The Top Reasons Why Money Is the Dumbest Thing Any Attorney Should Focus on When Joining a Law Firm

Text-only Preview

The Standard in Attorney
Search and Placement
Article of the Week from Harrison Barnes
The Top Reasons Why Money is the Dumbest Thing Any
Attorney Should Focus on When Joining a Law Firm
Summary: Learn why money should never be your first focus when you are trying to
decide which law firm you should join.
One of the most dumb and detrimental things I see among law students, associates and
partners is a consistent focus on money above all else. More often than not, this focus
destroys careers—and even lives.
As a preliminary matter, it is important to understand that the practice of law is about far
more than money. Maintaining a career in law requires an emphasis on factors other than
money. When attorneys put themselves in positions where money is overemphasized, they
tend to find their spirits crushed. They end up unemployed, underemployed, or bouncing
around between jobs.
See Never Focus on the Money: Focus on Your Higher Purpose and Contribution
for more information.
Money and being rewarded for your efforts is important, of course. But some things are
more important than money, such as:
Continuing to practice law
Liking the people you are working with
Advancing and not losing your job
Maintaining your health and sanity
Having a family and a life outside of work
Being happy and not feeling threatened all the time
Being productive and working on matters you care about
The Standard in Attorney
Search and Placement
People who decided to practice law used to aspire to careers where they could work with
like-minded individuals who wanted to protect and advance them. These supportive co-
workers and superiors would give them interesting work, help them generate business,
be friendly with their families, be there for them when things were good and not so good,
and make them feel like a part of their own families. When you work at that kind of ideal
firm (and they do exist!), with a group of like-minded people, you wake up each day feeling
confident and good about yourself, your common mission and your prospects.
See the following articles for more information:
Love What You Do
You Need to Enjoy What You Are Doing
These qualities are very important in a firm and their significance cannot be underestimated.
It is important for people to feel valued, protected and safe. Attorneys who work in these
kinds of firms enjoy the practice of law, are happier at work and outside of work, look and feel
better, are healthier, live longer, and have better and more satisfying careers all-around. They
have far fewer psychological problems than attorneys grinding away at other firms where
money is the ultimate and only motivating force. Do you want to spend your days (and nights)
with a bunch of people you feel threatened around, who are hostile to your advancement and
One of the interesting things I see all over the United States is the dichotomy between very
developed and not so developed markets. Examples of very developed markets are Los
Angeles, San Francisco-Palo Alto, and New York City. Examples of less-developed markets
are Sacramento, Detroit, and Rochester-New York. There are major distinctions between
these markets and they are crucial to understand. What happens to most people who join
one market and not the other is profound because the career trajectories are so different.
If you join a major law firm in a market like Palo Alto, the odds are very good you will not
be working there a few years hence. If you are still working there after a few years, there is
The Standard in Attorney
Search and Placement
a strong possibility that your firm may have changed its name or absorbed a smaller firm,
that the people you started work with will be gone, that there will be many new faces, and
in general a lot will be different with the firm from when you joined there. Very, very few
people will spend their entire careers with that law firm because that is not what people do.
They will go in-house or to other law firms. Partners will be lured away for money. There
will be few older partners in the law firm and certainly very few people in their 60s practicing
If there is a market slowdown, the firms in Palo Alto will let thousands of attorneys go.
These kinds of firms are run like well-oiled machines and hire and fire very quickly. The
human toll is meaningless to them. It’s all about the money. When you sign up to work
for large firms in any major city you are making this trade off. When things get tough, and
they always do, you will be cast out on the street and have no one to protect or shepherd
you through. Countless careers come to an end in these law firms when the market slows.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a partner, associate or counsel. When the gravy train stops so
does your job—and often your career. Droves of talented attorneys around the country
stop working after every recession—especially in large markets. Recessions and work
slowdowns ALWAYS come, and when they do many attorneys lose their jobs.
Conversely, if you join one of the larger law firms in a major market like Detroit, things will
be far different. Detroit is not a giant legal market and firms there do not traditionally hire
too many people. People that join such firms typically do not have a lot of options to move
to similar firms later on, as the market is smaller. There are less than 10 prestigious, large
law firms in the entire city.
Because it is a smaller market, the salaries are not competitive with major Chicago law
firms. Attorneys that go to work at Detroit firms hunker down and generally plan on staying
with the same firm if they can. There is more loyalty, more emphasis on cooperating with
peers, more emphasis on training, and more emphasis on not burning bridges. (Detroit is
a bit of a small town). Moreover, the law firms do what they can to protect their own. They
do not over-hire during excellent economies and then lay off a bunch of people when the