Lessons from #LawJobChat: @doncruse @dtoddsmith @KiangaEllis + @reneefishman on Leaving BigLaw

On June 24, 2010, we hosted our inaugural #LawJobChat.  Our hosts were all formerly BigLaw attorneys who successfully transitioned to a new career or practice environment.  Thanks to all who made this inaugural chat a success!  I’ve pasted the full transcript below.

About our Hosts

1.  Don Cruse (@doncruse) is a Texas appellate lawyer.  He publishes @scotxblog and he created of @docketdb and @blindcarbon;

2.  Todd Smith (@dtoddsmith) left BigLaw to start a solo practice that focuses on civil appeals and litigation support.  He also blogs at Texas Appellate Law Blog;

3.  Kianga Ellis (@KiangaEllis) became an Art Evangelist after she left BigLaw; and

4.  Renee Fishman (@reneefishman) who decided to become a NYC real estate broker after leaving BigLaw.

5 Takeaway Tweets

  • kiangaellis: It’s a great time to be less conventional. I strongly encourage it. Major shifts in biz + industry. Carve ur space.

  • dtoddsmith: Talk to people you trust, those who have taken paths similar to what you’re interested in.

  • reneefishman: always easy to leave BigLaw: lots of attrition. Real issue is how easy/hard is it to enter what u want to do.

  • dtoddsmith: Had saved some $. Main thing was to have pieces in place to start working on day 1 of new firm. Planned & planned some more.

  • doncruse: Don’t assume friends/classmates know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better.

I’d also recommend Amanda’s post that highlights the important points as well.

Full Transcript


1:00 am
aellislegal: Welcome to our 1st chat! We have 4 fmr BigLaw attys to chat about why, when and how they left & what they are doing now #lawjobchat
1:03 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat 2 years and 5 mos at Cravath, Swaine + More. Now an art evangelist using social media and other forums to connect ppl w art.
1:04 am aellislegal: Once we begin questions, anyone can comment, ask follow-up questions, etc. #lawjobchat
1:04 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Whoops, will watch the typos. That’s Cravath, Swaine + Moore LLP… 1998-2001
1:05 am aellislegal: @kristahiner Awesome! Welcome!! #lawjobchat
1:05 am doncruse: #lawjobchat Three years at Wachtell Lipton. Then four years at Texas AG’s version of OSG. Now a solo appellate lawyer in Austin. #lawjobchat
1:05 am dtoddsmith: About 9 years total at Fulbright & Jaworski in Dallas and Austin offices. Now have my own civil appellate boutique. #lawjobchat #lawjobchat
1:06 am aellislegal: Hi @doncruse @kiangaellis @dtoddsmith – thanks for your intros! #lawjobchat
1:07 am aellislegal: Not sure if @reneefishman is here yet – I’ll start the questions and let her introduce herself when she arrives #lawjobchat
1:08 am kiangaellis: @doncruse I spent the summer before law school as a paralegal at Wachtell. Mostly manual labor lifting tobacco litigation boxes #lawjobchat
1:09 am aellislegal: Q1: at what point in career did you realize you wanted to leave BigLaw to do something else? what factors motivated you? #lawjobchat
1:10 am reneefishman: @aellislegal thx. Columbia Law grad. 5+ yrs @ Weil Gotshal, then in-house @ startup. Now NYC Real Estate broker: VP @halstead #lawjobchat
1:11 am doncruse: @kiangaellis Small world! #lawjobchat
1:11 am aellislegal: Hi @reneefishman! Q1 (to all): at what pt in career did you realize you wanted to leave BigLaw, what factors motivated you? #lawjobchat
1:14 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat I studied communication & #marketing @UPenn. Wanted to use both sides of my brain: intellect + creativity
1:14 am aellislegal: RT @reneefishman I always knew BigLaw wasn’t my end game; I wanted to move to business side & also be able to use my creativity. #lawjobchat
1:14 am adamcollyer: @aellislegal The #lawjobchat is a great idea. I’m grateful to be employed in Sept, but am passing along advice to friends in need. Thank you
1:14 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Had a feeling 2nd summer in law school that it might not be what I’d been expecting since 13yrs old…
1:15 am dtoddsmith: @aellislegal Q1: Always wanted to have my own firm. Wasn’t handling kinds of cases I wanted & desired more client contact. #lawjobchat
1:16 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q1 It felt pretty natural. TxOSG offered a chance to be lead counsel on big appeals, which some firm partners didn’t get.
1:17 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q1 (cont’d) The cases at the firm were amazing, as were the people. But the opportunity for growth as an advocate was bounded.
1:18 am reneefishman: warning to my followers: I’ll be co-hosting #lawjobchat for next hour to answer questions about careers after BigLaw.
1:18 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat I should mention, after Big Law went in house at Goldman and Lehman dealing w derivatives + commodities (in between start ups).
1:19 am aellislegal: @kiangaellis @reneefishman Q2: did u know what u wanted to do when u left BL? @doncruse@dtoddsmith kind of answered this in Q1 #lawjobchat
1:20 am kristahiner: @kiangaellis That is how I’ve been feeling. (The expectation). Starting to look for a less conventional legal route. #lawjobchat
1:20 am reneefishman: @aellislegal Q1 cont’d: motivated to get into #realestate to help people & I <3 NYC. Plus I knew my legal skill would add value. #lawjobchat
1:20 am mjsq: @kiangaellis I’m sure many lawyers are in the same spot now. #lawjobchat
1:21 am dtoddsmith: @doncruse I’ve always admired TxOSG. Envy the experience young lawyers are able to get there. Extremely valuable, no doubt. #lawjobchat
1:22 am reneefishman: @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat small world! I did event planning on the side while @ WGM. Search for me + #Bizbash article from ~2003 ish
1:23 am reneefishman: @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat small world again. I was in-house @ Creditex (now part of ICE) – interdealer broker in derivatives
1:24 am j_lavalley: Everyone who’s left BigLaw knows it’s 1/2 meat-grinder, 1/2 boiler room & 1/2 laughing academy. How EZ/hard was it 4 ppl 2 exit? #LawJobChat
1:24 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat Q2: 1st went in-house after BigLaw – goal was to get to biz side but startup grew fast & too much legal work
1:26 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Q2 cont: I always had entrepreneurial streak & knew I wanted to run my own biz. As RE Broker I’m an independent contractor
1:26 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q2 cont. 1st tried 2 get a job in fashion. No go. I liked organizing events in college + law school so that’s what I started w/.
1:27 am kristahiner: @reneefishman how has your JD helped with RE?–Skills? Reputation? I’m considering a non-firm route and wonder how the JD helps. #lawjobchat
1:27 am aellislegal: Good question via @j_lavalley How EZ/hard was it 4 ppl 2 exit? #LawJobChat
1:28 am kiangaellis: @kristahiner #lawjobchat It’s a great time to be less conventional. I strongly encourage it. Major shifts in biz + industry. Carve ur space.
1:29 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q3 Wanting to leave a place is very different than wanting to be somewhere else. [fortune cookie version] Wait for the latter.
1:30 am aellislegal: Another great question RT @kristahiner @reneefishman how has your JD helped with RE?–Skills? Reputation? #lawjobchat
1:30 am reneefishman: @j_lavalley always easy to leave BigLaw: lots of attrition. Real issue is how easy/hard is it to enter what u want to do. #lawjobchat
1:30 am dtoddsmith: Q3: Talk to people you trust, those who have taken paths similar to what you’re interested in. #lawjobchat
1:31 am reneefishman: @aellislegal Q3: best #advice is don’t leave BigLaw til u figure out what u want to do next #lawjobchat. At least u need a game plan
1:32 am kiangaellis: @reneefishman #lawjobchat I was *so* into Bizbash!!! Also got very active in a prof assn can’t remember the name of and James Beard House.
1:32 am j_lavalley: @reneefishman Yes, precisely! I should’ve asked how EZ/hard it was 2 *transition* (i.e., effectively/successfully) to a new gig. #LawJobChat
1:33 am reneefishman: @kristahiner JD & legal experience can help w/everything. 4 me in RE I play “translator” b/w clients & RE attys #lawjobchat
1:34 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q3 Tough! Current Big Law, I guess don’t get stuck looking 4 the perfect thing or feel you need to figure out the end game.
1:35 am aellislegal: Q4: did you begin saving $ before leaving BigLaw? how long? any other planning u did before leaving (e.g. special training)? #lawjobchat
1:35 am reneefishman: @kristahiner also I understand nuances of contracts & complex issues that clients & other brokers don’t get #lawjobchat
1:35 am j_lavalley: @kiangaellis LOL ~ I know that feeling all 2 well! Left Boies Schiller?w/no real prospects?but knew I had 2 do “something else.” #LawJobChat
1:36 am mjsq: re:Q2 I see lots of event planning/bus development positions in BigLaw. Was it an option to shift positions w/in firm? feasible? #lawjobchat
1:37 am reneefishman: @kristahiner JD & BigLaw legal experience helps differentiate me & shows I’m intelligent in a field w/low barrier to entry #lawjobchat
1:37 am aellislegal: RT @mjsq re:Q2 I see lots of event planning/bus development positions in BigLaw. Option to shift positions w/in firm? feasible? #lawjobchat
1:38 am reneefishman: @mjsq I know many people who stayed w/in BigLaw 2 do event planning/biz dev/recruiting/associate relations. not what I wanted #lawjobchat
1:38 am kiangaellis: @mjsq #lawjobchat Taking a non legal role in a firm sounds like a gr8 strategy 2 me. Gets u experience and results to bolster another move.
1:38 am mjsq: @doncruse, nicely put. #lawjobchat
1:39 am kristahiner: @reneefishman Fantastic way to distinguish yourself. #lawjobchat
1:40 am reneefishman: @aellislegal Q4 #lawjobchat saving $ is good idea. esp if u plan to start own biz. will tackle training next
1:40 am kiangaellis: @j_lavalley #lawjobchat Yeah, I took the leap right after major market crash. #brilliant. But law always helped me get back in2 a good job.
1:41 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Q4 so crucial to get good experience so resume doesn’t read so “legal”; best way to do this is experience thru volunteer work
1:41 am dtoddsmith: Q4: Had saved some $. Main thing was to have pieces in place to start working on day 1 of new firm. Planned & planned some more. #lawjobchat
1:42 am jerry_levine: Well, I’m finally back home. Attended some job search strategy thing at NJ Law Center. Now time to pay attention to #lawjobchat for a bit.
1:42 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q4 Aahh, saving $. I didn’t plan well or handle money very well for a long time. Learned/learning lots of lesson there…
1:42 am aellislegal: @dtoddsmith Q4: how many months prior to departure did u start planning? #lawjobchat
1:43 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Q4 if u r involved in charities, committees, etc u can get biz dev, event plan & other non-legal expereince. Tout this on resume
1:43 am mjsq: @dtoddsmith and how long did it take for you to begin day 1 of new firm after departure? #lawjobchat
1:43 am aellislegal: @reneefishman Q4: how far in advance to start saving? from day 1 since reality is most ppl don’t stay in BigLaw? #lawjobchat
1:43 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q4 How much to save depends (obv.) on what you want to do. But if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now.
1:44 am reneefishman: RT @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat Q4 I didn’t plan well or handle money very well for a long time. Learned/learning lots of lesson there | Ditto
1:44 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q4 The truth? My planning was take a HLOC, shop like a nut in LON + Paris. Quit my job. Take out a Small Biz loan. #terriblemove
1:44 am j_lavalley: @kiangaellis @reneefishman In my experience, no matter how much $ U have saved it NEVER goes as far as U think/hope. #savemore! #LawJobChat
1:45 am reneefishman: @aellislegal hard 4 me 2 answer. I wasn’t great at it. NYC cost of living is high. I purchased my apt just b4 leaving BigLaw. #lawjobchat
1:46 am aellislegal: Q5: what BigLaw opportunities should current BL associates take advantage of while there?Anything u took for granted while there #lawjobchat
1:47 am allhomemortgage: RT @kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q4 The truth? My planning was take a HLOC, shop like a nut in LON + Paris. Quit my job. Take out a Small …
1:47 am dtoddsmith: @aellislegal @mjsq Q4: Planned several months. Kind of practice, biz dev strategy, insurance, systems. No gap between firms. #lawjobchat
1:47 am j_lavalley: IMO networking is necessary (if not sufficient) 2 making an effective transition. Local Bar Ass’n involvement can B a HUGE help! #LawJobChat
1:48 am kiangaellis: @mjsq @toddsmith #lawjobchat When I started thinking I shld get a job after 2 yrs w startup, quickly linked w GS. Derivatives helped a lot.
1:48 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat best BigLaw perk: Free #CLE. I still keep my license current & CLE is $
1:48 am aellislegal: YES! what I tell associates when they call me! via @doncruse: “if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now” #lawjobchat
1:49 am dtoddsmith: Q5: Training. Also, learn as much as firm will teach about biz development. On your own, work doesn’t just show up on your desk. #lawjobchat
1:50 am reneefishman: RT @j_lavalley IMO networking is necessary 2 making an effective transition. | Agree. But u should be networking no matter what #lawjobchat
1:50 am j_lavalley: @aellislegal Use it or lose it! Whether firm-paid CLEs, FSIA accts, or support for pro bono &/or Bar Committee work … take it! #LawJobChat
1:50 am doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q5 I’d say to take advantage of the networking opportunities a big firm presents.
1:51 am reneefishman: RT @doncruse: “if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now” #lawjobchat | Save even if you’re not contemplating a move
1:52 am lisasolomon: @aellislegal A gr8 source for free CLE is Virtual LegalTech. ABA will also have a virtual CLE conf. in the fall 4 solos #lawjobchat
1:52 am aellislegal: Q6: share a networking tip, resource, or organization that has helped u in your entrepreneurial endeavor #lawjobchat
1:53 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat Q5 I still see & speak w/many of my colleagues from Weil Gotshal & co where I was in-house. Many are my RE clients
1:53 am lisasolomon: @reneefishman @aellislegal My husb transitioned 2 new career (sound design/engineering), but keeps up his license. Vry valuable #lawjobchat
1:53 am kiangaellis: RT @j_lavalley: @aellislegal Use it or lose it! Whether firm-paid CLEs, FSIA accts, or support for pro bono &/or Bar Committee work … take it! #LawJobChat
1:54 am reneefishman: @aellislegal I am a big fan of @lawline for CLE. Great online classes. #lawjobchat
1:55 am aellislegal: RT @lisasolomon: gr8 source for free CLE is Virtual LegalTech. ABA will have virtual CLE conf. in the fall 4 solos #lawjobchat #lawjobchat
1:56 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 #networking tip always 2 talk 2 people even if u don’t think ur interested. I talked to recruiters from day 1
1:56 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q6 Honestly, the best resource to help me as an entrepreneur has been the Bible! Wld lose my mind completely without it.
1:56 am Tartipants: RT @reneefishman RT @doncruse: “if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now” #lawjobchat | Save eve… http://foook.com
1:56 am dtoddsmith: Q6: I think @doncruse would agree that blogging can be a difference-maker. Makes you visible. Good conversation-starter. #lawjobchat
1:56 am kiangaellis: RT @reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 #networking tip always 2 talk 2 people even if u don’t think ur interested. I talked to recruiters from day 1
1:57 am aellislegal: Final Q (though welcome to keep chatting): would u ever return to BigLaw? Any other advice u haven’t shared but wanted to share? #lawjobchat
1:57 am reneefishman: RT @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat #Q5 The rigor, pressure and complexity of performing at Big Law is so valuable. | Agreed.
1:59 am reneefishman: @dtoddsmith @doncruse #lawjobchat I don’t blog b/c no time to do it consistently. But Twitter, LinkedIn & FB help me keep in touch w/pple
1:59 am doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 Don’t assume friends/classmates know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better.
1:59 am aellislegal: Agree – recruiters can be referral source, too RT @reneefishman #lawjobchat #Q6 always 2 talk 2 people, I talked to recruiters from day 1
2:00 am aellislegal: @mjsq @reneefishman and, recruiters often refer clients to attys! #lawjobchat
2:00 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat I <3 what I do now & am passionate about my biz. BigLaw not for me. But some people like BigLaw & security offered
2:01 am kristahiner: @doncruse That’s an excellent point. It is easy to forget how valuable classmates are when starting a new venture. #lawjobchat
2:01 am BetsyMunnell: True fact: @reneefishman JD/BigLaw experience helps differentiate me; shows I’m intelligent in field w/low barrier 2 entry #lawjobchat
2:02 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat biggest misconception is that life after BigLaw is easier. NOT SO. I work much harder & longer hours now.
2:02 am mjsq: @doncruse Def! Send an e-mail to your contacts, let ‘em know what yr up to, start a mailing list, ask ‘em to join #lawjobchat
2:03 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Final Q I wld not return 2 BigLaw + after 10 yrs of back + forth, no more practicing 4 me. It’s a personal journey 4 each one.
2:03 am kristahiner: @reneefishman Wow, I am glad you said that; I foolishly assumed that was the reason many people left. Great advice. #lawjobchat
2:03 am aellislegal: Next #lawjobchat 7/29 9pm EDT. Follow @LawJobChat for topic, let us know your suggestions, comments, etc – doing this for you! #lawjobchat
2:04 am kiangaellis: RT @doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 Don’t assume friends/classmates know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better.
2:04 am mjsq: We’re also going to set up a #LawJobChat wiki. We’ll link to bios of past guests & have a place for follow up discussion, topic requests.
2:04 am kiangaellis: RT @BetsyMunnell: True fact: @reneefishman JD/BigLaw experience helps differentiate me; shows I’m intelligent in field w/low barrier 2 entry #lawjobchat
2:04 am dtoddsmith: On going back, never say never. But I like what I’m doing now. Much more control and satisfying for me. #lawjobchat
2:05 am aellislegal: Gr8 pt!! RT @reneefishman #lawjobchat biggest misconception = life after BigLaw is easier. NOT SO. I work much harder & longer hours now.
2:05 am BetsyMunnell: I’d like to chime in on Q5 (former 25-yr Biglaw partner/now bizdev coach 4 lawyers/students)? @aellislegal It’s a key question #lawjobchat
2:05 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat When u finally determine what u want to do, have the courage to follow that path, even if it seems scary. You will be rewarded.
2:06 am aellislegal: RT @BetsyMunnell: I’d like to chime in on Q5 (former 25-yr Biglaw partner/now bizdev coach 4 lawyers/students)? @aellislegal It’s a key question #lawjobchat
2:06 am dtoddsmith: @reneefishman Couldn’t have said it better. #lawjobchat
2:07 am doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 I’d just echo what Todd said. There are real advantages to a bigger firm. But I like what I’m doing now.
2:07 am reneefishman: RT @doncruse #lawjobchat Don’t assume friends know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better. | Gr8 pt
2:08 am BetsyMunnell: @aellislegal Q5 Before you leave, learn about the real world-if the firm is teaching this…Can you read a financial statement? #lawjobchat
2:08 am j_lavalley: RT @reneefishman: When u finally determine what u want to do, have the courage 2 follow that path….You will B rewarded. #TRUTH #LawJobChat
2:09 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Key is u have 2 determine what your skills r & what u like 2 do. Many lawyers do not want to be entrepreneurs. Too risky 4 them
2:09 am kiangaellis: @dtoddsmith and everyone behind #lawjobchat, this was really fun and I hope helped someone. Life is what you make it. No limits.
2:11 am aellislegal: HUGE THANKS to guest co-hosts @doncruse @dtoddsmith @kiangaellis @reneefishman – excellent info!! #lawjobchat
2:12 am mjsq: Yes, thank you to @kiangaellis @reneefishman @doncruse @dtoddsmith @aellislegal & participants – the 1st #LawJobChat rocked! #lawjobchat
2:12 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat #advice Most important is determine what u love 2 do. Understand what is involved – not just the glamour but also the grit.
2:14 am reneefishman: RT @aellislegal HUGE THANKS to guest co-hosts @doncruse @dtoddsmith @kiangaellis@reneefishman – excellent info!! #lawjobchat | Thx!
2:15 am reneefishman: @aellislegal & #lawjobchat participants THANKS for including me. Had a blast & hope I helped. Follow your passion & do what you love!
2:18 am kiangaellis: RT @reneefishman: #lawjobchat #advice Most important is determine what u love 2 do. Understand what is involved – not just the glamour but also the grit.