Alison and I have been talking a lot about jobs lately (really, who hasn’t?). And I decided I wanted to share why I left my biglaw because I hope it can help some of you make better choices for your future.
When I went to law school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
I went to law school after working in high-tech consulting. To be honest, I didn’t love it. It was a good post-college job and I learned a lot, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It was time to go back to school, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I am from a family of attorneys so law school was on the table and, clearly, was what I decided was the right path. But when I started law school, I did not know what sort of law I wanted to practice. I was there to learn a lot and figure it out as I went along.
Fast-forward to my 2L year and OCI.
Turns out I was pretty good at law school. When it came time for OCI (on-campus interviewing), I don’t even remember thinking about what jobs I would apply for. I basically applied for all of the firm jobs, because I could. I knew I was competitive for these jobs (good grades and prior corporate experience) and the people at career services (as well as others around me) were telling me that if you could get one of these jobs, you should. So I tossed my hat into the ring.
Multiple interviews later, I selected a firm where I wanted to be a summer associate. I liked the firm and, more importantly, I liked the people that I had met at the firm. I told myself the same thing almost every summer associate does, “I will do this for a few years, pay down my debt, and then I can do anything I want.”
But when I think back about the entire process, I never really asked myself if big firm life was what I wanted. Sure, it was very attractive—prestige, good money, etc. But was it really the path I wanted to take? However, there wasn’t much time to ask myself this question, as off to my summer associate experience I went. The summer went well and I received the much-coveted job offer. As the legal market was starting to quiver from changes in the economy, I snatched up my offer and felt very thankful that I had a job when I graduated.
Another year goes by and I start my short-lived career at a law firm.
After a much-needed bar trip, I returned to start my biglaw career. It was exciting and nerve-racking as all of a sudden I had my own office and even an assistant. I spent most of my time doing document review (which necessitated getting new glasses, quickly) and writing responses to motions in limine. My job was fine, but it wasn’t really exciting. I wasn’t feeling challenged or even that I was practicing law. I looked at the attorneys a few years ahead of me, and they were doing much same work that I was. And to top it off, the economy was going down the tubes and work was drying up. People were getting laid off and there wasn’t enough work to go around. Because of this, I would be light on billable hours during the week—and then get an e-mail on Friday afternoon telling me I would be working all weekend. This happened a few times. And if I couldn’t work (say, I was out of town at a family event), I felt guilty and as if my job was on the line. Because I was supposed to be available at any time.
It was during those quiet times in the office when I didn’t have billable work to do that for the first time I really questioned what I wanted to do with my legal career. The coveted job that everyone told me I wanted just wasn’t working out so well. I think probably because I never took the time to evaluate what was the best fit for me. Not just what kind of work I wanted to be doing, but the type of life that I wanted. I wanted to spend weekends and evenings (at least most of them) with friends and family. I didn’t want to spend weekends doing work fire drills because a partner decided on Friday night he needed something done (which could have been assigned out the previous Monday).
Then one day my assistant dropped off an envelope with information about grading for the California bar exam. As I read the paperwork, I realized that I didn’t want to grade for the bar exam, I wanted to teach people how to take the bar exam. And thus the idea for my first business Amicus Tutoring was born. And not too long after that, I gave notice at the firm and decided to work for myself, which has lead to lots of great things—teaching at different law schools and starting the Law School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox with Alison.
When I left biglaw, I was a bit heartbroken.
I remember the last few days before I left biglaw. Folks inside the firm (even very senior folks) came by my office to congratulate me on getting out (a bizarre response to my quitting, I must admit). And when the day came, I was actually pretty emotional about it. Although I hadn’t picked this dream for myself, it had become my dream—to be a successful corporate lawyer—and I was walking away from it, disappointed. It hadn’t been what I had expected. It hadn’t made me happy. I spent so much time in law school trying to secure that job and then I realized it wasn’t really the life that I wanted.
What can you learn from my story?
I wanted to share this story with you because I think it is a common story among successful law students. So many of us forget to ask questions about what we may want to do, and instead we get caught up in what we are supposed to do. If you can get a big firm job, you should. But I am here to tell you that although I don’t regret my decision, I do wonder if I would still be practicing law if I had chosen a different path. Not that I don’t love teaching and being an entrepreneur, but I have to wonder. However, when I was in school, very few people encouraged me to ask these questions about what would make me happy and be a good fit for me long term. And perhaps it was my fault, because I didn’t ask myself those questions.
Now, one caveat, I realize that for financial reasons, many folks can’t just leave their job and strike out on their own. I was lucky enough to be in a situation where I could take some chances. But you can still take time to make decisions—about the life that you want balanced with the realities of financial stability. And if you made good choices while in law school, perhaps you won’t need to quit your job early into your practice—but instead can build a career that will be the life you envisioned for yourself.
This dialogue is one of the reasons I am so passionate about working with law students and having real discussions about careers with law students and new lawyers. Because very few people (if any) had these discussions with me. And I needed these discussions. I hope we can help you decide what you want and then learn how to go out and get it.
Are you on our mailing list? Sign up now and you won’t miss any useful posts!
Stay tuned for more about job hunting and career choices. In the meantime, you can check out some of our other career-related content:
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.