How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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Do it Stan. Why not change things up a little bit? That's kind of a plus, isn't it? If you don't really have a future at your firm (unless you're exponentially more talented than Mr. 16th-year), why continue to waste time there, surrounded by all those boring lawyers. You should move over to fast-track party firm and make partner in a few years. As for prestige, you know that we'll always love you Stan...


I'd say if you can't swallow the prestige-gap or would be substantially uncomfortable with its change, don't do it. Do the legal work you want to do if you can, the legal work you can be comfortable with, that lets you sleep easy at night. 300k and 4:30 would be nice but only if the work wouldn't make you question yourself. Otherwise why bother if it costs you a piece of yourself?


Hey, I have a Harvard Law friend who'd be interested. Do they have offices in DC for the $300,000, leave the office at 4:30, job?

One consideration not mentioned:

Future legal career options:

SCEP: Flexible; just about anything (assuming one doesn't become a 16th-year associate).

ID: More ID. Opening one's own shop and switching to a plaintiffs-side or mixed practice.


Insurance defense lawyers are more fun than the lawyers at your firm? Now that's scary. ;-)

Lawyers would probably be a lot happier if they spent less time sneering at their fellow lawyers. How exactly is it phrased at your firm? Something like, "That lesser firm only saved an innocent man from prison last month, helped an abused woman escape a destructive marriage, and recovered damages on behalf of a person badly injured by a corporation, whereas I briefed an argument to the Federal Circuit on whether the leak seal for my client's diaper design infringes a patent held by its leading competitor."


ted, what "just about anything" can you do in the SCEP that you can't do coming from ID?



Become a plaintiff's attorney and become the voice of the people. There is a *tremendous* amount of job satisfaction in that.


Yes, but the money? how much is the money? the rest of that stuff is a jerry macguire-esque attempt to make funny.

time slips?

how many billable hours?

can you blog though?

do you get a free lunch while you work the whole day on Saturday?


You need to get the hell out of there, son. ID is hilarious. Make sure you honk as you drive by your old firm, having made partner at the new place.



It is possible to go from a "cutting-edge practice" to another cutting-edge practice, to a high-caliber "boutique" firm, to a lower-caliber BigLaw firm, to a good medium-level federal government job or in-house job, academia (if done early enough), or, on rare occasions, prestigious public-service legal work.

One is very likely closing off all of those opportunities if the top line on the resume is an ID firm.

One reason that big-firm attorneys look down on ID work is because of the hassle they get when pitching insurance companies for the work. In a typical pitch, Big Firm will sell them on how they've done this kind of work before and don't have to reinvent the wheel, that they have a proven time-tested strategy for ending the case quickly before it gets to the phase that's expensive both in terms of legal costs and of eventual settlement, and all the insurance company cares about is what hourly rate will be charged, and eventually hires a firm whose hourly rate is lower by a few bucks who then makes a botch of the case. It's the same reason a Wal-Mart is less prestigious than Nordstrom's; one goes to one for economy, and the other for quality. That doesn't mean that Wal-Mart shoppers aren't happy people, of course, nor that Wal-Mart owners haven't profited handsomely. But it doesn't change the prestige factor.

I had a friend who worked at a med-mal ID firm in Los Angeles. (Her father was unjustly sued in a celebrity malpractice case in California, inspiring her into this practice; it's a cause for her.) She got a hell of a lot of court time, but was required to bill 200 hours/month for far less pay, though that pay-hours ratio may have been a function of her particular firm. (And waiting-around-in-LA-County-courts-all-day-for-a-docketed-court-appearance hours are perhaps easier on the soul than sweating blood on brief writing. But there's certainly an argument that it's really the other way around, given the maddeningly inefficient method of civil-court calendaring in LA.) And now she's a twelfth-year associate at her third or fourth or fifth law firm, and it has a 2:1 associate-partner ratio, and if she's making more than Stan, it isn't a lot more. But there are perhaps other ID firms out there with more associate-friendly employment models.


Labels are bullshit. Prestige is bullshit. So remove labels and prestige from the equation. Ask yourself what kind of work you want to do and whom you want to do it with. The answers to those questions will tell you whether to stay or go.

If in doubt, stay put. All other things being equal, stability serves you better than hopping around.


Labels are bullshit. Prestige is bullshit. So remove labels and prestige from the equation. Ask yourself what kind of work you want to do and whom you want to do it with.

As someone who turned down both Yale and Yale Law, I agree with the first two sentiments in the Platonic sense, but the unfortunate reality is that the ability to get a job consistent with "what kind of work you want to do and whom you want to do it with" are constrained by the labels and prestige associated with one's resume. So one can't afford to eliminate "labels and prestige" from the equation entirely, unless one is taking a position that one is confident one wants to spend the rest of one's life doing.


In response to Ted's comment: I hadn't thought about Stan's problem in terms of resume enhancement. If Stan is looking for a stepping stone to something else, then I have nothing to say that would be helpful.

My impression is that Stan is trying to decide where he'd be happier: the ID firm or the SCEP firm. If that's the problem, then I maintain that the ID label or the SCEP prestige won't make a bit of difference in long-term happiness. If the work and the people make Stan miserable, then all the prestige in the world won't fix that. Conversely, if Stan enjoys the work and the people, then the ID label won't ruin his happiness. Heck, he might even realize that labels and prestige are illusions.

Stan, whatever you do, don't make yourself miserable today in hopes of some payoff in happiness down the road. The payoff may never come, and life's too short to subject yourself to a situation that makes you miserable. Do today what you enjoy today.



I did ID for about a year. Then I realized I didn't want to be like the partners, 50 years old and arguing with some 28 year old adjuster, or even worse, third party bill reviewer, about whether I or my secretary should have done this or that task. Nor did I want to be reviewing my associates' bills and having detailed explanations about coding this way for this insurer and that way for that insurer so the bill would be paid.

That was 6 years ago, though, so maybe times have changed.


I have to say, Ted, that in my opinion your comments betray a failure of imagination. Your answers-- to Stan and myself -- demonstrate that *you* care a great deal about prestige. (If I wasn't sure about that, your self-aggrandizing comments about 'turning down Yale and Yale Law' certainly solidified the conclusion.) I did ID, it was on resume, and a few years later I was a federal law clerk and subsequently had my pick of biglaw, littlelaw, govtlaw, and everylaw in between.

Stan -- look before you leap. Make sure that's where you want to go; perhaps the real issue is you want out, and maybe your consideration of ID isn't about ID, it's about you. You are sitting pretty right now, so take advantage of waiting for the best opportunity for *you.* Not for your resume. If you like what you're doing, you'll excel at it, and the rest (prestige, money, etc) will take care of itself.


Well, I'll disagree with you whether I have a failure of imagination. I'm the only participant on this thread who is noting that it's important to consider what one wants to be doing ten years down the line, not just what one wants to be doing next Tuesday at 4:30 pm. All too often, I see attorneys who are unhappy in a big-firm job jump to the first offer a headhunter gives them without contemplation of the effect on their long-term prospects. It doesn't matter whether I care about prestige; what matters to Stan is that Stan's future employers (and clients!) are very likely to care about prestige, because it's an easy proxy for many other attributes about an attorney. Even Mark didn't jump directly from ID to biglaw; he had to take the intermediate step of a judicial clerkship and set his career back a year or two in the process.

That's not to say that ID isn't a good choice for Stan; maybe Stan wants to be a plaintiffs' trial attorney with his own shingle, and ID work can be an excellent stepping stone in terms of acquiring experience and connections in a risk-averse manner. But I always recommend backwards induction: decide where you want to be at the terminal point, and work backwards to what goals you need to achieve when to get there. For many career goals, ID would be, at best, a detour and, at worst, an insurmountable obstacle to one's goals. But that's true of any career choice; staying at a big defense law firm too long makes it much harder to go in to academia or left-wing public service or a big plaintiffs' law firm, for example.


You're absolutely right, Ted, that people should consider the long-term consequences of their career decisions. Often they will find themselves, ten years later, doing something that they never imagined, but at least they won't have prematurely closed any doors.

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