Biglaw, Lateral Moves, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Travel / Vacation

Musical Chairs: Just Walk Away

Yesterday, we wrote about Patrick Shields, the Quinn Emanuel partner who mysteriously vanished from the firm’s web site, with, as far as we could discern, nothing more than plans for an extended Irish vacation.

What the heck happened?

Well, it turns out Shields’s story is quite simple and a reflection of something most of us have felt at one time or another. Namely: burnout.

We heard from a tipster familiar with Shields’s situation, who explained to us how burnout led the star IP litigator to do the “coolest thing possible”…

Here’s what our QE tipster had to say:

Patrick Shields

Patrick left the firm due to burnout, plain and simple. He’d been staffed on massive trial after massive trial — Nokia, Apple, Rambus… with very little break. He also tended to get the very difficult assignments in those.

Eventually he had enough, and decided that this was too far away from what he originally joined Quinn (when it was a very small firm) to do.

So he did the coolest thing possible: said “no more” and just walked away from it all.

OK, I gotta say, that’s awesome. Shields is basically living out the best “I’m hitting the road and never coming back” songs in the American rock and roll canon. Haven’t we all dreamt of doing the same thing at one point or another? This is why the Tyler Coulson departure memo spoke to so many people.

Our tipster makes it sound (as does the statement we got from John Quinn) like Shields busted his tail at his job. With his departure, the firm may have lost one of its brightest young talents. Said our source:

Patrick was one of the best junior/mid-level partners in terms of skill, and really fit the firm’s rapidly fading culture from the early days.

A commenter responding to the original story offered similar sentiments about Shields’s lawyering:

His technical brilliance and superior law skills were exceeded only by his amazing work ethic, demonstrated by innumerable 20-hour days up to and including the month-long trial. While this is a huge loss for the IP law field, my hope is that Patrick spends his remaining days sitting on the beach far away from cellphone service areas because he earned it. Godspeed bro.

Whoa. That may be one of the most sincere compliments I’ve ever seen in our comment section. People sometimes take shots at those who quit high-pressure jobs, saying they must have bailed because they couldn’t cut it or weren’t good enough. With Shields, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

More broadly, lawyers love to discuss the importance of work / life balance, but sometimes amidst all the stress and pressure it’s hard to keep certain priorities straight. Regardless of how well you do you job, or how much money you have made, if you can’t find a balance — if, in the end, work makes you unhappy — you may have to simply cut the cord. It seems as if Shields may have reached such a point. More simply, as my colleague Elie said, “When you’re done, you’re done.” (Of course, for better or probably worse, student loans make this decision much more difficult — or impossible — for some people.)

At the same time, who says early retirement has to be permanent? John Quinn said the firm would welcome Shields back with “open arms,” and our tipster said it another it more succinctly:

He’s 100 percent living the dream of retiring early. My guess is that after a year or two living like Caine from Kung Fu, he’ll either be back at Quinn or, more likely, a smaller firm like the old-days Quinn.

As Shields sails away into the great blue yonder of early retirement, we wish him the best — and I’ll admit I’m pretty damn jealous.

Earlier: Musical Chairs: A Quinn Emanuel Partner’s Mysterious Departure
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