What is a Good Job for a Great Researcher, but Slow Writer?

Q: My husband is an attorney, 4 years out of school. He graduated from a top twenty-five law school in the US with honors. He scored 97th percentile on the LSAT's and has worked steadily in large law firms since he graduated. Corporate law has turned out to be disastrous for him. Though he is a competent writer, he doesn't do it quickly and it's a painful process each time he has to write a lengthy brief or motion.

It is widely agreed that he is a researcher without peer (that is a quote from one of the firm's partners.) He has very strong analytical abilities and frequently finds angles upon which a case turns in his clients' favor. He is creative, very intelligent and genuinely cares about the outcome for his clients. Though he is not bilingual, he has extensive political and historical knowledge of Europe and the Far and Middle East. His one weakness is being able to ghost write and do it quickly. What fields are you aware of that can use his many talents without so much emphasis on speedwriting?

A: Your question raises several issues about many of the frustrations many attorneys have with the practice of law. While there are certainly many attorneys who enjoy writing, the fact of the matter is that a large proportion of attorneys do not enjoy writing; especially longer briefs and motions. As a junior and mid level associate, many litigation attorneys do a tremendous amount of writing. In your question you have stated that corporate law turned out to be disastrous for your husband. However, you also state that he has to write many motions. Accordingly, I am going to assume that your husband is a corporate litigation attorney (as opposed to a corporate transactional attorney) with a large law firm and will base my answer upon this fact.

When litigators are associates they typically do a great deal of writing in large law firms. As litigators become more senior, the amount of writing they do may decrease, since senior level tasks often involve reviewing and assisting in the revision of more junior attorneys' writing. Thus, while your husband may not enjoy 'speed writing' (and I am assuming for the purposes of my answer you mean a relatively high volume of drafting under a time-pressured deadline) at the present time, this may not be a task that goes on forever in his career.

Whatever legal specialty your husband is in, until he becomes more senior and gets near or at the partner level, he will be doing many of the more unpleasant tasks that more senior attorneys do not want to perform. Writing is often one of these tasks. It is my guess that your husband is doing much more than just writing briefs. He is probably responding to and propounding massive amounts of discovery (among other things). This is the type of work attorneys do during their first several years of practice. Not only is this type of work virtually mandatory at the more junior level, it is an extremely important element of shaping and developing one's legal skills. Written communication is something even the best attorneys constantly seek to improve. A high volume of written work will help him develop skills he will use throughout his career, regardless of where he takes it.

There are numerous legal fields that do not require 'speed writing'. The ones that immediately come to mind are certain specialties within corporate law, taxation law and patent law, for example. These fields typically do not require the massive amounts of writing that litigation does, especially at the junior level. However, your husband probably chose to become a litigator for a reason. Over the course of his career, litigation may draw on many other skills, such as negotiation, cross-examination, and management.

Making the switch over to another practice area as a fourth year attorney is by no means an easy task. Rather than completely switch practice areas at this time, I would recommend that he consider whether he just does not like litigation altogether, or just does not like the writing aspect of the work. Assuming that it is the latter, that problem seems best solved within his current position, by finding avenues to strengthen his writing ability, and by learning the ways in which his role will change in the coming years.

One important fact that I believe your husband should keep in mind -- and that I observed during my legal career -- was that many of the best litigators struggle to perfect and improve their writing literally on a daily basis. Whether they enjoy writing or labor over it, litigators are always working to improve that skill in particular. The facts that you bring up things such as your husband's LSAT score, his well-regarded research abilities and talent for finding important and meaningful twists of facts are factors that distinguish extremely good litigators. In fact, the best litigators in large firms have the exact skills your husband has appears to have. These types of skills will serve to compliment his writing, and will ultimately be a much more significant portion of his day-to-day practice.

In closing, I believe that it may be premature for your husband to seriously consider switching fields at this point in his career, if the only problem he is having at present is the fact that he believes he is doing too much writing. Based upon the facts you have set forth, it sounds as if your husband has a tremendous amount of long-term potential in the legal field as a litigator and this should not be wasted because he does not like one aspect of his work. Indeed, as your husband becomes more senior within his law firm, the amount of writing he will have to do will decrease and he can make more use of his strongest legal skills.