Remembering TCPaul, 2016-2019

Job Search Advice

I've lurked this message board on occasion for quite some ti t14tounemployed01/14/19
Mill owner. kappel01/14/19
I might end up applying to litigation mills eventually, but t14tounemployed01/15/19
Consumer-facing practice areas are generally very stressful. guyingorillasuit01/15/19
This is all really welcome and sounds reasonable based on my t14tounemployed01/15/19
GIGS gave you some excellent advice! Family law is a staple jeffm01/15/19
You're certainly correct that there are real benefits if som t14tounemployed01/15/19
pro-tip: being a good lawyer and being a good law firm ow dingbat01/15/19
Consumer-based legal is generally much easier to break into wallypancake01/15/19
I understand that I'm not a perfect candidate for a practice t14tounemployed01/15/19
I didn't say that it cannot happen only that your resume is wallypancake01/15/19
I'm not exclusively considering anything. Even though the l t14tounemployed01/15/19
the biglaw career path is one fraught with peril, and a sing dingbat01/15/19
I'm aware of the perils, and also aware of how dramatically t14tounemployed01/15/19
If you are in a larger jurisdiction, your local bar associat guyingorillasuit01/15/19
Interesting. I've never equated family law with trial work. lolwutjobs01/15/19
I do, on average, 4 to 5 trials per year. That is higher tha guyingorillasuit01/15/19
Are these bench trials? lolwutjobs01/16/19
Yes. We only have bench trials in family law in CA. guyingorillasuit01/16/19
Ah ok. That's what I thought. lolwutjobs01/18/19
Staff counsel for an insurance carrier can be relatively low jd4hire01/15/19
I have a hard time tolerating practice in a sub-par manner. t14tounemployed01/15/19
probaye and estate litigation might be a good fit - especial dingbat01/15/19
Have you considered compliance roles, contracts negotiation, saltlifesticker01/18/19
I noticed you were mid 30's and single--a bit of a departure newjag1701/18/19

t14tounemployed (Jan 14, 2019 - 10:47 pm)

I've lurked this message board on occasion for quite some time, years before my own career fell off the rails. I graduated from a top law school, and started at a top law firm for a few years and did well enough there to be recruited to a "better" firm by a rising star partner who had himself made the switch a couple years before I did (my first firm begged to keep me on). Second firm started pushing me out after less than a year had passed due to low billable hours (a firm wide problem at that time, but forcing attrition whenever doing so might help juice PPP is I fear the new normal at many firms after the recession of 2008-2012). Took a fall back position elsewhere that ended up disastrously being another short stop due to emergent physical health issues that took a toll on my performance and needed to be addressed. Medical treatment took me about two years, and given that I was burnt out on commercial litigation and would no longer be a great candidate to get back in that particular game if I cared to, I spent most of the past year working a couple non-profit/governmental volunteer positions to help mitigate the resume gap and hopefully generate decent job leads. Although the volunteer experience might prove to be helpful when my application materials are screened and during interviews, I didn't end up with any great leads going forward.

I think law firms are generally terrible places to work these days, but I'm mulling attempting to switch practice areas to something like even plaintiff's side employment or family law near the entry level to perhaps made ends meet doing something with a future. I've also applied to a few legal aid jobs, and interviewed for one such position, although the terrible pay gives me great pause. Spending a few years broke doesn't make me feel great about spending another few years trying to make ends meet meet on not much, albeit on little rather than no income.

I realize things are pretty dire and feel that in my bones, but am open to any potentially constructive advice.

Reply
kappel (Jan 14, 2019 - 11:59 pm)

Mill owner.

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 12:30 am)

I might end up applying to litigation mills eventually, but there's nothing about my talents or the skillset I already have that makes me think I'd be particularly well suited to adding value in that kind of environment. Would quite possibly even prefer legal aid and praying for a government position 2-3 years into the future (the skills probably wouldn't be remotely portable, but at least the experience would continue to make a case for a "public interest" value set).

I'm pretty good at researching the law, understanding it, and writing about it. My preference would be to find an area where those skills would actually be useful from the outset (it's how I provided value in biglaw). On the other hand, my courtroom skillset (among others) needs growth (I've done several trials, but simple matters on a pro bono basis, and I'm not going to pretend here that anybody watching would've confused me with Clarence Darrow).

Reply
guyingorillasuit (Jan 15, 2019 - 12:43 am)

Consumer-facing practice areas are generally very stressful. I practice family law, and I don't know anyone in the community who is doing this for fun or personal growth. If you want to get into a similar practice, the best way to go is to work for a few years for an established small firm, get a reputation, learn how to do the work and how to deal with clients, and then go out on your own. You will not make a whole lot of money at first, because the economics of a small firm rarely allow for high pay to newbies. Once you get 5 years of experience or so, you will be much more marketable within your newly acquired practice area.

I assure you that few people I meet in family court have significant trial skills. I will also never be confused for Clarence Darrow. This in itself should not deter you from the practice. If you can handle the stress, there is money to be made in this after a few years. If you just want to research and write, those skills are not in very high demand in family law practice. There is some need for this, of course, but more often than not, a judge is going to rule the way he or she wants, regardless. Most family law clients lack the money for an appeal, and the bench knows it.

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 1:07 am)

This is all really welcome and sounds reasonable based on my very limited understanding of family law and somewhat limited knowledge of small law. Would be very interested to hear more from you about the stresses of the practice. Collections? Potential misconduct complaints to the state bar and malpractice claims? Securing compliance with discovery obligations and court orders?

Would also be more than interested to hear your tips on adding value early on and developing into a useful and marketable practitioner. The most important thing I'd imagine would be to find a firm where you'll be treated with patience and provided with real mentorship when needed as necessary. I'd also imagine it's very hard to find firms like that, given what has become of the practice of law.

Thanks for your input.

Reply
jeffm (Jan 15, 2019 - 12:41 pm)

GIGS gave you some excellent advice! Family law is a staple for most solos out there. If you can manage clients who are stressed and tend to act their worst, you could do it.

"The most important thing I'd imagine would be to find a firm where you'll be treated with patience and provided with real mentorship when needed as necessary. I'd also imagine it's very hard to find firms like that..."

This all depends. If you want to be mentored and don't have immediate money issues, you can find something easier than you think. I guarantee you the courtrooms are full of attorneys every morning who are burned out and thinking of ways they could make a living without having to do that kind of work. Most don't have lots of money. I am sure many of them think from time-to-time how nice it would be if somebody would come along who was actually interested in doing the work and could do it for low pay. This is so common that you even can see the JDU community at large periodically protest ads they find by attorneys looking for these cheap underlings to "abuse." Of course, the underlings who sign up for it will be learning something.

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 1:12 pm)

You're certainly correct that there are real benefits if someone else is covering the overhead, either bringing the clients in the door or helping you do so (in part by having a roof and a website), and paying you enough money to eat and cover rent. The questions that are hard to answer as an outsider, and of the essence: a) does this guy/gal actually know what s/he's doing (keeping a small practice going is impressive in and of itself, but that doesn't mean the business owner's legal acumen is necessarily all that high), b) will they have the time and interest to supervise and teach and c) will you be treated with decency. These days, many lawyers would and do work for that that much with the little complaint, assuming the work environment is decent and conducive to growth (but unfortunately the race to the bottom is hardly confined to entry level wages).

Thanks for your advice.

Reply
dingbat (Jan 15, 2019 - 3:38 pm)

pro-tip:

being a good lawyer and being a good law firm owner are two very different things, requiring very different skill sets.

But, if you're smart and pay attention, you can learn as much from a bad lawyer as you can a good lawyer - just by observing that they're doing wrong.

In all likelihood, they're gonna want to shift as much of the work they don't want to do to you as they possibly can, and to provide as little training/supervision as possible. In the early days, you can probably ask all kinds of questions and get all kinds of advice, but you're gonna have to stand on your own two feet as fast as you can, with questions becoming less and less frequent as time goes on.

Reply
wallypancake (Jan 15, 2019 - 10:17 am)

Consumer-based legal is generally much easier to break into as opposed to corporate-based. I doubt that a small family law litigation firm would consider hiring someone from biglaw with significant experience. If you would have worked at biglaw for 2 years, maybe. Biglaw commercial litigation skills are usually research and writing and less of an emphasis on trial skills whereas family law is mostly trial skills.

You can start your own family law/traffic ticket/landlord tenant firm and supplement it with doc review. You will not be the only one in the mensroom talking to potential clients on the cell phone.

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 12:48 pm)

I understand that I'm not a perfect candidate for a practice area switch. I also agree that the skillset I've built and my substantive legal knowledge isn't a perfect fit for many possible switches (indeed, I'd largely be starting from scratch). Nevertheless, I suspect you're wrong about what might be "consider[ed]" universally--I'm not a perfect fit for legal aid either, but I obtained a phone interview and then an in-person interview for the only posting I believe to have been live that I applied for. I've also seen firm bios of folks who have made the switch to "consumer-based legal" after several years of biglaw and nothing else. I suspect there would be more of them, but for the fact that several years of biglaw will usually lead directly to additional years of commercial litigation at a firm, working in-house, or working for the government or a non-profit.

I have essentially zero interest in hanging my own shingle. I don't have the finances for it to start. Just as or more importantly, I have little interest or ability to attempt to sell clients on the sort of knowledge most practitioners require real experience to pick up. Most importantly, your competence in handling matters as someone fresh to a new area of solo practice is apt to be limited.

Reply
wallypancake (Jan 15, 2019 - 1:47 pm)

I didn't say that it cannot happen only that your resume is the prototype for the position being sought. Will power can accomplish many things.

Why are you exclusively considering a job as a lawyer in a firm? There are a myriad of other things that you can be doing, if you are willing to explore. High stress/low pay firm jobs are not ideal.

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 2:46 pm)

I'm not exclusively considering anything. Even though the legal field isn't that fertile these days, I'm in my mid 30s and I don't want to be a bartender, an English language instructor in China, or a teacher in the US for that matter. Also don't want to be a student again (I'm single; if I had a high-earning spouse committed to me living my best life, maybe I'd pursue a credential that would allow me to practice clinical pysch). I completely agree that high stress/low pay firm jobs are far from ideal. I'm just trying to find the best path forward in a difficult set of circumstances. As I think was pretty close to implicit in my original post, I agreed with the conventional wisdom on this board that law school is generally a terrible idea, even when I was at the sort of the school and the sort of firms that typically lead to some substantial measure of success.

Reply
dingbat (Jan 15, 2019 - 3:46 pm)

the biglaw career path is one fraught with peril, and a single mis-step can kill a career.

Unfortunately, it also means you're overqualified for most legal jobs - and that's a serious problem. As you yourself admit, you've pretty much got to start over as if you just got admitted to the bar yesterday, but you've got the baggage of work habits honed in the wrong environment. You've probably developed bad habits that are difficult to break, and you'll be considered a flight risk no matter where you end up.

Your resume will probably end up in the garbage no matter where you send it. So, let's take a step back, and start with your network. Any law school buddies or connections you've made along the way who can help you out? You really need to be introduced to someone who's a decision-maker at the kind of firm where you want to end up. Top-down is the best way to get hired, even more so if your application is unusual.

Best job I ever had started over brunch with a friend-of-a-friend. I've also gotten a job offer once over appletinis. Personal network is the way to go

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 5:47 pm)

I'm aware of the perils, and also aware of how dramatically prospects can change due to bad fortune. Go back a few years in time and if I wanted to change career paths, the potential answer may have been as simple as applying for DOJ positions over the course of a year. I realize that's no longer my present reality.

Don't have small law friends. Friends of friends and alum network could pay dividends, but I'd like to identify practice areas that might make sense. Again, I don't think my resume necessarily ends up in the trash if I have genuine interest--even when I'm passing along application materials without a direct connection--but I'm not seeing openings where there's apparent fit. Tons of positions for commercial lit, insurance defense, PI, and worker's compensation. Don't want to enter or re-enter any of those fields.

I agree that starting a legal career from a good school presents more options that trying to reboot a career with some good experience after you've been thrown askew. It's not impossible though, and the question is what directions are most worth pursuing, in what manner.

Reply
guyingorillasuit (Jan 15, 2019 - 11:56 pm)

If you are in a larger jurisdiction, your local bar association will have sections within your future practice area. San Francisco, for instance, has a family law section, as do surrounding counties. Sign up for the section, actively attend events (mostly MCLEs), and tell as many people as you can meet that you are looking for a job with a reputable firm. Some sections have email listservs with hundreds of people on them. If you make a few friends with connections over a few months by attending these types of events, and let them know that you're willing to do what it takes to learn the ropes, you should be able to land a job.

Each practice area comes with a unique set of challenges. Once you make friends in whatever field you want to practice in, ask them what their challenges are, and decide for yourself whether you are temperamentally suited to meet them. If you cannot handle a client crying for a half hour on the phone, and then spending the next half hour accusing you personally of being a terrible lawyer who doesn't have their back, family law is not for you. That's just an example.

Reply
lolwutjobs (Jan 15, 2019 - 4:19 pm)

Interesting. I've never equated family law with trial work.

Reply
guyingorillasuit (Jan 15, 2019 - 11:47 pm)

I do, on average, 4 to 5 trials per year. That is higher than the average CA family law practitioner. There would likely be more, but most clients lack the financial resources for trial. There are larger firms (10 people is considered a midsize family law firm, and 20 people a large one), who have partners that are in and out of trial virtually all the time. They also have richer clients, though. Those guys and gals are much better trial lawyers than me.

Reply
lolwutjobs (Jan 16, 2019 - 11:14 am)

Are these bench trials?

Reply
guyingorillasuit (Jan 16, 2019 - 1:06 pm)

Yes. We only have bench trials in family law in CA.

Reply
lolwutjobs (Jan 18, 2019 - 1:09 pm)

Ah ok. That's what I thought.

Reply
jd4hire (Jan 15, 2019 - 5:42 pm)

Staff counsel for an insurance carrier can be relatively low stress and a nice work environment (if you are okay with practicing in a sub-par manner). It can be overwhelming due to the number of files you have (it was for me), but many of my co-workers just didn't care about the results and loved the job (it paid decent and had wonderful benefits). I just couldn't swallow my pride and practice in a sloppy manner.

I'd also consider a boutique firm that is small law with some good clients. Also, I've never been in family law, but in my two jurisdictions, there are a few well known, high-end family law firms. They are top notch litigators and do well. That could be a good option.

What about the standard R/E closing/ title law firms? Those seem relatively low stress (no personal experience - can't speak to it). Estate planning? Also, in my jx, you could be competitive for some lower end AG/PD jobs.

Reply
t14tounemployed (Jan 15, 2019 - 6:00 pm)

I have a hard time tolerating practice in a sub-par manner. You could consider that to be perhaps among the biglaw bad habits that dingbat was referring to above.

Am considering boutiques, but would rather still transition out of commercial if I can dream up a more tolerable alternative.

With higher end small firms in areas like family law and employment, my existing set of credentials and skills might be more valuable than would be the case for the lower end practices. Pay would be higher to start as well. Still think it's a difficult matter to identify a place where you'd likely be happy in a few years (assuming you manage to get in the door in the first place, which I appreciate is no given).

My past experience is all litigation, but I've recently wondered whether I should consider probate and estate. Even bigger transition than the others I've started to contemplate, but the upside might be higher (because you could conceivably largely lose the downsides of an adversarial practice).

Thanks much.

Reply
dingbat (Jan 15, 2019 - 11:17 pm)

probaye and estate litigation might be a good fit - especially on the high end it there are a lot of similarities.

But if you’re talking estate planning, T&E has virtually no skill overlap with commercial litigation. I do T&E, and I can’t even begin to imagine how to create a transition plan. Not the legal stuff, that can be taught, but T&E is all about human interaction

Reply
saltlifesticker (Jan 18, 2019 - 1:33 pm)

Have you considered compliance roles, contracts negotiation, or contracts management? I am in a contracts management role with a big DOD contractor currently. Starting pay is likely around 65k, but I see a high demand for quality contracts people. Seems easy to get to 6 figures in a few years if you're capable.

Reply
newjag17 (Jan 18, 2019 - 4:38 pm)

I noticed you were mid 30's and single--a bit of a departure but have you considered applying for JAG? You are still within the age range I believe and it may be worth it to at least check out. You wouldn't have to worry about uprooting a spouse or children plus you would get to travel.
Also, you could explore state and local government--for example, a DA's Office where you could get instant trial skills, and if it was something that appealed to you, you could explore family law or criminal defense.

Reply
Post a message in this thread