Summary: Every decision you make as an attorney has an impact on the future of your legal career. Find out which ones are most important in this article.

  • A successful legal career is usually due to an attorney making good decisions.
  • These decisions can date back to when these attorneys were beginning law school.
  • This guide shows the most important decisions that we all should be aware of throughout our careers as lawyers.

The 18 Most Important Decisions Law Students and Attorneys Make With Their Legal Careers: A Definitive Career Guide

Table of Contents

Introduction

Early Career Decisions (Before and During Law School)
 
Early Career Decisions (After Law School)
 
Later Career Decisions (After Practicing Awhile)
 
Conclusions

Introduction

Being an attorney inside of a law firm involves a series of decisions that are profoundly important at each step of the process. Sometimes, in my role as a legal placement professional, I see people make decisions that are so good that the person is able to arrive at a place in his or her legal career that otherwise might have been impossible. Other times, I see attorneys make decisions that are so bad that I know they will never recover from them.

People succeed or fail based on the quality of their decisions. Contrast two different types of attorneys:

THE SUCCESSFUL ATTORNEY

Earlier this week, I was speaking to an attorney with average grades from a fourth-tier law school who had become a partner at a major American law firm through a series of brilliant decisions. He started out in a small law firm after law school, wrote articles, gave presentations, and did everything he could to become an expert in his practice area and an expert networker. He was cordial and nice to everyone he met. He smiled and was easy to like and get along with. He positioned himself as a good person willing to help and always work hard.
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Even though he was told from Day 1 that he would never be a partner because of his law school, his networking and other activities eventually netted him a position with a major firm. He did not get discouraged by the people who told him he could not do it; instead, he simply worked harder than his peers and kept writing, speaking, and networking until he succeeded. He also stayed in peak physical and mental shape, which gave him the energy he needed to keep moving forward.

He started out getting small clients, but one day he landed a small project for a huge client. He did everything he could to impress the client, did great work, and kept getting more and more work. Within a few years, he was a ninth-year associate and had a $2.5-million book of business. Surrounded by other associate attorneys from top law schools who could not believe they were working with an attorney who went to such a poor law school, he stood out as far more exceptional than any of them. He may have made a bad decision going to such a poor law school, but be made up for it along the way by making outstanding decisions in terms of how he managed his career. He made excellent short-term and long-term decisions that changed his career and life.

This sort of attorney comprises the minority of attorneys—which is why his situation is so instructive. He has the winning qualities of confidence, perseverance, and resilience that make him a model for the average attorney to follow.

What successful attorneys have you seen? Why do you think they were successful?

See the following articles for more information:
 
THE LESS SUCCESSFUL (AND MORE TYPICAL) ATTORNEY

Many attorneys join law firms with the attitude of “what’s in it for me?” They switch law firms when morale seems low, for a bit more compensation, because someone does not like them, or for other unimportant reasons.
 
  • They may end their law firm legal careers by their fourth or fifth years and go in-house. After going in-house, the odds are they will likely have a series of 5+ new in-house jobs (these jobs are not easy to hold on to—companies are sold, downsize, and are political minefields compared to law firms), with periods of long-term unemployment (it is not easy to find in-house jobs), and relatively flat compensation throughout their careers (companies do not need to spend a lot of money for in-house attorneys—there is more supply than demand).
  • They may join law firms based on “lifestyle considerations” such as whether or not the law firm will allow them to work at home a few days a week.
  • Some attorneys may move to boutiques and make all sorts of other decisions that they believe will “ratchet down the pressure,” yet may actually have the opposite effect.
  • Some will work less hard than their peers, cut corners, upset supervisors, fail to develop business, quit jobs without having anything else lined up, and let themselves fall into the trap of food, drugs, liquor, and other things that will slowly eat away at their effectiveness.
  • Others will let themselves go mentally, physically, and in other ways, and will not fix the issues that would help improve their lives and careers. Most will fail to develop any plan to develop business. If they join a major law firm and cannot develop business, most will fail to bill more than their peers or take other actions to stand out.

This sort of attorney comprises the majority of attorneys. Reading about the typical attorney may upset you if you recognize aspects of yourself in the typical attorney. But that is not the right way to look at things. Instead, you should use this moment of recognition to turn your life and career around. Regardless of where you are in your career at the moment, from this day on you can make the sorts of decisions that will take you forward towards excellence instead of backward towards mediocrity or failure.

What can you do to make sure you are not just a typical attorney?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Attorneys who make the wrong decisions constitute the majority of attorneys out there. The majority of attorneys never have significant long-term success in the practice of law inside of law firms—and this includes the majority of attorneys working there. None of this is to say that a law firm is for everyone, but the decisions you make will have a major impact on what happens to you over the long run. Here are the 18 most important decisions you will make with your legal career:

Early Career Decisions (Before and During Law School)

Decision 1

What law school you will attend.

Law school choice is an important decision that has long-term consequences. Years ago, I taught a course at a fourth-tier law school and one of my students graduated first in his class. He had earned a near-perfect score on his LSATs. After receiving those results, he had received a letter in the mail offering him a full ride scholarship to this law school—without him even applying. He accepted the offer and enrolled. Unfortunately, this was a bad decision for his long-term career. After graduating (despite his exceptional promise), he was unable to get a position with a law firm of more than ten people. I met with him on several occasions. On one of them, he started crying. I could not help him because his law school was too much of a black mark on his record. He ended up doing low-budget insurance defense work. Today he has a small law firm with another attorney with whom he went to law school.

How did the law school you go to affect your legal career?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 2

How hard you will work in law school.

Your career unfolds very quickly depending on your first- and second-semester grades in most law schools. If you want to start out at the top of the legal profession, you typically need the very best grades possible. There is no getting around the importance of your grades—even from the very best law schools. I have seen graduates from the University of Chicago Law School, Stanford Law School, the University of Michigan Law School, and other top law schools with grades that put them in the bottom of their classes fail to garner even modest interest from top law firms. Because they were never able to get summer jobs with top law firms, they started out their careers at a major disadvantage and ended up in careers outside of the law.

How much have your law school grades mattered in your legal career?

See the following articles for more information:
   
Decision 3

How hard you will work to get a summer associate job with a major law firm.

Many law students believe that on-campus interviewing is enough for them to get an offer with a major law firm. At many top law schools, this is true, but even students at the very best law schools can have trouble getting positions. My advice to all law students is always to do whatever they can to get positions with well-respected law firms during their second summer. If you are a law student, you need to apply everywhere you can to get one of these positions. If you do not get a position in the summer after your second year, this will be a “black mark” on your record. It will look to future law firms as if you were unable to get a position. They will assume there is something wrong with you. You do not want a black mark that will follow you throughout your career. Additionally, large law firms will always be reluctant to hire you if you did not work as a summer associate at a major firm. They will assume you have not been “battle tested” by their own kind and they will be skeptical that you will be able to perform as expected and needed by a large law firm.

Your decision to hustle and do whatever it takes to get a summer associate job is a decision that will have positive long-term consequences for your career.

How did getting or not getting a summer associate job affect your career?

Go Here to Find Summer Associate Jobs on LawCrossing

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 4

How hard you will work in your summer associate job.

Getting an offer after your summer is extremely important. Not only will you have a position to go to after graduating from law school, you also will put yourself in a position to interview for other positions with potentially more prestigious firms, or firms which are a better fit for you.

To get an offer, you must work harder than your peers, not make stupid mistakes, be respectful, and do whatever else you can do. If you do not get an offer, law firms will presume that there is something wrong with you, and because they receive so many applications, they will hire someone who is a proven commodity and not you.

Did you get an offer after working as a summer associate? How did this affect the rest of your career?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Early Career Decisions (After Law School)

Decision 5

What geographic market you will work in.

The city where you choose to work is extremely important. If you choose to work in a smaller market, you will have fewer options if you make mistakes early in your career or are unhappy in your law firm. This is because small markets have fewer jobs and opportunities than larger markets.

When you choose to work in a major city, the odds are that you will be exposed to larger clients and more specialized work. In the majority of practice areas, the most sophisticated work from the largest clients goes to law firms in the largest cities. Having access to this work is important for many attorneys. You may choose where to work for lifestyle reasons; however, this decision is likely to chart a course for the direction of your life. Becoming a significant player in your practice area on the national stage is more likely done in a major city than a smaller one.

While I may have been singing the praises of the larger cities, these praises are not necessarily well-deserved in all respects, and there are other factors to consider. Attorneys who go to work in the largest cities typically have less “staying power” in the law firm world. All things considered, an attorney who joins a law firm in a smaller to a midsized city is far more likely to be practicing in a law firm setting 5 to 20 years out than his or her counterpart who joins a law firm in a larger market. Law firms in larger markets tend to have fewer opportunities for advancement and scare off attorneys from law firms compared to those in smaller markets. I see far too many attorneys in New York, in particular, drop out of the law firm world after being worked incessantly for some years, compared to attorneys in smaller markets, who stick with it because the practice is bearable.

What area do you prefer to work in? Why?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 6

What size firm you will join.

The size of law firm you work with will in most cases (but not always, of course) determine the sophistication of the work you are exposed to, the size of clients you work with, and the level of compensation you are capable of earning. Here are some rules to consider about law firms and size:
 
  • If you move from a larger (national-type) law firm to a smaller (local) law firm, you will have an exceptionally difficult time moving to a major law firm again.
  • The larger the law firm, the more likely you are to become highly proficient in one aspect of your practice area and not be a generalist in your practice area. Being an expert in your practice area gives you skills that will be in-demand from other major law firms. Clients also pay much higher rates for highly specialized attorneys because they believe they are more efficient with their time as a result of knowing what they are doing.
  • The smaller the law firm, the more likely you will become a generalist. If you are a generalist, you will have skills that are only marketable to other smaller law firms. Clients pay less money for generalists than they do for specialists.
  • Larger clients use larger law firms because larger law firms have more specialized attorneys and can “staff up” to handle matters that need a lot of bodies and insight.
  • Larger law firms also tend to do better work than smaller law firms because larger clients are willing to pay the money it costs to have work done as carefully as possible: At a large law firm, you will learn habits that hold you to a higher standard than you would be held to at a smaller law firm. These habits include researching issues more thoroughly, double checking work, and having more sets of eyes go over everything before it leaves the office. You become a more thorough attorney in the majority of large law firms because large clients have the money to pay for this. You also are more likely to be surrounded by “high achievers” who are smart, from top law schools, and who are very motivated. Large companies know this, and that is why they send their work to prestigious, large firms.
  • Smaller law firms have clients who are more price-sensitive, and this means that work is more likely to leave their offices without lots of hours and multiple sets of eyes going over it. Small law firms also tend to have more generalists, and this means that they may not be subject-matter experts. If an attorney is not an expert in his or her practice area, this creates inefficiencies and constant “learning on the job” that results in the attorney making errors that would be less likely to have been made by an attorney at a larger law firm. Because of all of the issues with working in a smaller law firm and the habits attorneys pick up, it is more difficult to move to a larger law firm from a smaller one.
  • Smaller law firms have lower billing rates, and this makes it easier to bring in smaller clients and build a book of business.
  • Larger law firms have higher billing rates and large institutional clients. It is more difficult to get clients to large law firms and be self-sustaining.
  • Larger law firms have institutional clients that are so large that firms can often make you partner without you having any business.
  • Larger law firms pay more than smaller law firms.
  • Smaller law firms typically do not expect as many hours from you as larger law firms.
  • It is much easier to go in-house from larger law firms than from smaller law firms. Companies want attorneys trained in large law firms and not smaller ones.
  • You are more likely to stay practicing law for the rest of your career in a law firm if you join a small law firm and not a large one.

These are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of firm. The sort of firm you join will have a major impact on what happens to you over your career.

What size of law firm do you prefer?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 7

What practice area you will join.

The practice area you join will determine how happy you are practicing law and also the opportunities that you will have. From a 30,000-foot perspective, most attorneys early in their academic lives gravitate either towards math and numbers-related subjects or towards verbal and writing-related subjects. By the time most of us are in third grade, this is obvious.
 
  • If you are a numbers person, you are more likely to be happiest and most effective in transactional-related practice areas like corporate, tax, real estate, executive compensation, ERISA, patent law, and so forth.
  • If you are a verbal person, you are going to be happiest and most productive in practice areas like litigation, labor and employment, environmental law, and other practice areas that involve a lot of writing and speaking.

Many of the attorneys who are unhappy with the practice of law are unhappy because they are in the wrong practice area. Choosing your practice area is extremely important, because numbers people will not be happy (or at their best) in a verbal practice area, and verbal people will not be happiest (or at their best) in a transactional practice area. Many attorneys wind up in practice areas that are completely wrong for their natures. When attorneys talk to me about switching practice areas, I always explain that their primary consideration should always be whether or not they are in an area that is making the correct use of their verbal or numbers-oriented natures.

There are other important practice area considerations as well. Certain practice areas tend to be more social compared to nonsocial.
 
  • General commercial litigation is more social than appellate litigation.
  • Corporate law is more social than tax law.
  • Real estate law is more social than ERISA.
  • Patent litigation is more social than patent prosecution.

People tend to be either social or nonsocial. Social people require lots of interaction with others to be happy. People who are more introverted get their strength from working alone and being self-reflective. You need to be in a practice area that makes the most of these skills.

Getting business is also important for attorneys. If you want to generate business as an attorney, your choice of a practice area will determine what happens to you and your career as well.

It is easier to generate a book of business as a corporate, real estate, patent, or employment attorney than it is as a litigation attorney. Litigation attorneys typically take “one-off” cases, and many companies may not be involved in lawsuits all the time. In contrast, corporate, real estate, patent, and employment attorneys tend to do work for clients on an ongoing, long-term basis—much of the work that litigators do often comes from referrals from these attorneys.

There are also more or fewer opportunities for attorneys depending on the practice area they choose.
 
  • Litigation is the most popular practice area, and litigators are always in demand—although they are not always in demand in the largest law firms. During bad markets, litigators may need to take pay cuts of 50% (or more) to find jobs. It is very difficult to stay employed beyond your eighth or ninth year as a litigator in most major law firms.
  • Corporate is in demand in major cities and is a good practice area to go in-house with. However, it slows down to a complete standstill during recessions and many people lose jobs. It is easier to last longer as a corporate attorney in a major law firm than it is a litigator. This is because there are fewer talented and well-trained corporate attorneys.
  • Tax, white collar litigation, healthcare, ERISA, employment, and other “niche” practice areas are good practice area choices, but there are very few openings for attorneys in most markets at most points in time. Finding a job in these practice areas can be difficult.
  • Real estate, patent, and employment are typically in demand in most markets at most points in time, but real estate can come to a complete standstill when interest rates are high. Real estate, employment, and patent attorneys can stay employed without too much difficulty in major law firms beyond their tenth year of practice. It is much easier for patent attorneys with physics, computer science, and electrical engineering degrees to get jobs than it is for those with biology, chemistry, or mechanical engineering degrees.

These are some general observations. Suffice it to say, your career and livelihood will be determined by the practice area you join.

Are you happy in your current practice area? How did you choose it?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 8

Getting along with the people you work with.

Many attorneys (partners, associates, and counsels) make the mistake of having conflicts with their peers. I see this on a weekly basis. Many people lose positions because they are difficult to get along with, lose their tempers, keep to themselves too much, or for whatever reason are simply not liked by their peers.
 
  • I was speaking with a counsel-level attorney earlier this week who was fired from his position because all of the associates he supervised went to the partners in the firm and said they refused to work with him due to his combative style. He lost his position and has few opportunities.
  • I consistently (a few times a week) run across attorneys who lose positions because they cannot get along with their peers. Partners get in arguments with other partners about staffing issues, compensation (most common), origination credit, and other concerns. They end up leaving over stupid issues.
  • Associates often leave firms because they “snap” at a partner and say something insubordinate and are then asked to leave or given a poor review.
  • Male attorneys frequently make unwanted advances to female attorneys and staff members in their firms and get in trouble for this. I have seen this several times throughout my career and firms take this sort of behavior extremely seriously.
  • Attorneys who lock themselves in their offices and do not come out to socialize often do not get work and receive poor reviews. More often than not, their isolationist behavior drives them crazy because they do not know (or understand) the social goings-on in their offices.
  • One attorney I spoke with last week got depressed because he got a bad review and did not come to work for almost two weeks. When he returned, he told the firm he skipped work because he was “upset” about his review and felt it was unfair. He was fired from his job.

You need to work on yourself and your social skills to succeed in a law firm. You should always show your best side at the office.

How do you get along with others at work even when you don’t agree with them?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 9

Not cutting corners in your work.

If you cut corners in your legal work, it will always be exposed. You will look bad and your work will not be trusted. You need to think through each assignment, make sure you are not making dumb errors, and always be alert to as many angles to each issue as possible.
 
  • One attorney I know made a stupid procedural mistake that resulted in a $50-million malpractice award against the small 50-year old law firm where he worked and caused the firm to shut down.
  • I know of several attorneys who have made stupid procedural and other errors due to cutting corners that got them fired from their firms.
  • Many attorneys who have worked for me over the years have missed major issues and did not go the extra mile. I realized I could not trust them with my matters and they lost their jobs.
  • I once saw an attorney who was 72 hours away from being elected partner. A partner he worked with asked him if he had sent a letter and he said: “Yeah, I sent it last night.” He had not sent it and sent the letter a few minutes later. The partner found out and he was fired. He walked out of the building with a box of his belongings—from one of the ten largest law firms in the United States.

As an attorney, it is important that you not cut corners. If you are not thorough and cut corners, this will always be exposed. Clients, superiors, and peers will stop giving you work. All it takes is cutting corners on one assignment, or on one issue, and you can lose your job—or your career can be over.

More significantly, other attorneys and clients will only give work to attorneys they trust to do as thorough of a job as possible and not cut corners. Having care and attention to details—and seeing and anticipating potential problems before they occur—is why clients and other attorneys give you work to do. The more careful you are and the less likely you are to cut corners, the better attorney you are.

Have you ever seen another attorney cut corners in their career? What happened?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 10

Billing more hours than your peers.

While the quality of the work you do is one measure of your value to your law firm, billing lots of hours is a sign that you are willing to work extremely hard and, also, that others are willing to give you lots of work to do. The more work you have, the more likely it is that you have this work because you have a reputation for doing good work among your coworkers. The more hours you bill, the more money you are generating for your law firm, and the more (presumed) value you have.

Several years ago, I gave notice at a law firm where I was working and a few partners tried to talk me into staying. I told them I was a bit suspicious about investing so much time in the law firm when it seemed the odds of making partner were so far off. I will never forget what one partner said to me.

“Yes, but the people who did not make partner were all billing around 2,500 to 2,800 hours and the person who did bill 3,200 hours.”

Again and again throughout my years practicing law and now as a legal placement professional, I see the profound importance that law firms attach to billable hours. You will lose your job, and not advance if your hours are too low. Hours are how law firms measure your value—the quality of your work, the quality of your relationships with your peers and superiors (who give you work), and the extent of your economic contribution to the firm.
 
  • In large firms, partnership decisions are often made on hours.
  • Decisions of who to keep or layoff are made based on hours in all firms.

No matter how you slice it, the number of hours you bill will determine your future in almost every law firm.

How many hours do you typically bill each year? How does compare to the average and top attorneys in your firm?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 11

Having a long-term view of your legal career instead of a short-term one.

Whether you are in your early 20s or even your late 50s, you still have the option to take a long-term or short-term view of your legal career. The long-term view says that you should make every decision with the understanding that it will have ramifications for the rest of your career.

Far too many young and middle-aged attorneys make stupid long-term decisions. I see this constantly, and it is upsetting.
 
  • Attorneys in the middle of their careers with major law firms quit their jobs and wait six months or more to start looking for a position. By the time they start looking for positions, they have sent the message to major law firms in the market that they are not serious about their careers, and it is very difficult for them to enter large law firms again.
  • Attorneys quit their jobs for inconsequential reasons. To the legal market, it looks like these attorneys may have been fired, and because most high-quality law firms have plenty of people to choose from when hiring laterally, these attorneys have a very difficult time getting hired again.
  • Large law firm attorneys take jobs in-house, with the government, with public interest groups, or with small firms, not realizing these decisions will often make it impossible for them to ever work in a major law firm again. These decisions may cost them millions of dollars in future compensation and result in long periods of unemployment between jobs.

These are only some examples. Every decision needs to be thought through from every angle possible.

Why is looking at a long-term view of your career so important?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 12

Fixing your mental, physical, and other issues so that you can be the best employee possible.

I hate to bring this up, but many attorneys end up going off the rails.
 
  • I have watched more partners and associates destroy their careers with drug and alcohol problems than I can count—others function, but are living and working far below their potential.
  • Many people get very unhealthy—I have seen numerous attorneys in their late 30s to early 40s die of heart attacks, cancer, and other maladies that I believe were stress-induced and caused by not taking care of themselves.
  • Most commonly, I come across attorneys who have had mental breakdowns that went unaddressed. This is very common. In the offices of most large law firms, there is at least one partner or associate dealing with this sort of thing at all points in time.
  • Many attorneys become anorexic or obese in the law firm environment, and might not otherwise have these issues in a more “normal” workplace.

Regardless of the issue, everyone is human, and there is nothing wrong with any of these. What you need to do, though, is fix yourself and be the best you can be. When a client is paying the rates that major law firms charge, they expect the people working for them to be put together, in control, smart, and present. You need to show people your positive side and be the best you can be.

What do you to relieve the day-to-day stress of practicing law?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Later Career Decisions (After Practicing Awhile)

Decision 13

Moving jobs (or not).

My business is moving attorneys between law firms. There are right and wrong reasons to move law firms.

See the following articles for more information:
 
While I have discussed this topic elsewhere in some depth, it is important to understand that moving firms for the wrong reasons can have disastrous consequences on an attorney’s career, while moving for the right reasons can often advance an attorney’s career. The best resumes of the best attorneys typically show a pattern of constant, upward mobility, and the worst resumes show the opposite. Assuming you want to work in a law firm, your resume should look like you are moving towards greater and greater achievements and not retreating. The second it looks like you are retreating, you are telegraphing weakness to the most prestigious employers.
 
I saw a resume this week and spoke to an attorney who impressed me.
 
  • She started out in a state office that investigated securities fraud after law school (it was the only job she could get).
  • She then moved to a federal office that investigates securities fraud—a more prestigious position. Federal is more prestigious than state.
  • She then moved to a well-regarded small law firm that did plaintiff’s work in the securities fraud space—a more prestigious position. The law firm was more prestigious than the government job.
  • She then moved to a midsized firm that did defense work in the securities fraud space—an even more prestigious position. The larger law firm had better quality attorneys and did defense (not plaintiff’s) work, which is considered more prestigious.

This attorney is in her seventh year of practice. She now has the qualifications and the background to go to work for a major American law firm—and will get a job in a major law firm. By making a series of good long-term career decisions, and slowly but steadily moving herself to better and better jobs, she set herself up to become part of a major law firm.

Have you ever moved to another firm? How did this affect your career?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 14

When to move firms.

An important decision that every attorney must make is when to switch law firms. If you switch too early or switch too often, your resume starts to read like you are a job hopper and future law firms will be reluctant to hire you or to consider you a long-term member of their team when they do hire you. Because they will feel you will leave, firms will not trust you with clients or the political goings-on inside the firm.

You need to be careful about your timing of moving firms. There is nothing wrong with moving firms and, indeed, you often need to do so to get ahead. What is important, though, is moving at the right time.
 
  • You should move between your first and sixth year when you are most marketable. You should preferably move to either a better firm, a firm where there is more opportunity, a firm that has more work in your practice area, a firm that is more stable, a firm that is in the geographic area you want to be in, a firm that has larger clients, a firm where you can generate business more easily, a firm that pays significantly more money, a firm where the people are more like you, or a firm that does not force you to commute an hour each way, for example. There are countless correct reasons to move.
  • After your fifth year, you should move if there is no opportunity at your existing firm, if you are being pushed out, or if there is a place where you can go and have a better chance of long-term survival than you have at your current firm.
  • As a partner, you should move when it looks like your firm is in potential irreparable financial trouble, when the firm is taking too much of the money you are bringing in, and when the firm is not providing you adequate support, for example.
The timing of each of your moves is important, and you need to move at the right and not the wrong time, as well as for the right and not the wrong reasons.

When have you ended up moving firms? Why did you move?

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 15

Going in-house.

I speak with attorneys all the time who dream of going in-house and set up calls to speak with me about this dream. This is quite dangerous. Once you go in-house, you generally will never be able to return to a large law firm.

Going in-house is a very significant decision, and attorneys often take this course without realizing the consequences of this decision.

Have you gone in-house or do you anyone who has? Share your experience.

See the following articles for more information:
 
Decision 16

Working outside of the office to generate business.

From your first day as an attorney, one of the most important things you can do is cultivate relationships that are likely to result in business for you in the future. This means:
 
  • Finding ways to make contact with people outside of work who are likely to give you and your firm business. A few examples are joining organizations or giving talks.
  • Writing articles and finding ways to help and assist other attorneys.

I have written about this extensively elsewhere and urge you to review the below article:
 
The only way you are ever going to get in control of your legal career is if you have a book of business. I speak with attorneys every day who are senior and have no portable business. They have spent their careers getting work from others. If one person, or your firm, decides to turn off that spigot, your career can end abruptly. It takes just one screw up, or upsetting the wrong person, for your career to potentially come to an end.

An attorney interested in working in a law firm needs business to survive. You need to ensure that you take steps to generate a book of business at all stages of your legal career.

What do you recommend attorneys do to generate business?
 
Decision 17

Joining a firm for the right reasons.

There are right and wrong reasons to join a law firm. Many attorneys join law firms because of the prestige level of the firm, the compensation, or because it feels safe.

See the following articles for more information:
 
While there are countless reasons for joining a law firm, the most important one is to work with people whom you feel will support you and who are like you. You need to be comfortable around the people you are working with and feel they will protect you.

Why did you join the firm you are currently at? Looking back, do you feel you joined for the right reasons?
 
Decision 18

Looking for a new position in the correct way.

Attorneys look for positions at various points in their careers and often end up doing so in ways that are counterproductive and do not help them. Whether it is looking in the wrong places, going into a job search with preconceived notions, or otherwise—attorneys make huge mistakes when conducting their job searches that have long-term consequences. Here are a few of the ones that stick out:
 
  • Many attorneys do not apply to enough employers. For whatever reason, many attorneys limit themselves to a few or just a handful of firms when applying to firms. Just applying to a few places ends up depriving attorneys of countless opportunities they would otherwise have and prematurely ends, or stunts the progress of countless legal careers.
 
See the following articles for more information:
   
  • Many attorneys limit their searches geographically. When you are looking for a new position, you need to look and go where the jobs are. Far too many attorneys remain unemployed or have a difficult time finding new positions because they are not looking in enough areas.
 
See the following articles for more information:
   
  • Many attorneys use legal recruiters and not placement professionals for their job searches. Legal recruiting is an unregulated industry populated by many good people, but also many bad people. They may look good on paper, but many have no idea what they are doing—and can harm your career. It is important to understand who you are working with and how this person can or cannot help you in your search for a new position.
   
  • Many attorneys do not make themselves aware of all the opportunities in the market. Most attorneys expect they need to use (and pay for) Lexis and other research aids when researching a problem for a client; however, many do not bring this same rigor of research and discipline to their job searches and careers. They rely on public job sites and do not do a lot of research into the market. You should use services that consolidate every job in the legal market when you are searching for a position—so you know what is out there and do not miss anything. Doing anything less is a huge risk.

What do you think is the best way to look for a new position as an attorney?

See the following resources for more information:
 

Conclusions

The most interesting thing about my job is examining the quality of the decisions each attorney I speak with has made along the way. Your career is determined by the quality of the decisions that you make and by understanding the minefields that are in each decision you must make. I see people make decisions that are so bad—at crucial points in their careers—that I know that they could have gotten much further if they had thought through each decision more carefully and made better decisions along the way. You have potential inside of you at each point in your career. Using this potential in the correct way—by making good decisions—will largely determine your success and failure.

See the following articles for more information:
 

Share Your Thoughts
What are some of the most important decisions you have made in your legal career?
Do you consider how the decisions you make now will affect your career later? Why or why not?
What is the best decision you have made in your career? What about the worst one?
Share your responses to the questions above by commenting below the article.



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.