Everyone knows BigLaw life in the big city is intense, but could a move to a smaller market actually make it enjoyable? Today we welcome to the blog Len Gray, president and co-founder of inlaw.me. He’s here to share with you the benefits of working for a law firm, and why you shouldn’t rule out a firm career. Welcome, Len.
Once upon a time, I was a corporate associate at a large NYC law firm and, as such, the frequent target of headhunter phone calls. Typically, these were futile attempts to convince me that it was in my best interest to switch to yet another large NYC law firm. As you might imagine, my response was something along the lines of “I’d rather feed myself to subway rats.”
Every so often, though, I would get a call to return to my roots in the southeast for the promise of better hours and increased spending power. And, more than once, I was tempted. It makes sense, right — comparable pay in a city where you don’t question the existence of a benevolent higher power every time rent comes due.
Having become convinced that my suspicions were correct, I reached out to some former big city attorneys who have moved to smaller pastures and the message was loud and clear: Once you leave NYC and the other mega-markets for a smaller city, firm life becomes infinitely more tolerable and, in some cases, (gasp) actually enjoyable! Seems that there are three main reasons for it, but before I get to those, let’s get a couple of things out of the way:
- I have no financial incentive to push you towards a firm (as you may know, I nearly caused a holy war with the headhunter-vendors at this year’s NALP conference simply by pointing out that they suck).
- I’ve seen a number of big city associates, so completely worn out with the practice after a few years in BigLaw, run like their hair was on fire to just about anything else simply to get away. I may or may not have been one of them. But, you’ve invested $250,000 in an education to prepare yourself for a career – maybe it makes sense to try to practice it in a more humane environment. Choosing to abandon law after a stint in an NYC law firm is a bit like swearing off all pets after only trying to domesticate a mountain lion.
So, without further ado, the three reasons most frequently reported to me for why downsizing legal markets made firm life more tolerable (and occasionally enjoyable).
1. Developing a real life outside of work.
- “The pressures for making partner are still there, but the competition is more balanced and expectations are more reasonable.”
- “The office does not become your second home.”
- “People keep to a more normal 9-5 schedule here.”
- “Associates are not expected to be at the office late at night.”
- “I definitely…have better control over my time.”
- “I have complete autonomy…[if] I want to work at home, I work at home, no questions asked.”
- “Better quality of life for sure.”
- “My personal time is much more respected here.”
- “Depending on your practice[, your schedule has] more flexibility.”
- “Since my commute has gone from…50 minutes in each direction to…15, I do feel like my time is more my time.”
2. The ability to stand out in the community.
- “In a fairly short timeframe I’ve been able to develop strong relationships with a broad base of clients…[and] opposing counsel.”
- “Because of the size of the market …you are able to develop…relationships and your reputation that much more quickly.”
- “[You have so much] more opportunity to stand out and to get to know the key players in the market.”
- “You get so much more respect as a lawyer here…[Were you to] say to someone…in NYC that you’re a lawyer, they [would] roll their eyes.”
3. More bang for the bucks you make.
- “The cost of living for a lawyer is incredibly manageable outside of NYC, SF and LA.”
- “In NYC, you felt that the only way you could afford that one-bedroom apartment…is if you made equity partner!”
- “[The hours may not always be better, but your] money goes much farther.”
- “My hours are still really long, but it feels like I’m getting paid a lot more to do virtually the same thing.”
- “I actually work more, but…it feels like I’m paid more.”
But while most of our respondents were pleased with the decision to move to a smaller market, they did note some disadvantages:
- “I miss the challenge of the law a bit…and [the] intensity and degree of interesting work.”
- “I still work [in BigLaw] so [there is] no hours benefit.”
- “There are no layers…between you and the client…you have to be prepared to handle billing inquiries, collecting your fee, justifying the work you do, etc. It was nice [in BigLaw] not to have to deal with any of that.”
- “You can get ‘rich’ working [in BigLaw]. No one [is] getting rich working [in law in my midsize city].”
- “I make less money and work harder…[but] I think I’m an outlier.”
- “I’ve realized that lawyers everywhere work hard, regardless of the amount they’re paid.”
The reality is that practicing at a law firm isn’t likely to be the easiest road regardless of the market you choose. And, for some of us, firm life may just not be a good fit.
This said, I do believe that there are a number of attorneys who dismiss the notion of continuing their careers at a law firm in another city simply because BigLaw in the Big City was hard.
To this I would say two things: First, of course it was. Second, before setting fire to that $250,000 degree of yours, ask yourself if you wouldn’t be a bit happier if you had more control of your life, were able to be a big fish in a smaller pond, and if those six figures you’re making allowed you to buy a 2,000 sq ft home (rather than share 1,000 sq ft with four of your closest friends from Craigslist).
Thanks, Len. Great advice!
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Len Gray is the president and a co-founder of inlaw.me, an online marketplace for legal jobs that directly connects top employers with attorneys and law students. A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Len practiced in the New York office of Latham & Watkins LLP, the word’s third largest law firm. In 2011, Len started inlaw.me, a site that is free for both employers and job seekers, to promote greater efficiency and transparency in the legal hiring market. For more information on inlaw.me, contact Len via email.
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