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pzabbythesecond

Turning down big law for good --> Am I Crazy?

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Hi all,

 

I'll keep it short and sweet. I've just finished the Montreal big law recruit for articling (it's directly for articling, since I already have my summer job lined up). I fully expect an offer given how the recruit went, context, etc (I know crazy things can happen, but for all intents and purposes, it's a sure thing as much as it can be without explicitly being a sure thing). Offer day is Monday.

On the one hand, I love the firm, the people, the culture, and it's a great fit in terms of personality.

In terms of the substantive work they do? I just don't get excited by it. I'm not excited by large scale M&A, foreign investment, commercial litigation, etc etc. I want to be a litigator, in specific fields eventually (I won't say which to preserve anonymity), and while they do some of this work - it's in the periphery. To compound all of this, this commits me to Montreal and the Quebec system for the formative years of my career more or less (only way for it to be financially worth it is for me to work at least one year as an associate; and hireback from articling is basically guaranteed), and while it's definitely not impossible to transfer back to Ontario, it's not easy (I've done my research on this point).

I have a summer job lined up which has the option for articling (good salary, benefits, etc etc) but not guaranteed - there's a formal recruiting process again for articling. So I would have to redo this, (along with whatever other employers interest me in this summer's upcoming articling recruit for Toronto) and take that risk. I've done the research, and there are definitely a decent number of employers who regularly recruit who I would be more interested in than this firm, a large number I put on equal footing (taking into account my preferences, including city and pay), and some I would consider applying to as a back up. The summer job I have lined up is in a lot of ways a "dream job". I consider myself very lucky to have gotten it, especially at this stage in my career.
 

For some final context, I came into the law to practice with a conscience. I have a business background, but my goal has never been to be a corporate lawyer. I appreciate some firms practice in areas which aren't "corporate" in the sense of M&As, foreign investment, commercial, etc etc, so I'm not closed to the idea of "big law", but I am closed to the idea of corporate law. It's simply not my passion, and I'm not in law for the money. I could have made more money with my undergrad.

That being said, I have debts (not Ontario level, but still approaching six figures by the end of it all) and the pay at this firm, especially given the bonus structure, is shockingly high, and an amount I wouldn't have expected to be making until I was a senior lawyer somewhere, not as a first or second year. 

Am I crazy to turn down this opportunity?

 

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I think you should take the job, pad the resume, take down a few of those shockingly high associate paycheques, and then lateral into the dream job you want later. If you turn this down, you are admittedly not guaranteed an articling job with the place you are summering with and run the risk of being unemployed come next May with close to $100K in debt, which I think is fiscally irresponsible bordering on dumb. I think the unwritten assumption in the above is that you are such a hot shit candidate that you would have no problem getting employed elsewhere, which might be true but I’ve seen plenty of brilliant students not get jobs, so imo it’s a roll of the dice. Best of luck with whichever way you choose.

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10 minutes ago, WannaBeLaw99 said:

I think you should take the job, pad the resume, take down a few of those shockingly high associate paycheques, and then lateral into the dream job you want later. If you turn this down, you are admittedly not guaranteed an articling job with the place you are summering with and run the risk of being unemployed come next May with close to $100K in debt, which I think is fiscally irresponsible bordering on dumb. I think the unwritten assumption in the above is that you are such a hot shit candidate that you would have no problem getting employed elsewhere, which might be true but I’ve seen plenty of brilliant students not get jobs, so imo it’s a roll of the dice. Best of luck with whichever way you choose.

Tough. But fair.

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Practice areas of interest - with all due respect, you're still a student and have no idea what goes into the daily grind of practice. You don't know what it's like to work on an M&A deal, to do corporate litigation, to... deal with "foreign investment" (I'm not even sure what you're trying to get at here. You're not interested in... money, in this global economy? Sorry, but that's basically unavoidable in all areas of practice.) Point is, you don't know till you try. Your current areas of interest are also not closed off entirely to you in this biglaw job, which I see you've described as somewhat of a con, but in my view it's a pro. It's rare to be able to land something where you can do so much exploration.

As a personal anecdote, I currently practice in a specific area of law that I refused to take as a course during law school because I was so absolutely sure that it was boring and uninteresting to me, and now that I'm working in it, I love it. 

Re: practicing with a conscience - do you think that all corporate lawyers are unethical? (NB: I'm not a corporate lawyer; this is not coming from a place of defensiveness. Just curious about what you mean and what that means you think of your peers.)

As for being in Quebec for your "formative years" of your career - overall I would not be too concerned about what happens in the first year or two after law school. Yes it sets a precedent and you may find yourself wanting to settle down into what you're already doing at that point. Or you could keep moving around and figuring things out as you go. A nicely padded resume could help with that. 

Also I had to snark a little bit at the melodramatic title of this post. Relax. Life is long, this isn't your only shot at biglaw even if you do decide to turn it down now. Take this (not this job opportunity but this juncture of your life) as a chance to putter around a bit, take some risks, and learn some stuff. It's a pretty neat time of life and you're very lucky to find yourself in this position. 

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4 minutes ago, synchronize said:

Re: practicing with a conscience - do you think that all corporate lawyers are unethical? (NB: I'm not a corporate lawyer; this is not coming from a place of defensiveness. Just curious about what you mean and what that means you think of your peers.)

Sorry no absolutely not. You're right that I used the wrong word there.

What I meant is I joined the law because I wanted to make a difference, somehow, in something, which matters to me. M&A deals and corporate litigation just doesn't do that for me (and I have a decently matured understanding of how finance and economics are significant and substantial).

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1 hour ago, pzabbythesecond said:

am closed to the idea of corporate law. It's simply not my passion, and I'm not in law for the money. I could have made more money with my undergrad.

Then I wouldn't take a corporate law articling position. 

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Posted (edited)

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you're more interested in the personal services areas of law or government, in which case, accepting a Biglaw job with no intention of being a corporate lawyer may not be the best idea here. 

Did you apply to litigation boutiques and the Crown/DOJ? There are lots of opportunities to article with the MAG as well.

Edited by Simbaa
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2 minutes ago, Simbaa said:

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you're more interested in the personal services areas of law or government, in which case, accepting a Biglaw job with no intention of being a corporate lawyer may not be the best idea here. 

Did you apply to litigation boutiques and the Crown/DOJ?

I've applied around fairly broadly. I won't specify where, but it includes government.

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Congrats on the position. I would take it if I were you. The work you put in now to develop your reputation will give you the freedom to pick and choose what you do later. Make no mistake, the sort of training you will receive will help you throughout your career in any area of law, and make you marketable to future employers and clients. 

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I don't think rolling the dice on the summer Toronto articling recruit is that big of a gamble. There are lots of interesting positions available. If you're pretty sure you don't want to be doing corporate law in Montreal long term, it doesn't make a lot of sense spending three years doing exactly that.

Other than the money, it doesn't sound like it has any other aspects that actually make it your "dream job". And you said you're not in it for the money.

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15 minutes ago, leafs_law said:

Congrats on the position. I would take it if I were you. The work you put in now to develop your reputation will give you the freedom to pick and choose what you do later. Make no mistake, the sort of training you will receive will help you throughout your career in any area of law, and make you marketable to future employers and clients. 

Thanks.

Does that reputation factor still weigh as heavily considering it's not in the market I want to work in? And to make matters worse, it's in a civil law jurisdiction (as opposed to common law).

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57 minutes ago, pzabbythesecond said:

Thanks.

Does that reputation factor still weigh as heavily considering it's not in the market I want to work in? And to make matters worse, it's in a civil law jurisdiction (as opposed to common law).

Yeah, I’m not sure. Hopefully someone who has done Quebec to Ontario can chime in. If the firm has national recognition, the reputation will help. I’d say just don’t take any risks where it might end up you don’t have an articling job at all - that would be a nightmare. 

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5 minutes ago, Diplock said:

To me, the key part of this subject title is the anxiety over giving up something "for good." That's something you (and all law students) need to make peace with. When you are young and talented and privileged you go all your early life getting told you can do anything. You internalize that message. And to a degree there's truth to it. But the other side of that truth is that you won't do everything. You can't. Obviously. 

Don't try to keep all your options open. It's an idiotic and self-defeating way to live. Every choice you make, every path you commit to, implicitly rejects other choices and other paths. If you fear closing off options, you'll continually hedge against committing to the things you actually want. And that's no way to live. 

I agree.

If someone says that they don't want to do something, and they don't care about the thing they'd be giving up, then turning it down is not crazy. It's sane and rational.

@pzabbythesecond, I think you know what's best for you, here. Do it. 

 

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Seems from the original post that your decision is quite clear to you already. Do you feel it's unclear, though?

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51 minutes ago, jwms said:

Seems from the original post that your decision is quite clear to you already. Do you feel it's unclear, though?

I've done a lot of research and soul searching. But I still had this gnawing worry that I'm just being crazy. So I posted on here to see if there were any angles I'm missing.

To be frank, after 1L I felt like I was on auto mode and I was doing things because I "ought to have". This summer job doesn't feel that way. This articling position does.

I wanted to say thanks to everyone. It's been helpful :)

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Not to be cliche...but.. a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Or.. easier to get a job once you have a job. Making the move later on is still quite possible but, at the end of the day, you know what's right for you. Either way, great problem to have! Congrats!

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Posted (edited)

I turned down biglaw jobs for the same reason - it would only have been for the money, which was definitely needed, but I had zero interest in the type of work or the work environment and I wanted to do work I loved and felt good about. You will be fine if you don’t do biglaw - I am fine and wouldn’t change a thing. Life is too short. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons.

Edited by providence
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15 hours ago, pzabbythesecond said:

In terms of the substantive work they do? I just don't get excited by it. I'm not excited by large scale M&A, foreign investment, commercial litigation, etc etc.

 

15 hours ago, pzabbythesecond said:

my goal has never been to be a corporate lawyer.

 

15 hours ago, pzabbythesecond said:

am closed to the idea of corporate law.

Just turn down the opportunity. You don't want it. And you went into law to "practice with a conscience"; you don't want don't want to be an unconscionable corporate lawyer. Go back to the job market, find something else, and report back on how it went. 

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Just wanted to update everyone. I got the offer and turned it down. I feel bad because I like the firm and its people a lot. But ultimately it's the right decision. I wanted to say thanks for all your input, it helped steer me in the right direction.

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