I badly regret this
September 30, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

What's not to hate about being a transactional lawyer?

I like analyzing and designing rules, so I became a lawyer. Now I am near the beginning of my second year as a corporate associate in a "biglaw" firm.

I hate it wholeheartedly. The work that I do (for 12-16 hours nearly every day of my life) consists of the purely mechanical application of rote algorithms, occasionally interrupted by the obligation to interact obsequiously. There is no intellectual stimulation, challenge or satisfaction in any of it. Insofar as I've felt close enough to them to ask, senior colleagues -- including one recent partner -- inform me that this has never changed for them and that they don't like their work either.

How can I tell whether what I hate is (i) the earliest stages of biglaw, (ii) biglaw, (iii) transactional law, (iv) law or (v) work?

If you have worked as a transactional attorney, in what elements of your work have you taken satisfaction, and how long did it take you to discover that satisfaction?

If you used to be in my shoes, and then switched to a career you found rewarding, what was that career?

Anonymous responses can be sent to worklifebalance2012@gmail.com.

Thanks in advance for all advice.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What's not to hate about being a transactional lawyer?

Well, for one thing, the money.

If you have worked as a transactional attorney, in what elements of your work have you taken satisfaction, and how long did it take you to discover that satisfaction?

If you used to be in my shoes, and then switched to a career you found rewarding, what was that career?

Combining your two questions into a related question -- "if you[r friends] used to be in my shoes and then switched to a career [they] found rewarding, then how long did they wait before making that switch?" -- the answer is that they switched after making significant headway in paying off their law school loans.
posted by salvia at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you may enjoy litigation or a regulatory practice, or even something like ERISA or tax. Can you switch within your firm? Transactional has always seemed like a grind/snooze to me.
posted by yarly at 3:58 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

A little late for this realization, no? There's a reason why biglaw lawyers have the lowest job satisfaction, it's a really unpleasant way to practice law. The billable requirements compel you to work absurd hours, and discourage efficiency. You might considering lateraling to a smaller firm in a few years, but it's likely that your hours will continue to suck. That's true in smaller markets as well, with the added bonus of getting paid less. Regulatory practices do encourage using your brain earlier in the career path, which makes them generally more fun. If you're going to lateral, though, why not try trust & estate? Best quality of life practice in the world.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:06 PM on September 30, 2012

I enjoyed being a transactional lawyer, sometimes quite a bit.

Complex transactions are like a jigsaw puzzle that can be extraordinarily interesting to solve, but not if you don't know what picture it makes. Try to learn why every diligence step, document and every section of every document exists, and what it does, and how it achieves (or doesn't achieve) the deal points. Get (and read) the term sheet for every deal you work on. Read the Wall Street Journal and FT every day. Ask questions.

This will not only make it intellectually interesting, and occasionally stimulating, but enable you to do it well. I feel very, very sorry for that young transactional partner you mentioned. I am assuming that he's ethical enough not to have stuck with it for nine years without doing good work, and if he hated it all along that means his talent and self-discipline are truly immense, and truly wasted.

If, deep down, you just don't care about deals and business, this will never get better, and you should change practices. You might be able to gut it out like the young partner you mentioned, but more likely it will end in being forced out at some point. Lateraling within the same practice area is not the solution; transactional practice is more alike than it is different.

I did transactional Biglaw for five years, with a hiatus for some tech business & law stuff, and left to do high yield / distressed debt on Wall Street, but only could have made that move because Biglaw had taught me how the pieces of corporate credit fit together and could be taken apart.
posted by MattD at 4:11 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

The only way to determine whether it is biglaw that you hate, or transactional law, or law altogether, is to go do something else. Go litigate at a small firm, or work for a government agency, or litigate at a big firm, or do transactional work in a small practice.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:13 PM on September 30, 2012

A pal of mine who did time at Swellivan and Crumbwell for far too long transfered over to insurance inhouse counsel, he hates that less, but he has three kids that keep him happy and land in the woods where he can go shoot, explode, or scream as he sees fit.
posted by vrakatar at 4:40 PM on September 30, 2012

I have lateraled from biglaw to a small country practice with 17 lawyers. I love it. But I never hated corporate work the way you do.

Like Matt D, I took great pleasure in the jigsaw puzzle of it. The hours and working on too many puzzles at once and the feeling of ALWAYS being on call are not things I miss, however.

The money in biglaw is nice and can set you up well if you save thriftily.
posted by slateyness at 5:13 PM on September 30, 2012

I know some transactional attorneys who disliked Big Law but are very happy as in-house counsel for big corporations or government agencies, where their transactional work is all focused on a single entity's goals, and it makes more "sense" because they feel more a part of the overall strategy. Going in with a small company gives you a broader practice and more management responsibilities; a larger company lets you specialize in particular areas, has more mentoring available, more room for advancement*, and may be more 9-to-5.

(*If it's a 3-person legal department and the other two attorneys are 45 and have no intention of moving or retiring, you won't have much chance to move up, though you'll probably have more responsibility. In a 50-person department, there's more motion, but also more hierarchy.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:49 PM on September 30, 2012

I left a huge firm for public interest. I think what you're describing is run of the mill for biglaw, no matter what department. I found it to be completely tedious and mind numbing work, even when I got something "juicy."

I think MattD has some good things to say. I'm not sure why I worked at a big firm; business does not interest me. Similar to you, I looked at those senior to me and could not understand why they worked there (money I guess?). If you look at your work superiors not as role models, but as aliens, then you are probably at the wrong place.
posted by murfed13 at 9:50 PM on September 30, 2012

What kind of "transactional law" do you do? Capital markets and M&A are typically pretty boring and brutal for junior associates, who usually get stuck doing glorified secretarial duty. At a biglaw firm, the trick to more intellectual stimulation and substantive work is to seek work from groups that are not as bottom heavy with junior associates, so that even the people on the very bottom rung got "real" work sooner than they would have otherwise. When I worked in that environment, I worked on derivatives and was pretty satisfied with the level of work I was getting (actual substantive drafting and client interactions) while other people my year were doing diligence or rote debt issuances. People I know looking for similar things ended up in tax or maybe benefits.

Also - the hours will suck, maybe not all the time, but periodically and unpredicatably. If an upgrade to the quality of work you are doing won't entirely make up for the hours and unpredictability, look into building up your skill base by doing as much quality work as you can now and then jump in-house.
posted by subtle-t at 6:34 AM on October 1, 2012

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