Young Lawyers Transitioning Out of Big Law
August 15, 2016
Lawyers leave Big Law for many reasons—both personal and professional. Some get frustrated with Big Law bureaucracy. Others pursue what they believe are more entrepreneurial paths. Still others realize that small firm life is a better fit. And then there are those for whom Big Law was never a fit, and began their transition out the minute the ink dried on their offer letter.
Whatever the reason, something usually triggers self-reflection and then an assessment of one’s options. This month’s roundtable explores why lawyers decide to leave, how they did it, and the strategies they employed.
For those contemplating an exit from Big Law, our panelists’ experiences provide tips on how to execute the perfect exit strategy and expectations for what lies ahead.
Nicholas Gaffney (NG) is a veteran public relations practitioner and member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.
||Alexandra Devendra (AD) left Big Law to pursue a career as a legal design consultant. She advises law firms and legal tech startups on how to leverage design principles to innovate their product and service offerings. She is also the cofounder of Shape the Law LLC, which hosts “unconferences” and other unconventional events for lawyers around the country. She is on Twitter at @alixdevendra.
||Donald M. Pepe (DMP) is a partner at Scarinci Hollenbeck. Don devotes his practice to all aspects of complex real estate development and real estate transactional work with an emphasis on retail and residential development. Don has considerable experience securing development approvals and closing commercial real estate transactions. He has negotiated and drafted a broad range of agreements pertaining to the acquisition and sale or property, financing and leasing, commercial and residential condominium formation and management, municipal and private development agreements, development grants and incentives, easements and operating agreements–across multiple property types, including office, retail, industrial and residential.
||Marc Belloli (MB) is a founding partner of Feinberg Day, a top litigation boutique in Silicon Valley. He is a trial lawyer whose practice focuses on patent infringement cases.
||Patrick F. Ross (PFR) is an associate attorney at the Law Offices of Robert J. Ross, helping clients prepare and administer wills, trusts, and other comprehensive estate planning documents. Patrick also represents entrepreneurs, professionals, and others with business law matters, such as starting a new business; preparing, reviewing, and negotiating contracts and leases; and buying or selling assets. With his background in commercial bankruptcy and litigation, Patrick emphasizes strategies and best practices to protect clients’ assets from potential future creditors and avoiding common pitfalls in the event of litigation or bankruptcy. He has been named an Illinois Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
||Marc Luber (ML) is the founder of JD Careers Out There(JDCOT), an online video resource helping you figure out what to do with your law degree so you can find a career you’ll love. Previously voted Best Career Site by the ABA Journal Readers Poll, JDCOT is full of advice from accomplished JDs sharing what it’s really like to work in a variety of careers. A former legal recruiter in Los Angeles, Marc is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
||Paul Saputo (PS) is the principal lawyer at the Saputo Law Firm in Dallas, Texas, where he represents citizens accused of crimes in both state and federal courts. Paul hails from New Orleans and attended law school at Duke University after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi. He began his legal career in Houston at Vinson & Elkins, LLP, where he was an associate in the Mergers & Acquisitions group before founding the Saputo Law Firm in 2014.
NG: When did you realize you wanted to transition out of Big Law?
AD: I went into Big Law knowing that it was probably not what I wanted to do long term. Instead, it seemed like a required stepping stone for students who had excelled in law school. The bigger challenge was trying to figure out how long I should stay in Big Law before moving on to something else. But there is no magic formula; how long you stay depends on a number of factors. I don’t think junior associates should necessarily feel that they have to put in a set minimum amount of time before leaving. Leaving earlier rather than later might be the right choice for some people, if they have carefully considered their options.
DMP: I realized I needed to transition out of Big Law when the inherent bureaucracy common to large organizations in general, and large law firms in particular, started negatively impacting my career progression. I was working at a large regional firm with several offices and was nominated for partnership by my practice group leader, but my nomination was blocked by a partner in my practice group from another office who I had barely ever spoken with and never did any work for. I realized then that my future in Big Law was going to be determined as much by politics as it was by merit, so I started reflecting upon my options.
MB: I stumbled upon the realization. I was at DLA Piper, was happy there, and thought I would be there for a long time. The training and experiences I obtained there were excellent. Then there was a spark of an idea for my six partners and I to found our own litigation boutique. The idea then caught fire and before I knew it we had formed Feinberg Day in 2011 and I was out of Big Law.
PFR: The idea of working with my dad at his smaller firm had been in the back of my mind for some time, but the decision to transition happened over a shorter period of time. Basically, the coincidence of several factors demonstrated this would be the best path for me. I get to work with my father and brothers every day.
ML: I’m going to skip this question.
PS: I never actually made an intentional decision to transition out. I knew Big Law was not for me within just a few months, and I thought that meant that I was done with the law. Big Law is supposed to be the best, right? That’s what I thought from law school. So when I did not find my practice to be as great as I had expected, I thought there was no way practicing law could get any better for me. I was wrong.
NG: How does the work life of a young lawyer differ between large, mid-size, and smaller/boutique firms? Does a young lawyer’s work life vary between practice areas?
AD: I worked only in a large firm, so I cannot speak first hand to what life is like at a small or mid-size firm. I do think that different practices areas can have their own rhythms, but perhaps more significant is the effect that your direct supervisor(s) can have on your quality of life. Each partner has her own management style and I think that can make more of a difference than the area of law you happen to be practicing.
DMP: My brother is also an attorney, and I remember when he interned for a large national firm one summer and boasted to me how the firm had showers in their offices. I recall thinking at the time that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. When I started my legal career, after clerking, I worked at a four-attorney firm, then transitioned to Big Law, then to a mid-sized firm. All of the positions I held had advantages and drawbacks, but I can honestly say that I have never been happier than where I am now. Big firms have big expectations and small firms have big needs. In both instances, I was at the mercy of forces beyond my direct control. Working for Big Law, I was expected to bill in excess of 2,000 hours per year, a goal I met, but because I generated little of the work myself, at least at the outset, I never felt very much in control. That is, I never knew where the next billable hour would come from. Add to this the multiple levels of bosses from senior associates to partners to secretaries for senior partners, and the stress of anticipating failure became almost unbearable.
MB: This is highly dependent on the practice area and the firm, regardless of the size of the firm. Personally, I work even harder now at my boutique because I have to run a business on top of the actual practice. In Big Law, I just had my practice. That was it, the business and operations side was largely taken care of. Now there is the practice side and the business side. Though running a boutique is harder in some ways, the autonomy and having ownership of something make it well worth it.
PFR: If you’re going to succeed as a lawyer today, you must work hard and invest a lot of time and energy no matter your firm’s size. You might just focus on different things at a smaller firm versus a larger firm. For example, I feel a diminished pressure to bill hours and my schedule is more flexible at a smaller firm. The ability to experiment with alternative fee arrangements and different types of software allows me to be more creative and focus on ways we can be more effective and efficient with our time while still delivering high quality work product. But I also have to spend more unbillable time than before building my network, finding and marketing to potential clients, reading new developments in the law, learning how successful entrepreneurs run their businesses, and training and helping our staff, to name a few things.
ML: Firm size can definitely impact the work life of a young lawyer. For starters, the billable hour requirements tend to be greater at the larger firms. Those firms also tend to have more brand-name clients, whose demands could lead to high pressure and high stakes. The trade-off is the potential excitement that could come from working on matters covered by local and national news. The large firms also tend to have systems and structures in place for things like professional development training or mentoring. The actual effectiveness of those programs often varies from office-to-office depending on how they’re implemented, but they shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Mid-size firms may have the same or slightly lower billable hour requirements than the large firms. Depending on the firm, the work life experience can be barely different or significantly different from a large firm. It’s possible for the environment to feel less corporate, as there may be less red tape. This can impact something like professional development programming, which is less likely to be coming from multi-layered chains of command. Another differentiation—you are more likely to find an entrepreneurial spirit in a mid-size firm. While learning the fundamentals of being a lawyer still needs to come first, growing a book of business might be encouraged and rewarded. Since the firm may have a lower hourly bill rate and a client profile made up of local or regional businesses as opposed to national brand names, there are less barriers to entry when it comes to developing a book of business. Not only can developing a book of business increase your emotional connection to your work, but it can also serve as your leverage for career advancement—whether you stay in one place, want the freedom to switch firms, or decide to start your own firm. While the salaries may, depending on the firm, be a hair or more-than-a-hair lower than the big firms, there may be more upside in income and job stability as a result of client development.
Small firms tend to pay less and offer better “lifestyle” thanks to lower billable hour requirements, but the reality is that small firms vary greatly from firm to firm. There are high-end boutiques run by lawyers who left big firms, and there are one-or-two-person shops run by lawyers who hung their own shingle upon law school graduation. Some are well-managed and organized, while others are sloppy and chaotic. The personality of the people running the show at a small firm becomes extra important because there typically aren’t other layers of people. So whether the training is good, whether there is a steady flow of work, whether the environment feels professional… all depends upon the character(s) running the place.
Work life can vary between practice areas. Different practices have different busy and quiet times. For example, a corporate transactional lawyer may be slammed with work when it comes time to draft quarterly and annual reports or when an M&A deal is happening. A litigation attorney might be extra busy depending on where things are at with court deadlines, drafting arguments, and whether they’re actually going to trial. Work life can be impacted by the economy as well. For example, bankruptcy lawyers tend to be busy when the economy is bad and may be twiddling their thumbs when the economy is good.
PS: As a lawyer in a large firm, you are expected to bill hours, and maybe do a few other things as time permits. In a small firm, you are expected to make sure everything gets done. Billing hours might be one part of business, but so is making sure your electricity bill is paid on time.
NG: What advice would you give to young lawyers who are considering leaving a job at a large law firm? What are some things they should they keep in mind when determining whether or not to leave Big Law?
AD: I think a lot of associates have trouble deciding to leave Big Law because they are in an environment that discourages them from considering alternative practice settings (let alone alternative careers). Although it sounds irrational to me now, I remember thinking that leaving Big Law would mean closing so many doors. As soon as I left, my perspective shifted and I instead felt that I had opened several new doors simply by cutting the cord with Big Law.
DMP: Let’s get right to the elephant in the room. Big Law equals big money and that is probably the single-best reason to start your career at a large firm. The problem is that while the money may seem big at the beginning, that is not necessary the case over the course of your career. One year, while working in Big Law, I boasted to one of the partners I worked closely with that I made my hourly goal for year and qualified for a bonus. His advice to me was take half that time and invest in client development because that would be an investment in my future success. I took his advice to heart. Frankly, business development might not be the forte of everyone, and for those who never see themselves bringing in clients of their own, Big Law may be the best potential from a financial perspective. But for me, the “client development” advice opened the door to my financial success. While there is, without a doubt, a measure of prestige attached to working in Big Law, I have come to appreciate that recognition as a top lawyer in your practice comes from the work one does more than the name on their letterhead.
MB: I think it is very important to answer the following question—have you fully taken advantage of the training and networking opportunities of Big Law? If the answer is “yes,” you are ready. If the answer is “no,” I think that in most cases it would be hard to leave Big Law to either open your own shop or try to continue doing the same type of work at a smaller firm. I think this question is also highly applicable if you are considering going in-house or even thinking of leaving the practice of law altogether. Big Law provides tremendous opportunities in a number of ways no matter what you do going forward. So why leave before you have taken advantage of those opportunities?
PFR: You’ve probably spent a lot of time and energy carefully cultivating your relationships at work, so be honest with yourself and carefully contemplate your reasons before saying anything. Be wary of “the grass is always greener” syndrome. Don’t make a long-term decision to escape a short-term problem (especially if a trusted attorney at your firm could help you fix it). Make sure you honestly consider the practical issues, such as what lifestyle changes you will have to make. Once you’ve made your decision, do everything in your power to leave on good terms, as the legal community you’re in may be smaller than it feels sometimes.
ML: If you’re seriously considering leaving Big Law, be aware that it can be tough to step back in. Although it definitely happens that people who have built great relationships can leave Big Law and return, it’s often treated by the firms as if you chose to leave an exclusive club, and they’re less than eager to welcome you back. So I would advise anyone considering leaving to evaluate the extent to which they would be at peace with the situation of never being welcomed back. If you do leave, you should leave on good terms. That way, if you choose to return years later, you’re more likely to be taken seriously.
Anyone considering leaving Big Law should do some serious financial planning. Many people adjust their life and financial commitments around the healthy income that Big Law provides. They would be best suited to map out what their income is likely to be after leaving and what their ongoing financial commitments will be. Can they absorb a change in income? Since the odds are good that leaving Big Law will mean (at least a temporary) step down in income, anyone thinking of leaving should start saving as much Big Law money as they can. Some people do this by banking their bonuses and keeping them off limits from spending. A candidate from my recruiting days not only banked her bonuses, but she banked every increase in salary beyond her first year! By the time she was seven years in, she had a ton of money saved up. This gave her the freedom to make whatever career decisions she wanted.
Another thing to do, while you still have it, is to take advantage of the networking platform that Big Law provides you. When working at a big, high-profile organization, you have access to more people—and it can be easier to get outside people to meet with you when you can leverage a brand name.
PS: Big Law is one legal business model. It’s not the best, and it’s not for everyone. But every other legal business will have also have its challenges, shortcomings and relative affinity to you. If you need to take some time away from the law, do it and don’t be scared. A little perspective can go a long way in figuring out what kind of practice will make you happy. Remember that there are lots of places you can end up within the industry, many of them are fun, and consider the life outside of your career, too.
NG: What would you say to a young lawyer who is worried about paying law school student loans and thinks that Big Law is the only answer?
AD: I would focus more on the amount of the monthly payment instead of the full balance. Try to calculate how much income you will need to meet your monthly expenses. I think a lot of law students imagine that they will use a Big Law income to pay off their loans in a couple of years (I know I did). But the reality is that it takes a lot of discipline to follow through on that. Although I was able to make some extra payments on my loans while working in Big Law, I did not pay them off completely while working at the firm. To do that I would have had to severely limit restaurant meals and other “treats” that are hard to resist after three years of living on a student budget.
DMP: Plainly stated, student loans stink. I will be paying off my loans for another 15 years. The good news, however, is that the percentage of my income that I need to devote to paying off student loans gets smaller and smaller every year. Advice to young lawyers: focus on your skills and find a path that makes you happy and financial success will follow. You might need to delay buying a house or a fancy car for a few years, but the pay-off at the end is likely to be greater.
MB: Big Law is not the only answer to paying student loans back, it is just the most obvious answer. There are smaller firms that pay the same as Big Law, so loans should not discourage you from leaving Big Law if you want to and you are ready to leave. People often adjust their spending to what they make, the more they make the more they spend and vice versa. I think it is much easier if you set a strict budget that lets you live comfortably (but not extravagantly) and then use the excess to pay for your life goals—eliminating student debt, buying a house, etc.
PFR: Having to repay a large debt can feel awful. But if you’ve always wanted to work at a legal clinic, a government agency, or some other career outside of Big Law, wouldn’t it feel even worse to give up on your dreams, especially if they motivated you to attend law school in the first place? Take a look at your lender’s website to make sure you understand what are your actual repayment and refinancing options and don’t just assume “what you heard” is correct.
ML: I’d say rather than expend energy worrying, instead redirect that energy to explore what else is out there. That means networking and meeting with people to learn about the realities of your options. Big Law is most likely the best answer if your only goal is to make as much money as possible in the immediate future. But it’s possible that small boutique firms started by former big law attorneys pay a competitive salary. Same goes for a mid-size firm. Perhaps the increased ability to generate your own business at a smaller shop will more than make up for a decreased salary. If you decide to explore alternative careers for lawyers, you may discover that you don’t have to take as drastic a step down in pay as you’re expecting. Or perhaps you might need to tighten your belt financially for a few years and stay focused on the long term. Your pay will increase over time as you grow into the new path. This is where good financial planning again plays a role.
PS: You know who the world’s richest lawyers are? Hint: they’re not in Big Law. If you like your job, stick with it. If you don’t like it, don’t make yourself a slave. Figure a way out—you’re a lawyer after all, aren’t you?
NG: How can young lawyers learn about employment prospects outside of Big Law?
AD: I hate to say it, but traditional networking advice is actually useful. Staying in touch with law school classmates and former colleagues who have left your firm can be a very fruitful way of hearing about new opportunities. I know some Big Law associates who are extremely diligent in doing just that; I was not one of them. In retrospect, I think networking was difficult for me because I didn’t really want to talk about what I was doing—my work didn’t excite me. Once I did find my niche (legal design), networking became a lot more natural because I was excited to talk to others about what I was doing.
DMP: Every move I made up to my present position was through a contact I made during the course of practicing law. When I moved from a small firm to Big Law, I was invited to interview by a partner who I was opposite on a large real estate transaction. I suppose he appreciated the skill I brought to bear. The exception was the move I made from Big Law to where I am now. The last move I made was through a recruiter, and I can’t tell you how good it felt to be solicited by several firms, large and small. By the time I made my last move, I had developed a respectable book of business and I was essentially saying to perspective employers I would like to give you two-thirds of my business in exchange for a place to call home. In short, when you have business you have options.
MB: Network, network, network. I think every opportunity I have ever had in life—be it personal or professional—has at least in part been based upon my network of friends, colleagues, and family. Any career is a mix of skill, hard work, and luck. Networking can help boost your career (and life) in so many ways. Never lock yourself in your office and think that if you work hard and develop your skills, everything else will take care of itself. I think that is rarely true. You need to lean on your network and have a little bit of luck, but you often make your own luck by getting out there.
PFR: You can do a lot of research online, but it’s also important to have a good mentor who can give advice and help you make new connections. Keep in contact with your friends and acquaintances from school. You never know who’s working where, what they just started doing, or who they know. Join networking groups to meet new people and share ideas.
ML: My video website, JD Careers Out There, is a great way to explore different careers you can do with a law degree, whether in or out of law. At the site you’ll find a video library of interviews with a variety of accomplished JDs (including our moderator, Nick Gaffney) who share what their career paths are really like. Watching the videos is a great way to discover what fits you—you might discover paths you weren’t aware of, or find some aspect of a career that sounds interesting and leads you to exploring a totally different path.
Ultimately, the best way to learn about employment prospects outside of Big Law is to network and meet with people. If you work in Big Law and are looking to continue practicing law, you should meet with a good legal recruiter to explore employment prospects. You fit the criteria that legal recruiters are looking for. Recruiters can be helpful when it comes to exploring other law firms (whether big, medium, or small) as well as in-house counsel opportunities. If you’re a student or a Big Law practitioner looking for something that doesn’t fall within the legal recruiting world, then you’ll want to meet directly with people who do work that interests you.
PS: Drive around a neighborhood (or do that virtually, online) and do some research on the mysterious law firm signs on buildings. The firms that don’t advertise much seem to have the most interesting and profitable business models. There are so many different ways to make money in this industry and so many different practice areas, some of which haven’t even been “invented” yet. You will learn about some of them just by opening your eyes and doing research outside of your computer. Learn about the lawyers in those practices and how they got to be where they are, try to get a lunch with them and ask questions.
NG: What advice would you give to a young lawyer hoping to break into a new practice area?
AD: If you’re at a large firm that has the practice area you’re interested in, I would try approaching some of the partners in that group to see if they can give you some work. If you develop good relationships with them, they can help you make an official transition to the group (which might otherwise feel very awkward).
DMP: I don’t think I have any useful advice in this regard. When I started practicing law, I thought I wanted to be a litigator and I was one for several years. Then when I moved to Big Law, I did mostly real estate transactional work. Now, I do mostly land use work. I never made a conscious decision to make a change, I simply followed the work.
MB: Identify the area you want to transition into and then figure out what skills you have that are transferrable. Try to gain some further knowledge and expertise by studying up and networking. Also have a good story why you want to transition.
PFR: Know ahead of time and accept that it’s going to require tough work and long hours from you. But also know that the availability of so many wonderful online research databases, some free or included with a bar association membership, will let you learn a new practice area much quicker than you might think. Ask attorneys experienced in your new practice area what they recommend you do, read, or join to become an expert like them and how they meet new clients.
ML: Changing practice areas can be tricky since there’s a tendency to get pigeon-holed into your initial practice area and firms have a tendency to be rigid, but I’ve definitely seen it happen through my recruiting years. Developing good relationships, whether in your current firm or at other firms, is essential. If people like you and trust you, they’re more likely to give you a shot. You would want to be able to articulate why you find the new practice area interesting and why you would be a good fit for a role in that practice area. It’s always helpful if you can first get your hands on some work in the practice area you’re looking to break into. I’ve seen people befriend a partner at their firm, express interest in doing some of their work, and then get permission from their boss to do so. Once things go well, that first experience can turn into more, and eventually a change can be possible. Other ways to get experience can be through doing some pro bono work in the desired practice area at your firm or even for a non-profit outside of work. When a firm is too rigid to think outside the box (which unfortunately happens too often), you can develop relationships with partners at other firms through bar events or networking and get them to hire you into the new practice area. You’ll likely need to take a hit in your class year, but if you prioritize your happiness, you’ll absorb that.
PS: Patience is more than a virtue, it’s a business model. Don’t expect to make money quickly or to know everything quickly. Getting experience in the field under an experienced lawyer is almost a must. If you’re new to a practice area, don’t think that a job is below you because you’re from High & Mighty, LLP. Then get your hands dirty and learn… and get malpractice insurance.
NG: What are some non-traditional legal careers young lawyers should know about?
AD: There are so many options, it’s hard to know where to start. One thing that has struck me is the number of lawyers who now consult for law firms. Firms can hire consultants to teach their attorneys writing, communication skills, use of technology, mindfulness, design—the list goes on and on!
DMP: I haven’t personally worked in any non-traditional careers, but I do know that many of my clients who work in real estate development have law degrees so that might be a good place to look. The bottom line is that a law degree shows you are intelligent, logical, disciplined and have higher-level communication skills. For my money, those characteristics will serve you well in any career and more importantly will be valued by any potential employer.
MB: I am not sure about non-traditional legal careers, but I think just about any career one might transition into is bolstered by a legal education and background. John Grisham was a lawyer and then became a best-selling author. Most politicians are lawyers. Billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel was a circuit court clerk before founding PayPal. You are unbounded in your possible careers if you have a legal background.
PFR: I don’t know if I can share any direct experiences or ideas in response to this question.
ML: A JD is a great background for a wide variety of careers. Within the law, there are all kinds of new technology platforms popping up that provide legal services, freelance lawyers and more. Those start-ups and established businesses employ lawyers. Then there are law-adjacent careers that serve the legal industry. Lawyers get hired to work in a variety of roles at the vendors who serve your law firm: from technology platforms covering things like eDiscovery, data and analytics, to business consulting, public relations, marketing, and trial presentations. Then there are careers that make great use of the law school and law practice skill sets: including human resources executive (good for an employment lawyer), wireless site acquisition (good for a real estate or land use lawyer), and community development at a major bank (good for a transactional lawyer).
PS: Outside of practicing law, there’s huge business in helping lawyers with marketing. And in my opinion, most of the people in this industry currently are just not very good. There are also great opportunities in meeting unmet legal needs for small businesses and individuals who are not wealthy. In each practice area, the challenge is simple: figure out a way to do it profitably. If you can figure out a way to do that, systematize it, scale it, and voila–you’ve made a great business and made a positive impact in the world. Think about the first person to figure out a contingency fee and how much that changed the world.
NG: What are the most pressing issues young lawyers face after transitioning out of a large law firm? What steps can be taken to ease the transition?
AD: I don’t think there are specific issues that would be common across the board. Each attorney’s transition will be different. On the whole, I think that if an associate is considering transitioning out of Big Law, she will be happy when she does so. And the things that you think might be problematic (like drastically reducing your income) tend to work out in the end—you will find a way to make your budget work.
DMP: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but transitioning out of Big Law means you have to rely much more on business development for success. Attend every conference relevant to your practice area, go to local bar and chamber of commerce meetings, write articles even if they don’t get published, and speak whenever you can. Keep at it and invest the hours you invest will return even more in the form of billable hours, only the hours billed will be to your clients.
MB: I think the most pressing is “growing your business.” I put that in quotes because it is different depending on what you do but the concept is the same. If you are starting your own firm or going to a smaller firm it is about landing clients and maintaining clients. If you are going to a company it is about advancing within the company or helping that company grow. I probably sound like a broken record on this based on my answers to other questions, but networking is the best way to ease this transition both inside and outside your new employer.
PFR: Many of us have Type-A personalities and a perfectionist attitude, which feel like requirements sometimes to succeed in a larger law firm. Those traits will help you get through tough times in your new career, but you’ve got a lot to learn and so be patient with yourself. Frequently remind yourself of your long-term goals and the reasons you made this decision.
ML: The top issue I see with young lawyers is the surprise that life can be OK after Big Law—and that everything can work out. It’s pretty rare to see the people who make the leap actually look back or regret the decision. When moving to a smaller firm, you may face greater business development expectations. Where a big firm may have many giant, institutional clients with large groups of lawyers staffed to handle them, it can be tougher to hide and just do your work at a smaller shop. Learning how to bring in work will likely become more important. To ease the transition, it can help to learn as much as you can at the big firm about networking, developing clients and handling clients. Watch how others do it—ask them to share some tips. If you’re leaving law entirely, you’ll still need these skills to break in to new opportunities and excel.
PS: Marketing. Big Law does not teach much about the legal marketing world, and unfortunately, it’s a jungle out there. There is no easy or simple way to build your practice, and building your business quickly is essential once you leave Big Law. Marketing your practice, pricing and signing up clients is something you’re going to have master very quickly. Patience, again, is key. It’s important not to rush into anything. You’re going to have to work a lot to figure out these kinds of things.
BY NICHOLAS GAFFNEY