Thursday, May 29, 2008

are you sure you want to be a big firm lawyer?

A BIGLAW survivor tells her story in "Private Practice: What Went Wrong?":

Law firm culture (at least at the three firms I worked at), regards the assignments you get as an evaluation of your skills and capacities. The useless associate who doesn't get assignments because they're more trouble than they're worth to work with is a familiar character, and that was the pattern of the assignments (or lack of assignments) I got - while I was billing, in some years, half of what a very busy, but not really out-of-the-ordinary associate might bill, I was billing that low because that was all the work I had. By the time you're a senior associate, you should be some partner's (or some group of partners') go-to guy, and that never happened for me. (Well, annoyingly, in my last year at my last firm I was starting to get repeat work from one guy, but that didn't start happening until I was already mentally out the door, and into the interview process for my current job.) Further, I never managed to build the kind of relationship with a partner where I could reasonably have brought these concerns to them.

To the extent that I understand what happened to me, I just failed somehow to successfully project whatever attitude was necessary to convey that I was competent and available and eager to do work; doing a good job on the assignments I did get and hassling the assignment partner for more assignments was insufficient. So I ended up spending eight years terrified about how low my billing was, insulted by the implicit evaluation of my work product (and completely confused by the contradiction with the explicit evaluations of my work product), and wildly under-experienced for my chronological seniority in terms of the type of work I'd done, not just the amount. While I was in theory senior enough that I was eligible for partnership by the time I left my last firm, you would have had to be insane to make someone with my experience (let alone my billing history), a partner.

Anyway, that's water under the bridge. I'm at my new job, handling cases independently and successfully, and functioning at the level I should have been functioning at in private practice (and doing about three times as much work while spending about 75% of the hours I used to spend in the office). But I'm still kind of wrecked about the experience (which is why this long, pointlessly selfpitying post).

Lots of good comments to the posts, too, including suggestions that LB was possibly mommy tracked, or institutional sexism was at work. Take heed, young grasshoppers.