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Eeny, Meeny--Corporate or Litigation?

Vivia Chen

March 28, 2011

Fotolia_24986711_XS The Careerist is continuing its series on readers' queries. Today, recruiters Matt Schwartz and Avis Caravello respond to a question about choosing practice areas:

Dear Careerist,

I am going to be a summer associate starting in May and I have no clue what practice area I want to go into.  It would be helpful to know career consequences for going into corporate vs. litigation in regards to lateraling to another firm or going in-house down the road.

Will one have more opportunities than the other? Is one more lucrative than the other? And who tends to get more responsibility as associates--litigation or corporate lawyers? Any other concerns I should be aware of?

I know a lot of fellow 2L's asking the same questions right now.

Thank you,

2-L Prospective Summer Associate

Schwartz, a recruiter who heads Garrison & Sisson's associate practice group, answers:

You will find a big difference between the two career paths. If you are ambivalent about what you enjoy more, corporate will definitely provide you more careers options but comes with a bit more risk.

Corporate probably increases your in-house marketability five- to tenfold. Companies rarely have a need for a pure litigator. Most, if not all, major litigation is farmed out to outside counsel. A large company may need a litigator to manage outside counsel if their litigation docket is substantial.

In most companies, there's more need for corporate activities such as securities filings, corporate governance, contract negotiation and management, etc. Plus, companies are more likely to keep their work “in-house” on the corporate side since the stakes are often not as high as in litigation.

Corporate lawyers tend to receive much more responsibility earlier in their career than litigators. A corporate agreement does not have to be perfect to be effective. Corporate “wins” and "losses" are not nearly as easy to score. As a result, work tends to flow downhill; the goal is to get associates to a point where, after four to five years, they can run their own deals. Litigators, on the other hand, worry so much about losing a case and client that even midlevel associates are rarely given court appearances and exposure to depositions.

Corporate lawyers also have a slight advantage in making partner, particularly given that the in-house market takes many associates away from firms.

The downside in corporate is that the practice is very cyclical.  When a recession hits, corporate lawyers are often the first to be laid off. Litigation is much steadier.

 Caravello, a recruiter who specializes in partner placements, answers:

One of the most important things to consider when thinking about your long-term career goals is engineering your future mobility. Seniority alone in law practice does not guarantee career stability. The partners in private practice who have the most options and control of their destiny are those who have been successful in business development. I can’t emphasize enough that a partner without portable business will have far fewer, if any, options in the lateral marketplace compared to his/her peers who have significant and consistent client origination credits in their column. Client development is difficult and necessitates a considerable nonbillable time commitment over and above one’s billable requirements. 

That being said, choosing an area of practice that you are passionate about or at least enjoy will likely make the commitment required to be a rainmaker a more manageable and successful endeavor.

Readers, do you have any advice? Are long-term prospects better in litigation or corporate?

 Related posts: Dumping Law for Finance, When Your Mentor Is Not Into You, Is Your Recruiter Calling You Back?, Resume Tips for Oldies.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


Photo: Feng Yu / Fotolia.com

Comments

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I thought I wanted to do corporate for the reasons above, but then tried it and found it so dull I wanted to poke my eyes out. Litigation gives me a huge breadth of subject areas and I get to research new and novel areas of law. I am quite shy, as are many litigators I know, but you get used to having a different type of personality in the courtroom. The parties usually interest me more too - to a degree yo deal with individuals and their concerns, which I find more compelling than pure corporate transactions, Traditional in house opportunities may be limited, but there are opportunities in areas and I know many who've transitioned our of big law into other areas.

Only in the last sentence of this piece did Ms. Caravallo hit on the most relevant point - what do you want to do? What are you passionate about? Our research is indicating that students who enter fields that match their personality types (assuming they are cognizant of those traits) are far happier and more successful in their legal careers.
Dan Bowling
Duke Law School

Corporate law is often a "constructive" endeavor whereas litigation is almost always a "destructive" process. Suits are only filed when parties are mad at each other about some perceived wrong. Many lawyers find that the negative environment of litigation can be taxing. On the other hand, litigation presents opportunities for clear "wins" so it will be satisfying to the intensely competitive types in a way I do not believe a corporate practice can. You also need to be somewhat of a ham to enjoy and be good in a court room.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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