Attorneys who limit their search to the market they are in severely hamper their career. Whether you are unemployed, underemployed, underappreciated, or need a new position, the smartest thing you can do is look at other markets.
Not looking at other markets is one of the worst career mistakes you can make, yet it is one I see attorneys go through all the time.
Today on lawyers rising,
Just because people have a terrible experience in one place, they will take that bad experience and believe that they will have the same bad experience elsewhere.
Why you need to look at more law firms in your job search. Hello, and welcome. I'm joined once again by the founder and chief executive of BCG Attorney Search Harrison Barnes. Harrison, good morning.
Let's talk today about why you need to look at more law firms and markets in your job search. We're going to do this by working through some stories, some anecdotes that maybe will help to illustrate this point. Of course, this is all very situational for people and their particular place in their careers. But perhaps by demonstrating certain individual cases, we can give people some good advice. So let's just put this in broad terms by describing again, in general terms, the mistakes that people make when looking for jobs in the market. And I sense that a few of my arguments tend to be set in folks, and they aren't looking at the big picture or fully understanding what options are available to them. Do I have that? Right?
Yeah. That is correct. One of the biggest mistakes people do is that they tend to rely on one thing. There are two things when they're looking for a job. One of the most common things right now that many people rely on is public job sites to look for positions. And that tends to be among the most common, but in reality, that's not the most effective way to look for a job. My advice to people is generally to use a lot of different methods while looking for positions. There's something called force multiplier effect, which is a military idea. Still, what happens in the military, they don't just send in ground troops; generally, they'll send airplanes and missiles and all sorts of different tanks. If you apply more pressure, you're more likely to win. And the same thing goes with their job search.
Can we talk more about the mistakes that people make when they're looking for jobs? Did you talk about looking at public job sites to make their choices? Should they be lucky? What are kinds of information should be relying on to make this important decision?
There are about seven main ways of looking for a position, and there are certainly others that you could come up with or argue that are good ways. The first way is networking. The second way would be public job boards. The third way is private job boards. The fourth way would be mass targeted mailing to legal employers. The fifth is the legal recruiters. The six would be hiring another company that can do it for you. And the seventh is law school career services. Each of those kinds has their pluses and minuses, and I recommend that if someone truly wants a job, the most important thing and the best position where they're going to be happiest would be to use every one of those when they're looking.
Many people will often make mistakes of using previous bad experiences to dictate their future choices. We've spoken many times in this podcast before about people who've had terrible experiences, a large law firm, and huge markets and decide maybe this is what all law firms in big cities are like. Then perhaps leave to work in a small town, it's a job for far less money than they're capable of making. He talked a little bit about how individual experiences can sometimes lead you to bad choices for your future employment.
I think people will often have bad experiences working in all sorts of environments, and it's not just in the practice of law, and it's in other professions as well. But one of the most common things that I see is when people work in a large, impersonal law firm, and they may have a bad experience for one reason or another. People go through, for example, recessions, and then, when they see a recession, and they realize it made them dependent on other people. They may quit the practice of law and try something else, or they may have a bad experience where they lose a job because they didn't get along with someone, or they just feel awful in the environment. Often, the biggest mistake that people make is that they generalize their beliefs according to what happened to them in their previous employers. The same thing is going to happen to them in the next job. And the thing is, BCG, for example, there are over 10,000 law firms that we work with. And when people come to us, they may say something like, "I never want to work in a law firm again," or, "I never want to work in the city."
You can always find a group of people that will match your outlook and be comfortable with you. It's possible, and I think that just because people have a terrible experience in one place, they often take that awful experience and believe they're going to have the same bad experience somewhere else.
Yeah. And it's a tough thing to delineate, like whether or not you're cut out for this, or whether or not you have to make a move to a different size market or a different practice area. Even conversely to the person that maybe should have stayed in the big city shouldn't have gone to a smaller town to do more menial type of work. Other kinds, they could converse, can also be true, right? Where somebody is set on the stain in a major market state in a big city law firm when they shouldn't be looking at midsize markets. Can you talk a little bit about that about the mistake people make about kind of discounting moving to medium-sized cities because they think it's not as glamorous, for whatever reason?
It's not just glamorous. I think many people tend to be motivated by money. And so they believe that the quality of the job is going to be determined by how much money they make, and they emphasize that. One point that I tried to make in an article that I wrote is when you're practicing law, it's your life, and you want to be happy, and one of the happiest I was when I was clerking for a federal judge in a small city. And I liked it. I'd like the people I was with. I had good hours. I had a relatively nice life, and it was a much more pleasant life than I had, even when I was making three times as much or four times as much money. I think that people emphasize, especially when people are young, but even older attorneys do this. It's their egos, and they want to say to other people what they're doing or want to be successful in the eyes of others. And I just don't think that's worth it. One thing I've noticed of people that come out of Yale Law School is interesting because it's so difficult to get into. You have to be so smart that I think by the time people get in there, it's their "ego achievement," and they feel good about themselves in many cases for that. Because they have their ego, people that come out of Yale Law School do all sorts of things. That doesn't involve making much money in law firms; in many cases, they will go into politics, public interest, or other things, because they're confident. They realize that the most important thing for them is to be happy, I think, and they don't have this kind of ego need that's driving them. When I was practicing law, it was a long time ago; I can remember being driven by my ego by getting the most salary or getting the most working at the most prestigious firm. That's just something that is not necessarily always worth it.
We talk a little bit more about understanding the market that you're trying to work. Attorneys are so focused on the actual job that they have to perform. Maybe they don't fully understand the kind of marketing aspect of this and how they can market themselves and understand the markets that they're trying to penetrate. So you've mentioned before The idea of market efficiencies and market inefficiencies, can you kind of talk about what the difference is between those two things and how it applies? In the legal market context?
Something that I've noticed is the more significant the law firm, in many cases, the more people are working in it, the more realistic response the market needs because it needs to be, you know, competitive to survive. And the same thing goes in larger markets. So, you know, the larger markets are typically very, very efficient. And that means that the best people get the best jobs. There are lots of applicants for most openings. You're going to be paid, essentially, what you're worth in the market, and there's not going to be among the largest firms in large markets, a ton of inefficiencies. Now, there may be some inefficiencies, like law firms may pay people more than they need to in some cases, but it's kind of rare. I know of law firms who pay 15th-year associates half a million dollars a year, which they probably don't need to do unless the person has some super new skills. They could probably get someone to do the same work for half that. So there are that would be an example of inefficiency. The real inefficiencies come when there are so many law firms in the market, and the law firms don't realize how many people they can get for a particular job, and how much they need to pay and all these sorts of things. Often, attorneys can take advantage of that, and that's really what an attorney should do. If an attorney is trying to get a job in a major market, say, Chicago, and they have a certain type of experience. There's probably the market in Chicago that is probably going to understand how many people are like them if they can get better people and all these sorts of things. And so that's going to make it much easier for the law firm to reject them. And that much harder for you to get a job many cases. But if you're applying in smaller markets, where there are not as many applicants, or you're applying to smaller firms that don't necessarily know how to market themselves, in many cases, I understand the market dynamics of what's out there. You can sometimes make a lot more money in those firms than the firm has to pay.
You know, at the risk of belaboring this point, I want to talk a bit more about working in midsize or smaller markets, and the struggle that you deal with sometimes try to get people to recognize that there are real benefits to working in those markets. People are so focused on working in Los Angeles or New York or Chicago that they discount those smaller places. I know you've worked in smaller markets as an attorney, what are the benefits of doing that as opposed to being in the rat race as it were in a bigger market?
When I worked in Los Angeles as an attorney, I clerked for a judge in a smaller town. What I've noticed in smaller markets is almost everybody that joins a firm in a smaller market when they get out of law school, when they're a few years out of law school, they end up spending their career in a law firm, in most cases in a smaller market. When you work in small and mid-sized markets, the people inside the law firms don't make as much money. But I think that the people inside the law firms tend to protect one another. I believe that there's less movement of attorneys between law firms and more free time. So you're not working all the time because it's not like this industrial apparatus. Also, relationships between the attorneys in most cases are better. People have more time for their families, live outside of work; they're more active in the community. So they will join groups, and things can get clients to outweigh, I think that also in a smaller midsized market, you're going to have better relationships with your clients because you're going to see your clients and relate to your clients physically. Whereas in many major markets, you may just be part of a transition, if you're a litigator, you're going to get to court more often you're going to get to know judges. Some of the main things in smaller midsized markets, attorneys I respect, and everyone knows who the attorneys are. They think it's a kind of a cool thing to be an attorney and they like knowing attorneys, but in big markets, no one cares you are an attorney, I'm an attorney. And, you know, no one really cares. And I'm an attorney. There are plenty of attorneys around, but where I am, I've noticed attorneys held in very high regard in smaller midsized markets. The other thing that I think is important is that people function based on personal relationships, and people are happy when they have personal relationships with other people. And I think that you know, people are happier when they have a sense of purpose. And I think you have more of a sense of purpose and you feel closer to your clients. And I think you have more security, for the most part, so you don't feel as on edge, and you don't feel like your job is at risk. And I think in smaller markets, it's so much easier to bring in clients. Some big law firms in Chicago and other cities are not going to have any interest in your clients and most part unless it's a big public company, so those are some of the things that I think are important. I mean, there are certainly some drawbacks to working in a smaller market. And some of those is that there are fewer jobs. And that's one reason that people don't bounce around a lot and the pays lowe. You may not work on these sophisticated things, but if your goal is happiness and psychological stability and not dying and early death and that sort of thing, then, in many cases, a smarter midsize market can be right for you. There's nothing wrong with large law firms when they provide an excellent service, but it's just from what I've seen in terms of what makes attorneys happy and stick with the practice of law that many times small or midsize markets and better choice.
Yeah, definitely in terms of quality of life, in terms of kind of avoiding the alienating thing of working in a huge city where it's tough to meet people anyway. I affirm that where it's a real rat race, they will try to stab each other in the back. But it can be very highly competitive. And that can have a very worrying effect on you, as you go deeper into your career. Some people are built for it, there's no doubt about it, and they thrive in that atmosphere, but a lot don't. So is it challenging to try and get convinced people that are set are unhappy in their current position in a major market? Is it difficult to kind of shake them out of their complacency to look elsewhere to look at smaller to midsize markets? Are they just so set on the fact that they have to succeed in a big city that makes it difficult for them to look elsewhere?
There's a couple of problems. As I see it, you know, and I think that one of the issues is that many attorneys to be successful, they've developed all these kinds of defense mechanisms or whatever. Coping mechanisms were a lot of it on his ego base so that they will be very ego-based, have a healthy ego, and have an unhealthy ego. The most successful attorneys I know are just amazing. And they have these huge egos, and they're just fine working in big cities. They're absolutely fine, and they thrive on it. But the idea of it is how unhealthy the unhealthy ego is, many times people will put their ego ahead of their success. So they think that they need to keep up with certain people that may have natural skills and business development and so forth and, or their peers that they know from law school and so instead of being happy. They will decide that it's better not to practice law than to practice in a smaller market, or it's better to do something completely different, like work in house and practice in a law firm. Because then I will not look as successful, so people often won't put their psychological health on you, the stuff above, and other things. One of the biggest problems that I see once an attorney starts making a lot of money inside of a big law firm is that they can make quite a bit, then get all these obligations and so forth. And the only way to support them is with that kind of salary. Then they have houses, and houses go up and down in value, and then they have kids, they may have a spouse that works or doesn't. So people get all these obligations, and then they feel trapped, and I see All the time. One of the things that I see every couple months I'll talk to you and someone will call me, and it'll be like a very successful woman, like associate in a major law firm or a counsel. She is making three, four, or $500,000 a year, and they will mean that their husbands will be at home, taking care of the kids, and these women will want to do something else, but they can't do anything else that pays anywhere near that. And so they feel trapped in. I kind of wonder, what would it be like if they were working in a regular, smaller market? And then maybe they would have a different style of life and wouldn't feel shackled to this. It's hard when someone's paying you that sort of money. It's a trade-off of not having a happy life, and like your net worth, I just don't know.
Yeah, and it's a tough thing to grapple with. And I guess it comes down to people being honest with themselves and having a serious discussion with themselves about what they want. And are they happy right now and to sketch that out, to guide their future decision making in terms of where they want to work next? Many people are caught up with ideas about what other people expect of them rather than what they will genuinely make them happy. And it takes people a long time to get to that place. I certainly didn't get to it until I was well into my 30s. Before, I was frank with myself about what I wanted to do. So it's a tough thing to do to encourage people to look into the mirror and be honest with themselves, isn't it?
Yeah, it is. It took me a long time to grow up too. When I was in my mid-30s, I started the company, and then there was some kind of an offshoot of what I'm doing now. And it was a company that was doing like all these student loans. It just took off became very successful. And I was like 35 years old, and I was living in this huge house, there were around 8000 square feet. It was just my wife and I and a dog. And thinking back then, I was like, What am I doing? I think I had something to prove to myself or my parents. I don't need to prove anything at this point in my life. But back then I did and, and I remember when I first moved in there, the first day I was there, I was sitting up by the pool, and I thought this is kind of depressing, what am I doing? Because I just didn't get it. I didn't know my money. People do things for reasons that don't make sense, they're trying to prove things to themselves, or they're trying to prove things to parents, or there was no reason to buy such a, like something like that. So that's one of the things with attorneys, they don't know what's driving them many times. I think the biggest mistake many times is not allowing yourself to be happy when there are maybe options that would make you happy.
So in terms of kind of actionable advice here for folks that are in the process of making a move or contemplating making a move, what are some of the steps that you would recommend for them to try and make the decision about where to go next? What's the process that they should follow?
Well, the first thing is that you need to know what's going to make you happy. When I'm working with attorneys, I try to get a perfect sense of what they want and what they're looking for. Many attorneys really want to get into the most competitive law firm possible, and that really drives them, and they're excited by it, and they still have this massive fire in their belly. And that's great. And they should try to do that. But at the same time for other people, something else may make them happy. I'm always advising people to look at a variety of opportunities. One of the things about practicing law is it can be a crapshoot because you can end up in a firm where you're happy and have a long-term career or can end up in one way or not. Some people are compatible with certain organizations, and some people aren't. I remembered years ago I was looking for a who was I was interviewing with, I was trying to figure out, hire like sort of a mentor. For a business, like a CEO coaching company I was talking to where they meet with you every couple of weeks and strategize, and they help your business, and I met with a couple of different ones. And one guy I met with was a former banker with this very kind of linear uptight personality, and he and I just didn't hit it off at all. And the next guy, Matt, I liked a lot. So that's the person I work with. They're both from the same company. The idea is that sometimes you meet people and they're not the kind of people you're going to mesh with that are going to work and that same thing with organizations. You need to find people that you're comfortable with talking to lots of different law firms. So the most significant advantage of doing that is that the more people you talk to, the more likely you are to find a place where you can have a successful career and where you're going to be around people that may help you and an atmosphere. That's going to work.
And the one thing that I heard you emphasize time and time again over our many conversations is that attorneys need to think of themselves as a marketable product, which is an easy thing for many people to think about. But that's what they are. They're trying to market themselves. And to kind of have that viewpoint, rather than just maybe a careerist viewpoint to sort of themselves in terms of a market perspective and to understand the markets that they're trying to work in, etc., which I think many returnees maybe aren't that sophisticated at doing. Am I right in saying that?
Everybody's a product so, and that's the job, that's what I do with candidates is I do whatever I can to find the right market for them. And find inefficiencies in markets, where firms may not, or they may have an unrecognized need, and that's what you need to do. Your product is going to sell better in some markets, and it wouldn't happen in others. The product may have a longer shelf life in different markets and others. You need to understand where you're marketable and why are marketable. We have recruiters all over the country. For example, the reason for that is people in New York, talk faster, and have a different accent than the people in the Midwest. People feel more comfortable in the Midwest talking to someone with a Midwest accent than they do in the same thing goes in the West. People just speak differently and think differently, and you know, and so you want to put your product in a place where you're most comfortable. The other thing too is not only cultures are different within a certain city in a particular firm, but whole different markets have different types of cultures, and people can fit in, in various markets differently. Maybe you are right candidate culturally, you are suitable for Dallas, and We'd be living in Cincinnati, who knows. You need to find people that make you comfortable and in places where your product is more in demand and your type of person is.
Harrison, thanks for making time for me today. Thank you.
That's all the time we have for this edition of the show. If you're a lawyer looking for a change, go to BCGsearch.com