• Attorneys are continually in need of work simply so they themselves can continue to work.
  • However, attorneys with five or more years of work under their belts are especially prone to be fired as they are now looked upon as liabilities.
  • This article highlights seven choices an attorney needs to make to ensure their worth in the firm they work for, particularly if they have five or more years of firm experience.
The Reasons Most Attorneys with 5+ Years of Law Firm Experience Are in Serious Trouble (and Seven Steps They Need to Take to Save Their Legal Careers)
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

In this article, readers will learn that nothing is more important to an attorney’s career path than having a business, and the steps an attorney needs to take when not having any or only a little business puts his professional future at risk.

When an attorney gets more than six or seven years of firm experience and does not have a substantial amount of business in all but the healthiest of firms (i.e., firms with a ton of business), he becomes a liability and his job is at risk.

Attorneys in this situation face several critical choices. Among the most common are:
  1. Go in-house.
  2. Get more business.
  3. Find a healthy law firm.
  4. Find an advocate inside the firm with a lot of business.
  5. Wait for a better economic environment.
  6. Downgrade the quality of the firm worked for and/or start own practice.
  7. Stop practicing law completely.

These seven choices are so fundamental to attorneys and their careers that I will evaluate all of them below. I have been a legal recruiter for the majority of my career, and most of what I do is related to helping attorneys make decisions when they do not have any business.

As a preliminary matter, I would like to answer the question: "How important is business?" Simply stated, few things are more important to your longevity and survival as an attorney than having a business.

Let me tell you a couple of stories about how important business is.

I know one attorney who has been practicing for approximately 20 years. Since he was about six or seven years out of law school, he has consistently had about $1 million to $3 million in business.

Like clockwork, he switched to firms about every 12 to 18 months. He worked for at least 15 firms. He is currently working for a firm that is an AmLaw 100 firm. He has well-known substance abuse problems and a penchant for spending lots of free time with prostitutes. When he leaves firms, he generally pisses them off. He has enemies all around the city he works in and a horrible reputation for being a job hopper.

He can move to many firms whenever he wants to. His reputation, drinking during the day, doing coke binges at night, being seen with prostitutes, none of it matters!

Firms need business. Large or small, prestigious or not, a firm cannot survive without business. It is what keeps the lights on, and it is what gives associate attorneys jobs and keeps the higher-ups employed.
Let me tell you another story about how important business is.

If a partner from a major, major firm—SkaddenGibson Dunn, and so forth—wants to move firms, the first question he will be asked is: "How much business do you have?" (How much lawyers get paid is in direct relation to the amount of business they have.)

If the answer is "zero," then in all but the rarest cases, the conversation stops there. No matter how solid your work experience is, firms need business production. I have seen partners from Skadden ArpsSidley & AustinJones DaySherman & Sterling, and other firms have careers that simply ended when the firm decided they no longer had the use for them because they did not have enough business. Whether someone who gave them work left the firm, the firm lost a major client, or the firm restructured, it still decides to part ways with the partner.