Pogue panelists advise students on navigating the future of Big Law

By Jordan Poll
U-M Law

With the practice of law becoming increasingly business centric, this year’s Pogue Panel addressed the influence of technology on the legal profession, preparing for an economic downturn, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As leaders in their respective law firms, Rebecca Eisner, Tim Hester and Kevyn Orr advised Michigan Law students on navigating future life in Big Law.
Professor Bob Hirshon, the moderator of this year’s Pogue Panel, kicked off the conversation with the question: Will technology eliminate the need for young associates in the next three to five years?

“No, of course not,” said Eisner, a former partner-in-charge of the Chicago office and current member of the global management committee of Mayer Brown LLP. “Technology will not replace lawyers. Lawyers who are proficient with technology will replace lawyers who are not.”

Eisner, who specializes in technology transaction matters, encouraged students to take advantage of their time at Michigan and interning at firms to look into the tools being utilized for discovery and due diligence purposes.

“There will continue to be a critical need for human judgment in this profession,” added Hester, the chair of Covington & Burling LLP. “Technology is just an improvement—an enhancement in the life of a lawyer because we are now able to shift some of that more routine work to AI [artificial intelligence].”

Orr, the former emergency manager of the City of Detroit and current partner-in-charge of the Washington, D.C., office of Jones Day, echoed those thoughts. “Your ability to analyze, to think critically and creatively: This is human intelligence, which technology is evolving to support. So do become proficient [in changing technology].”

As panelists reflected upon their careers, which have included weathering economic downturns, they offered advice on how to handle future recessions.

“The cycles will come, the cycles will go,” said Orr. “Never step out of your profession, though, because you will be a better attorney once you go through that process.”

Hester noted that the correlation between the hiring activity of law firms and the economy is not necessarily one-to-one.

“Law firms are pretty stable organizations that thrive and sometimes see different demands from different clients depending on the nature of the business cycle,” he explained. “You’ll see that there is balance and diversity of clientele at many major law firms, which is why we shouldn’t assume that they are going to go off the cliff if there is another large-scale economic downturn.”

Recessions are all about change and so is the practice of law, added Eisner. “It’s something you will become comfortable with over time,” she said. “But one of the most important takeaways from your time at Michigan Law is your ability to think and evolve.”

Panelists also addressed job satisfaction, which has become an increasing concern in the legal profession.

“This is the type of job that can entirely engulf you, taking all of your time if you allow it to, so you cannot allow it,” said Eisner. “You have to set boundaries and adhere to them as best you can.”
Make time for yourself; spend time reconnecting with the people you love or participating in an activity or hobby you enjoy, she advised.

For Hester, pro bono service has been a highlight of his career and has helped him find greater joy in all aspects of his work.

“Working on the appeals for prisoners on death row while also negotiating large-scale corporate deals at the firm — that balance has really enriched my life as a lawyer,” he said. “You can be happy in the love of the craft. Just look for your own value system in what you’re doing and stay true to it.”

It’s all about perspective, added Orr. “You’re in the top 10 percent just by virtue of being here,” he said. “You are in this stratum that gives you the flexibility to work anywhere—private, public, or government—and in nearly every field you could ever imagine. No matter where you go, you’ve always got options. Never forget that.”