It's quittin' time!
September 26, 2011 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm a lawyer, and I've spent my entire legal career at big Vault 25 multinational firms doing transactional work. In 2012, I want a new job. For those of you who left Big Law (or made other left turns from your legal career), how do you tell whether you just don't like your working environment or whether you should get out of law altogether?

I'm at the seniority level where people at my firm start getting serious about becoming a partner. I have absolutely no interest in partnership; I'm not sure whether this comes across or has been noted yet. I have probably another two years before the firm would give me the boot, but I'd rather get out in (early) 2012 after collecting my bonus.

Everything I don't like about my current position can be distilled to three common complaints: 1) I have little control over my life; 2) I work for PE/investment banking clients that I don't like or admire; and 3) I don't find interesting the actual work I do.

I'd like to address one or preferably two of those complaints in 2012. Fixing all three would send me over the moon.

For those MeFi lawyers who arrived at this same crossroads, how did you know whether you wanted to stay in the law in another capicity, or get out entirely? Were you happy with your decision?

I'd particularly love to hear from lawyers who walked away from transactional/expert groups that are not immediately translatable into mainstream legal work (like ERISA compliance, SILO mavens, derivatives/ISDA, tax structuring--i.e., people who are not commercial litigators or corporate generalists).
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) to Law & Government (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am a bit confused about the type of practice(s) you think might/might not be interesting to you--I am confused by the "not immediately translatable......" and "who are not commercial litigators or corporate generalists" sections. Do you want to work with big/med/small firm, independent practice and are your aspirations focused on commercial/general/specialty (estate-tax-patent-etc). Are you willing to make huge jump such as domestic/criminal. Small/mid/big city? While IANAL I have worked closely (patients/consultant/Bar Assoc.member) with many attorneys over the years. Thanks for any additional information. Or you may be in such an esoteric realm of law, and alternatives, that it is beyond me. thanks
posted by rmhsinc at 12:21 PM on September 26, 2011

In my experience, finding a more fulfilling way to practice law is possible, but will require a possibly significant reduction in income.

And are you willing to move to dc and work for government? There is a mini boom in financial regulations right now, and the agencies desperately need people with expert knowledge like you have. Takes a while to get hired, though, so give it six months at least.

You may also be happier at a small firm - but you have to make sure you like the people and culture, otherwise you will be stuck in a worse position than at your big firm, and making less $ to boot!
posted by yarly at 12:25 PM on September 26, 2011

For more control over your life, you might try part-time work at a smaller firm, part-time work in-house, or something like Axiom that lets you pick and choose your engagements. A niche practice would probably be a plus if you did any of these. But since you say you don't like the actual work you do, it sounds like you might prefer a more drastic change.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:36 PM on September 26, 2011

My clue to get out of my old firm job was sleepless night after sleepless night. I was a wreck.

I went in-house, and have never looked back. Life is much, much simpler. I have one guy to keep happy, no billables to keep track of, straight 9-5 punch in punch out.

And yes, there's considerably less coin attached to this tradeoff, but I'm very happy to have made it, and gotten my life back. At the time of the change, I might have wanted to get out of the game altogether, but couldn't have afforded it. Now, I don't even need that much -- law without clients is a beautiful thing.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:40 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Mind you, in-house still work, and there are good days and bad days as with any job, but compared to the old place, this is friggin' lollipopland. Regular contact with people who aren't lawyers being a big part of that.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! They're very helpful.

Rmhsinc: I don't think I'd rule anything out just yet, and I really don't have any idea what would be interesting to me! The work I've done so far has been more or less focused on large (as often as not, multi-billion-dollar) private equity transactions. It's not a skillset that would seem to translate easily to a job at Legal Aid, or hanging up your own shingle. But I hope I'm wrong--hence the call to anyone who has taken a career in other narrow specialties like the ones I mentioned that have sallied forth into greener pastures...

Yarly: I'd definitely be willing to take a steep pay cut, if I can get my life back. You're right, I really don't want to go to a small firm to be just as miserable for less money. I'd be willing to move to DC (love the idea of federal work--I think I'm a bureaucrat at heart), but I'm not quite ready to relocate yet.

Capt. Renault: in-house could be great, I think. I like working for a definable entity made up of people (rather than some investment company made up of sharks). The problem is I'm not sure I can make the jump with my experience--I have a good resume, but it's very narrow. I'm no Jack-of-all-trades, not by a longshot.

Anyone out there make a clean break from the law when quitting a Big Firm who can share advice on that decision? I think that if I take a non-legal job, it will be hard to get back in to the law if I change my mind--but if I take a legal job when I should just retire from the bar, I'm just further delaying the next chapter of my life.
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) at 12:57 PM on September 26, 2011

A small firm with the right culture may be just the ticket for you. We're a small shop with a niche, though not your niche, and we try to hunt for attorneys like you who are looking to leave biglaw but who have experience doing what we do. We're an atypical firm, and you have to have a certain personality type to fit in here, but if you fit it's a great place to work. Occasionally very busy, but everyone is treated like an adult, which means as much responsibility and agency as you can handle, and no b.s. face-time requirements, etc.

I came here after working at a job where I loved the work, but hated the schedule and the office. I don't have any deep advice for how to know where to go; I just asked myself "best guess, would I be happier if I took the new job?" So far it appears that I've guessed right.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:28 PM on September 26, 2011

I was a commercial litigator at a big firm, who left to become a prosecutor. And have done other things since that. The keys for me when I left my firm were 1) I knew I had to go because though I liked the people and was on partnership track, partnership didn't interest me a bit; 2) I knew I wanted to keep practicing law because I really enjoyed anything to do with litigation (briefing, argument, examination of witnesses, etc.); and 3) I knew I wanted to feel as though I'd actually done something of significance each day. Put those things together and my move made lots of sense for me.

I'd suggest you look at "bureaucrat" type jobs for county, state or federal government bodies. Go with what you like to do. (Also, be ready for the income drop. It is much tougher to lose yearly income than to be a poor student who expects no more.)
posted by bearwife at 4:07 PM on September 26, 2011

« Older Nashville Grocery Delivery Service   |   Turkey trip Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.