Author Topic: Another legal career question  (Read 5247 times)

pbj

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Another legal career question
« on: May 11, 2013, 11:23:49 AM »
Hi everyone,

Inspired by Aigeus's post, I too would appreciate your career advice for me.

Here's the situation. I'm a litigator at a biglaw firm but am starting to see this is not the practice area I want to be in for the long haul. What I do like about litigation is reading cases, analyzing them, and writing about them. I also really don't mind the doc review aspect of litigation or preparing for depositions, etc. Actually taking/defending the depositions and arguing motions, however, is not definitely not my cup of tea. As with most firms, this firm also has an "up or out" policy. Seeing how I have very little interest in making partner, I'm trying to figure out what my next steps should be. Going in-house would be my preferred option, but as Aigeus pointed out, there are very few litigation positions open at corporations. I also wouldn't mind staying in biglaw in another non-partner "Counsel" role, but with the economics of biglaw firms, I don't really see how this sort of "Counsel" position would be economically feasible for a long duration.

With all that in mind, here are some options I'm considering:

1) Something that involves mostly legal research/writing/reviewing docs: If I could read/write about cases all day, that would be my ideal job. The problem is, I don't really know of any positions focused on legal research/writing/reviewing docs.

2) E-discovery attorney: This option was inspired by Aigeus's post. Prior to reading that, I really hadn't thought about this option much, but it seems to fit my background/personality. A few firms that I know have these positions, but I've noticed the attorneys in these roles seem to have 10+ years of experience. That is, they practiced in an area of litigation before for several years and now solely focus on e-discovery issues. By contrast, I don't have that many years under my belt, so I'm somewhat hesitant to pursue this option. Are there any e-discovery MMMs out there whose brain I might pick? 

3) Something else?

Any thoughts on the above would be much appreciated!

Soccermom2b

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2013, 01:30:04 PM »
I'm assuming you're in the US...

what's your tolerable salary range?

Have you considered working at Lexis or Westlaw, if you like reading/digesting opinions all day?

Second, law jobs at corporations are out there, you just have to be relentless in looking.  It helps to have friends/contacts at companies as people are leaving or moving from corporate law departments all the time.  Don't be afraid to use legal headhunters as well as google in finding jobs in industries.

Finally, if you don't mind making less than a 1st year (summer associate?) at your current firm, your talent set really matches up well for the federal gov't.  Admittedly, its not the best time to work there (furloughs, RIFs), but there's a large wave of retirees leaving the gov't, and we are running headfirst into a need to replace some of the departing "talent" (at a 3 loss-1hire ratio, so you will find yourself just as busy in gov't as in your private law firm).  Most agency attorneys do not litigate (although you can, if you find the right job), but we spend a lot of our days writing opinions, reading cases, and trying to figure out the best advice to give our clients.  We do all discovery and help DOJ/AUSA with identifying legal strategies as well as assisting/writing briefs.  At the trial level, some AUSAs let us argue cases (in specialty areas of law), some don't.  If you work in an area of law that involves administrative matters or state law matters (this is extremely rare and limited to certain practice areas), then you will be the one doing the litigation "heavy lifting".  You can be as specialized or general in practice as you want - we've got a couple attorneys in our office who only have one area of the law that they advise on and then we have others who work on whatever assignment comes into their inbox. 

best place to start looking for gov't jobs is www.usajobs.gov  You have to be VERY patient (gov't hiring takes forever) and tenacious (certain offices are looking for previous gov't experience), and as I said, the timing is tough for it right now - there are very few postings and we are seeing a tremendous influx (10X what we used to see) of applicants for every vacancy.  However, your litigation experience is extremely attractive to many gov't agencies.  Feel free to message me if you have any questions about gov't work/benefits/etc.


pbj

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2013, 10:33:38 PM »
Hi Soccermom2b, thanks for your thoughts! Yes, I'm in the US.

As far as a tolerable salary, above 6 figures would be nice, but my main hope for my next position is longevity/someplace I can contribute to for a long time. (As much as biglaw has its perks, I've come to realize that's one of my internal motivators/something I'd really like in my next position.)

Yes, I've looked at Lexis/Westlaw reference attorney positions but they seem to be limited in geography (for instance, Westlaw attorneys appear to be only in Minnesota).

It's encouraging to hear that my skillset may be appealing to gov't agencies. I'll PM you with some Q's about gov't work.

iwannaretire

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2013, 10:19:42 AM »
Have you considered appellate law?  You spend almost all of your time researching and writing briefs.  The only time you step into a courtroom is to argue your case, but that is only about 5 percent of your time every year.  Does your law firm have an appellate department?  If not, maybe suggest doing appellate law for your firm as a possibility or look at appellate departments of other firms.

Aigeus

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2013, 08:14:14 PM »
Hi everyone,

Inspired by Aigeus's post, I too would appreciate your career advice for me.

Here's the situation. I'm a litigator at a biglaw firm but am starting to see this is not the practice area I want to be in for the long haul. What I do like about litigation is reading cases, analyzing them, and writing about them. I also really don't mind the doc review aspect of litigation or preparing for depositions, etc. Actually taking/defending the depositions and arguing motions, however, is not definitely not my cup of tea. As with most firms, this firm also has an "up or out" policy. Seeing how I have very little interest in making partner, I'm trying to figure out what my next steps should be. Going in-house would be my preferred option, but as Aigeus pointed out, there are very few litigation positions open at corporations. I also wouldn't mind staying in biglaw in another non-partner "Counsel" role, but with the economics of biglaw firms, I don't really see how this sort of "Counsel" position would be economically feasible for a long duration.

With all that in mind, here are some options I'm considering:

1) Something that involves mostly legal research/writing/reviewing docs: If I could read/write about cases all day, that would be my ideal job. The problem is, I don't really know of any positions focused on legal research/writing/reviewing docs.

2) E-discovery attorney: This option was inspired by Aigeus's post. Prior to reading that, I really hadn't thought about this option much, but it seems to fit my background/personality. A few firms that I know have these positions, but I've noticed the attorneys in these roles seem to have 10+ years of experience. That is, they practiced in an area of litigation before for several years and now solely focus on e-discovery issues. By contrast, I don't have that many years under my belt, so I'm somewhat hesitant to pursue this option. Are there any e-discovery MMMs out there whose brain I might pick? 

3) Something else?

Any thoughts on the above would be much appreciated!

Two thoughts:

(1) Certain practice areas have very little in the way of deposition practice.  Securities/M&A litigation, for example, involves almost no depositions, because very few cases make it past the motion to dismiss stage--and those that do usually settle.  I'm not saying that you'd never have to take a deposition--and you certainly would want to have that skill if you were to make partner or something--but you'd do it a lot less.  However, it'd be hard to completely avoid arguing in court.  I'd be curious to hear exactly what it is that you don't like--if it's mainly the super adversarial nature of depositions, I'd say that you probably should not worry so much about arguing in court.  That's a lot less adversarial, since the fact that the judge is sitting right in front of you means that opposing counsel won't pull the kind of crap that they would during a deposition.  Of course, all this only really addresses one aspect of your problem--it doesn't have anything to do with the up-or-out issue, lack of in-house positions, etc.

(2) I'm not sure that I see any barrier to you becoming an e-discovery attorney, although I admit that I'm not one and don't know a ton about what's required.  My guess would be that the ideal route would be to just stick in a firm and keep looking out for opportunities to work on e-discovery issues.  Then eventually try to make yourself known in the firm for that stuff.  It's a valuable skill, so you can probably gradually move towards doing that almost full-time.  I don't see why only having a year or two under your belt at this point would hold you back in any way.  Although again I guess you should talk to people who know more, too.

However, I would be careful about what you actually mean by e-discovery.  If you become the guy who just does a lot of doc review, that's not good.  Doc review is going to be eliminated by predictive coding.  What you really need to do is learn the rules for e-discovery (Zubulake, etc.) so that you can be the one counseling the client on how to approach e-discovery issues.

Good luck!  I feel for you, as we're in pretty much the same boat ...

catmustache

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2013, 01:58:39 PM »
I don't know much about their pay, but in addition to federal work, state government work might also be an option, especially as general counsel for the courts. In my dealings with them, it's seemed that they spend a great deal of time reviewing and updating forms to be consistent with laws, conducting training on various topics, and compiling reports on new laws, with a very rare trial here and there.

cynthia1848

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2013, 05:18:28 PM »
What about a career clerk position?  Some of the state courts have them and it is all research and writing.

You may want to check out some of the virtual law offices - I can't remember the name right now but one of the flex legal jobs, women-owned firm, etc., has temp positions where you get put onto projects that are mostly writing briefs, etc.

Also talk to the counsels/of counsels at your firm, if you know any, and see what their setup is (salary/bonus, any PT options, limits on types of work they do, etc.)

Koshka

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2013, 09:16:20 PM »
30+ years practice as commercial litigator here. 

If you don't really like going to court or taking depositions, it will be difficult to be successful as a litigator.  Or, if you suppress your dislike so that you will be successful, then you will spend a lot of time working in a field where you are not happy.  Furthermore, most litigators like the adversarial nature of litigation and enjoy arguing in court and enjoy trying cases.  That is why they are litigators. 

It strikes me that the things you like are the parts of your job that are not unique to litigation and are not the core of litigation.  Transactional lawyers, for example, may indeed research case law and write legal memos and review documents and prepare for meetings.  Real estate lawyers may do the same.   What they don't typically do is appear in deposition, argue motions in court or try cases. 

In my career I have supervised and trained quite a few young lawyers and based upon what you have posted, I would be telling you to find another area of law where you will be happier.

It is very easy to get sucked into doing work that you don't really like because it is what you got into. 

I don't actually think, based upon your post, that you will every really like what you are doing if you stay in litigation.  The work you enjoy doing will not sustain a successful litigation career.  I practiced as a litigator for over 30 years.  I now work part-time (at my request) and I don't argue motions, take depos or try cases any more.  I was able to negotiate that because of my experience and the fact that my firm didn't want to lose my entirely.  To the outside world, I had a successful career.  However, if I could go back in time I would have started looking for an in house job 25 years ago.

While it may be hard to find an in house job, I see little negative to your starting to look.  However, you do not necessarily need to limit yourself to litigation jobs.  Look in other areas, such as compliance work, etc.

Is there any option in your firm to switch from litigation work to something else?   I suspect you will find that other non-litigation areas of law will provide you more things that you do like.

You could look into a career clerk position or possibly a non-litigation position with government.

You could try contract work doing document review, etc. but I suspect you will not be happy with the pay.



pbj

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2013, 05:29:29 PM »
Hi everyone, thanks for your responses. To follow up:

iwannaretire and cynthia1848 - As to your suggestions of appellate law and career clerk, I'm going to take a closer look at both. My understanding is that both require having clerked at one point (which I haven't), so I would likely face an uphill battle securing those positions, but I'm going to check that out.

catmustache - Hadn't thought about state gov't work either, will take a closer look!

Aigeus - Will send you a PM. We really are in the same boat!

Koshka - Will send a PM. You raised a lot of valid points, and I'd like to follow up on them.

StarryC

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Re: Another legal career question
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2013, 07:20:39 PM »
It is difficult to get clerkship positions, but not impossible.  I'm sure it depends on your state as well.  The state appellate judges in my state seem to prefer lawyers with some experience over "fresh faces."  I'm under the impression that there are no longer "career clerk" positions in federal court, but maybe I'm wrong.  I think those are 2-4 year positions though, and could be a stepping stone that might make you more valuable to a corporation.