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Firm Life: Q&A with Kevin Tamm

After graduating magna cum laude from UC Law in 2013, Pittsburgh native Kevin Tamm dove into his law career as an intellectual property associate at a firm in Indianapolis. In 2015, he moved to Houston, Texas, to work at Bracewell, LLP, with some of the world’s largest oil companies as clients. We caught up with Tamm recently to find out how firm life is going so far.

Q: How did your experience at UC Law affect your decision to work at a large, full-service law firm?
A: After my first year, I interned during the summer and then during my second year of law school at GE Aviation. I worked over the summer full time and then during my second year of law school part time at GE Aviation in their environmental legal group. It was good to see how the in-house legal department at a big corporation worked. But they didn't hire new attorneys right out of law school. They only hired folks with many years of experience.

After my second year of law school, during my second year as I worked at GE, I was applying to law firms. Because of my engineering background and my general interests, I was applying to bigger firms that had intellectual property practices. I went to job fairs that had that as well. That's how I got my summer associate position, after my second year at a firm in Indianapolis (Faegre Baker Daniels LLP), not far from Cincinnati. I worked at that firm in their summer associate program, but I was in the IP group.

Q: How did you get your first job out of law school?
I was waiting for an offer from a firm I summered for. Then I finally got a full-time offer from them. I also asked them if I'd be able to intern there during my third year. Basically, the second semester of my third year I was going up to Indianapolis about two days a week to work for the firm. I was able to work remotely, as well, so on weekends and stuff I could work for them. Then pretty much over the summer after I graduated, I was able to move up there and took the bar. I worked in their IP group for almost two years.

Q. So what brought you to Texas?
When I was working (in Indianapolis), I actually was recruited because of my (previous chemical engineering) experience down to Texas. The firm I'm at now basically needed a chemical engineering patent associate. It was a pretty good offer—hard to refuse. I ended up moving down here and have been pretty happy.

Q. What’s it like to work there?
It's a much larger city. I live in Houston, near downtown. It’s a very industrial city—a lot of oil and gas companies, chemical companies, banks. So it’s a pretty big legal market. A lot of the law firms here are what you would call the New York firms. We're on a New York scale. You get to bill a lot of hours. You make more money. There's a lot of opportunity.

I really like it because you're given a lot of professional freedom. I have to bill 2,000 hours a year, but that doesn't mean I'm sitting at my office desk 2,000 hours a year. I travel a lot.

I work a lot with the IP group, which here is about 40 people. I also work a lot with the corporate folks on mergers and acquisitions. I work on licenses. I work on some employment matters. We're available, as the IP group, to help out the other groups in more technical issues that arise. I go to clients, manufacturing facilities and their offices quite a bit.

Q: How did UC help prepare you for firm life?
I would say that UC prepares you pretty well. I would say generally in the South law schools in the North are just viewed better. There's lots of law schools in the South that are unaccredited and not what you would call top tier.

I think the experience of being taught by an adjunct professor is invaluable because they're the ones who are actually practicing still. They would come over and teach maybe one day a week or two days a week for us. Their teaching I felt like is what really prepares you to practice, because they're the ones working at law firms. I really thought UC was good with that, letting a lot of their senior classes be taught by adjunct professors.

Q: As a relatively new associate at a firm, do you feel like you have to earn your stripes before you get to work on the “juicier” cases or clients?
I think that's true. I think for at least half a year, a year, you have to prove yourself to people. Once you've proven yourself to people that you can do the work, they give you essentially as much freedom as you want. At this point, I normally go to the partners when I have a really complicated or risky issue. But for the day-to-day stuff, the partners don't want to really be bothered with that. Once they trust you, they just expect you to handle the day-to-day legal work. They're around for support when you really need someone to sign off on something that has a lot of risk involved.

Q: What has surprised you so far about working as a lawyer?
The thing that I think still surprises me is just ... I don't know how best to word it. It's just the whole idea of doing legal work at a firm that people are willing to pay you to do. The billable rate law firms, especially big law firms, charge is extremely high. You think to yourself, "What am I doing that's worth this amount of money?"

But the thing is, the corporations we work for all have lawyers that work for them, so typically the stuff we're getting is stuff that they don't want to do, they can't do, they're too busy to do, or it's too complicated. A lot of the work we get is that type of work, where it's either really burdensome or tricky. It surprised me. You think, "Wow. How are they paying this? Why are they paying this?" But it's like, "Oh, because you're basically doing the work that the corporations don't want to do."

Q: Do you have a chance to pursue hobbies outside of work at all?
I bike quite a bit. I bought a townhome this year with my girlfriend. I've actually been buying rental properties in my spare time. The thing is—and most law firms are like this these days—you do work a lot, but it's not you're in the office a lot. You can work from home. You're constantly emailing and responding to emails from your phone. Oftentimes, if I have to bill a lot, I can sit on my couch and work remotely. It's a lot of work, but it's not like you have no free time.

Q: What do you think the future holds for you, career-wise?
When you're junior or mid-level at a law firm, you don't have to decide quickly. Myself, I don't know. I like it here. In terms of staying at a firm, I'm going to stay here. I'm not going to leave. I've looked at some corporate opportunities.

Additionally, over this past year I got really involved in politics. I got drawn into working on one of the presidential campaigns. During the election, myself and another coworker were called up to work in New York City on the election day operations for a campaign's legal team. I might in the next year or so be drawn into working politics.