Biglaw, Job Searches, Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners

The Practice: Leaving Biglaw to Become a Relevant Real-World Lawyer

Brian Tannebaum

I’ve learned a lot in my one week here, reading comments from the anonymous miserable Biglaw associates who take a break from their “.1 review” of correspondence (e-mail) and “.3 draft correspondence” (one-sentence letter) to comment on ATL.

I learned the term “s**t law.”

I am a s**t law lawyer. I represent clients, real people with real problems. They need legal services. They need arguments made on their behalf. They need advice. They need something other than an edited “pre-bill” in the mail once a month. I love s**t law, and I love talking to Biglaw lawyers about their desire to join s**t law. And while I always thought lawyers that were smart enough to leave the confines of “.2 receive and review correspondence” law to strike out on their own practiced real law, I realize now that the Biglaw lawyers that tell me they hate their jobs, hate that they can’t bring in clients because they can only pony up $10,000 for a retainer, and want to have their own practice, are apparently all lying.

So this advice is for those of you who haven’t been brainwashed into thinking that the practice of law is on the 46th floor in a small office trying to meet the important goal of having the divorced-three-times 53-year-old partner walk by at 8 p.m. and see you there in the thick of it, preparing irrelevant motions to compel discovery for cases that will never go to trial. This is for those that can’t wait to leave, those that realize that no one can name the best Biglaw commercial litigator in their town, but can name the best of various types of s**t law lawyers. This advice is for those that want to practice law, and not feed the billable hour factory that is Biglaw….

Do not leave unless you are exceedingly miserable.

Being unhappy, dissatisfied, or overworked are not reasons to leave. Not now. The economy sucks. This is no time to be stupid and give up that six-figure salary you don’t deserve for the hopes of starting your own firm, especially if you have done nothing but take orders and worked on pieces of cases without ever meeting a client. Unless you have family money or have saved $50,000, you must be on the verge of wanting to leave the practice of law, or have some ability to bring in business before you make the jump to s**t law.

Don’t calculate whether you can make what you are making now.

Calculate what you need to pay your bills. Bills are for things like rent, the BMW you can’t afford, and anything else needed to sustain your life. Happy hour, a new game for the Xbox, and the new iPad that some idiot tech hack said would be essential to your law practice, are not needed to sustain your life. Remember, the bad news is that in your small or solo practice, no one will just hand you money every two weeks. I know, hard to imagine.

You can’t afford to go rent an office, furnish it, and lease office equipment.

Find a lawyer or small firm with space (preferably lawyers who don’t do what you do) and make a deal. See if they need work in exchange for rent. If you want to do a Regus-type thing, fine, but it can become less cost-effective if you get busy. One more thing — an office is not an iPad or laptop and a seat at Starbucks.

Do not spend a dime on…

SEO, internet marketing, learning social media, or tips from a failed lawyer who says he knows how to start a firm. Take that money and sponsor a golf tournament, charity event, Bar association event, take some people out for a meal, or burn it. Call a lawyer who is actually smarter than you thought you were at Biglaw and see if they have any crap cases they don’t want or will consider referring you what they turn down.

Speaking of lunch…

Eating tuna sandwiches at your desk is a quick road to nothing. Lawyers who pride themselves in “never” going out to lunch are the same insufferable bastards that “never” go on vacation, but need to. (Did you law review types just see I ended a sentence with a preposition?) Go out to lunch. Meet someone. Develop a relationship outside your online world. There’s no one to impress in the office.

If you don’t handle the type of case that walks in the door…

Don’t take the case. Refer it to a lawyer that handles that type of case, and ask to co-counsel. Do not ask for a referral fee. Referral fees are for small, cheap, greedy, annoying lawyers. This is a practice based on relationships, not transactions.

Two more things: do not tell anyone you are leaving until you have made the decision to leave — not even that guy — and read the ethics rules on lawyers leaving law firms. Read them twice.

I’ll see you next week. Yep. I’m coming back.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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