… Of course, nothing happened at first, but even the act of sending out my resume made me feel triumphant. Though my grand plan to work for several years and go in-house flew out the window, I felt all right. I felt hopeful for the first time since starting work that there was an exit, and that the wheels were in motion. It turns out however, that it would be a long and arduous eight months before I finally had my opportunity…
The following is a continuation of my story of the next eight months, and how I eventually escaped from biglaw.
Part I of this post: How I left biglaw (Part I)
Silence. It turns out that getting a job requires a lot more than sending out a resume. I was also unsure of my decision. I had just spend the last 3 years in law school, just passed the bar exam, and had secured a position at one of the nation’s top law firms. On paper, I looked great and outsiders looking in were impressed. On the inside however, I felt a mounting desperation that working in biglaw was unsustainable.
After my Thanksgiving plans were interrupted by the ‘short-fuse’ deal, I sent out my resume to several engineering job ads which I had been browsing in the preceding weeks. To me, it represented a mental hurdle that I had overcome. I was no longer the golden example, the one people envied, but I was a quitter. That was hard to come to terms with. Law students in particular are a stubborn breed; the vast majority make the calculated decision to go to law school, and when there, attack their courses with tenacity. I had done the same, passed all the hurdles to landing the biglaw job, and now after three months, was ready to quit.
To describe my thought process as clear and rational at the time would be giving myself too much credit. I didn’t know what I wanted. Part of me thought that I was complaining about nothing, that all biglaw associates went through the same thing, and that though attrition rates were high, the vast majority still took their licks and made it out. No one had ever heard of someone lasting only three months in biglaw. Another part of me however, possibly the more emotional part, thought that I was uniquely unsuited to being in biglaw. I’m fortunate. I have a background in computer science, which happened to be in high demand. I had a backup plan. However, my rational side constantly warred with my desire to leave: “why would you spend three years and $200k to get a J.D., go through all the suffering of law school tests, applying, the summer associate position, and the bar exam just to quit in three months?” This was my constant debate over the next several months, up to the point where I left.
Thanksgiving came and went, and work actually slowed down. My partner, to be fair, recognized that I had been burning the candle at both ends and thought I needed a break. He avoided staffing me on a deal for the remainder of the year and my holidays were actually pleasant and restful. And I forgot about sending out my resume. Of course, this didn’t last very long and come the new year, I found myself in the same position as before, my personal life and time living and dying by the lifecycle of the deal. It turns out that I had done a commendable job on my past deals, and I was ready to start operating without the guiding hand of a senior associate, at least with respect to the due diligence. My workload increased again, but without my senior associate interceding and turning down the demands of other associates and partners, I found myself buried again. Yet this time around, I held onto my quiet defiance with knowledge of the fact that my resume was out there, circulating.
Work continued to mount and I continued my late nights, while fighting against senior associates hounding me for work product and my partner staffing me on new assignments. I closed my door purposely, in order to deter passerby’s from dropping in and in the natural flow of any conversation, deciding I needed more work. I kept busy, and learned to work faster and more efficiently. By the end, diligence became old hat, and I no longer feared the large document drops as I had in the first few months of my job. However, new challenges always presented themselves. I got staffed on a few licensing deals, which I knew nothing about. Often times, as a specialist, I would jump onto a deal mid-cycle, feeling lost and inundated with deal documents. I still rarely took a Saturday or Sunday off. On one occasion, on the eve of deal signing after spending the last several nights working, I fell asleep instead of hopping on an 11PM conference call for the corporate attorneys. I had already submitted my portion of the diligence memo, fully negotiated the IP reps and warranties, and thought I was in the clear. Early the next day, I remember turning to my nightstand, saw that I had missed over 100 emails and felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. I saw that the senior associate on the deal (my friend and also a mentor) had been up all night and took my place on the call while sending out emails at 4AM. The deal had signed overnight. I truly felt bad that I had dropped the ball by going to sleep instead of staying up for the call.
After that experience, I renewed my desire to get out. By this time, it was around March, so I had around six months of experience under my belt. As I said before, the rational side of me thought that by going back to software engineering, I would be throwing away years of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet I was still desperate to get out. So I thought I would try my hand at applying for in-house positions. There’s a website, called http://www.goinhouse.com, that lists in-house job postings. I would check this site and linkedin daily for job postings for junior in house counsel positions. Nothing took. I prepared a detailed cover letter and resume, and submitted it to every junior in-house position I could find, but never received any response (some to this day). I tried my network as well. One friend, a director at his startup, told me of an opening on their legal team. I applied there and most likely due to the strength of my friend’s recommendation, had a phone screen with the startup’s attorney. I remember clearing my schedule that day and hopped in my car, trying to drive to a secluded parking lot where I could do the phone screen in peace. I didn’t get far enough in time by the time the phone screen started, and ended up taking the call from my car. The end result: while the interviewer was “impressed with my knowledge”, I was too junior. Another time, my friend referred me to Google and I was flat out rejected for not having enough experience. After several failures, I finally found a position for a junior transactional attorney on goinhouse, with a new legal startup. It was a contract position, which I had avoided until now. For those readers who are not attorneys, contracting positions are generally looked upon with disfavor by law firms. It’s a black mark on one’s resume. Yet I was desperate enough to not care. I reasoned to myself that even if I was leaving my law firm job after only half a year, I would still be leaving it for a legal job. I could then evaluate whether I really wanted to leave law, so I wouldn’t be completely throwing away my education and time spent in the law. I submitted my resume and to my surprise, heard back from the lead recruiter within a few days. We had an initial phone screen, and she wanted to continue the conversation.
This legal startup is geared towards working mothers. They call it “high end contracting” and claim to hire high-caliber attorneys to do biglaw type jobs at a cheaper rate. The hours were flexible, and work could be picked up at the pace of the contract attorney. It sounded perfect to me. I scheduled the on-site interview for early in the morning, so I could wake up early and drive into the city and back to my law firm before the day started. Anyone would just expect that I had gotten a late start. On the day of the interview, I ended up underestimating traffic, and was five minutes late to the meeting. It turns out that it didn’t matter. I walked into the startup’s well-appointed office, took a seat and waited for my on-site interview to begin. After a few minutes wait, the leader recruiter with whom I had spoken on the phone brought me into her office. We started talking about my background, why I wanted to leave my law firm, and what this startup was trying to accomplish. After half an hour of talking, the lead recruiter rejected me on the spot. She told me that I was too junior for them to hire me, even for a contractual position. She told me to reapply when I had more experience, and sent me on my way with some mints and lip balm.
Dejected, I made the long trek back to my office, where I closed my door and contemplated my future as a lawyer. I looked at the spreadsheet that I had made, which counted down the months until I my net worth was $0. Still over two years away. I knew I wouldn’t make it. I abandoned my plan to stay in law, and began to draft a new resume.