I am a graduate of a top three law school. My grades from there are average (middle of the class). I went into corporate law because I plan on running my own business someday and I thought a knowledge of corporate law would be useful. On the other hand, I preferred litigation (I worked at a legal aid clinic while in law school, both summers I did litigation work). I have been very disenchanted with corporate work because as a second year associate in a large New York firm, to date I have done very little that would be really useful in running a business. In fact, I feel the most useful things to that end that I have done as a corporate lawyer have been the kind that any good paralegal could take care of.
In any event, things are really slow in the corporate department and I have found myself twiddling my thumbs a lot. The paucity in my corporate position aside, I am not enchanted with corporate work and would like to switch to corporate litigation. My present firm has a pretty good litigation department, but they have sent all of the incoming class into litigation, so there aren't any places. I also want to start afresh somewhere else. Here is what I am wondering before I make the switch:
A. Would I learn anything doing corporate litigation which would be useful if I started my own business?
B. Do litigators ever go in-house?
C. Do I stand a realistic chance of switching to another firm entirely to do litigation?
- You will not learn much useful in starting a business as a litigator unless your goal is to start a law firm.
The job of litigators in large firms involves a massive amount of writing, reviewing documents and learning various procedures for doing this. Certainly you will have the opportunity to speak with the business people who are your clients. You may even get to meet some of these clients in addition to speaking with them. For the most part, though, the majority of the time you will in all likelihood be looking at a computer screen and writing and modifying various documents. Do not forget about being careful with details! Do not forget about meeting important deadlines! Do not forget about billing a lot of hours! Do not forget about making sure the partners like you! Does any of this sound like it has anything to do with the type of business you want to start? If not, you may already have your answer.
With one exception, the work a litigator does has little correlation to the type of work you would do as an entrepreneur starting your own business. Certainly learning how to litigate cases might be useful if you started your own business. But people with their own businesses generally hire attorneys to litigate cases for them because they want to spend their time running their own businesses. Think about this too. In our opinion, if you want to start a business, you should go ahead and do this now rather than waiting. You are going to learn very little in a law firm-whether you are a litigator or a corporate attorney-that is ever going to be of any meaningful use to you in starting your own business.
There is an exception to this. If your goal is to start a business, why not start your own law firm? This is the classic "lawyer business" and, make no mistake about it, a law firm is a business. You can start this business small and grow it over time. As you grow this business, you will be responsible for such decisions as marketing, hiring and firing, payroll-you name it. If you choose a law firm as the business you would like to start, your knowledge of litigation could be quite helpful. As the founder of a small law firm, you would be helped immensely by having training in both litigation and corporate law, and your learning would not be wasted. You could even market this skill if you wanted to.
Corporate attorneys are in much more demand in-house because they can also do a great deal of corporate governance and other work necessary for the running of a company. It is for this reason that most in-house attorneys have a corporate background. Litigation is less frequent than the activities in-house attorneys must perform in the day-to-day running of a corporation.
If you want to go in-house, the amount of experience you have as a corporate attorney will also determine how useful your litigation experience is likely to be when you seek to go in house. If you have more than three years of corporate experience already, a couple of years of litigation experience could make you a good candidate for an in-house position because you will have an added extra dimension to the work you can perform for your in-house employer.
See the following articles for more information:
- Going In-house? Why You May Be Saying Goodbye to Law Firms for Good
- Frequently Asked Questions on In-House Legal Careers
- Why Going In-house Is Often the Worst Decision a Good Attorney Can Ever Make
- The Dark Side of Going In-house
- Is Moving In-house a Wise Move in This Economy?
- A View from the Other Side: My Life as an In-House Attorney
Switching to litigation is not something that will come easily-despite the fact that you are a graduate of a top tier law school. If you are less than a couple of years out, then it will be much easier for you to switch to litigation. If you have been practicing more than two or three years, it will be much more difficult. The reason for this is that firms are going to want to train you in their own unique style. If you have more than a few years of experience as a corporate attorney, many firms will operate under the assumption that you are now "set in your ways". In addition, you should not expect to be treated at the same class level if you make this switch. In all likelihood, any firm that hires you to do litigation work will expect you to start as a first or second year.
Firms are going to be asking, "Why did you go into corporate law if you wanted to do litigation in the first place?" In the general slowdown in work in the corporate field, most law firms are going to perceive your desire to switch practice areas as being done merely to save your job. Nevertheless, some firms might be open to this. If this is something you want to do, it is certainly worth a try.
In making this switch it is important to note that you are unlikely to end up at as prestigious of a firm as you are currently at. While we are assuming you are currently at a high-caliber firm, most of the firms at this level are not going to be all that open to you joining them after having switched practice areas. A smaller firm, however, will likely view you as a "good catch" and, if we had to guess, this is where you would likely to end up if you tried to do this.
See the following articles for more information:
- Changing Your Practice Area
- How Can I Change Practice Areas Early on in My Career as an Attorney?
- Relocation and Practice Areas
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
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.