Emily Stedman, senior associate with Husch Blackwell LLP, supports clients in industries driving innovation across the Midwest with their commercial litigation. She shares her exciting career path from judicial law clerk to BigLaw associate, where she now uses tech tools like Clearbrief with her legal writing to meet client expectations for efficiency and firm goals for profitability. Emily shares her real-world wisdom for associates on shaping their career choices, understanding how they can influence the filed brief, and more.
Tell us about your role and your firm.
I am a senior associate at Husch Blackwell LLP, an Am100 law firm headquartered in Missouri. We have about 800 attorneys across 25 offices, plus the virtual office. I'm based out of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin location, which is one of our largest offices.
Husch Blackwell organizes attorneys by industry team first and practice group second. I am in the Technology, Manufacturing, and Transportation industry team, and I practice commercial litigation within that team. In many ways, I’ve developed the skills of a generalist in commercial litigation: I handle contract disputes for any size of company, so claims may be as small as $1,000 to multi million dollar claims.
There is a misconception that BigLaw opportunities only exist in coastal cities, but the Midwest has a lot to offer! Some of the largest law firms are here in the Midwest, with lots of litigation taking place. In my role, I go up against New York law firms, so I get the same high-level litigation experience without living in high-cost places like California or New York.
What inspired your career path in law, and what have you learned about legal writing along the way?
I was inspired to go to law school partly by my mom’s experience attending law school later in life. She clerked at the state level, and the judge had a big impact on our family. I knew I wanted to clerk after law school, but I was less certain about BigLaw. Clerking gave me time to figure out my career path. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity at a mid-sized firm and worked there for four years before joining Husch.
Clerking is a great way to refine your legal writing skills because you get to read briefs all day and learn what does and doesn’t work as far as written advocacy. At the same time, clerking is very different from working at a law firm in that you go from having one boss - the judge - to having up to a dozen different bosses - each law partner who assigns a matter to you. Similarly, you must learn and manage each partner's preferences and writing styles.
My advice for new law firm associates is to be open to constructive feedback on your legal writing from each partner and learn their writing styles.
At the same time, most partners focus their edits on language and ideas, and often associates maintain influence over citations.
What do you enjoy about your role as a senior associate at a large law firm?
As a senior associate I have more decision-making and control over matters and have started delegating certain tasks to junior and mid level associates. The most rewarding parts of the job are building teams and mentoring the associate attorneys on my team. Working with and learning from them makes the hard days as a litigator worth it.
What are ways in which you support and mentor other lawyers?
Like others during the pandemic, my mental health and well-being struggled. But issues with lawyer well-being have long troubled the legal profession. We need to talk to each other about mental health because there's power in knowing you're not alone.
By serving on the Wisconsin Task Force for Lawyer Well-Being, I realized that we can’t sit in our offices, sad and scared and anxious, and then put on a game face to the outside world. Law firms won’t change if the problems aren’t visible.
I began posting on social media about my tough days. I wrote in a vulnerable way about how hard the job can be and about good outcomes in cases. In addition to lawyer well-being, I want to pull back the veil on what it's like as an associate in BigLaw.
I have found a firm that appreciates people for who they are, and I can be myself here. People on social media are grateful that I speak about mental health, and it’s important to me to keep talking about lawyer well-being.
How are you thinking about the future of legal practice?
I’m thinking critically about how we can use tech to shape cases going forward, particularly with eDiscovery. I think that the associates who will wield power and influence in the future will be the ones who learn technology and work seamlessly with paralegals and litigation support. The associates with these skills will bring in more business and money as partners because corporate clients want efficiency.
It's not enough that you're a great lawyer. You have to bring efficiency to corporate matters.
For associates with the ambition to make partner, it’s not enough to help the firm make money; you need to help the firm save money and become more efficient. Tech tools can help shape the profitable law firms of the future.
Yet the legal world is nervous about tech. Even practice groups that have adopted technology may be hesitant to upgrade or add new tools. Senior associates are perfectly positioned to guide conversations about legal tech because they understand the big picture and can see the value of technology because they are on the ground using the products.
Thank you, Emily!
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