Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

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Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 11:15 am

I am interested in hearing about experiences changing practice area in big law. I assume it's best to do it while still junior. I am a finance lawyer looking to get into something different (maybe fin tech, block chain, VC, or startup related). Wondering what your experience has been like (or the experiences of people you know who have made a move) in making a drastic lateral move and using a recruiter.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 11:39 am

I tried to make the same move youre talking about and failed. No one wanted to re-tool a finance associate and many finance associates want out (for very good reason - it’s the worst corporate practice). You’re trying to switch into the sexiest area of law at the moment and most firms would rather take an M&A associate if they have to take one without relevant experience.

I hope you have some pre-law school experience you can show on your resume because it will be tough otherwise.

Recruiters are useful for a lot of firms, but they will try to talk you out of switching practice areas because it’s harder for them to make a quick commission.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 1:29 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I tried to make the same move youre talking about and failed. No one wanted to re-tool a finance associate and many finance associates want out (for very good reason - it’s the worst corporate practice). You’re trying to switch into the sexiest area of law at the moment and most firms would rather take an M&A associate if they have to take one without relevant experience.

I hope you have some pre-law school experience you can show on your resume because it will be tough otherwise.

Recruiters are useful for a lot of firms, but they will try to talk you out of switching practice areas because it’s harder for them to make a quick commission.


What did you end up doing? It seems to me like the easiest move for a finance/debt associate to make (without going back into finance) is to do a capital markets type move and try to broaden from doing just debt work to more of a general capital markets practice that includes equity offerings, corp gov. or other related matters on the issuer side.

I know of one move from a first year litigation associate to the "sexiest area of law" but I think it is quite difficult without some selling point and I suspect each day that passes makes it harder to retool (maybe if you agree to taking a cut in class year?)

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 1:55 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I tried to make the same move youre talking about and failed. No one wanted to re-tool a finance associate and many finance associates want out (for very good reason - it’s the worst corporate practice). You’re trying to switch into the sexiest area of law at the moment and most firms would rather take an M&A associate if they have to take one without relevant experience.

I hope you have some pre-law school experience you can show on your resume because it will be tough otherwise.

Recruiters are useful for a lot of firms, but they will try to talk you out of switching practice areas because it’s harder for them to make a quick commission.


What did you end up doing? It seems to me like the easiest move for a finance/debt associate to make (without going back into finance) is to do a capital markets type move and try to broaden from doing just debt work to more of a general capital markets practice that includes equity offerings, corp gov. or other related matters on the issuer side.

I know of one move from a first year litigation associate to the "sexiest area of law" but I think it is quite difficult without some selling point and I suspect each day that passes makes it harder to retool (maybe if you agree to taking a cut in class year?)


I’m still in finance as a mid level at a V20. I do a bit more stuff than just credit agreements and will play that up when I try to leave biglaw. Hope that’s soon because I hate finance. It has all the bad parts of biglaw plus the work is very complicated and difficult and not in an interesting way that might exist in litigation or I guess other corporate work for those people who get off to the WSJ.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 2:47 pm

I switched practices at the beginning of my second year using a recruiter. I was stuck in an IM/Asset Management practice from day 1 at my first firm (V50) and lateraled to an M&A group (V100). Not sure if it was the timing (started applying/interviewing in October/November) or the fact that I had no general corporate experience as a first year, but I found it difficult to get bites. Had four interviews and only got one offer which I ended up accepting before the rush of people leave in January (which may have been a mistake).

In hindsight I don't think I should have used a recruiter. He basically just blasted my resume out to a bunch of firms and hoped for bites. I even learned of an opening at a great firm in the exact practice I wanted via a friend only to find out my recruiter had already submitted me to a different practice group at the firm. I don't think firms want to pay the commission on a recruiter for a junior, especially one they need to re-tool, so I caution against using one.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby PartiallyLearnedHand » Tue Oct 30, 2018 3:12 pm

Does anyone know of or have insight into a switch from a regulatory practice to a general corp. M&A practice? Assuming the regulatory practice leans towards business transactions and one has an undergrad degree in finance.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 8:08 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I switched practices at the beginning of my second year using a recruiter. I was stuck in an IM/Asset Management practice from day 1 at my first firm (V50) and lateraled to an M&A group (V100). Not sure if it was the timing (started applying/interviewing in October/November) or the fact that I had no general corporate experience as a first year, but I found it difficult to get bites. Had four interviews and only got one offer which I ended up accepting before the rush of people leave in January (which may have been a mistake).

In hindsight I don't think I should have used a recruiter. He basically just blasted my resume out to a bunch of firms and hoped for bites. I even learned of an opening at a great firm in the exact practice I wanted via a friend only to find out my recruiter had already submitted me to a different practice group at the firm. I don't think firms want to pay the commission on a recruiter for a junior, especially one they need to re-tool, so I caution against using one.


Why didn't you use a recruiter who only sent your resume out to specific firms with your authorization each time? My understanding is you can work with specific recruiters and ask that they only submit you each time with your understanding. Though I have no comment on the bolded statement you made -- it does make me think twice and try to reach out to the firms who do this type of work on my own first. Would love to hear others' experiences.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 30, 2018 10:47 pm

I switched from Finance to M&A/General Corporate and it was definitely a good move. I'm much more business oriented and I was absolutely hating finance so I was pretty much M&A or bust as a 4th year. Took me moving cities and firms though to find a spot that would take the risk on me and honestly the learning curve was super steep, as I was expected to deliver 4th - 5th year level of work even though I had literally never done M&A from the corporate side before (finance was mostly leveraged finance though, so I understood what was going on).

I used a recruiter to do this and he was very helpful, but in the end, I just got very lucky. My firm had lost a senior associate on the M&A side and they just needed someone to fill in cause other associates were slammed. Got my first assignment on a big public deal and knocked it out of the park and since then I've only been doing public M&A and some general corporate.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 31, 2018 8:34 am

I switched from finance to litigation (so a complete 180) just a little over my first year as an associate. I wanted litigation from the beginning and my firm put me in finance against my will, so I had been plotting my move from the very start. I used a recruiter who was excellent and only applied to firms that were willing to retool me and knew about my situation, but I ultimately ended up at the job that I'm at (another biglaw firm in the same city) by applying on my own. It's definitely easier to do it as a junior (unless you're willing to start over as a first year, which might be worth it depending on your circumstances), but it's also definitely possible.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 31, 2018 1:58 pm

I made a somewhat analogous move. I certainly think it's doable, but I'd caution (1) that VC/startup legal work is probably overrated, (2) you don't really know what kind of group, firm, etc. you're getting into until you get there, and (3) like others said, training can be a barrier before and/or after making the switch.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Oct 31, 2018 3:04 pm

Just wanted to add that I do VC work and its overrated and gets boring fast (its all based on form NVCA documents and for each deal the most important thing is cap-table diligence & pro formas, which is horribly boring).I also feel that I am stagnating in terms of legal skills compared to my M&A and general finance peers, since they work on deals that involve a lot of structuring, so they are learning about all these complex deal structure-related issues while I'm just turning form docs all day everyday. I think the best way to do it is focus on M&A, and then do one or 2 VC deals, and then just try to find your own startup clients; that will make you the best lawyer.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby note7wins » Tue Nov 06, 2018 10:46 pm

Also interested to hear more about transitioning from finance to general Corp or m&a. How should a junior/mid level market him or herself?

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 07, 2018 12:01 pm

I am worried about applying through recruiters. It seems they can try to pitch you to firms that are looking to "retool" associates into a different practice area, but if you get no bites, you're kind of stuck and can't really apply to the firm on your own anymore. Seems then the recruiter might convince you to then take a position where you're still doing finance, but pitch it in a way that the new firm's practice is much more diverse or general. So even though you're hired for finance, maybe you'll do more securities work or work more on issuer side deals instead of doing only high-yield or bank side deals...

I feel like I can really make one move as a junior to be "retooled" so I want to make it count and join a practice/firm I could see my self growing in.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 07, 2018 12:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I am worried about applying through recruiters. It seems they can try to pitch you to firms that are looking to "retool" associates into a different practice area, but if you get no bites, you're kind of stuck and can't really apply to the firm on your own anymore. Seems then the recruiter might convince you to then take a position where you're still doing finance, but pitch it in a way that the new firm's practice is much more diverse or general. So even though you're hired for finance, maybe you'll do more securities work or work more on issuer side deals instead of doing only high-yield or bank side deals...

I feel like I can really make one move as a junior to be "retooled" so I want to make it count and join a practice/firm I could see my self growing in.


Your instincts are right, in my experience trying to make this move. Even good recruiters can’t change the market and there are a lot of M&A lawyers at top sweatshops who want to trade down, so competition is tough for open “general corporate”/M&A. Unfortunately life isn’t fair and you can get stuck in a practice area you never wanted and actively dislike just because your first firm needed a junior associate in that group.

Good luck to you, and make sure you vet recruiters well. If you’re friendly with older people from your law school who have used one before you should ask them for recruiter recommendations.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 07, 2018 4:03 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I am worried about applying through recruiters. It seems they can try to pitch you to firms that are looking to "retool" associates into a different practice area, but if you get no bites, you're kind of stuck and can't really apply to the firm on your own anymore. Seems then the recruiter might convince you to then take a position where you're still doing finance, but pitch it in a way that the new firm's practice is much more diverse or general. So even though you're hired for finance, maybe you'll do more securities work or work more on issuer side deals instead of doing only high-yield or bank side deals...

I feel like I can really make one move as a junior to be "retooled" so I want to make it count and join a practice/firm I could see my self growing in.


Your instincts are right, in my experience trying to make this move. Even good recruiters can’t change the market and there are a lot of M&A lawyers at top sweatshops who want to trade down, so competition is tough for open “general corporate”/M&A. Unfortunately life isn’t fair and you can get stuck in a practice area you never wanted and actively dislike just because your first firm needed a junior associate in that group.

Good luck to you, and make sure you vet recruiters well. If you’re friendly with older people from your law school who have used one before you should ask them for recruiter recommendations.


Thanks. Have you made the move, or are you still looking? Any tips in your experience?

Also open question to others: due to fierce competition as mentioned above, is it better if you're doing high yield / debt work for lenders (so 144A bond deals and syndicated financings) to try to move into a firm that does more capital markets securities work (which would involve equity offerings as well as debt offerings that are issuer side?)? I feel like this might work out for me since it's not something so far from my skill set and M&A gunners won't be so interested compared to more general corp/tech work?)

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 07, 2018 4:07 pm

Same poster as above -- also is that kind of capital markets work desirable? I haven't really dealt with too much registered deals (and absolutely no equity deals), or where I have, company counsel worried about most of the securities laws. As lenders counsel, it was more about reviewing the prospectus for comfort/backup, general diligence on the issuer, drafting the indenture/ DoN, opinions, and other ancillary docs/certificates. I still feel like doing more issuer side work and equity work will broaden my skillset and help me move in house (since right now I can only go in house to a bank).

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I am worried about applying through recruiters. It seems they can try to pitch you to firms that are looking to "retool" associates into a different practice area, but if you get no bites, you're kind of stuck and can't really apply to the firm on your own anymore. Seems then the recruiter might convince you to then take a position where you're still doing finance, but pitch it in a way that the new firm's practice is much more diverse or general. So even though you're hired for finance, maybe you'll do more securities work or work more on issuer side deals instead of doing only high-yield or bank side deals...

I feel like I can really make one move as a junior to be "retooled" so I want to make it count and join a practice/firm I could see my self growing in.


Your instincts are right, in my experience trying to make this move. Even good recruiters can’t change the market and there are a lot of M&A lawyers at top sweatshops who want to trade down, so competition is tough for open “general corporate”/M&A. Unfortunately life isn’t fair and you can get stuck in a practice area you never wanted and actively dislike just because your first firm needed a junior associate in that group.

Good luck to you, and make sure you vet recruiters well. If you’re friendly with older people from your law school who have used one before you should ask them for recruiter recommendations.


Thanks. Have you made the move, or are you still looking? Any tips in your experience?

Also open question to others: due to fierce competition as mentioned above, is it better if you're doing high yield / debt work for lenders (so 144A bond deals and syndicated financings) to try to move into a firm that does more capital markets securities work (which would involve equity offerings as well as debt offerings that are issuer side?)? I feel like this might work out for me since it's not something so far from my skill set and M&A gunners won't be so interested compared to more general corp/tech work?)


I tried and failed - couldn’t get any interviews for the tech trans or M&A positions I was looking for. I’m still in finance but do some varied kinds. I’ll be leaving biglaw as soon as possible. Just have to figure out what for. I hate deal work in general but finance in particular is awful. Hope you’re to get out before you become too seasoned and no one is willing to retool. Yes securities work would be helpful because you just want to be able to say without lying that you’ve done stuff other than debt.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:52 pm

note7wins wrote:Also interested to hear more about transitioning from finance to general Corp or m&a. How should a junior/mid level market him or herself?


I'm the anon from above that made the switch from finance to M&A. First thing I did was play up my borrower-side deal work. I did a ton of sponsor-side financing work in connection with PE M&A, so I pitched myself as someone that understood the whole deal structure and how the corporate group and finance group intersect. I mentioned how I had reviewed purchase agreements or merger agreements through doing financing work (specifically around MAEs, reps and warranties, etc.) and played up my knowledge of deal structuring from a funding perspective (equity v. debt).

Like I said in my post though, I got pretty lucky and it required me moving to a secondary market that has a few big firms, but not a ton of corporate work at high levels, so someone with my pedigree stood out there and made me worth the risk. If you are looking to move to NYC/SF/LA/Boston M&A from finance, good luck, cause I got very few bites to even get interviews for those roles and the ones I did get were when I was still a 1L.

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Re: Big law associates - have you switched practice areas?

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Nov 08, 2018 10:36 am

^Maybe school ranking and grades matter too? Have average grades but t6 graduate here.



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