Saturday, February 19, 2011
How Big Law Firms Treat Employees
I am currently working 2 jobs to make ends meet and every evening I head over to 24 hour fitness to get a good work out. Over the years I have always seen various different characters at the gym: The desperate housewife, the anorexic teenage girls and the juice monkeys on steroids.
After I finish the treadmill or do cardio, I usually head over straight to the free weights. I am a pretty big guy, and I bench over 345 lbs. Sometimes, I ask others for help as a spotter or someone will ask me to spot them doing chest presses. There is one guy at the gym who has asked me to help him and spot him while he is on the bench press. I've seen him a couple times before at the gym, and last night I saw his duffle bag with a "name tag" attached. He had just come back from a trade show in Las Vegas, and I told him that I would always go to trade shows at the Bellagio or The Rio at my old job. Many people think that Las Vegas makes all its money from gambling, shows and clubs, but the reality is that the real money comes from trade shows. Many trade shows in manufacturing, IT, solar energy, fashion, merchandising, and sports competitions are held in Las Vegas.
As we started conversing, he told me more about his occupation and education. He was an executive VP for a solar energy company and a former attorney. His name was Mike* the mergers and acquisitions attorney. He went to UCLA for undergraduate and went to a top 50 law school in the Washington DC area. He worked in a big law firm for 5 years and then in house for a finance company. He eventually left and joined a solar energy company. I asked him why he left the legal profession, and we talked for a good 20-30 minutes at the gym. He gave me an insiders look at how big law firms work. This is how the Question and Answer session went with Mike...
Q. Tell me a little bit about your background, where did you go to college, law school?
A. I went to UCLA and majored in History and Political Science. After graduating, I got a partial scholarship and so I went to (Law school ranked 30-50 in US News in the Washington DC area)
Q. Where did you go when you graduated? How did you end up in Solar Energy?
A. I went to work for Howe, Dewey, Blowe, Dixon, Cox LLP* in NYC . They have offices all around the country and I went to work in the mergers and acquisitions department. I started off an as associate in corporate finance in my summer internships, but switched when I started as an associate. I left the law practice and it was the best decision of my life.
Q. How long were you at your first job? Did you like it there?
A. I lasted 5 years and once my student loans were paid off, I got the hell out. It was demoralizing, working like a dog doing mundane work and my vitality was slipping day by day. The hours and stress were killing me.
Q. How many hours a week did you work? What was so stressful?
A. I got in the office at 8:00 am and left at 10:00 pm every day, plus I would also work one day on the weekends. I would work about 70-80 hours a week. The stress was unbelievable, especially coming from the senior associates and partners in the firm. Everyone was biting eachothers heads off to get ahead. The senior associates viewed you as their competition to become partner and they would treat new associates like slave labor.
Q. Thats interesting, weren't you aware of any of this before you started? Were you surprised by anything?
A. No, my law firm showed us brochures with smiling associates, promised us interesting work, and the infamous "work life balance" bullshit. It was shocking, because you are basically their slave and then they send you back to your old law school to recruit new people.
Q. What happend when you left? Did your co workers feel the same or did they leave?
A. I ended up working for a small private equity firm as an in house attorney. Everyone I know who works in biglaw is miserable. They are only doing it for the money. I was smart enough to live frugally and save some money. There is a fairly high attrition in big law firms between the 2-5 years. Many take jobs in house or smaller firms for a better lifestyle. The partnership track is virtually non existent in many of these big corporate law firms. Out of all 30 of the associates who started at my firm when I graduated, only 2 are remaining.
Q. I am actually a graduate of a Paralegal program. What was life like for the Paralegals?
A. The paralegals worked insane hours, too. I knew one paralegal making over $100,000 a year. She was with the firm for over 14 years but worked even longer hours than me. From what I understand she would pull all nighters so often, she had dry cleaning delivered to the office. That's how bad it was.
Q. So how did you end up in Solar Energy?
A. One of the clients at the finance firm had a start up that had many investors. I knew that solar energy was a rapidly growing industry, and so I left my job as an attorney so I could see what else is out there.
Q. I see, would you recommend someone like me to get into a field like solar energy? I am frustrated that I can't find a Paralegal job anywhere.
A. Stay as far away from the legal profession as possible and be thankful that you found out sooner than later that the legal profession isn't as glamourous as it seems. I graduated during the tech boom and a lot has changed since then. We are now outsourcing legal jobs to India and those big firm jobs are vanishing. The future of the legal profession is very uncertain. Don't waste your time looking for paralegal jobs, go back to business. In the long term, the money in the legal profession really isn't there, since most people never make partner. Even I wish I got an MBA instead of a JD, but what's done is done. Live and Learn.
I have had many random conversations at the gym, but I feel so blessed to have met this guy. He gave me a real honest view of what life is like in a big law firm and he even told me about a professional solar energy association trade show that I should visit, and inquire about employment opportunities. This was such an amazing and interesting conversation that I had with him, so I decided to post the highlights of my conversation on my blog. If you want to know how big law employees feel inside their firms, just watch the video above!
- The Poor Paralegal
* name has been changed to protect privacy