Why Lawyers Are Leaving Big Firms

I remember working for the largest law firm in one of the major US cities.  I actually spent the night on my office floor at least once or twice a week, getting through the – always – urgent projects that the “rain maker” partners brought into the firm from Fortune 500 companies.  We staffed all the matters very heavily.  Teams of senior down to mid-level and junior lawyers.  Occasionally the mega-team – tens of lawyers all working at document product requests and document reviews.  These were the really big deals, the kinds of cases and deals that made the financial news with some frequency.  Especially the scandalous and the crooked.  

The concept of work-life balance was non-existent.  One of the department heads had horses, taken care of by others.  Another had children, also taken care of by others.  Yet another had left his wife of many years, striking up with an associate  who had left her husband, because neither had time for any kind of a home life.  The schedule gets old fast and is grueling to an unusual degree.  

That’s why when COVID hit, lawyer’s were looking for a remote solution to the work-life balance, and that solution dropped into their laps from the very laptops, when their firms forbade returning to work during the lockdowns and various quarantines, private and public.  

The same lawyers who had taken big firm life for granted found themselves in a very different situation and loved it.  Parents spent time with their children, dog-owners with their dogs, and the satisfaction of meeting clients remotely in one’s boxer shorts via Zoom was discovered.  Even hearings and trials were conducted over Zoom.   The law was no longer such a harsh mistress.

This is in fact a model that has endured past the height of COVID.  It has resulted in the development of alternative solutions for the provision of legal services such as fractional general counsel services, where business lawyers are able to hire good business lawyers for a non-full-time but dedicated in-house position.  The fractional general counsel is in-house counsel who enjoys dedicated service to a company but only for a fraction of that attorney’s time.  The rest of the time is working in a dedicated way for other fractional general counsel positions with other companies.  The relationships are personally and professionally satisfying but do not burn out the lawyers.  

And from the client side, the relationship is much more fruitful as well.  Instead of having to deal with a lawyer and a faceless law firm whose main concern seems to be “billable hours” and where lawyers are not dedicated long-term to the specific business of the client and may be switched out routinely with other counsel based on availability.   

Instead, with the fractional general counsel model, small- to mid-size businesses get great legal counsel without having to hire the fractional general counsel full-time, while the lawyer enjoys the joys of remote law practice.  A win-win situation and increasingly the choice of many lawyers across the US.