Is it possible to move to transactional work as a fourth-year litigation associate at a big firm?
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I'm a fourth year litigation associate, currently practicing in a large, AmLaw firm. I'm contemplating a move to transactional work. Is it possible to make such a transition at my level?
We receive this question fairly frequently at BCG for a number of reasons, primarily due to the strength and durability of the corporate market and the spotty hiring in litigation. Whereas litigation hiring has been somewhat uneven since the 2008 economic downturn, corporate hiring has remained strong in most markets nationally and is currently at the strongest it's been in years. As a long-term career decision, it make sense to consider such a move as hiring indicators demonstrate that hiring in big firm litigation will take years to rebound and corporate hiring shows no signs of slowing down. There also tend to be more in-house opportunities for corporate attorneys.
That said, the transition can be a tricky one. Big law firms are notorious for career tracking their associates in silos. Most firms pigeon hole their associates into one practice or the other from the beginning of their legal careers. Although some firms offer rotations in all practice areas, for those that do, it is expected that associates will settle into either a transactional or a litigation practice by the end of their first year. For all AmLaw firms, the general rule is that by the time you are in your third year or practice, you're pretty much committed to either transactions or litigation-and making a transition at that point can be challenging. Not impossible, but challenging.
Most attorneys who are past their third year but wish to make such a transition generally have better luck pursuing opportunities at mid-sized and smaller law firms. Such firms tend to cater to attorneys who have transactional and litigation interests, as attorneys working in small firms tend to have more variety in their practices. There is even the expectation that attorneys working in smaller firms will be expected to handle a variety of litigation and transactional matters. There is far less siloing in smaller firms than in larger AmLaw firms so if you wish maximize your chances at making the transition, begin exploring opportunities at mid-sized regional firms and work your way down to smaller firms.
The search for the right firm in this instance should begin with networking and availing yourself of the many resources that already exist. Legal recruiters can be invaluable sources of information in such a matter as they can assess your current skills set and the state of the market to give you a realistic assessment of what is possible-and where. You can also contact your law school's career services office and peruse LinkedIn to find law school alums in your geographic area who are practicing in smaller firms in the practice areas in which you have an interest. Although not an easy transition, the recruiters at BCG have helped attorneys make the move from litigation to transactional work with firms that are equipped-and even designed-to accommodate both sets of interests.
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