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Finding the Right Fit

Several years ago a friend of mine whose practice focused on corporate transactions was considering 2 candidates for 1 associate position.  He knew both candidates well as he worked with each of them at a previous firm.   They were in the same class and had an equal amount of experience.  Candidate #1 had a big personality and a lot of ideas.  His mind raced from one thing to another.  When reviewing documents he was fast and competent.  On the other hand Candidate #2 was quiet and reserved.  While understanding the big picture, he also was very focused on details.  When reviewing documents he was slow and methodical.  My friend selected Candidate #2.  His personality and work style were better suited for the detailed and sometimes tedious work of reviewing and drafting transactional documents.   While Candidate #1 may have been disappointed at not getting the job, my friend probably did him a favor as the job was not the right fit for Candidate #1.

When trying to figure out what type of law to practice, it is important to think about what type of law best fits not only your interests, but also your personality, lifestyle and experience.  Many aspiring lawyers want to be litigators based on exciting courtroom scenes in such TV legal dramas as The Good Wife.  Others are drawn to corporate law looking for the promise of the big payday offered to those involved in multi-million dollar “Wall Street” type transactions.   Still others seek “hot” areas such as internet law.  While these practice areas may seem exciting and sexy, are they for you?

Key to being successful as an attorney is enjoying what you do.  You are more likely to enjoy a practice type that is suited to your personality.  While there are plenty of lawyers who do what they do almost solely because of the financial rewards, it is better to seek a practice area that you actually like.   The world of a trial lawyer is very different from the world of an estate planning lawyer.  Litigators who spend significant time in the court room tend to have outgoing, aggressive personalities.  They thrive on the courtroom battle and enjoy the battle of wits often involved in negotiating a deal with opposing counsel.  On the other hand estate planning law may be more appropriate for a personality type that is less-outgoing and more diplomatic.  While estate planning may at times involve family drama, it is certainly less controversy-filled than the world of litigation.

Pick a practice area that is consistent with your background.   If you have always had the entrepreneurial spirit and have even run your own business prior to going to law school, perhaps a practice focused on general corporate law would be right for you.  If you are a math wiz or have an accounting background you may enjoy practicing tax law or estate planning.  For those with tech backgrounds or backgrounds in hard science, you may thrive handling intellectual property cases.

Furthermore, keep in mind that for some areas having a JD degree may not be enough to get your foot in the door.  Some tax practices may prefer to only hire attorneys who have tax LLM degrees.  Intellectual property firms may only want attorneys who have an undergraduate degree in a scientific, computer or mathematical field.

Pick a job that is suited to your lifestyle.  Lifestyle is usually a factor that is more closely related to the culture of the firm you work for than to your particular practice area.  Racking up billable hours is a requirement of almost any private law practice.  After all, billing clients is what pays the firm’s bills including your salary.  Thus, if you want a law job that is 9 to 5, you may have to look hard.  Stay away from jobs at private firms in major cities such as New York and Chicago where working 60+ hour weeks is not only common, but expected.  Some firms also have cases and clients that require frequent travel.  In many instances you will not get much warning before you will be required to hop on a plane for business.   You also may find yourself not flying, but driving many miles to meet with a client.

The best way to learn exactly what you will be getting into when selecting a particular area of practice or when seeking a position with a particular organization is to talk to attorneys already working in that area or for that organization.  Or try to secure a summer position for the firm you want to work for permanently.  Do not assume that simply because a firm is located in a suburb 50 miles away from New York City means that the culture of that firm is different from that of a Manhattan firm.  Also, while many believe that the lifestyle of an attorney working for a nonprofit organization, corporation or the government is significantly different from that of an attorney working in a private firm, this is not always the case.  Ultimately, you will never quite know what a job is like until you have that job.  Until then the best you can do is get as much information as possible and keep your expectations realistic.

As for my friend who selected Candidate #2, 15 years later they are still working together.  My friend has since made Candidate #2 a partner in his practice.  Candidate #1 is also doing well working in another firm as a trial attorney.  Both enjoy their respective fields of law.

 

 

 

 

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