Leaving Your Law Firm

Thinking about leaving your firm, or have you already decided to? Our experts address two common dilemmas associates may face when deciding whether a firm is right for them, and what to expect in making the change to a different style firm.

Should I Leave My Firm?

Q: I recently graduated from a top twenty law school and did pretty well. During law school, all the work I did was public interest, however I decided to look for a job at a law firm to try it out. I got a job at a small, insurance-defense law firm. There are several things about the law firm which I don't like: they want me to work while studying for the bar, business dress code, crazy hours (mandatory Saturdays) and is not a laid-back atmosphere. I don't know if I will be able to get another firm job because of my background. Should I accept?

A: Your situation is a good example of just how important our personal values are (or should be) in the career decision-making process. You will have to weigh just how important to you are factors you have identified all somewhat tied into the company's culture (or it's values). If these factors weigh high on your values list it doesn't sound like you'll be comfortable in the environment you're describing.

I can't tell you how difficult it might be getting another firm job. However, depending on that degree of difficulty will perhaps dictate whether or not (and to what degree) you're willing to adjust your preferred values. You didn't mention how well you liked public interest law but this area may match up better with the values you're expressing. Good luck in finding the best fit for you.

Making the Switch from Small Firm to Powerhouse Firm

Q: I am about to make the switch from a medium sized firm (one copy machine, no support staff, cheap, cheap, cheap) to one of the country's powerhouse firms. Can you give me some advice as to what differences I can expect?

A: You can expect many differences. First, as you are certainly aware, the pay will probably be higher at the powerhouse firm. But also the billable hour expectations may be correspondingly higher, either officially or unofficially. Be prepared to work more weekend and late evening hours. You may find the path to partnership somewhat longer and more rigorous at the powerhouse firm, and additional categories of senior lawyers may exist in order to take into account different levels of profitability. You may find that larger teams of lawyers are assembled to represent the major clients in complex legal matters handled by the powerhouse firm; as a result, it may take longer for you to have meaningful client contact and to exercise significant responsibility on a case. On the bright side, you may find the support staff to be more professional in the powerhouse firm, and the perks at work may be superior (for example, more free food and better office technology). You will discover over time whether the various trade-offs involved make the change to the powerhouse firm worthwhile.