Career Advice from a BigLaw Refugee: Stop Whining, Find a Cause You Love, and the Money May Follow
Photo by Ron Aira
Former BigLaw lawyer Ted Frank made a career change and learned a lesson in the process: There’s lots of “low-hanging litigation fruit for the picking.”
Frank has more work than he can handle after starting the Center for Class Action Fairness in 2009 to represent consumers challenging class action settlements. Litigation opportunities abound, Frank writes at PointofLaw.com, and jobless law grads should take note.
“The Above the Law blog is filled with complaints about the legal job market,” Frank writes. “It’s too hard to find a high-paying job; the high-paying jobs require a lot of unpleasant unenjoyable time-consuming work. I may have had some sympathy for this a few years ago. Today, I just don’t want to hear it.”
Frank says he started his class-action nonprofit in hopes he could parlay the experience to “establish a law-school clinic and sneak onto a tenure track at an advanced age, and maybe do some good in the process. Then I discovered how much I like litigation when I have autonomy and don’t have to make arguments I don’t believe in, and discarded the idea of writing law-review articles no one would read.”
Frank, a conservative who endorses tort reform, sees lots of injustices meriting lawsuits, including Ivy League schools that discriminate against Asians, “lawless” Obama administration policies, and law-violating telemarketers. “Go, find clients, toil in obscurity and poverty for a few years, come out millionaires,” he says.
“Your career ideas don’t have to be my ideas,” he writes. “You went to law school for a reason; find a cause you love, and advocate for it, and, to the extent it’s not entirely crazy, the money will follow; even if it doesn’t, you’ll be happier,” he writes.
“Want to know a secret that will help you even if you stick around in (or decide to go into) BigLaw? The law is big. Really big. Too big for anyone to learn completely. There are millionaire lawyers who barely understand civil procedure, but they hire someone who sort of does or fake their way through it. Pick an area of the law and learn it thoroughly, thinking hard and skeptically about it. There’s no barrier to entry to reading cases and law review articles. Just by doing that, you’ll become one of the top 50 attorneys in that area, and the other 49 are earning good livings. …
“But stop whining. The minute you become a member of the bar, you’re a member of a cartel that permits extraordinary rents. And with 21st-century technology, you don’t need a lot of help to make it out on your own.”
Above the Law notes Frank’s post, but says it’s not so easy for some law grads to follow his advice. Not everyone has the skills to start a business, or the ability to find clients, and law schools aren’t training people in “the art of making money with a JD,” the blog says.
“You can live in Ted Frank’s world, where people ‘whine’ and ‘complain’ too much, and thus assume that individuals are the architects of their own failure,” Above the Law says. “Or you can live in my world where there are structural and institutional problems which hold people back who desperately want to succeed. Neither viewpoint is mutually exclusive, but I feel like it’s more important to make sure that people aren’t hobbled before we start yelling at them to run faster.”