You've reached a point where you've decided that your job is not working for you. How do you break out of litigation and move into another area of practice or another field?
Breaking Out of Litigation
Q: Help -- I am a second year associate at a mid-sized litigation firm. I have decided that I no longer want to do litigation. I am interested in either corporate work or some form of financial analysis either in-house or with a firm. My ultimate goal is to be a CFO for a corporation. How do I break out of the litigation sector and move into one of these areas. A little background information -- I majored in finance and am currently attending classes at night to finish my accounting major so that I can sit for the CPA exam. Do you believe this will help my efforts?
A: You might consider interviewing with the national consulting firms. If you can hook on with one of these firms, it is common for large corporations to look to them for CFO material. Anecdotally, the CFO in my company came out of a consulting firm. However, if you choose to enter the business sector through a corporation, then you may want to consider working in Project Finance or in the Risk Department. Both areas are relatively high profile, and many CFOs have come out of those groups.
You are on the right track to sit for the CPA because a CPA is necessary to show that you are properly transitioning and it is hard to be a CFO without that accreditation. Your biggest hurdle may be convincing a prospective employer that you are serious about leaving litigation in particular, and law in general. Business people, influenced by television, see a lot of money and glamor in litigation. Remember that you want to impress upon them that you want to expand your horizon, rather than you just want to do something different, or you hate law right now.
Should I Leave My Boutique Law Firm?
Q: I need to know when to stay or go. I have been working in a boutique litigation firm in New York City for the past year and a half. The firm is small (six attorneys) and generally focused on securities class actions and commercial litigation. I have gained an immense amount of experience, but I have also been working extremely hard (I billed over 2500 hours last year). I enjoy NYC, but I do not see myself staying to raise a family. Rather, I envision myself doing that in a smaller city (i.e. Pittsburgh, close to home). A year and a half seems like a short period of time to be a legitimate lateral hire, and I don't want to start from scratch again somewhere else. However, I feel like the more time and commitment I put into my firm is wasted time because I don't see a future here. I wonder if I should go somewhere else immediately to start gaining partnership credit or continue here in NYC until the perfect job shows up. I was an average student at a regional law school and I have an LLM. that I have not used.
A: Why would you want to stay? You'll never be able to start a family, or manage family life, working 2500 billable hours. You may as well begin now to look for a position in Pittsburgh, if that's where you want to be. More time in New York won't help. However, to be realistic, you may need to anticipate some further length of stay in New York while you find your job in Pittsburgh. Begin by networking with alumni from your law school, and use your law school's career placement office. But don't stay in New York any longer than necessary, just to "put in time"; in these times of rapid job mobility, it is far more important to be flexible than to demonstrate job "stability."
Finding Opportunities in International Law
Q: I'm a '99 graduate, practicing with the federal government (administrative, employment, and civil rights law). However, I want a job where I can build on my academic background in international law. What advice do you have for a person with no professional experience in international law?
A: Finding opportunities in international law can be challenging for any lawyer, regardless of background. With one year of federal government experience in an unrelated field, it may be particularly challenging. The first question, of course, is what you mean by "international law": for example, are you referring to transnational commercial law, which most "international lawyers" practice; or "public" international law, which is the law governing relations among nations. With an academic background in this field, I'm sure you are aware of these and other options. In any area of international law practice, you will find that competition is stiff. Your law school credential will probably be more relevant here than your professional experience, since you are a '99 graduate. If you are looking for international work in a government agency, prepare yourself for an exhaustive networking campaign through U.S. and international organizations. Though you do not disclose your geographic location, I assume you are in Washington, D.C.; if not, you should be prepared to move to D.C., New York, or one of a handful of other cities with an international bar. Don't expect fast results in your search.