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1ceman

Management-Side L&E Firms vs. Big Law

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Hi all, 

I'm considering transition from my general commercial litigation practice (basically everything except PI, family and crim), to a management-side labour and employment position. 

I realize the market is far from hot right now but I'm thinking of sending out some cover letters and resumes to some of the bigger management-side firms (Hicks Morley, Mathews Dinsdale, etc.). 

Can anyone shed light on the similarities and differences between these larger management firms and big law? Is the culture similar? I'm assuming that based on the slightly smaller salaries that there may be a slightly better work-life balance, but I could be wrong.

I'd just like to get an idea of what I could be in for, in the unlikely event I wind up with some prospects. 

Thanks in advance, 

1M

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In my experience, there really are only two types of firms when it comes to lifestyle expectations: “downtown” firms and “non-downtown” firms. 
Regardless of area of practice or salary, if you really want to work less, you have to move to the sticks (or at least the ‘burbs). 

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I spent a year (not articling, working) at one of the big four L & E firms in the city. My third day on the job, before I'd had my orientation, I was there till 4:30 in the morning on an injunction. After that regularly worked 80-100 hour weeks, more if it was busy.

If you want something sedate that ain't it. 

Edited by machine
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I worked in the L&E group of a big full service firm for just over 5 years. When you are working on an injunction during a major strike, it's all-consuming. I have slept on the floor of a client's plant (in my suit!) because the union wouldn't let us out. I think I had four of those huge events in my five years.

And there were other times when I was in a big hearing or trial when I was working 80-100 hour weeks. Maybe another 4 times in my 5 years. 

Mostly I worked about 50 hours a week, with some times way busier than that, and some times a bit less busy.

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8 hours ago, Jaggers said:

I worked in the L&E group of a big full service firm for just over 5 years. When you are working on an injunction during a major strike, it's all-consuming. I have slept on the floor of a client's plant (in my suit!) because the union wouldn't let us out. I think I had four of those huge events in my five years.

And there were other times when I was in a big hearing or trial when I was working 80-100 hour weeks. Maybe another 4 times in my 5 years. 

Mostly I worked about 50 hours a week, with some times way busier than that, and some times a bit less busy.

Thanks, Jaggers.

I'm not naive. I realize the workload will be insane at times. I guess I'm trying to decide if my interest in L&E is worth sacrificing time at home (I live in Durham Region and relocating is not an option).

Right now I'm working in a small boutique in Durham Region. Aside from the type of work I'm doing (basically dabbling in a bunch of litigation matters), it's a great fit (short commute, good pay for the area, etc.)

After reading these comments I'm starting to think that working in L&E downtown probably isn't worth 1) the commute and 2) the workload. The work might be interesting, but likely  not worth the strain it would put on my home life. Maybe the better play is to open my own local employment practice in a few years.

Thanks all. If anyone else has comments/horror stories, please feel free to share! 

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Yeah, if you live way out there, you will be increasing your workload while also devoting 2+ hours a day to commuting (maybe some of the time is usable if you take the train). Though work from home options are getting better all the time... you may not have to go downtown as much as you think, once you're settled in.

There are some suburban firms that do have L&E practices that would give you similar work. Something like Loopstra Nixon out west. I'm not sure if there are similar options out east.

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25 minutes ago, 1ceman said:

Thanks, Jaggers.

I'm not naive. I realize the workload will be insane at times. I guess I'm trying to decide if my interest in L&E is worth sacrificing time at home (I live in Durham Region and relocating is not an option).

Right now I'm working in a small boutique in Durham Region. Aside from the type of work I'm doing (basically dabbling in a bunch of litigation matters), it's a great fit (short commute, good pay for the area, etc.)

After reading these comments I'm starting to think that working in L&E downtown probably isn't worth 1) the commute and 2) the workload. The work might be interesting, but likely  not worth the strain it would put on my home life. Maybe the better play is to open my own local employment practice in a few years.

Thanks all. If anyone else has comments/horror stories, please feel free to share! 

Yikes. That commute on top of the workload would be a no-brainer pass from me. 

Is there any room at your firm to add L&E matters to your plate? A family member of mine has a small firm in the west-GTA suburbs that does a bit of everything (except family, PI, and crim) and a large part of his practice is L&E. He’s not strictly on the management side, however. I’m not sure if that’s important to you or not. 

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2 hours ago, Jaggers said:

Yeah, if you live way out there, you will be increasing your workload while also devoting 2+ hours a day to commuting (maybe some of the time is usable if you take the train). Though work from home options are getting better all the time... you may not have to go downtown as much as you think, once you're settled in.

There are some suburban firms that do have L&E practices that would give you similar work. Something like Loopstra Nixon out west. I'm not sure if there are similar options out east.

I articled downtown and sometimes the downtime is actually enjoyable, but the train is usually packed and feels more like a bunch of cows being shipped to the slaughterhouse...not to mention the mad dash to the parking lot every night.

I agree re: the WFH option. That's really the only way I could envision a downtown job working for me. Not having to commute 5x per week would give me something to consider, otherwise it's not gonna happen.

As for other firms doing similar work, I know there isn't much in Durham region. I would think most of these firms would be in the Markham/Vaughan area, which would be an even worse commute because I'd have to drive...

1 hour ago, easttowest said:

Yikes. That commute on top of the workload would be a no-brainer pass from me. 

Is there any room at your firm to add L&E matters to your plate? A family member of mine has a small firm in the west-GTA suburbs that does a bit of everything (except family, PI, and crim) and a large part of his practice is L&E. He’s not strictly on the management side, however. I’m not sure if that’s important to you or not. 

Agreed! The only way I would consider working downtown is if WFH was a possibility, and even then it would take a lot of thought. 

As of now my firm does a lot of employment work, mostly management-side as our clients are almost exclusively local businesses. We do some employee work but generally only as a favour to our corporate clients (i.e. if a corporate client's spouse has been terminated). I definitely prefer repping the employer. 

Your friend's firm sounds a lot like my current shop. Personally, I'm not really a fan of dabbling in a bunch of areas. I'd prefer to focus on one area and learn it inside out. I like employment work the most by far, and would like to expand into labour as well. Small shops like mine generally don't get much labour work, if any. This is the main reason I'm considering a change. Learning on the fly in certain areas (i.e. construction lien) can be extremely stressful. While my principal is great, a lot of times I'm left figuring things out for myself, which is a lot of pressure for a relatively new call.

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38 minutes ago, 1ceman said:

I articled downtown and sometimes the downtime is actually enjoyable, but the train is usually packed and feels more like a bunch of cows being shipped to the slaughterhouse...not to mention the mad dash to the parking lot every night.

I agree re: the WFH option. That's really the only way I could envision a downtown job working for me. Not having to commute 5x per week would give me something to consider, otherwise it's not gonna happen.

As for other firms doing similar work, I know there isn't much in Durham region. I would think most of these firms would be in the Markham/Vaughan area, which would be an even worse commute because I'd have to drive...

Agreed! The only way I would consider working downtown is if WFH was a possibility, and even then it would take a lot of thought. 

As of now my firm does a lot of employment work, mostly management-side as our clients are almost exclusively local businesses. We do some employee work but generally only as a favour to our corporate clients (i.e. if a corporate client's spouse has been terminated). I definitely prefer repping the employer. 

Your friend's firm sounds a lot like my current shop. Personally, I'm not really a fan of dabbling in a bunch of areas. I'd prefer to focus on one area and learn it inside out. I like employment work the most by far, and would like to expand into labour as well. Small shops like mine generally don't get much labour work, if any. This is the main reason I'm considering a change. Learning on the fly in certain areas (i.e. construction lien) can be extremely stressful. While my principal is great, a lot of times I'm left figuring things out for myself, which is a lot of pressure for a relatively new call.

I would agree that if the goal is to branch into labour that it would be next to impossible to do that staying where you are at. Its interesting though that your goal would to try and do both employment litigation and labour.  My experience was in a management side boutique, and people tended to segregate between one and the other.

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At the firm I was at, I think that all the partners did both employment and labour law, though they tended to focus more on one or the other. The associates all did a bit of everything. But labour law in general is very tough to get into in a small firm unless it's an established boutique.

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I have a mixed practice of litigation, boards and tribunals. It seems more common at full service firms to not be forced to specialize to a particular sort of client (colleges, hospitals, cities, pharma etc) or type of practice (E v L). OP you are correct about balance being more difficult at the full service firms. If you have a busy practice now then you might actually work less at the boutiques than you do currently. 

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1 hour ago, Adrian said:

I would agree that if the goal is to branch into labour that it would be next to impossible to do that staying where you are at. Its interesting though that your goal would to try and do both employment litigation and labour.  My experience was in a management side boutique, and people tended to segregate between one and the other.

I wouldn't say it's necessarily my goal. I just figured it was inevitable that an associate at a large L&E firm would wind up practicing both. Might be a different story for boutiques, though.

49 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

At the firm I was at, I think that all the partners did both employment and labour law, though they tended to focus more on one or the other. The associates all did a bit of everything. But labour law in general is very tough to get into in a small firm unless it's an established boutique.

That's my understanding as well. Pretty hard to segregate as an associate.

48 minutes ago, leafs_law said:

I have a mixed practice of litigation, boards and tribunals. It seems more common at full service firms to not be forced to specialize to a particular sort of client (colleges, hospitals, cities, pharma etc) or type of practice (E v L). OP you are correct about balance being more difficult at the full service firms. If you have a busy practice now then you might actually work less at the boutiques than you do currently. 

Something to consider. Maybe a boutique environment would be a better fit.

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1 hour ago, Jaggers said:

At the firm I was at, I think that all the partners did both employment and labour law, though they tended to focus more on one or the other. The associates all did a bit of everything. But labour law in general is very tough to get into in a small firm unless it's an established boutique.

To clarify, it wasn't air tight, but I recall that there were the people who did the employment litigation/judicial reviews and the people who did labour law (with human rights a mix between the two).   Of course associates would support whoever, but once the associate got linked to their partner(s) they would get sucked into the segregation as well. 

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