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Monday, December 19, 2005

So What Are Small Firms Like?

I'll be emailing various friends I know are working in smaller firms, but I'm all about getting as much info as I can. I need your stories and observations. I'm not a BIGLAW type of person. I knew that before I went into law school so my job hunt has never included the BIGLAW firms. More power to my classmates that wanted it and got it though.

Sadly, with ridiculous deficits, budges freezes, changeovers in administration, and other assorted problems the public sector jobs I want aren't there or they do exist but want 5 to 7 years legal experience that I lack. For those who don't know me yes I'm a government wonk. Though I despise politics I love government and public policy. As one classmate noted, "he [meaning me] has a freakish amount of knowledge about how government works." Besides, the fringe benefits in a public sector job are very good and it is almost a regular 8 to 5 job (barring a major project/case of course). When I worked on the production line I realized my free time was valuable. Working 6 and 7 days weeks for months on end was exhausting and extremely frustrating. The overtime money was sweet, but I never had any time to enjoy it. Hence my disdain for the billable hour as that is BIGLAW's foundation. I've heard, am hearing, and seen far too many stories about lawyers working 60 or 70 hours a week just to make billables. Nope, not for me because I wanted a work/life balance.

Given my disdain of billable hours, a desire for free time, and my natural love of governmental functions I knew I wanted to be some type of government lawyer when I enrolled in law school. Prosecutor, JAG, deputy attorney general, Legislative Services, clerk, something where the taxpayers paid for my services. I actually wasn't in the law to make a boatload of money. I wanted to serve my people. (Not to say I wanted to be poor. A dighyload of coin is fine.) Yet once again I graduated from a school in the middle of a bad job market. When I received my B.A. it was the worst job market in 20 years. When I received my J.D. I was in Indiana, one of the most struggling economies in the country. As my MBA friends will note, jobs are a trailing indicator of an economy during a recovery. What a double whammy eh? My second year I made the decision to fight the brain drain and stay here (much to my current detriment).

Now I'm confronted with the idea of changing my job search strategy. What about the small firms? What is their culture like? Small firms have billable hours too. Do I get some type of regular salary and health insurance benefits? My knee demands health insurance. Suppose I don't make the billables, do I get shot? Will I have easy access to an experienced mentor? Law school provides an academic background on the law, but doesn't really prepare you to actually practice it. One Trial Advocacy class and two internships don't make a functional real world lawyer! The first day someone will say they need something written and I'll respond, "Sure I'll be glad to do that. Do we have a few copies laying around so I can see what one looks like?" Normally I've been the masterful mentor providing all the pragmatic advice, yet now I'll be the student. I know I can do the work. I'm a human Swiss Army knife that can do a little bit of everything. My concern is making as few rookie mistakes as possible. Will the other lawyers be too busy to provide a helping hand?

I feel like I'm 20-something again, but not in the good way. I'm too experienced now to be that unaware of how the real world works again. A sink or swim factor exists in the real world.

I see a few want ads here. I'll work on them tomorrow. I also see a few small firm ads. Should I apply to them as well or I'm a lying to both myself and them? Or do small firms realize the job market and personal tastes are fluid and just want to grab onto a worker bee for a few years? Perhaps I'll find I like bankruptcy law, family law, or personal injury law. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to small firms while I was in school. Then I wouldn't be so ignorant of them.

I'm not expecting a Christmas miracle of a job offer in the next two weeks. I do expect to be armed with as much information as possible. Thanks in advance.

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