Leave Gov't for Big Law?

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Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 06, 2018 12:28 pm

I am currently working for a federal government agency (HQ in DC) as a full-time teleworker (in a distant city). My job offers me a terrific work-life balance (40 hrs/wk + work at home), decent pay (GS-14 = $120k), and solid benefits. The job is also PSLF eligible, and I have a significant amt of student debt.

I am 5 years out of law school and I've been with the agency about 3.5 years. I enjoy what I do and the flexibility it affords, but my earning potential caps out at the GS-15 level, which is around $150-165k, and there is not a lot of variety in what I do. Also, as a teleworker (I'm stuck in my current city for at least 2 more years for personal reasons), I am ineligible for most of the promotional opportunities within the agency that I'd otherwise be interested in pursuing.

I was offered an opportunity at a regional big firm, which would pay about $180k salary with bonuses in the range of $5-40k (I think it's black box). Billable requirement is 1900, but it seems like an actual requirement, not a floor. My commute, however, would be about 1.5 hours each way for a few months until I could move somewhat closer to the office. Even then, it would be probably 45min-1hr each way (still need to be close enough to spouse's work). I think the experience I'd gain would be invaluable and the job would open doors to longer-term opportunities and higher pay that would be fairly difficult for me to obtain if I were to stay in gov't.

One thing that complicates matters is that I do not intend to stay in the geographic region I'm in for too long. So that means that rather than pursuing a partner position at the firm, I'd ultimately be looking to parlay the firm job into an in-house opportunity, another firm job in a more desirable (for family reasons) location [would require waiving into other jurisdictions], or possibly more interesting positions with my current agency. If I were to stay at my current job, I could always move back to the DC area (or any other city, really) without having to find a new job.

Does anyone have experience with a move from gov't to big law? I know it's sort of a rare opportunity, so I'm worried about closing a door that might never open again. But at the same time, I have hesitations about taking the job--the hours and stress would be worse, the commute would suck, and I'd be giving up PSLF. Any guidance is greatly appreciated.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 06, 2018 12:45 pm

As someone who came from biglaw and now works in the fed government, I’d never go back to big law. Moreover, my fed agency allows telework only twice a week. I’d confidently say that if I could work a full time telework job that capped at even GS14, I would never leave. FWIW I’m also at GS14 in a high COL area (CA).

Also curious: are there any other GS14/15 agencies other than the USPTO that allow full time telework? I think the SSA might but those jobs cap at GS11/12.

Gus Fring

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Gus Fring » Thu Sep 06, 2018 1:38 pm

You make 120k a year to work 40 hours a week from home and are seriously considering leaving? for big law nonetheless? That sounds like my dream job.
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BubbaMean86

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby BubbaMean86 » Thu Sep 06, 2018 1:38 pm

OP, R u at USPTO
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Sadnessandmisfortune

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Sadnessandmisfortune » Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:13 pm

Anonymous User wrote:You make 120k a year to work 40 hours a week from home and are seriously considering leaving? for big law nonetheless? That sounds like my dream job.


Echoing this. The pay bump you'll get is not worth it in my opinion unless you're really dissatisfied with your job or in dire need of money. Also, giving up the loan repayment?
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unlicensedpotato

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby unlicensedpotato » Thu Sep 06, 2018 4:35 pm

I would imagine the shift from your job as described to the law firm job as described would be quite dramatic, probably more so than you think. It's much easier to keep rolling as a mid-level putting one foot in front of the other than to jump into this. 1900 hours billed is still quite a bit and, as noted, plenty of people in big law would leave for your current job.

That said, if it's something you want to do, go for it. I would probably wait until the market switch though.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 06, 2018 5:15 pm

OP here. I was trying to be ambiguous about where I work, but people have surmised correctly that I am with the USPTO. It is a genuinely great place to work and definitely don't feel that I need to get out, but I've heard that 3-5 yrs is the sweet spot for leaving government for private, so I worry that if I wait until the market switch (as unlicensedpotato suggested), I might miss out on some opportunities.

I appreciate all the feedback so far.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby BubbaMean86 » Thu Sep 06, 2018 5:39 pm

OP - How feasible would it be to return to the USPTO if you did switch to private and (worse case scenario) economy tanks, they have to let you go, etc.? My advice would be that if it were relatively easy to return back to the USPTO, some of the fears of private practice would be lessened for you. On the other hand, if you are basically happy but maybe a little bored, maybe you could instead put your energy towards a side hustle? Start a startup on the side? Or do something creative?
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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 06, 2018 5:57 pm

Well I'm certain if the USPTO were hiring, I'd be welcomed back. The question is whether, if the economy were to tank, the USPTO would be hiring at all. We have been hiring rapidly in the past few years due to a booming economy and an influx of applications from foreign countries, particularly China. But if the economy were to slow, I'm not sure there would be a need to hire. Ultimately, I'd have to wait for an opening and that could mean waiting a few months, or possibly much longer.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 06, 2018 7:17 pm

OP, I posted before about moving from biglaw to fed government. I really, really think you’d regret leaving. These government jobs are what biglaw associates dream about. My entire field office at my agency is former biglaw associates.

Sometimes you’ve gotta experience it to realize what you’ve got, though, and therefore only you can make that decision.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Sep 06, 2018 11:54 pm

As a fellow federal attorney (I'm the OP of the "Fed not that great" thread), I would not leave the feds for that bump in pay. It is substantially more, don't get me wrong, but you will lose your federal pension...the best benefit of federal employment. It only vests after 5 years. You can't predict the future, but you can predict using the FERS calculator that you'd be losing, as a GS-15, a rock solid, guaranteed pension at a time when comfortable retirement will be a luxury. But of course, if you're unsatisfied and believe biglaw can fill that gap, go for it. But just keep in mind what you are foregoing.

lavarman84

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby lavarman84 » Fri Sep 07, 2018 1:02 am

Damn, OP, you have it made if you don't have ambitious career plans. That's an amazing job if you're just working for the paycheck. I think many lawyers would kill to be in your shoes. My opinion? Stay where you are unless there's something you're extremely passionate about and dying to do.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby lpaez » Fri Sep 07, 2018 10:45 am

If you leave the USPTO and come back, what GS-level do you come back at? And can you get your telework back?
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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Sep 07, 2018 11:55 am

OP, you would not be crazy at all to leave. Many people in here are calling what you have a "dream job" but many (including myself) would totally disagree. I passed up a fed gov position for biglaw, did that for 3 years and then moved in-house. I would never be satisfied if my salary was capped at $150k. My base is higher than that and I work 8:30 - 6:00 pretty consistently (not rare for in-house), plus I have 6 figure upside potential with bonus, RSUs, benefits, etc. All of this to say, you would not be crazy to give up that position. I would say do whatever you think will be the most fulfilling for you in the long-term. The only thing I would hesitate on is the commute. Your hours will already be longer, taking on an extra 2 hours in the car, on top of already longer hours, will be tough on you. Also, the pension thing could be huge, I don't know how much $ that is in retirement. But if you go the firm route, you will have a higher rate of savings, so could even things out.

worklifewhat

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby worklifewhat » Fri Sep 07, 2018 12:13 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP, you would not be crazy at all to leave. Many people in here are calling what you have a "dream job" but many (including myself) would totally disagree. I passed up a fed gov position for biglaw, did that for 3 years and then moved in-house. I would never be satisfied if my salary was capped at $150k. My base is higher than that and I work 8:30 - 6:00 pretty consistently (not rare for in-house), plus I have 6 figure upside potential with bonus, RSUs, benefits, etc. All of this to say, you would not be crazy to give up that position. I would say do whatever you think will be the most fulfilling for you in the long-term. The only thing I would hesitate on is the commute. Your hours will already be longer, taking on an extra 2 hours in the car, on top of already longer hours, will be tough on you. Also, the pension thing could be huge, I don't know how much $ that is in retirement. But if you go the firm route, you will have a higher rate of savings, so could even things out.


In-house jobs are not all that easy to come by, especially if you’re a litigator. If OP does litigation, leaving comes with huge risks—namely, being stuck in private practice when at a breaking point and no longer wants to be in biglaw.
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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Sep 07, 2018 7:15 pm

OP, this is pretty much me. Wondering if its worth leaving the friendly confines of fed gov to scratch the law firm itch. Think this is probably more of a thing for ppl who started out in gov fresh out of law school, there's understandably a desire to get that missing piece of experience. Have had friends from all kinds of law firms and in house say its not better from their perch, or that they hate it but money is good. But with the grass is always greener thing, there's only one way to find out; go over there, lay on it, smell it, see if its actually greener. 180k sounds like a great offer for TM work tho. I'd say if doing lawyerly things isn't a fun/passionate activity for you, the PTO is prob the best place to avoid the worst parts of practicing law.
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DanielPWhite

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby DanielPWhite » Fri Sep 07, 2018 7:19 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP - On the other hand, if you are basically happy but maybe a little bored, maybe you could instead put your energy towards a side hustle? Start a startup on the side? Or do something creative?


This is actually great advice. But since lawyers are trained and conditioned to be professional hand-wringers, risk averse, and love the identity of their job, it's tough to actually make this happen.
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DanielPWhite

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby DanielPWhite » Fri Sep 07, 2018 7:56 pm

At the end of the day, for 90% of lawyers, law is boring. There's nothing interesting or exciting about it. It's dull and tedious, and the people involved are mostly pedantic, no fun tightasses. The interesting ones leave the profession, and if they're young enough, and possibly hot enough, become instagram travel bloggers.

So would you rather do loads more boring work, under higher pressure and ridiculously anal quality standards, with no job security, less control of schedule/work flow, and waaaay longer hours for about 40-50k more? Might be worth it to some people. But those people generally suck at life.
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worklifewhat

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby worklifewhat » Fri Sep 07, 2018 10:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:At the end of the day, for 90% of lawyers, law is boring. There's nothing interesting or exciting about it. It's dull and tedious, and the people involved are mostly pedantic, no fun tightasses. The interesting ones leave the profession, and if they're young enough, and possibly hot enough, become instagram travel bloggers.

So would you rather do loads more boring work, under higher pressure and ridiculously anal quality standards, with no job security, less control of schedule/work flow, and waaaay longer hours for about 40-50k more? Might be worth it to some people. But those people generally suck at life.


Nailed it!
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spyke123

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby spyke123 » Fri Sep 07, 2018 11:11 pm

Anonymous User wrote:At the end of the day, for 90% of lawyers, law is boring. There's nothing interesting or exciting about it. It's dull and tedious, and the people involved are mostly pedantic, no fun tightasses. The interesting ones leave the profession, and if they're young enough, and possibly hot enough, become instagram travel bloggers.

So would you rather do loads more boring work, under higher pressure and ridiculously anal quality standards, with no job security, less control of schedule/work flow, and waaaay longer hours for about 40-50k more? Might be worth it to some people. But those people generally suck at life.


This is the credited response but I feel like most folks in OP position will make the jump. There is something alluring about biglaw for those who haven’t experienced it - it maybe prestige, the money or because you feel like youre “practicing”. At the end of the day it is just a overpaid admin job that involves turning documentations under tight deadline, chasing biz folks to make up their damn mind and obsessing over where commas should go.

OP, you should give it a try, if anything aftering experiencing biglaw you can check the box and have no regrets.
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DanielPWhite

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby DanielPWhite » Thu Oct 18, 2018 9:29 pm

OP just curious, what did you decide?
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icansortofmath

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby icansortofmath » Fri Oct 19, 2018 4:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:OP - On the other hand, if you are basically happy but maybe a little bored, maybe you could instead put your energy towards a side hustle? Start a startup on the side? Or do something creative?


This is actually great advice. But since lawyers are trained and conditioned to be professional hand-wringers, risk averse, and love the identity of their job, it's tough to actually make this happen.


Doesn’t have to be a big hustle. Teach LSAT, some business law class at local university as an adjunct, and a bunch of other possibilities for low risk supplemental income.
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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 19, 2018 5:49 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP just curious, what did you decide?

OP here. I ultimately decided to stay put. I really do enjoy my government job and the flexibility it provides. Passing up a great firm opportunity was very tough, but I do feel that on a day-to-day basis, I'd have been less happy given the commute and hours I'd have had to deal with. The guidance everyone gave me on here was very helpful, so I want to say thanks to everyone who provided their input.

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby QContinuum » Fri Oct 19, 2018 6:09 pm

Congrats on your decision and glad we could help!

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Re: Leave Gov't for Big Law?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Oct 19, 2018 6:43 pm

OP, very curious about the profile of the law firm...

I have been interviewing for various TM positions at law firms, and the offers have been waaay lower, ranging from 135K (albeit for 1700 billable req) at an AmLaw 100 in a market like Atl/Dallas, to 145K at a regional midlaw firm for 1800 hours.

I was thinking anything 180K+ would be reserved for true biglaw firms in the NYC/SF/DC offices. By "regional big firm" do you mean a branch office of an amlaw 100 biglaw firm? Or truly a large regional firm, and not amlaw100?

Thanks!



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