Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Choosing Between Solo/In-house/BigLaw/NonLaw. Plz help!

I have reached a strange crossroads in my career and need in spicytuna09/07/18
Why do you need to leave your current gig? In house is real nycatt09/08/18
My current company is transitioning and my role will likely spicytuna09/08/18
Non-law is good too. I used to make a lot more money than m nycatt09/09/18
What is the firm? You can give a general Vault range if you' 2breedbares09/07/18
Did not make vault. NLJ 200 firm, though. Regional player wi spicytuna09/07/18
Don’t go solo. You haven’t been out long enough to make midlaw09/07/18
If you really want to continue being a lawyer, do some time justdoingok09/07/18
Big law and mid law will work you until burn-out. "Go sol jeffm09/07/18
Practice is IT related. Involves in-demand areas underserved spicytuna09/07/18
So, you can live on $50k? You have that going for you. " jeffm09/07/18
I can live on $50k for a bit, but I make double that now and spicytuna09/08/18
In house or biglaw. Solo is too risky unless you're sure to cranky09/07/18
hard to advise when I do not what your niche is for solo. I blakesq09/07/18
If you have the in-house capacity then go in that direction. wallypancake09/07/18
Great perspectives. Thank you for your advice so far. spicytuna09/07/18
Do biglaw. You can always downshift to in-house later, but o onehell09/07/18
Agreed about counting unhatched chickens and the unorthodoxy spicytuna09/07/18
It will be a very good experience, for sure. If you get it, jeffm09/07/18
I'll echo that. Avoid the "Golden Handcuffs" like the plague onehell09/11/18
Please share what happens with the biglaw opportunity. I wa mikeisright09/07/18
Do you enjoy being a lawyer? It sounds like you do, but bigl thirdtierlaw09/07/18
Biglaw. It’s a rare opportunity that will give you exposu dingbat09/08/18
Try the firm life to get a feel for the practice but with th isthisit09/08/18
There's just nothing else like it. This morning (Saturday), jeffm09/08/18
Sounds like a good Saturday. I'm doing the associate thing r isthisit09/08/18
Good luck to you! I know it can be scary. I was forced int jeffm09/08/18

spicytuna (Sep 7, 2018 - 12:54 am)

I have reached a strange crossroads in my career and need input. Here's my situation:

Graduated from unimpressive LS in midwest in 2011. Summer clerkship with federal agency resulted in an offer upon bar passage. Passed the bar, but federal sequester hits and cushy gvt job is rescinded. Scrambled and got lucky landing an in-house position with a small company. Became GC of said company and have handled several substantial transactions. Spent my free time studying in-demand practice areas in some specialty niches. Managed to gain some local recognition for my skills through networking/publishing/speaking engagements. Need to leave my current position and must choose (soon) between several options on the table:

1. Go solo- Basically, open a boutique practicing in my niche. I am a capable business person and am fairly confident I can bring in work, just not sure whether I will reach my revenue goals. Have already built a small network with other attorneys who complement my practice and can refer me cases. Already have a bead on some small clients, but not enough to amount to a respectable book.

2. Stay in-house- Basically, find another corporate counsel position. In the last 6 mos, I've interviewed with a Fortune 10, a hot startup, and a few others, but no offers. I usually get far into the interview process, even down to the final 2-3 candidates, but can't seem to close. Recruiters like me, but I have concerns about not being able to land something because the in-house market is ridiculously competitive right now.

3. Go BigLaw- I have a solid connection to a large national firm based in my city who has an interest in me. In fact, I recently presented at one of their firm events about my niche. But, I've never worked in a firm, let alone a big firm, and I'd likely be starting out as an associate among newly minted lawyers several years my junior. I'm genuinely concerned I won't be able to hang despite my experience. Maybe you can calm my fears. The internet is filled with stories of BigLaw horrors and I'm soft from being in-house.

4. Leave Law- This is not something I'm really keen on as I do enjoy my practice area, but law does have its downsides compared to more traditional white collar work. Due to some different industry connections and college friends, I have a decent shot at six figure exit ops in non-law jobs with a great QOL.

No irony is lost on me that I am extremely lucky given my lack of pedigree and unremarkable academic credentials. I realize many people would kill for any of the options I have. That said, this is where I'm at and I need outside opinions. I feel like I need to make a long-term commitment to whatever I decide, so please enlighten me with you gracious wisdom.

Tl;dr- surprisingly non-prestigious law grad 7 years out with some decent options and no clue what to do.

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nycatt (Sep 8, 2018 - 7:24 pm)

Why do you need to leave your current gig? In house is really the best place to be; don't leave if you have to.

Big law is not bad choice if you don't have a family. I worked in small law for the first 6 or 7 years of practice and then went to one of the biggest firm in my practice area in NYC (maybe biggest). Before, when I went to court, no one really cared too much about my firm. After working in a big firm, other attorneys and even the judges started giving me more respect, which is nice. And I got a lot more money, which was nice. A lot of nice things happened. However, I was at work 12 hours plus everyday (sometimes way more) and there were several partners that weren't that nice. They were really really not nice. Don't get me wrong, I pulled all nighters at the small firm, but this was just harder all in all. Anyway, I left the big firm and turned it into something with a lot more free time. And less money, but now I see my kid everyday. My point is, big law sucks in too many ways to be your end game, but it can open doors to the right smaller firm, in house, or the right government job.

Non law is good too.

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spicytuna (Sep 8, 2018 - 8:22 pm)

My current company is transitioning and my role will likely be eliminated in short order. I could probably stay on as middle management if I pushed for it, but after 7 years I'm ready to make a change. My thought is that if I'm going to go the NonLaw route, I want to work for a major company and take advantage of the lifestyle and benefits and play the long game.

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nycatt (Sep 9, 2018 - 1:33 pm)

Non-law is good too. I used to make a lot more money than my wife, but my wife's company grew, and my wife grew with it. She started and grew many of their offices from scratch (i.e. spinning up sales from $0 to the millions) and manages more than two hundred people (indirectly). We just got a giant check when her company was purchased and golden handcuffs, and she gets phones call out of the blue to work for competitors for gobs of money. And I took a pay cut to get away from slave law, I mean big law. Anyhoo, there is a lot more money in business if you are any good at it, and you can make bets on smaller companies and take equity or start your own thing with others.

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2breedbares (Sep 7, 2018 - 3:06 am)

What is the firm? You can give a general Vault range if you'd like.

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spicytuna (Sep 7, 2018 - 7:03 am)

Did not make vault. NLJ 200 firm, though. Regional player with national offices.

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midlaw (Sep 7, 2018 - 4:56 am)

Don’t go solo. You haven’t been out long enough to make that work long term. In house or biglaw imo.

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justdoingok (Sep 7, 2018 - 7:24 am)

If you really want to continue being a lawyer, do some time in biglaw with general practice. It will round out your expertise and expose you to practices you may not otherwise experience. Also, if you do M&A, you will get to see more volume. In house will always be there if you decide to go back. GL.

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jeffm (Sep 7, 2018 - 9:02 am)

Big law and mid law will work you until burn-out.

"Go solo- Basically, open a boutique practicing in my niche. I am a capable business person and am fairly confident I can bring in work, just not sure whether I will reach my revenue goals. Have already built a small network with other attorneys who complement my practice and can refer me cases. Already have a bead on some small clients, but not enough to amount to a respectable book."

You don't state your revenue goals, nor do you state what you think you can bring in. You don't state your needs vs. your goals. These are all important considerations. It sounds like you have the right ingredients for going solo, but you might not be in the right position, financially, to do it. Care to share more details?

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spicytuna (Sep 7, 2018 - 9:37 am)

Practice is IT related. Involves in-demand areas underserved by biglaw. Target clients would be small to medium sized companies.

Rev Goals:
FY1 $50-100k
FY2 $100-200k
FY3 $200-300k

$180-200k would be possible without staffing up. I think I have the chops to do it, but worried about falling short and then being without options. I am entrepreneurial and enjoy building a service and brand. Can't bet the farm, though... I've got obligations these days.

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jeffm (Sep 7, 2018 - 3:46 pm)

So, you can live on $50k? You have that going for you.

"I think I have the chops to do it, but worried about falling short..."

"Short" in what way? Is it because you will have expenses in addition to the $50k, such as rent, utilities, etc.? If so, what are they, and how much will they cost? Rent, utilities, advertising, liability insurance, on-line research/software, staff, etc.

Or is it possible you will not have any material expenses and are just worried you can't generate $50k in revenue?

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spicytuna (Sep 8, 2018 - 8:44 pm)

I can live on $50k for a bit, but I make double that now and have a family to support, so my income would have to increase relatively soon. I've got enough money saved to give myself about an 18 month runway to launch the practice, but couldn't stomach losing much more than that. I am far more risk averse these days knowing that I've got mouths to feed, but would have not felt comfortable launching a sophisticated law practice like this one several years ago. I've needed time to frankly learn all of stuff that law schools neglect to teach you.

My biggest concern is that my solo practice is focused on emerging areas that are in demand, but there is not a known quantity of work as there is with more traditional practices like crim, family law, etc. The opportunity is that I have a chance to make the market and knock down huge numbers or I could end up with only a few clients and just putter along way below my earning potential in a firm or as in-house.

Like everything, it's a gamble. Five years ago I would have gone all in, but didn't have the experience/maturity to do so. Now, I have both along with a super slick, innovative brand and marketing/sales plan that I think my target market would really be excited about, but have way more to lose. I'm also wise enough to know that perception and reality can be very far apart. Every person going into business envisions success, but stats show that 90% of them are wrong and fail within the first five years, losing hundreds of thousands either directly or in lost opportunity costs and are forced to start over from scratch. Getting past a failed business is tough pill, both emotionally, financially, and sometimes reputationally as well. Gotta be thick skinned and willing to face the music if that day comes.

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cranky (Sep 7, 2018 - 9:15 am)

In house or biglaw. Solo is too risky unless you're sure to bring client's with you.

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blakesq (Sep 7, 2018 - 10:10 am)

hard to advise when I do not what your niche is for solo. I am a patent and trademark attorney and love being a solo. Money is not as big as could be with a firm, but neither are the headaches and not working for a nutso partner is nice. Also, your location will impact any advice, because if you have a very nichey practice, being located in the middle of nowhere would probably make succeeding difficult.

I think 7 years experience is enough to go solo. I went solo 7 years after graduating law school, and wish I did it sooner!

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wallypancake (Sep 7, 2018 - 10:23 am)

If you have the in-house capacity then go in that direction. No billing, no bringing in clients, benefits tend to be significantly better than firm benefits. Plus you will be with people who make things happen as opposed to going solo where you will join the victim mentality club of struggling solos. You should always make sure that you put yourself in a positive environment, which does not include other solos when you are unsure about your book of business.

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spicytuna (Sep 7, 2018 - 12:26 pm)

Great perspectives. Thank you for your advice so far.

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onehell (Sep 7, 2018 - 12:45 pm)

Do biglaw. You can always downshift to in-house later, but once you have that biglaw "seal of approval" on your resume it will forever change the doors that are open to you in a way that nothing else will.

That said, don't count chickens before they hatch. It's pretty rare that someone manages to go from in-house to biglaw, especially if they've never worked in a law firm before. Even if your inside connection goes to bat for you he will be asking his firm to make a pretty big departure from their usual lockstep hiring system that hires exclusively from OCI, clerkships, and laterals from other big firms where they know from your graduation date exactly what "class" to plug you into. Very few people, even partners, have the kind of clout it takes to make such a drastic departure from normal practices, particularly with someone who has no portable book of business.

Has your biglaw connection explicitly said he wants to bring you in? I just ask because big firms are often very nice to GCs because GCs might farm work to the firm. But asking to get hired by them is a very different conversation, so unless it was very explicit I wouldn't count on an apparent "interest" in you as being an interest in hiring you.

As to the other options, going solo I wouldn't do unless you have a big book of business and even then, only after getting aforementioned biglaw seal of approval if that truly is an available option. And leaving law I think you'd need to be much more specific about what kinds of things would be an option, but again, I think any of these and perhaps better options remain available after a stint in biglaw.

Bottom line: Very few people stay in biglaw for life; it's all about the exit opps which are second to none so whatever exit you're looking for, there will be more and probably better exits with that golden name on resume.

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spicytuna (Sep 7, 2018 - 1:05 pm)

Agreed about counting unhatched chickens and the unorthodoxy of lateraling to a firm from in-house. To fill you in, my connection at the firm is a younger partner, but someone who is a rock star at the firm and who has national recognition in their practice area. They are setting up a meeting with the firm's hiring partner and said they will vouch for me.

I also developed a good rapport with the firm's managing partner when I presented to their firm. They had F500 clients at this presentation and I think I really impressed them. The MP approached me after the presentation and gave me some accolades and a thumbs up as I was leaving the venue. So, we'll see what happens. Based on this thread, I am leaning toward taking the biglaw position if it does indeed pan out. This is probably my one and only shot at ever getting into a big firm. The experience would be invaluable no matter what happens down the road.

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jeffm (Sep 7, 2018 - 3:52 pm)

It will be a very good experience, for sure. If you get it, don't start going out and getting into debt for a good, long time until you have a pretty full experience with them. The ones biglaw hurts worst are the ones who get in, become dependent on it, get burned-out and can't get out.

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onehell (Sep 11, 2018 - 7:11 pm)

I'll echo that. Avoid the "Golden Handcuffs" like the plague. In fact, it's not so much a problem of "can't get out" as it is the fact that if you're not on the partner track (and most aren't) you'll eventually, inevitably get "The Talk." There's a reason the incoming associates are "classes" and the outgoing ones are "alumni." You don't quit to go in-house/biggov/boutique; you graduate to it.

And while these post-biglaw jobs are excellent careers that pay just fine, it won't be enough if your lifestyle requires every penny of a biglaw income and bonus at like the 7th year senior associate level or something. They do come with a pay cut. It's a cut that's well worth it to have a life outside work again, and those kinds of jobs will still be quite well into the upper middle class, but it's a cut nonetheless and one for which you must be prepared to adjust.

It's thought of as the best training in the world, but it's not a career in and of itself for most. Get in, get trained, get debt-free, get out. You won't have much free time to enjoy a fancy house as much more than a crash-pad anyway. So minimize expenses, pay off every debt you have and hoard the rest.

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mikeisright (Sep 7, 2018 - 4:05 pm)

Please share what happens with the biglaw opportunity. I was in a similar situation 2 years ago: rockstar friend on the inside, apparent respect from a few others in the firm, and a portable, decent book of business. Unfortunately, I graduated about 8% below their normal hiring range and was 4 years out. Alas, no offer. It's just so rare for biglaw to deviate from the formula. I hope this works out for you-it could make such a big difference in your future opportunities.

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thirdtierlaw (Sep 7, 2018 - 3:36 pm)

Do you enjoy being a lawyer? It sounds like you do, but biglaw isn't a great existence and being solo can be very stressful.

So there is something to be said about not overlooking the nonlaw option.

But if you enjoy the law and your family, if you have one, won't mind you working 6-7days a week, I'd suggest biglaw, then leave in a year or two to open your own shop or go back inhouse.

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dingbat (Sep 8, 2018 - 8:46 am)

Biglaw. It’s a rare opportunity that will give you exposure to more complex matters and elevate your personal network. After a few years, jump ship to go in-house for the easier lifestyle, but at a better company and/or position (with corresponding higher pay) than you would otherwise be able to get.

Biglaw opens many doors, especially for those who know that’s what they’re there for. If nothing else, it’ll always be on your resume, which is like a seal of approval.

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isthisit (Sep 8, 2018 - 10:27 am)

Try the firm life to get a feel for the practice but with the end goal of going solo.

Learn how to practice, bill, retain clients, create a big book of business, the nitty gritty of private practice, etc. But with the end goal of going solo.

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jeffm (Sep 8, 2018 - 12:49 pm)

There's just nothing else like it. This morning (Saturday), I woke up a couple of hours earlier than the time I leave to play basketball. So, I sat in bed on my laptop and worked on a small legal matter. I earned $500 and left for basketball at 9:00 a.m. That's called "living." I would never trade this for a full-time job.

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isthisit (Sep 8, 2018 - 3:29 pm)

Sounds like a good Saturday. I'm doing the associate thing right now but after this firm I want to take the plunge solo.

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jeffm (Sep 8, 2018 - 4:39 pm)

Good luck to you! I know it can be scary. I was forced into it.

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