s doing every 6 minutes). The important lesson seems to be exceptional time-management and flexibility.
A good associate should be willing and able to meet the demands of both the client and the supervising partner. Typical barriers drawn between litigators and transactional lawyers will often be blurred as the need arises in service of a client. And within the context of a larger firm, plenty of support exists for obscure issues that may arise in a case. What might take a lawyer at a small firm two hours to research will take a five minute phone call at Baker and Daniels.
Phil Gutwein elaborated that the job isn’t for everyone. The demands are high, as are the rewards. With a larger firm comes (generally) a larger level of sophistication. The life at a big firm is busy, and as lawyers advance to the partner level, their responsibility to manage clients will increase exponentially. In a bigger city like New York, the hours required can increase to occupy every office in a firm at 11:00 PM.
Yet Professor Scott Himsel showed that law can be an unsurpassed way to engage the mind. He told me about some cases he had litigated in court—a job with mental excitement around every corner. For those able to immerse themselves in this profession, law can be a tremendously rewarding experience. Working at Baker and Daniels, says Himsel, is like “taking a seminar filled with A students.”
After a brief chat with Mr. Himsel, I went to lunch with Mr. DeNeal, Jim Pope, and Peter Hatton. The latter two are both partners at Baker and Daniels specializing in utilities work. From them, I began to see the changing nature of the legal field. While the current severe hiring shortage may be temporary, tough competition continues for entrance into prestigious firms such as Baker and Daniels. On the other hand, standards of the industry, such as the bar exam, have been modified to include some multiple choice trivia questions instead of comprehensive essay questions. Today’s landscape may change drastically, even in the next decade.
The more I come in contact with the field of law, the more I feel drawn to the profession and ideas behind the work. Though I’m still two years from graduation from my undergraduate degree, I can certainly hope to work alongside such men of Wabash as those I have met today.
In photo: (left to right) Jim Pope ’70, Peter Hatton ’70, Steve Henke ’12, Dustin DeNeal ’04