Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

How do I get out of hopeless small law with zero pay increase prospects?

Just read that thread here where people stated their years o bignoid09/02/18
Ok. Here’s the answer: work out a deal with your boss for midlaw09/02/18
Simply you're not doing enough. If you're doing small busine thirdtierlaw09/02/18
TTL just said it better than I did. 180. midlaw09/02/18
You can find a different small law firm that will pay you mo fettywap09/02/18
Start bringing in business and get a piece of what you bring isthisit09/02/18
"starting salary, and salary now, and it made me suicidal" wutwutwut09/02/18
You need to bring in business. The only way to really boost dingbat09/02/18
To go 8 years without a pay increase is a slap in the face. hairypalms09/02/18
60k is ridiculous- we start new Attorneys at 85k. But one qu notiers09/02/18
Also another question, are you being billed out at a higher justdoingok09/02/18
How do I get out of hopeless small law with zero pay increas catwoman33309/02/18
Frankly, I don't think it's worth the effort. My humble patenttrollnj09/03/18
As for hours, my goal is around 1600. There have been years bignoid09/03/18
Economics 101: There are only two reasons people are goin dingbat09/03/18
"Talked to legal recruiters over the years but they won’t wallypancake09/04/18
Its time to take a good look around. After 8 years you are m mtbislife09/04/18
at small law you need to advocate for yourself!. sounds lik blakesq09/04/18
Is your boss old and on the verge of retirement, where he is justdoingok09/04/18
I would think your best bet would be to look for a new job i flharfh09/04/18
Thank you all for the responses. Lots of good advice. I’ bignoid09/05/18
"I’m seriously leaning toward going solo..." What is yo jeffm09/05/18
bignoid, with over 10 years of lit experience, I think you h blakesq09/05/18

bignoid (Sep 2, 2018 - 11:31 am)

Just read that thread here where people stated their years of practice, starting salary, and salary now, and it made me suicidal.

Me: T25 undergrad and T25 law school, toward bottom of my class but whatever. Second tier city with relatively low COL. graduated in 2007, economy pooped the bed so I took a godawful non legal job (although they called me a lawyer, I did zero legal work) for two years before I finally found a law firm job.

Firm does a mix of probate and business lit.

First few years I helped mostly in litigation, have had dozens of bench trials that I handled myself and I worked with my bosses on complex lit (although I’d get creamed doing that on my own). Last few years I’m mostly focused on probate and working on several real estate clients needs (lots of commercial leasing) for clients that I brought in myself. Haven’t touched lit outside of small claims stuff.

Really started at this firm in 2010, but my starting salary of $60k has not gone up since then. 8 years with zero pay increase and zero benefits. Only thing is I can do what I want there, haven’t come close to meeting my hours in years (due to lack of work) and it’s not stressful.

Talked to legal recruiters over the years but they won’t talk to me because I don’t have big firm experience and I have been out of law school for too long. Job listings online have gotten me zero interviews. I feel utterly worthless and helpless.

Last December I told my boss that I wanted to leave to go solo, he tried to talk me into staying, saying we could “work something out.” Then two weeks later my best client called me to do a fairly complex m&a deal for them. I know little about this, so to keep them happy I stayed at my firm to get my bosses help on it from Jan to May or so. Of course the subject of “working something out” never came up again with my boss.

Now I’m in September and am still in the same boat as before.

Toying with idea of going solo (doing general lit, probate, and starting appointed criminal work - I have some solo friends doing crim work that agreed to help me).

Do I have any other options? Every time I think about this I get panicked and feel like a worthless tool.

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midlaw (Sep 2, 2018 - 12:11 pm)

Ok. Here’s the answer: work out a deal with your boss for 1/4-1/2 of work that you bring in on top of your 60k. You have said you don’t make your hours, so use the extra time to bring in work. That will be your pay increase and also will make going solo easier if you ultimately decide to go that route, although it won’t be necessary if you get a piece of the fees that you bring in.

Only way it’s going to work. Good luck!

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thirdtierlaw (Sep 2, 2018 - 12:33 pm)

Simply you're not doing enough. If you're doing small business lit and commercial real estate work, you need to start getting repeat business.

Right now, going solo would be a disaster. Would any of your current clients leave with you?

It sounds like you are working at a great place to grow into your own. The bosses aren't keeping you to hourly requirements, so if you can get them to agree to give you a split of what you bring in, you'll see your income improve dramatically.

If your practice areas were different, I'd have thought you were my coworker. The guy makes zero effort to get his name out there, does zero networking, and his income has been stagnant for like 5 years. He does great legal work for our bosses so they'll let him stay for as long as he wants. But there is a reason that eventhough I started 2 years after him and he is likely a better attorney, I'm making nearly double. I bring in clients.

Your number 1 goal, especially if you're toying with going solo, is to network like crazy. Join trade organizations that your current business clients belong to. At those events have your clients introduce you to other business owners. Give seminars. Go speak to your local college's business and engineering classes. Once you start bringing in money, the firm will have even more of a desire to keep you. They'll pay you more. But if you keep doing the same thing you've done for the past 8 years they have no reason to change.

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midlaw (Sep 2, 2018 - 12:50 pm)

TTL just said it better than I did. 180.

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fettywap (Sep 2, 2018 - 1:14 pm)

You can find a different small law firm that will pay you more, or try to become a government lawyer.

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isthisit (Sep 2, 2018 - 1:53 pm)

Start bringing in business and get a piece of what you bring in. Easier said than done for sure but that's your only option. 8 years at the same firm for 60K is laughable. Bring in business (networking, friends and family, ABS everywhere you go, etc.). And get a piece of it. So you can use that book of business to lateral elsewhere for a bigger base or go solo.

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wutwutwut (Sep 2, 2018 - 4:07 pm)

"starting salary, and salary now, and it made me suicidal"


Bear in mind there's a lot of self-selection in those types of threads, and even in a place like JDU you'll get more people on the high end electing to comment than on the other side.

But your specific case does seem a bit different. But if you're not even making your hours, and haven't even come close to doing so for years - because they don't overall have enough work for you to do - how can you expect them to give you a raise? Not that I disagree that 60k without any benes sucks.

Besides the above advice to try to generate some work and seek a split, keep applying to somewhat larger firms. One thing I've gotten from reading JDU over the years is that, despite the overall negativity, there are also more than just a few reports of persistence eventually paying off.

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dingbat (Sep 2, 2018 - 7:24 pm)

You need to bring in business. The only way to really boost your earning potential is bringing in business - especially if you're thinking about going solo.

If you do decide to go solo, if there's ever a case you don't think you can handle alone, there are plenty of attorneys who would be happy to assist, for a fee. If you don't know anyone local, you can ask around on boards like this. Probably better if it's a board like this, and someone in a distant location, as there's less chance he or she will steal your clients. I've come in and helped attorneys with some complex matters before, and would be happy to do so again. I'm sure others here would too.

On the other hand, you've been barely working for years and still collecting a paycheck - plenty of attorneys would be happy to make that trade.

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hairypalms (Sep 2, 2018 - 7:31 pm)

To go 8 years without a pay increase is a slap in the face. You should be looking to get out of your current firm. Sounds like a bunch of cheap @sses. I doubt it will get any better.

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notiers (Sep 2, 2018 - 9:00 pm)

60k is ridiculous- we start new Attorneys at 85k. But one question — when you say you aren’t coming close to hitting hours - what is your yearly quota and how far off from hitting the quota are you?

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justdoingok (Sep 2, 2018 - 11:00 pm)

Also another question, are you being billed out at a higher rate at year 8 vs year 1? If so, not giving you a raise is a slap in the face.

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catwoman333 (Sep 2, 2018 - 11:48 pm)

How do I get out of hopeless small law with zero pay increase prospects?

++++++++++++++++++++++

Get out of law altogether. Seriously!! It all boils down to supply and demand, automation, and massive outsourcing legal work to foreign sweatshops. Too many attys in the USA. End result: tons of firms know they can get away with offering low salaries and demanding high billables/hours.

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patenttrollnj (Sep 3, 2018 - 2:02 am)

Frankly, I don't think it's worth the effort.

My humble advice is to focus all your energies on transitioning into another career. If you're not too old, I'd consider returning to school (if necessary) to accomplish this transition.

I say this because you've already been working as a lawyer for 8 years at least. Sorry to say, but you've already "aged out" ... and your small firm experience isn't worth anything, except at other small firms which will be more of the same.

As for brining in business, you need to bring-in A LOT of business to advance. Also, any future law job you have a reasonable shot at getting will require this. This is not easy to obtain, so you really need to have connections and enjoy courting clients to keep going.

Good luck!

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bignoid (Sep 3, 2018 - 2:30 am)

As for hours, my goal is around 1600. There have been years I’ve billed way more than that, or the last three years where i missed it (1500, 1400, 1350 or is), didn’t affect pay in any way. My rate is exactly the same now as when I started. My boss’ rate is absurdly cheap himself (under $200), and he’s a savant, just really old school and cheap.

Thanks for the advice guys. There seem to be no jobs for me anywhere, other than crim appointed work as a solo. I hate it.

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dingbat (Sep 3, 2018 - 1:27 pm)

Economics 101:

There are only two reasons people are going to pay you.

1) you do something they can't or won't do
2) you make them money

It always boils down to one of those two reasons.
Example of #1a: electrician (most people can't)
You're a tool, a means to an end. Some people want the cheapest screwdriver on earth, even if it breaks after a few uses. Some people don't mind paying more for a deluxe version, with multiple exchangeable heads, high-quality metal, etc. But nobody is buying a diamond-encrusted screwdriver for a million dollars.
As a tool, your usefulness is always comparison-shopped to other similar tools. Quality may afford a slightly higher price, but there's a limit. No matter how good you get, there's only so much you're gonna get paid

1b: Toilet Cleaner
This is the same, but the consumer can do it themselves. Which means it's even more important to be cheap, because if you cost too much, they'll do it themselves. For $0.05, I'd gladly pay someone to clean my sh-t. But for $5,000,000, I'll do it myself.

Basically, you're never gonna get paid a lot.

Now for #2: Making money.
The classic example is a salesman. But it's really any professional who brings in business.

A salesman says to a business owner "pay me $100,000 and I'll bring in enough business to get you $200,00 in profit", they'll pay. If the salesman says "pay me $1,000,000 and I'll bring in enough business to get you $2,000,000 in profit", they'll pay (as long as you can actually deliver)

If you want to make real money, you got to bring in business. If you're not bringing in business, no matter how good you are, there's a limit to how much you'll get.

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wallypancake (Sep 4, 2018 - 8:47 am)

"Talked to legal recruiters over the years but they won’t talk to me because I don’t have big firm experience and I have been out of law school for too long. Job listings online have gotten me zero interviews. I feel utterly worthless and helpless."

This statement explains your situation. Because you feel worthless and helpless, people relate to you in the same way. You let the system dictate how you should act and feel. Therefore, you are at the mercy of the system, which is not kind to someone who doesn't have the absolute top credentials.

You need to start changing the way you think and project a different persona. Not easy, but definitely doable. People, including your boss, views you as you view yourself. That is part of how your boss has this power over you.

You have other options but first you have to believe that you have other options.

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mtbislife (Sep 4, 2018 - 9:51 am)

Its time to take a good look around. After 8 years you are making the same or less as an entry level nurse or cop. Im not blaming you but this is the new reality of the legal “profession.”

Your boss needs to give you at least 1/3 or 1/2 of what you bring in as well as a raise. You can try going solo if you want but you should probably start exploring other options.

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blakesq (Sep 4, 2018 - 12:35 pm)

at small law you need to advocate for yourself!. sounds like your boss likes you, but since you didn't bring up more money again, why would he? You need to keep at him, tell him how much $$$ you need, or propose an eat what you kill kind of set up. YOu may even suggest your boss bumps up his own hourly rate, as well as yours. Good luck, and stick up for yourself.

When I worked at small law, I was making around $55K back in the late 1990's. I had student loans to pay, rent in Los Angeles, and I was basically going nowhere fast. Luckily I did decent work for my boss, and told him I can't make it on $55 and needed $70K, I think I also got him some data of what other attorneys with similar experience in small law were making, and he agreed with me, and raised my salary to $70K. Good luck!

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justdoingok (Sep 4, 2018 - 3:54 pm)

Is your boss old and on the verge of retirement, where he is looking at you as a potential successor? If so it might be worth sticking around for another few years, work out some plan where you purchase his clients and files. I was offered this once by an old solo, but decided against it. Still wonder if I would be better off now if I had accepted.

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flharfh (Sep 4, 2018 - 8:47 pm)

I would think your best bet would be to look for a new job in the same practice area in a mid-law or a better small-law firm. Sometimes the only way to get a raise is to leave.

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bignoid (Sep 5, 2018 - 4:01 am)

Thank you all for the responses. Lots of good advice. I’m seriously leaning toward going solo, doubt I’ll ever convince my boss to raise our insanely low rates ( and certainly not his own rate$, and I doubt I’ll ever find a mid law firm who would take me. I just don’t know. Been doing a lot of thinking lately about the farce that is my legal career.

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jeffm (Sep 5, 2018 - 9:54 am)

"I’m seriously leaning toward going solo..."

What is your plan for how to start getting work immediately? Are you able to take clients with you, or will there be some other source?

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blakesq (Sep 5, 2018 - 10:04 am)

bignoid, with over 10 years of lit experience, I think you have plenty of knowledge to go solo. I would recommend you join solosez (free and its through the ABA), and read Foonberg on how to start a law practice. A good piece of advice is to have 6 months worth of living expenses before you go solo. I went solo 7 years after law school, and wish I had done it a year or two earlier!

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