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August 15, 2007

A Very Sobering Article(s) on Life At Big Law

Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg brings us excerpts of a newly published article (and numerous links of valuable commentary) by Alec Scott called Exile on Bay Street which documents one attorney's experience at Big Law in Canada and beyond.  It is truly worth reading. 

But I would like to preface the introduction to the article with the following.

This blog, Build A Solo Practice, is all about going solo for those who truly want to go solo or believe they have no other options.  It is a full road map for the solo option and information to help you determine if going solo is the best or only option for you.

There are countless numbers of law students who expressly desire the experience of BigLaw and do remarkably well, profit from it in bankable and psychological ways the truly solo-minded would not.  The truly solo-minded would feel caged in BigLaw and not appreciate their environment.  Conversely, someone who goes solo when they really want BigLaw will always feel isolated and third rate.  The proverbial square peg in a round hole.  We never appreciate what we have if what we really yearn for is something else.

It is this blog's passionate purpose to bust the myth that getting a legal job in Big Law or Small immediately upon gradaution from law school is a mandatory right of passage in order to practice law. It emphatically is not!

This blog is about having options.  I rant against law schools not publicizing and supporting other options and the professional landscape is littered with the overly-educated bodies of those who never believed the solo option was really viable.  Life is about finding those true choices.  And true choices come from honest information.  This is the goal for this blog, to provide a realistic perspective of the solo option from myself, all the guest bloggers and great commenters, the valuable tools and how to use those tools to make the most of your choice, and responsible economic and demographic trends to help shape your personal and business future as an entrepreneur in the legal profession.  I hope I am achieving my goal for you.


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Speaking from experience, I think a lot of "high achieving" law students end up on the BigLaw track by default. This is not to say that the BigLaw experience cannot be a good one for many young lawyers. Overall, it was good for me (for approx. 5 years post clerkships).

BUT the reality is that one's long-term career prospects in BigLaw are sharply limited by (1) a small number of available partnership and "of counsel" positions, and (2) the often arbitrary reality that unless you are "in" with the right partners at your firm, you will never reach that next level. Indeed, that was my experience at my last firm. It didn't matter how good a lawyer I was or how hard working, I had no future there because I didn't get along with the main partner in my practice group (who also happened to be one of the top partners in the entire firm). So I moved into an excellent government position, where I am now.

MOREOVER, I believe that much of the associate dissatisfaction at BigLaw is easy to explain, and predict. Many of the people who end up at BigLaw directly out of law school tend to be highly competent, highly confident, "Type A" personalities. For many years, while in school, they have been told how smart they are, showered with plaudits and awards, etc.

Then they discover the reality of (most) BigLaw firms: rigidly hierarchical, with little respect for the personal or professional needs of young associates. So they go from being a "big man on campus" (so to speak) to being, in essence, a serf or indentured servant (albeit very well paid). Importantly, unless these associates make a concerted effort to prepare themselves for the next stage of their legal careers, they often find themselves after 2-4 years of BigLaw "experience" having reviewed thousands or millions of pages of documents and drafted numerous research memos, but never having appeared in court in any responsible capacity, having taken few if any depositions, never been responsible for managing cases, etc. So they end up feeling that their talent is being under-utilized and under-appreciated -- and that they are not ready for the next step. Too often, they're right.

For myself, I've always know that at the end of the day, I want to be my own boss and take full responsibility for my professional endeavors. Something even a partnership position at a BigLaw firm truly can't offer (e.g., if I were a partner at my last firm, I'd still be under the ultimate authority and supervision of that main partner). So I'm laying the foundations to go solo early in 2008. However, I won't deny that my own years in BigLaw, and now the government, have been very worthwhile and have given me the skills and confidence I need to make a go of it on my own.

Holly Schwendiman

Thanks so much for stopping by my corner! I have such an interest in going back to school for a law degree so I really enjoyed my visit here! :)


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