I’m a 4th year litigator in San Francisco and am currently seeking a new position. I see that there is a lot of contract work available for litigation associates at my level and higher. I even noticed that some law firms have begun their own contract attorney programs for associates seeking both law firm and in-house assignments. Is this the new normal for litigation?
This is an excellent and timely question. While it is hard to say if contract work is the new normal for litigators, there certainly are a number of temporary assignments available for litigators in the Bay Area, far more than there are full-time openings at law firms. There are a few reasons for this. First, the economic downturn of 2008-2009 hit big firm litigation the hardest. Many large firm litigation practices were all but decimated during this time—and they have never fully recovered. Mid-size firms were the winners in this scenario, as big law partners and associates lateraled to smaller firms with lower billing rates. Those who have done so have stayed put for the most part. The clients of these lawyers were also winners as their fees dropped significantly—and few are willing to go back to paying the hourly rates of their attorneys’ previous big law employers. Second, even though some law firms have begun advertising litigation positions again, the hiring process for these associates is often protracted—and it is highly, highly competitive. Firms are also being extremely cautious when it comes to actually hiring litigation attorneys. Many firms recently have advertised litigation vacancies—and then left them open for several months. Firms are understandably nervous about ramping up their litigation ranks too quickly. So many firms are testing the waters but not always willing to pull the trigger and actually hire. Third, no one can say for certain where the economic recovery is going or if litigation business will be there long term. Subsequently, litigation hiring has gone in fits and starts for the last two years, and given the uncertain economic times, there are no indications that that will change. Enter the contract litigator. Contract attorneys can provide low cost legal services to law firms and in-house practices, offering a win-win scenario for both employer and attorney who are seeking temporary solutions for complementary needs. Contract agencies have been around for years but it has been interesting to note the number of law firms who have begun hiring contact attorneys directly. Once the domain of temporary agencies exclusively, many firms have created their own contract attorney programs that are hiring talent directly. FLEX by Fenwick is an excellent example. The FLEX program offers companies and corporations cost effective and flexible legal services with set billing rates determined weekly or monthly. Attorneys who work with such programs who are seeking full-time employment have the option of gaining valuable experience as well as generating income while they search for a new position.
Generally speaking, it is, of course, best to work towards the ultimate goal of finding full-time employment, something for which a good recruiter can provide invaluable service. If you do go the contract route, it is also important to treat your contract experience with care when crafting your resume. Even though temporary litigation work is becoming more common, not all firms will appreciate seeing contract work on your resume. It may be best to exclude your contract positions from the resume so as not to distract from your other credentials. Your recruiter can then mention your temporary experience in a cover letter. Ultimately, your needs and the realities of the market will drive whether or not you pursue contract work. Regardless, working with an experienced recruiter can help you navigate the benefits and challenges associated with this evolving business model for legal services.
Please see this article to find out if litigation is right for you: Why Most Attorneys Have No Business Being Litigators: Fifteen Reasons Why You Should Not Be a Litigator
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.