Since the launch of biglawrefuge 1 week+ ago, I've received several emails asking about my background and about my law school experience. I'll try to answer a few of the questions here. Disclaimer: These are just my opinions that I've formed over the course of my legal career. Perspectives will differ.
Who are you?
I'm a 2012 SLS (Stanford Law School) graduate who spent a year in biglaw, burnt out, left law to go to a startup (which didn't pan out), and ended up building this site. I was a software engineer in my former life. Currently working as a software engineer again.
Why did you go to law school?
I have a few reasons for originally going to law school. First, I was working as an engineer on the East coast, where a lot of the work relates to government & defense contracting. Engineering there isn't so exciting, and it also didn't have the presence that it has today. I felt that if I continued to work as an engineer, I was stagnating my personal growth. Second, I loved the idea of being a lawyer and being a big shot. Turns out that the novelty of that idea wears off very quickly, especially when thrown into the daily grind of working at a big law firm. I found the work to be terribly boring and unfulfilling. Yes, you may get to work on deals that show up in the WSJ, but when you're going on your third all-nighter, it doesn't mean that much. Probably the biggest factor I failed to consider was whether I actually wanted to be a lawyer. It sounds trite, but it wasn't hard to convince myself otherwise. My reasons were off from the start.
Why did you build biglawrefuge?
Our profession is too clandestine. When I was seeking legal employment, it was very hard to get meaningful data on the firms I was bidding on (From my school or online), leading me to bid all over the map on firms I knew nothing about. It was also hard to get a straightforward review of a law firm. Most of the firms I interviewed at espoused their collegiality and opportunities to get meaningful work (of course, no firm is going to badmouth itself). Those are fine, but the reality is that most biglaw associates won't make careers out of biglaw, so generalities are less useful. Attrition rates at firms are high, work life balance is low, and pay has been stagnant. I'm a big believer in balance, but the circumstances are such that law firms can continue to be choosy about the associates they hire. As long as it's a buyer's market, I don't think conditions will improve.
I'm not sure how things quite got that way, but I feel like there's a sea change coming. There are more websites cropping up now debunking the law school myth and raising awareness to the reality of law school debt and the conditions at big law firms. Certain facts remain astounding to me, such as firms with the highest profits-per-partner paying associates the same as law firms that make half as much. Law firms that operate in "lock step" (i.e. salaries increasing by a fixed amount by class year) provide no little incentive for associates to work harder. For these reasons, it's worthwhile to me to help empower my fellow colleagues, classmates and future law students with information. I hope that the earnestness of law students and lawyers to help one another will motivate them to share their experiences on biglawrefuge, and that together we can bring transparency to our profession.
Do you have any advice for incoming 1Ls?
I'll answer from a big-picture perspective first:
1) Make sure you want to be a lawyer. I'm sure that you've heard this from your family and friends and it seems like an extremely obvious question to ask. The answer, however, as I explained above, is not always so clear. With me, for example, the allure of being a lawyer was strong enough to sway any tepid feelings I had towards the everyday practice of law (for a time).
2) Consider the cost-benefit. If you seek a biglaw job, consider the systemic hurdles in place that have the power to deflate your ambitions. You've already passed the first hurdle (congratulations!) by getting into law school. Next, you need to perform well during your 1L year (in my opinion, a semi-crapshoot), land the summer associate position, perform well during the summer and finally secure that offer. It's a long trek, and I've known unfortunate situations where hard-working and intelligent law students were left scrambling because of external circumstances (e.g. the economy).
3) Build a strong network. I wouldn't have made it this far without my network of friends and supporters in law school. When I left my law firm, they encouraged me with kind words, shared their own struggles with me and helped me to have confidence in my own ability to succeed in different ways. I owe much to them, and their companionship is honestly worth more than whatever law school classes taught me.
Now for the little-picture:
3) Work smarter. I'm sure lots of biglawrefugees (that's what I'm calling you users) can chime in here, but you'll be overwhelmed with case reading. Not only are there tons of cases, but there are corresponding case notes and cases to each case you read. It's basically impossible to read and know everything. However, if you understand the format of a case (some procedural notes, a synopsis, some facts, then all the relevant holding), you can understand the crux of the case without having to read everything in detail.
4) Do what works for you. Again, another obvious point. For example, you'll most likely encounter some students who will want to form a study group for some subject matter (e.g. the erie doctrine). I never worked well in study groups because I would get distracted and we would end up talking for long periods of time without much focus. I learned this early on, and continued to go to study groups, but only as reinforcement of my own learning (which I did on my own).
Finally, relax! You'll figure it out.
Is it just you (working on biglawrefuge)?
So far, yes.
How do I get in touch with you?
You can email me at codeandcodes at gmail dot com [avoiding spam bots].