Advice for those seeking a path out...

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PwnLaw

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Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby PwnLaw » Thu Jul 20, 2017 1:28 am

Hey TLS -

I'm back briefly since I've had a number of you reach out lately (both those I've met/spoken with personally and new folks sending me a note for the first time) and I just wanted to offer some macro advice on transitioning out of Biglaw. I've got a fairly extensive post history on my particular path, but I want to go a bit broader on people I've seen be successful in making a change.

More than anything, I've seen folks fall prey to despair. It is this corrosive mental state that tells them they've irreparably destroyed their lives. It's this toxic concoction of: Oh my god I've made a huge mistake in career, I've pot-committed financially, my prospects for change are minimal and everyone is going to judge me even if I could make a change.

I think a lot of this comes from a pursuit of prestige rather than happiness or fulfillment. Law school has this weird effect on people in that it somehow convinces them that prestige will bring one or both of these things. People become so committed to this idea, that the essentially follow this preordained path to a firm with effectively no introspection along the way.

Then they arrive at the firm and, for fairly significant chunk of people, the reality of their situation begins to set in. By the time they realize the situation is intolerable, they want an immediate change, often without the benefit of preparing for an exit. When that change doesn't come quickly, they drop further into despair and every .1 seems like torture. This situation is compounded because you have a bunch of type-a people who are used to being successful that are dealing with a significant failure for the first time. Enter alcohol (or whatever else starts you down the path of self-medication). The NYT article on the addict is not revelatory to those of us who have spent time in the profession, but it serves as another cautionary tale.

My suggestion to people is to take a longer view on employment change. Become very strategic about your approach. I understand you want to leave NOW, but expect it to take 6-12 months. So, what do you do with that time? How should you change your behavior?

Be Proactive. I consistently see people put themselves in the hands of fate when they're trying to make this move. They assume nothing is out there and they seem to go out of their way to confirm this fact. I see very few people reach out to attorneys that have exited the field for advice (a lot of us are willing to help out). They sort of respond to the recruiters that reach out to them and search through LinkedIn for a job that gets posted. The issue with these strategies is that it puts you in contention with a ton of other candidates. Building a network of people that are sympathetic to your efforts means you're far more likely to get a personal referral to a job, which is far more likely to convert into being hired for that job.

I suggest reaching out to about 10 people a day. Expect 1 out of those 10 to respond. Try to get that 1 on the phone, or, if they're local, take them to lunch/coffee.

The 10 people can be anyone who is engaged in anything you find interesting. It's better if they are concentrated in a certain field, but there's no harm in going broad here.

Be Positive. It amazes me how quickly people internalize their failure to enjoy the law into a broader assessment that they are a failure from top to bottom. I get that you've put a lot of time, energy and resources into becoming a lawyer and it's deeply annoying that it didn't pan out but you need to understand you have a lot to offer. You're smart, you're likely great with details, comfortable with complicated systematic thinking, and you're inclined toward prolonged effort toward abstract goals -- this isn't common among the workforce. You should remember this. You also need to remember that only one person needs to recognize this for you to make a change.

Figure Out What You're Maximizing For. Most people just want OUT. They don't care what so long as it just ends the misery. The issue is that if you jump at the first thing that offers a path out without really evaluating what it is you're searching for, then you may find yourself unhappy again. I consistently see people try to opt for the other end of the spectrum (I want a chill 9-5 government job doing anything). The issue is that people that end up in biglaw are there because they like being mentally stimulated and now they've traded a position with high perceived prestige for a position with low perceived prestige -- it's much harder to make a change a second time.

Most people end up in this mess because they haven't spent much time evaluating what they wanted in a job. They let prestige serve as a proxy for happiness and fulfillment. That was a mistake. Don't make another mistake by assuming that mindless stability is going to make you happy either. Take some time to seriously evaluate what might make you happy. Talk to people. Listen to what they do. Engage them on the subject.

Create a Support System. I get that you don't want to belabor mom with this, but if you're being proactive and you're trying to stay positive then leaning on mom/wife/friend in the downtimes will go fine. Don't just complain about your job, instead talk about what you're doing to get out of you job and see if they have any thoughts (and don't snap at them for offering it). Ask them what they think you would like to do (they can be surprisingly insightful on this stuff). When they seem confused that you want to give it all up, just tell them you aren't happy and it is beginning to affect your mental health.

Finances. Figure out how screwed you actually are on finances. See what tradeoffs you can make to embrace a different lifestyle. Be ruthless about how you budget. Stop the coffee break (just take a walk instead). Drop the impulse weekend at the Bed & Breakfast (camping is cheap). The more you can cut down your budget, the wider range of jobs you can potentially take.

----

Ok, I'm not sure if this has been helpful, but I gotta say that I just feel bad for some of the folks I've been interacting with. These are smart people that have just been hollowed out by their experiences in law. There's a way to rebuild. Just keep your head up and take control of the situation the best you can.

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Re: Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 20, 2017 8:36 am

I'm seriously curious. How do some people practice law in a big law firm for 2 decades and be ok or happy with their lives? How do people stay for 2 years without quitting?

Maybe I'm just a lot weaker than others at my firm. On top of the huge client demands, most people (partners and sr. associates) in firms aren't exactly the nicest people in the world. A lot of this is due to the pressure that they get from clients and to bill. I've even seen a change in my own personality after I started working in biglaw.

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PeanutsNJam

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Re: Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby PeanutsNJam » Thu Jul 20, 2017 9:21 am

With respect to your advice on networking, are you cold e-mailing old acquaintances? Or strangers?

You went into a number of video game startups, right? Are you still doing that, and we're you tech grand in the firm? How do IP litigators fare trying to do what you did?

PwnLaw

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Re: Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby PwnLaw » Thu Jul 20, 2017 2:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm seriously curious. How do some people practice law in a big law firm for 2 decades and be ok or happy with their lives? How do people stay for 2 years without quitting?

Maybe I'm just a lot weaker than others at my firm. On top of the huge client demands, most people (partners and sr. associates) in firms aren't exactly the nicest people in the world. A lot of this is due to the pressure that they get from clients and to bill. I've even seen a change in my own personality after I started working in biglaw.


In order to survive, you need to:

You genuinely love the contest of wills with the other side. Most people don't like conflict and spending all day pissing on eachothers shoes wears on them -- others thrive in the war zone.

You derive satisfaction from making something perfect. You're not worn down by reviewing something the 9th time for a misplaced comment.

You enjoy the intellectual engagement that comes from the practice of law. Once you get past doc review/reverting comment changes to the point where you are formulating strategies, providing advice and directly engaging with the other side, it can be a pretty challenging and stimulating field.

Alternatively:

Drink heavily, ignore all signs of misery and project your unhappiness on to those below you.

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Raiden

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Re: Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby Raiden » Thu Jul 20, 2017 2:07 pm

PwnLaw wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I'm seriously curious. How do some people practice law in a big law firm for 2 decades and be ok or happy with their lives? How do people stay for 2 years without quitting?

Maybe I'm just a lot weaker than others at my firm. On top of the huge client demands, most people (partners and sr. associates) in firms aren't exactly the nicest people in the world. A lot of this is due to the pressure that they get from clients and to bill. I've even seen a change in my own personality after I started working in biglaw.


In order to survive, you need to:

You genuinely love the contest of wills with the other side. Most people don't like conflict and spending all day pissing on eachothers shoes wears on them -- others thrive in the war zone.

You derive satisfaction from making something perfect. You're not worn down by reviewing something the 9th time for a misplaced comment.

You enjoy the intellectual engagement that comes from the practice of law. Once you get past doc review/reverting comment changes to the point where you are formulating strategies, providing advice and directly engaging with the other side, it can be a pretty challenging and stimulating field.

Alternatively:

Drink heavily, ignore all signs of misery and project your unhappiness on to those below you.


Well said. Post NTY, TLS Legal Employment has become depressing. Let's not have the negativity eclipse the positivity entirely. Ooo, that should be something in a corner of a student calendar planner.

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Re: Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 20, 2017 2:10 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm seriously curious. How do some people practice law in a big law firm for 2 decades and be ok or happy with their lives? How do people stay for 2 years without quitting?

Maybe I'm just a lot weaker than others at my firm. On top of the huge client demands, most people (partners and sr. associates) in firms aren't exactly the nicest people in the world. A lot of this is due to the pressure that they get from clients and to bill. I've even seen a change in my own personality after I started working in biglaw.


I mean, I've lasted 2.5 years and I don't even know how I made it this far. I've also hopped in and out of big law, and my resume is pretty riddled with hopping red flags, but the paycheck is nice. I haven't been busy in months, then today, two new deals, both with ASAP timelines. This kind of work environment just gets to you. Some people can handle it, but I found I have a very hard time with the uncertainty.

Trying to lateral to a southern market (Richmond, Charlotte, etc) with the hopes that life is better down there, and I can spend 2-3 years paying off loans while living a more chill life outside of NYC. Who knows though, maybe I'm delusional.

lolwat

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Re: Advice for those seeking a path out...

Postby lolwat » Thu Jul 20, 2017 4:17 pm

Oh I remember OP! now I have to search back through your posts because I've gotten stuck in litigation so long that it's all I know now. Even though i'm not totally happy here and would rather be doing something involving video game stuff. :)



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