I have been thinking about the career choices some of my friends and colleagues have made in the last year or two and there seems to be an interesting trend taking shape. I have no hard data to support this wild allegation that there is a trend but that doesn’t really matter.
The point is, my friends who have left this firm tend to go to a smaller firm. Conventional wisdom says you join a large law firm and you stay there until you make partner because then you can be said to have really made it. It would seem that being with the big law firm is no longer the stuff dreams are made of.
I think a lot of it has to do with finding a better space in a smaller firm where you are more appreciated and have greater scope for development. This isn’t always the case, of course, and there are many smaller firms that treat their staff terribly. An article published on American Lawyer Media’s Law.com discusses some of the reasons for this apparent trend:
The movement of attorneys from huge to smaller law firms is becoming more common, said Harrison Barnes, chief executive officer of BCG Attorney Search, a recruiter. As big practices get bigger and pursue hefty clients to match that growth, many attorneys who service smaller clients find their careers at odds with their firms’ strategic plan, he said.
In those cases, moving on to smaller law firms can relieve big firms of partners who don’t match their vision and can benefit departing lawyers eager for support and appreciation from firms better suited to their goals, Barnes said.
Going a step further, many attorneys working at the bigger firms may even be tempted to take a leap and start their own firms. Once you get past the concerns about security and the next paycheck, this can be a very worthwhile experience and at least gives you the opportunity to create a firm that works best for you and for your clients. Let’s face it, large law firms, like any large business, operate in a particular way to retain their bigger clients and that modus operandi can be at odds with the best way to treat their staff (often the people who make all that money to keep the firm so large and profitable). One of the other big questions is when to strike out on your own. Do you wait until you are as senior as you are going to get? What about waiting until you have a ready made practice to step into (however you manage to put that together) or until after that one big trial? As Carolyn Elefant puts it:
There may never be a perfect time to start a law firm, but some periods of one’s life are more optimal than others. Even if now’s not right, keep reading MyShingle and keep that possibility in mind. When the day comes, you’ll be ready.
I agree with her sentiments. I think you need to take a look at your current circumstances and if they really aren’t going to get any better, you may as well resign and take that leap.