Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Leave big law for state govt job?

I've managed to survive big law for 6 years now but I want o garth11/27/17
How comfortable would you be having an explicit "how long do inho2solo11/27/17
No brainer. Take the state job. It will either be a safe pla jhbufford11/27/17
What state job gives you 70% of a 6th year big law salary? S bucwild11/27/17
I'm scratching my head. Big law market rate has 6th year bas thirdtierlaw11/27/17
You'd be stupid not to accept. isthisit11/27/17
Take the job. Prestige is overrated. Really, take the job. massivemissive11/27/17
Take the job, OP. You'll never regret leaving the private se flyer1411/27/17
Based on the choices, take the government job. With that sai nighthawk11/27/17
From what I understand, California has pretty sweet pay and downwardslope11/27/17
A furlough, while painful, is preferable to corporate downsi flyer1411/27/17
Like I said, California is great. Some southern states and o downwardslope11/27/17
OP here with some clarification and context. My current garth11/27/17
That isn’t true. I have one coworker who started with gove downwardslope11/27/17
I think you should take the job. The 70K pay cut won't look eifusdude11/27/17
FWIW, I would have trouble settling for a government job if themapmaster11/27/17
I would take the government job, especially at those numbers wearyattorney11/27/17
Tough call OP. I recently left practice for healthcare risk mrtor11/27/17
Think lifestyle long term. If you're 6 years out, you're wha anothernjlawyer11/28/17
I can tell you I took the jump from Private to Government. I cocolawyer11/28/17
I jumped from midlaw to CA state government at 120k. I work 2breedbares11/29/17
What part of CA? There are parts where you can live well on guyingorillasuit11/29/17
OP here, decided to take the govt job. Gave my firm notice t garth12/07/17
Yes, please do. . . Best wishes! themapmaster12/07/17
Thanks for the follow up. Hope it goes well for you (and do inho2solo12/08/17

garth (Nov 27, 2017 - 1:37 am)

I've managed to survive big law for 6 years now but I want out. I haven't had "the talk" yet but I know I'm not making partner (and I wouldn't want to be one, being a partner sucks unless you're a rainmaker). Anyway I've been offered a job with a CA state agency. It's not with a "prestigious" agency or anything, pretty mundane like most state govt jobs I imagine. I'd be taking a 30% pay cut but I'd get access to those govt benefits: job security, pension plan (if it's still around when I retire), every other Friday off, pretty generous vacation and flex time. This position is somewhat unique in that there's no set plan for promotion or advancement. I'd be the only attorney on staff and would be coming in at the highest pay grade. So I don't think there's any room for growth.

Am I stupid if I pass on this job? I'm not excited about the position but I want to leave big law. I fear if I try to hold out for something better I'll be left with nothing but a pink slip from my firm in a year or two. What should I do JDU?

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inho2solo (Nov 27, 2017 - 7:26 am)

How comfortable would you be having an explicit "how long do I have and what are my options" talk with your firm?

Otherwise, you don't know when the axe is falling, just that it'll be soon. I'm a bit surprised to hear you say they might keep you even 2 more years.

If you don't think you can trust them to have that convo and get honest answers, and not face repercussions (e.g. accelerated separation), I'd jump at the opportunity to hand.

With the benes and esp pay rate at 70% of 6th year (!), it sounds hard to beat as a placeholder while you take your time and figure out what you really want to do or maybe learn the state job is worth hanging onto.

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jhbufford (Nov 27, 2017 - 7:41 am)

No brainer. Take the state job. It will either be a safe place holder or else a job you end up enjoying. It is a win/win situation. You are correct. There is real value to the benefits of a government job.

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bucwild (Nov 27, 2017 - 7:49 am)

What state job gives you 70% of a 6th year big law salary? Sounds amazing.

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thirdtierlaw (Nov 27, 2017 - 8:02 am)

I'm scratching my head. Big law market rate has 6th year base around $280k before bonus. Putting aside the bonus, that is a salary of $196k a year for a state job with all the benefits. Even if it's the top of the pay scale that is pretty crazy for a government job, especially for someone with only 6 years of experience.

It'd be silly not to jump on it. Even if they have you working a ton, it'll be less than biglaw.

The only reservation I would have is if the position is somewhat political. Meaning that who ever is running the agency may get the axe if a new governor, AG, or whatever comes in.

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isthisit (Nov 27, 2017 - 7:49 am)

You'd be stupid not to accept.

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massivemissive (Nov 27, 2017 - 8:26 am)

Take the job. Prestige is overrated. Really, take the job.

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flyer14 (Nov 27, 2017 - 9:08 am)

Take the job, OP. You'll never regret leaving the private sector.

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nighthawk (Nov 27, 2017 - 9:44 am)

Based on the choices, take the government job. With that said, why the focus only on the government gig? Why not look in-house at a large company? The benefits are probably good and there is room for growth.

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downwardslope (Nov 27, 2017 - 9:45 am)

From what I understand, California has pretty sweet pay and benefits. I disagree with flyer that everyone should take a government job because there are lots of awful ones, but California is among one of the best states right now. However, previously there were periods with furlough days during lean periods. Just make sure you have savings to prepare for that possibility.

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flyer14 (Nov 27, 2017 - 10:33 am)

A furlough, while painful, is preferable to corporate downsizing, offshoring, and outsourcing. A 20% pay cut for some weeks or months is better than a 100% pay cut.

A RIF, while extremely painful, at least in most cases grants you re-hire rights. Get laid off from the private sector, especially if you're older... you're f*cked.

***

Hence, government employment is highly credited.

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downwardslope (Nov 27, 2017 - 12:27 pm)

Like I said, California is great. Some southern states and otherwise broke northern states and some municipalities are awful. I lived in a municipality I would never recommend. 3 billion in pension debt, poor pay, poor benefits, no SS contribution. Attorneys were appointees who got fired in every new administration. There was no upside.

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garth (Nov 27, 2017 - 1:33 pm)

OP here with some clarification and context.

My current comp is around $230,000. My firm is in the lower half of the V100 and not at all prestigious. We're not on Cravath scale and associate comp becomes severely compressed at the higher levels. Govt job comp would be around $160,000.

I'm pretty confident that I'd be secure in my current job for at least one more year and probably two. There's a shortage of senior and mid level associates in my group and I'm staffed on some pretty big cases. The firm is theoretically introducing non-partner track career associate positions. I haven't seen it in practice yet. But it seems to me like a crappy option. You get all the downsides of being an associate but for less pay.

I've tried looking for in house jobs. I've lost count of how many jobs I've applied to over the past year. It got me 3 interviews; I made it to the last round on 2 of them but did not get any offers. As a litigator it's hard to land an in house job.

I agree with most of you that objectively the govt job is the way to go. The irrational part of my brain thinks I'd be giving up on my legal career if I go the govt route. I'm sort of under the impression that once you're in govt you're going to be there for life, like I wouldn't be marketable to firms or in house if I ever wanted to leave govt.

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downwardslope (Nov 27, 2017 - 1:52 pm)

That isn’t true. I have one coworker who started with government for 5-7 years and is now with a firm basically suing agencies for the same sort of things he defended before. He obviously makes a lot more money. He managed to connect with the outside counsel for federal lawsuits once that guy switched firms and he switched employers as well. I had one coworker who became a lobbyist and retired in her late 40s after starting in the government. You can certainly leave if you have the motivation, particularly if you are in more of a limited area.

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eifusdude (Nov 27, 2017 - 2:22 pm)

I think you should take the job. The 70K pay cut won't look as bad if you do the math after taxes and then factor in the benefits from the new gig. I also think you correctly point out how difficult it is to get in-house - or just out of private practice in general - as a litigator. It sounds to me like you will develop some real expertise within this agency (especially if you are the only lawyer on staff). In my experience the "once you leave a firm, you can never go back" mantra is one that's spread by recruiting firms trying to place you in another law firm. Either way, good luck!

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themapmaster (Nov 27, 2017 - 2:08 pm)

FWIW, I would have trouble settling for a government job if I were OP for the reasons OP mentioned. Especially if the government job doesn't utilize your relatively unique skill set that you worked so hard to develop

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wearyattorney (Nov 27, 2017 - 2:13 pm)

I would take the government job, especially at those numbers.

I think the private sector legal market is going to be absolutely awful for anyone that doesn’t have an ownership interest.

Your interviews should give you a clue as to how things stand, if your skill set is in demand, why didn’t you get hired?

I could be wrong of course, but I’d kill for your opportunity even if I was making big law money at a big law firm.

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mrtor (Nov 27, 2017 - 2:18 pm)

Tough call OP. I recently left practice for healthcare risk management. Life after litigation (and billing) is beautiful. I now punch the clock, enjoy the natural ebb and flow of work (instead of panicking about hours), have weekends to myself, handle a range of interesting incidents and issues (instead of work comp or PI day-in-day-out) and generally enjoy life much more.

In my case, the decision was easier since it offered significantly higher pay and PSLF. However, I've come realize just how terrible defense litigation is. I never felt comfortable during my off hours when I knew I could (and should) be billing. I was constantly nervous about something falling through the cracks. The expectations were so high. Now? They're realistic. I'm encouraged to take time off, it's okay to make a mistake every now and again.. I feel normal. And it's great. I suspect government employment will be very similar.

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anothernjlawyer (Nov 28, 2017 - 10:32 am)

Think lifestyle long term. If you're 6 years out, you're what, 31 or 32? Do you have a family yet? Do you want to?

If you have the opportunity to make 160K with great benefits while working normal person hours, I'd say that's probably more conducive to having a family than working 65-80 hours a week in biglaw, even with the higher salary. Frankly, if you don't want to have a family, 160k is enough money to have a pretty nice life, and with a government job you'd have the time to enjoy it.

A 70K pay cut is huge.....a lot of people on this board would probably love to make that much, and 160K certainly doesn't go as far as it used to. That said, if you are conservative, it would probably be enough for your spouse to stay home before any potential kids start school. Moreover, if you're only a year or two away from getting downsized, there's no guarantee (unless you are confident otherwise) that you'll be able to replace the 230K biglaw income when that happens.

I would probably take the agency job. Good luck.

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cocolawyer (Nov 28, 2017 - 5:09 pm)

I can tell you I took the jump from Private to Government. I was a 4th year and my job offered me substantially more to stay (would of been around 170k), but I took the government position at $125k. Never looked back. To be honest given the taxes you pay in California as a whole, the net take home difference is that substantive.

I don't have anywhere near the level of stress. I still have to deal with people (DCSS) but I could give a big pile of monkey dung about them. They are not your clients. You can easily say it is what it is and then walk away.

The most complex part is filing contempt motions of slam dunk contempt cases for non-payment.

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2breedbares (Nov 29, 2017 - 12:41 am)

I jumped from midlaw to CA state government at 120k. I work probably 4 serious hours a day at the moment.

Your net income will actually be lower than your advertised salary due to about 10% of your salary going into pension contributions. But I still think the jump was worth it. Based on the salary scale, it sounds like you are coming in at either ACC or Attorney V level. I will tell you that never having to do another timesheet is a godsend.

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guyingorillasuit (Nov 29, 2017 - 1:25 am)

What part of CA? There are parts where you can live well on $160k, and parts where you're probably going to have roommates.

I gotta tell you, I would probably still take the government job if you can make ends meet.

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garth (Dec 7, 2017 - 7:12 pm)

OP here, decided to take the govt job. Gave my firm notice today. Thanks for the advice and hopefully I'll remember to check this thread again in a year to report how it's been.

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themapmaster (Dec 7, 2017 - 9:55 pm)

Yes, please do. . . Best wishes!

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inho2solo (Dec 8, 2017 - 7:36 am)

Thanks for the follow up. Hope it goes well for you (and do think that it will).

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