Life after BigLaw?
May 18, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Everyone always tells you that going to law school and being a lawyer will open up all types of job possibilities. I tried being a big firm lawyer and am don't want to continue doing it. I'm looking to figure out life after biglaw and what that actually means. Looking for advice on how to figure out what's next, where to look for jobs that might play to a legal skill set, and how and what to highlight about biglaw experience when looking for the next job.

About me:

1. Went to a top 50 law school
2. Summered at a biglaw firm in NYC
3. Worked at said biglaw firm as a litigator for 4 years after law school and got burnt out
4. ...

I think the four years in biglaw were good for me. I paid off my loans, learned a lot about the business of biglaw, and had a decent number of opportunities to build my legal skill set (took depositions, argued motions, wrote motions, plenty of client contact, etc.), but, it was also enough time to know that the partner track is not for me and that biglaw work is not as fulfilling as I had hoped. I'm also planning to leave NYC, probably to go back to San Francisco, where I used to live.

Problem is, I'm not sure what to do next. I don't think litigating at another firm will be productive. I just don't know where to look next. I'm open to legal and non-legal possibilities. Where do I look? Should I do something completely different and follow my passion (wine)? How can I spin my legal experience into a non-legal job? Any advice is welcome, and hearing stories about how people left a biglaw job is helpful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps this book will help?

One cautionary tale -- a lot of people who are lawyers try to spin their passion for say, art, into a legal art job if you love museums. But working as a lawyer for a museum can actually be really divorced from the art itself -- a lot of paperwork, employment law, insurance issues, etc, not hanging out in museums. So be wary of taking a counsel job involving wine if you love wine -- if you love wine, you should probably do something that actually involves wine, not the "law of wine," if that makes sense.

Also, remember that lawyers are really just professional writers. You can leverage this skill.

You've paid off your loans, gained awesome skills, and are officially free. Your skills will really come in handy in a million jobs. Good luck and congrats!!
posted by EtTuHealy at 3:15 PM on May 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Read Herminia Ibarra's Working Identity -- it's probably the best book on how professionals iterate themselves into more fulfilling careers.
posted by shivohum at 3:33 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

you're a lucky guy/gal, the world is your oyster, it took me 15 whole years to burn out, and you have relatively more youth and energy at the end of your lawyer stage than i did. some things you can do...

nonprofits/social change organizations - you're ideally suited to step in - organizing vision, management skills and communication skills. i'm a little light on #2.

co-found a tech startup with a former client. if you're a solid law and word g/g, you don't even have to know how to write code.

litigation support, particularly, jury selection consultation; it's like witch doctory except with a whole lot more money going into it. guess which mefite got bounced on thursday by defense counsel from the jury panel of a drunk driving case?

when you get old and go inactive with the bar of your state, if you move to the right place, you can still maintain a 45 minute/month or so liaison with the jealous mistress by getting a tiny local jurisdiction to hire you to adjudicate speeding driver/loose dog cases.
posted by bruce at 4:14 PM on May 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I saw an a lawyer come in and do mba type things with the occasional legal review. So at the very least an employer saw crossover skills there.
posted by jander03 at 4:40 PM on May 18, 2014

Hi. I was you a few years ago, but in Australia.

I was looking to leave the law, and then was pushed out when the GFC hit in 2009.

I went into public policy, working for a government regulator, where I found my BigLaw skills directly transferable; drafting legislation, developing regulatory policy and investigations systems, consulting on new legislation and public policy proposals.

Much less money, but much more fulfilling work, and much, much shorter hours. Feel free to memail me if you have specific questions.

You're debt free now (good for you). Take your time, find a career (or build one) that you can love.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:45 PM on May 18, 2014

What do you enjoy? Can you turn that into a career? You've already proven to yourself you can learn and retain information. You should be able to learn any retain anything you like, so you could be anything. Bartender, counselor, romance novelist, landscaper, raspberry farmer?
posted by AllieTessKipp at 5:06 PM on May 18, 2014

There are a lot of ex-lawyers who went into... counseling others about how to become ex-lawyers! I've heard good things about the Liz Brown book recommended above, and if you google "lawyer career counselor" or ask your law school's career services center, you might find someone to advise you on ths.

My story is that I wanted to focus more on my niche area and also wanted a more humane lifestyle, so I ended up working for a government agency that needed someone with my specialty. I also considered going solo, joining a smaller firm, and in-house counsel positions. You know, the usual lawyer career paths.

The real question is what you care about. What did you like and not like about your job? Do you have any cross-disciplinary areas of interest that might inform your next step?

One piece of advice I got when I switched jobs was to keep up those biglaw contacts. They will continue to be a great source of referrals and introductions. If you have good relationships with any of the partners you worked with, you could consider asking them what they would recommend for your next step -- they know your strengths and weaknesses, and may point you in directions you wouldn't have thought of yourself. (Of course, I also found when I was exploring leaving biglaw that many partners just can't fathom that anybody would want to do anything different.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:03 PM on May 18, 2014

Any interest in finance? Lots of legal/ compliance work there, in a culture that's probably pretty different from biglaw.
posted by bunderful at 6:42 PM on May 18, 2014

If you want to stay in law, but not biglaw, think about going out on your own or in a small firm. I'm a solo, and am always flabbergasted at how different of a world I live in than my biglaw friends. I work a reasonable schedule, and work the cases I want to, and there's none of the crazy politics. It is still a lot of work, and you may have to learn a new set of case law (though you'll have to do that anyway in California), but if it's the culture rather than the practice that is getting you down, don't pass it by. Of course, get ready for a pay hit. In my good sized city, the average salary for solo or small firm attorneys is around $40k, and I think I brought in about $20k my first year solo.
posted by freshwater at 6:36 AM on May 19, 2014

If you don't want to be a practitioner, consider a career clerk position for a judge.

Clerking for a judge -- provided you find the right judge -- is intellectually challenging, comparatively low stress, and extremely rewarding. You have the power to do justice and make the world a better place.

And don't rule out state appellate courts. (Around here, they don't call them "clerks", they call them "research attorneys" or "judicial attorneys," but the job is the same -- you're the one drafting the opinions and making most of the decisions about how a case should turn out.)
posted by mikeand1 at 10:03 AM on May 19, 2014

My Standard AskMe answer to this: Compliance (healthcare, financial, import/export).
posted by nubianinthedesert at 10:57 AM on May 19, 2014

I got out of my biglaw firm two years ago to hang my own shingle. I won't say it doesn't have it's downsides, but I have found it to be much more fulfilling. My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner. Biglaw puts a lot of artificial constraints and pressures on the practice of law. Relieving those makes practice substantially more fun.

Pick a niche, as small as you can muster, and spend ten to fifteen hours a week marketing yourself. You'd also be surprised how supportive the solo practitioner community is. We compete in the courtroom, but we share and refer and drink beers with each other in the meantime.

If you're seriously thinking about California, DM me. I'm always trying to talk more people into going solo.
posted by Iason at 7:02 PM on June 11, 2014

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