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Yet Another Associate on the East Coast Bailing Out, Including Maybe on the Whole Lawyer Career Path

This kind of posting on Subreddit Big Law is no longer atypical: The musing from an east coast litigation associate planning to bail out temporarily – and perhaps for good. The immediate issue is how much notice to give the law firm. Here is the thread.

The standard answer is two weeks. However, to be fair to the business matters and the feelings of partners and fellow associates, informally the lawyer can inform them of the plan sooner than the official notice. According to commentators, the odds are against the law firm’s throwing the lawyer out on the street before the two weeks are up – and there be a missing of a paycheck.

This lawyer plans to travel six months with a partner. No Next is on the drawing board. That is, there is no job or contract assignment lined up. Also, there could be a total exit from practicing law.

This is one kind of flight out of Big Law. Another, as Law and More hammers, is to position and package it as a three-year endurance contest played out in the service of a resume credential. After that is done, the options for the Next are plentiful.

The reasons for treating Big Law as an apprentice opportunity, then going elsewhere, or as a symbol of lots of wrong career choices having been made (e.g. going to law school and piling on debt) are many.

One is the archaic structure. A whole bunch of worker bees at the bottom of the pyramid crank out the work. Although currently they are making decent money (given the almost impossible hours) the system is constructed for everything from burnout to deep lifelong bitterness.

Another is Who Gets The Money. On Bloomberg Law, Roy Strom decries the Gilded-Age ethos in which the top tier takes all. And it’s a lot. Here are the Profits Per Partner “achievements” from 2021:

  1. Wachtell$8.4M2. Kirkland$7.388M3. Davis Polk$7.01M4. Sullivan & Cromwell$6.366M5. Paul Weiss$6.162M6. Simpson Thacher$5.980M7. Cravath$5.803M8. Quinn Emanuel$5.746M9. Latham$5.705M10. Cahill$5.533M

A third is what has practicing law become as profession? One wonders if lawyers can feel satisfaction and joy when being the clients’ advocate? Or have the tasks degenerated into the drudgery of mere process?

Fourth, is all the change. Not all of it can be ducked. That includes the onset of legal tech. Those who left Big Law tell about the relentless imposition of new software packages. In addition, and more importantly, are clients’ changing expectations.

Instead of a stand-alone legal service clients want a comprehensive approach to their business problems. Competitor in the legal space the Big 4 is offering that. In the March 2022 interview with Leaders, Paul Weiss chairperson Brad Karp warns that being a lawyer now means being able to strategically create that kind of holistic platform for services. Explicitly Karp notes:

“We need to deeply understand our clients’ business goals, professional culture, key stakeholders and risk tolerance.”

There are lawyers who simply can’t make that transition. 

And fifth are the embedded values. Early in the game as a 1L at Harvard Law School, I experienced them as creating a sandbox I couldn’t play in. Sure, every entity has a right to a defense. But I concluded I could not embrace that I would be part of that ethos. I am a proud Harvard Law School dropout.

Connect with Editor-in-Chief Jane Genova at [email protected]

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