Anyone interested in practicing big law would have McDermott Will & Emery on their list. The firm has been in business since 1934 and has grown from its headquarters in Chicago to having offices around the world employing more than 1,000 lawyers and is considered one of the nation’s top firms. But for Jake Mattinson ’12, a summer associate in McDermott’s Employee Benefits Practice Group in Chicago, it has a small-firm feel.
“The firm has so many practice areas and extensive resources, but within my practice area, it’s small enough that I have gotten to know everyone,” he said. Even more impressive is that he has handled a large number of projects, many working directly with clients. “They go out of their way to make certain that summer associates have client contact.” For example, one of Mattinson’s assignments involved helping a pro bono client through the federal settlement assistance program. He has also worked on legal matters involving retirement plans and tax issues.
“Within this practice area, I have been able to see several projects through to completion,” he said. Under the direction of a supervising partner, Mattinson performed work for a small nonprofit children’s foundation that needed to complete a filing for its retirement plan. “All of the steps involved—working with the client, gathering information, preparing the filing--are ones I would take with larger clients as well,” he said.
Taking on a personal cause
Mattinson is especially impressed by the firm’s commitment to pro bono work. “They ask summer associates if there is any area that we’d be particularly interested in pursuing for a pro bono project. I have a daughter who is blind and the firm found a case for me representing a blind individual.” Mattinson is very enthusiastic about this experience. “I will be supporting my daughter (who is now two) with issues that may arise throughout her life, so on a personal level it is great that McDermott went out of their way to find a case where I could develop these talents,” he said.
Focus on preparation
To make himself attractive to firms, Mattinson put in a lot of time getting the experiences necessary to best qualify him for an internship at a large law firm. “If I could pinpoint classes or one professor, it would be my M&A and tax classes with Sam Thompson
. He didn’t just ask a question and move on, but he’d insist we take a step back and understand the purpose behind the law we were studying as a whole. The answer may be ‘yes’ but he would ask why is it yes, what was the intention behind the statute or regulation.” In addition, he did an externship with an appellate court judge in Pennsylvania, networked “like crazy,” and had a mentor in Professor Thompson. “He’s someone I can bounce things off and get advice.” Mattinson also served as Thompson’s research assistant and has been able to use many of subjects he studied in his work with Thompson, such as the imputation of income, in his work at McDermott.
In addition to practical experience, Mattinson is getting additional training. McDermott has summer academy classes which provide an introduction to the firm and helpful professional development topics such as networking.
The main thing Mattinson said he has gotten from his experience at McDermott is confirmation that he is on the right track. “It solidified that I want to practice law,” he said. He likes being challenged with a difficult problem and thinking through options and solutions and he said he loves his “experience in the Employee Benefits Practice area. The firm has reasonable expectations of its employees. I’ve seen that it’s possible to have sophisticated and demanding clients and still have a family life.”