If you build it, will clients come?

Ed. note: This is a new column from a person who didn’t just go from Biglaw to a smaller office, he went from big bad New York City to someplace where they care about the Big Ten network. It’s a different client roster and a different life.

Hello. I live in the middle of the country and I do smal(ler) law than most of you, so you can call me the Middle Man.

I am one of the few friends of ATL who had the courage to leave the quagmire that is New York Biglaw, and the stupidity tenacity to continue practicing law.

A little about myself: I was born in the Midwest, went to college out west, law School in the south, and worked at a Vault top-15 firm in New York City for four years before fleeing for greener (read: smaller) pastures at a regional firm with a few offices scattered about the heartland here in the middle of the country.

I this space, I will be covering such topics as:

1. How the hell I got this job in the first place.
2. The difference between client service here at a smaller firm in a mid-sized city and New York.
3. The difference in my practice here and New York.
4. Dealing with partners and fellow associates in a smaller firm as an associate from a biglaw firm.
5. Why Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell is one of the most prolific Americans of the late 20th century.
My hope is that these posts will give you an idea of what you can expect if you leave your biglaw job and head back toward Real America.

To get us started, let me tackle our first topic: how I scored this job…

In the first draft of this post I included a paragraph where I described in painful detail what led me to leave New York City, but then I realized that no one wants to read another Biglaw sob story. What’s important here is that one of the reasons I decided to leave was that I was beginning to really dislike what I was doing. I considered leaving the practice of law altogether, but that struck me as a little drastic. Then I decided if it was just firm life that made me so unhappy, I should try finding an in—house job. But something was nagging me. Over a drink or three one night on the way home it hit me that before I bail on firm life altogether, I should try finding a firm that does the type of work I was interested in when I first went to law school: general commercial litigation.

No more derivatives, no more swaps, no more SEC investigations. Just plain and simple contracts and business torts.

I first started with a significant revamp of my resume, including specifics on matters I worked on that went to court, and vague references to the various SEC, FINRA, and DOJ investigations in which I assisted. I made sure to include the biggest brand-name clients I could without violating any privacy concerns.

I spent time crafting a (too long) resume that included all of my relevant work experience. From that point on, before approaching potential employers, I would edit my resume to include only the experience that appeared most relevant to the firm and department to which I was applying.

For the first three months I worked closely with a couple of recruiters, with poor results. The recruiters I used seem to be a little more eager to try to shoehorn me into pretty much any open spot they could find as opposed to looking somewhere that would give me a little more hands-on trial experience.

Seeing as the recruiting thing was not working out, I began letting it be known that I was looking to leave the city and needed to find a new job at a new firm. Word got out to a friend of a friend, a former partner at my current firm, and the firm flew me in for an interview. Without revealing too much about my new place of work, I will say that the interview process at this firm was…different. Nevertheless, I survived. They made me an offer, and then the fun began. I had to negotiate for my salary.

Negotiating for a salary at a firm that is not lockstep is challenging. Not being in a major market, I had no idea what a 5th year associate in this city should expect to be paid. I had to look up some (largely out of date) stuff on INfirmation and use it as a base to try to argue my way into getting paid more than their initial (far too low) offer. Once we settled on salary I managed to negotiate myself a decent signing bonus that allowed me to easily pay for movers, and put a down payment on a now sorely-needed car, and have some liquid cash on hand to deal with incidental expense related to moving. I get paid around half of what I made in New York, but by way of scale my rent has dropped from $3500 a month for a large 3Br in Brooklyn to $750 for a four bedroom house in a decent part of town.

So, that’s the story of how I ended up here. If you want more details about what’s it’s actually like practicing law here, and how to get a quality meal delivered to you desk in the middle of nowhere, you’ll have to read my next post.


Middle Man is a former Biglaw associate plying his trade in the middle west.


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