I’ve posted a lot about Biglaw — the leisurely lifestyle, the sense of freedom and autonomy, the back-slapping camaraderie (isn’t your Biglaw firm like that?), and the … (wait … umm, there was one more minor thing), oh yeah … the money.
But still — it was not for me. I found, and I’ll freely admit that some people do not share my view, that I was missing something at Biglaw. Maybe I’m just a contrarian, but the free and easy lifestyle of Biglaw (okay, fine — the money) only goes so far.
So what was I missing that Biglaw, despite its vain efforts to make me a happy camper, could not provide?
A nap? Sweat pants? No alarm clock? No subway?
Yeah, sure. When I left Biglaw for remote lawyering at my present gig at a “cloud-based” firm, I got all of these and more … Sure, naps when I want them, and sweat pants all day.
But … something was missing.
Yes, there are aspects of working from home for a cloud-based firm that I didn’t foresee. I have no one watching over me with a stop watch, there’s no screaming and hair-pulling in the hallway, and there are no panicky colleagues sweating on my desk. Yes, I know — why did I make this move?
So to you, former comrades, I must provide the five reasons why some people might want to stay where they are in their cozy 8 x 10 office. For some people, the grass isn’t always greener, so you should know what you’re getting into before you leave Biglaw.
1) The vital energy and thrill at Biglaw — generated by the yelling, the fighting, the threats and teeth-gnashing that occur when a client wants a document in, say, one hour, and let no attorney stand in its way — no longer exists. As the work is serially passed downstream from senior partner to junior partner to senior associate to junior associate, it gathers speed and force (isn’t that one of Newton’s Laws?), as well as anxiety and panic (and, let’s not forget angst, much angst!!) until someone has a stroke!
But what power that rolling stone has … bowling over all in its path! And the anonymous junior associate — what virtue and altruism shown in sublimating his/her very personhood to the betterment of … the senior partner! That’s teamwork! That’s a microcosm of the perfect society!
Boy, oh boy — the good old days! Who doesn’t want to sacrifice their health for a paycheck?!
2) Without the constant cajoling and threats to “BILL MORE!” and the warnings that if your hours fall below 2,400 hours, the $1,000 bonus would not be given, or you could be canned, what would be the incentive to work at all?
Clients? Phooey. It’s the whip that’s motivating! And face it, Biglawyers: you not only get used to the whip, but (can you say “Stockholm Syndrome”?) eventually you like it and it becomes you. Right?
Ah, the fear and anxiety — it’s the necessary fuel to lawyering!
3) If you were to leave Biglaw, the wonderous mysteries of compensation would no longer enthrall you every year, and how would you replace that thrill? I remember how we all chewed our fingers to see what the Compensation Committee had decided about our next year’s comp. Did we work hard enough, bill enough, run the treadmill fast enough? Did we originate enough business? Did we do better than the guy in the next office, and how did we stack up against our counterparts in other offices of the firm?
And, most important, did we kiss up to the right people — at the right times? Watching a thriller or reading a riveting detective novel could not be more exciting or chilling!
Without all of the measuring of input, output, WATY, BATY, realization rate, and whatever metric is used to monetize us, and comparing these to last year and projecting them through 2025 and magically arriving at a single number which will define us … well, what would law life be?
Now I have too much spare time for working out, day dreaming, and thinking about my family and my life — oy vey.
4) There’s the camaraderie and fun at the office. If you work from home, or wherever you feel like working, won’t you miss the elevator chatter and staring at your shoes until you reach your floor? Saying “good morning” every morning to everyone on the corridor? And saying a cheerful “Hi!” to the managing partner (as you slink back into your cell) when s/he makes the rounds at 7 a.m. and/or 8 p.m. to see who’s working and billing?
And playing the fun game of hide-and-seek by devising creative ways to be scarce on Friday afternoon?
Won’t you miss it?
Confess it — you will. Reading a book at home is no substitute for sharing harrowing partner experiences with your Biglaw colleagues. And long lunches with friends, or … yes, a nap! Nah, doesn’t stack up to that gourmet dinner delivered RIGHT TO YOUR DESK!
5) Finally, to women Biglawyers: you make up 46% of associates (although only 22% of partners), but despite these numbers, Biglaw still thinks of you as “the secretary.” And you still get eyed up and down by the senior partner, and get comments on your appearance. Won’t you miss that?
So, my former comrades, I say to you — if you’ll miss these five things, then maybe Biglaw is a good fit for you. But the rest of us will leave those troubles behind. Sigh.
Richard B. Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex business and employment disputes for almost 40 years, and is a partner in the NYC office of the national “cloud” law firm FisherBroyles. He is the creator and author of his firm’s Employment Discrimination blog, and received an award from the American Bar Association for his blog posts. You can reach him at Richard.Cohen@fisherbroyles.com and follow him on Twitter at @richard09535496.