Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jump! Bail out! Do it!!

I do hope my faithful readers aren't too tired of my discussions of the differences between civil and criminal law. I wasn't planning to write more on the subject but I received an email from someone needing a spot of advice.

In sum, my advice is the subject of this post.

But to be specific, below is his email and my responses/comments.

Here we go:

I stumbled onto your blog and was really glad I did. Why thank you. I joined a bigger law firm in 2009 and have been with the firm for nearly two years. My sympathies. I've grown tired of civil litigation for all the reasons you mentioned in your blogs regarding civil v. criminal law. I hate that I am essentially told to bill the crap out of clients for any little argument there is to be made, only to have the case settled shortly before trial in an obvious (and desperate) attempt by my supervising partners to avoid trial. I'm with you, mate. Trials and civil law just don't go together any more. There are 4 and 5th year associates at the firm who have never taken a deposition, let alone trial and there are rumors that some of the civil litigation partners with the firm for 10+ years have never gone to trial. Depositions are the new trials. That is, they are so few and far between (and are occasionally interesting) that senior lawyers reserve them for themselves, and clients insist senior lawyers handle them. Not much left for the rest...
Anyway, I was hoping you could speak more about your experience in shifting from civil to criminal law. During your three years as an associate, did you hate it?
No. That may surprise you but I enjoyed the first year. It was kind of like a honeymoon period before reality set in. Second year was okay, third year sucked. And I believe it keeps going downhill from there.

Was the switch a no brainer for you? Was there any one incident that made you say "I'm out!"?
Yes. And yes. But I won't elaborate here, for discretion's sake. Look, attrition is high at those firms for a reason, and it becomes a no-brainer for most associates.

I guess I'm just looking for some guidance as I am contemplating a shift to the D.A.'s office myself. During law school, I liked criminal law the best and I envisioned myself as an AUSA one day. I took the first job that came along b/c the job market was so bad in 2009 and working for this firm was considered "prestigious". Two years later, I am very unfulfilled with civil litigation and working for a big firm. I realize that no matter how long and hard I work, there will always be somebody looking over my shoulder and reviewing a spreadsheet of my billables, realization rate, etc.
Realization rate? Never heard of that one, sounds fun. Look if you're not happy you should go. You have one life to live and once you're out you will never regret it. Of course, many of us are lumbered with debt that makes the decision harder . . . oh, do go on. . .
I guess I just want somebody to convince me that the pay cut is totally worth it. It is. Oh by golly it is. I hate making it about the money, but student loan debts are crushing (~$1225/month - not federal loans) and starting in a new field at only 58-62K is intimidating - I feel like I'd be ditching most of the skills I have acquired over the past two years and that very few would be useful in an atmosphere totally different than a civil law firm.
And what skills would those be? Billing for every second? Sucking up to partners? Carrying briefcases for people? I jest (or do I?). You are probably good at writing and researching by now but you're probably about as good as you'll get. And you won't somehow forget how to do those things. and yes, the atmosphere will be different. it'll be awesome because lawyers making that much are doing it because they want to. Kind of naturally makes for a happier work place, no?

Any additional advice you may have would be great! Love the blog.

Thanks, it loves you, too.

Bottom line: I'm biased. I left the civil world (twice) for the DA's office and both times was delighted to have done so. I'm still relieved, constantly relieved. And we've made the money thing work. Sure, I don't drive a BMW any more and I don't live in a mansion but my car is new and my house is plenty big for my wonderful family.

I still have law school loans, more than you I'd wager. And you know what? Those buggers will get the last of their money. . . when I'm sixty. I'm making 'em wait. In the meantime I'll be doing a job I love and be a happy man at home. Can't ask for better than that, can you?


  1. I like your discussions!

    I also like how you seem to value job satisfaction over money. It seems that the law may be more of a calling for you than a job. Like it give you a purpose.

    Of course if you keep writing like this, you're going to polish up the reputation of lawyers...

  2. Thanks Edith Ann. I used to think money was the most important thing. I was very wrong. But I do need to be careful, if I make lawyers look good, who will we tell jokes about?!


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