Do You Still Drink The Law Firm Kool-Aid?

A bit of a rambling post here – I just wanted to check in and see if most ex-Heller staff, especially those who have not yet made it to dry land, are still looking only within the legal field.  With over 20 years of experience working in large global law firms, each time I make a job change (through my own devices or when it is imposed upon me), I consider not staying in the field.  What about you?

For me, working for BigLaw had pluses and minuses and despite what people tell you, not all firms are the same.  We all migrate towards certain firms based on not just the benefits and perks offered, but based on the “firm culture.”  That is the reason why I stayed with Heller Ehrman – the firm culture and philosophy was in synch with my own in terms of its progressive outlook and always being ahead of the curve.  Little did I know that when it came down to tough times, Heller management would totally disregard such a culture and rely mainly on a “dissolution playbook” handed to them by outside counsel.

Face it, the perks of working for a large law firm are great from the three weeks vacation to start, holidays, Friday breakfasts, free sodas and coffee, parties, transportation allowance, etc.  And the trade offs are frequently having to deal with high pressure atmospheres, deadlines and difficult people.  How’s that for being diplomatic?

Personally, I’ve worked for some horrendous firms with 3:00 am phone calls filled with abusive language that made Sarah Silverman look like Mother Teresa.  And I’ve worked for some great firms despite being on call 24/7 and pulling 36-hour shifts to upgrade servers or desktops.  I stuck with BigLaw mostly for “the security” as I call it.  Great atmosphere, great people, great benefits, great retirement.

But after my last gig, at Heller, seeing that security pulled out from under me, and not having basic labor laws such as paying accrued vacation followed, I begin to have my doubts.  I’m not sure that I’m willing to invest my usual 110% at a firm that might possibly turn on its employees in such a way.  And Heller is not an isolated case – just look at the staffers at Thelen.

So for now, I’ll take the consulting route which I’ve always shied away from since I had to do my own taxes, pay my own Social Security and retirement, secure my own benefits, etc.  But I am my own boss responsible for my own security.  I can pick and choose which clients I want to work with and what projects I want to tackle.  More control, less stress but more paperwork and bookkeeping.  Seems like a fair trade in today’s economic situation and the lack of full-time jobs.

I and probably many of the readers would like to hear from others, both staff and attorneys, as to why they’ve decided to stay in the legal field.  Or if you’ve left why you made that decision.

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5 Responses to “Do You Still Drink The Law Firm Kool-Aid?”


  1. 1 Former Associate 18 November 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Two words: Golden Handcuffs.

  2. 2 hellerclerk 18 November 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I intentionally sought out a smaller firm, with only a presence in Washington. There is more work because of the smaller staff, but I know where each and every one of the partners lives and works. This dynamic gives them plenty of incentive to treat the staff a bit more humanely.

    I did, for a day or so there, consider a much more radical career move.

  3. 3 Former Attorney 19 November 2008 at 12:21 am

    I didn’t leave legal altogether, but did resolve to make a big change. Considered going with a really, really small firm in the Bay Area (really good folks, but just not ready for the risk right now). So I’ve taken another big step and am leaving the state altogether, family in-tow, to finally go in-house. A really big change: a whole new state, a much lower salary and new area of law …. and finally free of billables and biz dev ……..

  4. 4 concerned 19 November 2008 at 10:03 am

    I have stayed in BigLaw, but only until I secure a position with the Federal Courts, which I am actively seeking. BigLaw is no longer attractive or secure. I would rather deal with government bureauacy than instability.

  5. 5 Mr. Jones 20 November 2008 at 10:28 am

    I search preferentially outside of the legal arena, but I’ve been in it so long now that it’s hard to find anything outside that I’m qualified for, at least that will support my family (see the Golden Handcuffs remark above).


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