A midlevel litigation attorney at the top law firm in Washington DC contacted me looking for assistance. Like many attorneys in DC, the attorney was interested in Maryland, Northern Virginia and DC. The attorney had been at the same firm for approximately five years and was told that they needed to look for another job because they were not a good long-term fit for their current firm.
When I asked what the issue was, the attorney told me that they were not as careful with their work product as they should be and made careless mistakes such as forgetting commas, and other similar things that were non-consequential in nature— but were not something that made the attorney necessarily a good fit for big firm practice. At the time, the legal market for litigation attorneys in Washington DC was not strong. Moreover, this attorney also did not have the best credentials, yet had nonetheless managed to be hired by a large law firm.
One of the things that made this attorney very easy to work with was that they put their faith in the placement process and would carefully review every position they were sent. The attorney was sent every new position that I could find in the areas they were interested in and constantly would review these positions and approve them each day they were sent. Approving positions that the recruiter sends is a very important part of being a successful candidate. Attorneys that do not approve positions put themselves at a disadvantage because they do not have access to as many opportunities. This attorney was initially able to get an interview with a couple of large law firms, but he still was not a fit. The attorney was not comfortable with the way the large law firms interacted with him. He was clearly suitable for a much different sort of practice—and interested in this sort of practice.
The attorney and I spoke for some time about what would be the best route for his career. Large law firms were very similar; however, they also paid a great deal of money. The attorney was willing to accept a salary of more than half of what he was receiving at the large law firm and told me that he would much prefer a salary that was lower than to work in a large law firm. Understanding work-life balance is a complicated calculation when working with attorneys. In some cases, an attorney may be seeking fewer hours—but that is often not something they will get when they go to a smaller firm. In other cases, the reasons for seeking a smaller firm can be cultural, they can be related to work style and they could also be related to the sorts of clients the attorney wants to represent. Here, this attorney was not as concerned with the hours as they were working in an environment that did not strike them as uptight, extremely detail oriented and which would allow them to interact with smaller clients and in court, and spend less time in front of the computer.
While these may sound like difficult goals, in reality, what this attorney sought was to work in a law firm similar to most law firms in the United States. We need to remember that the largest law firms are typically only a small subsection of where attorneys around the United States work. In contrast, most attorneys work in smaller law firms where the work style is much different, they are able to get a lot of client contact and people are not as paranoid about things like a missing comma. This was what this attorney wanted and I respected that.
I got to work, making sure I was the only person able to locate opportunities within smaller law firms for this attorney. We worked together for several months and I was able to find several great opportunities for the attorney. The problem was not the attorney approving the jobs, the problem was that law firms did not understand why he would want to take more than a 50% pay cut to work in a less prestigious firm without the sort of support that he was receiving in his current position. It took a lot of convincing for me to explain to the smaller law firms his interests and the reasons that he would like to interview with them. After hitting several dead ends, I was able to get some firms interested in speaking with the attorney and after interviewing he hit it off and felt very comfortable with one of the law firms. The attorney had not felt comfortable with many of the other firms because he felt the same sort of rigid personalities and culture that he’d experienced within his previous law firm.
The attorney ultimately took a position paying just over half of what he was making at the major law firm. He was very excited about the firm and quickly accepted an offer once it was extended. After starting at the firm, he contacted us and was extremely thankful for us having found him the opportunity. While most attorneys are interested in making more money. We have found attorneys are increasingly interested in the culture and lifestyle of the firms that they are joining.