Law Students and Young Lawyers

There’s No Accounting for Distaste

When I started practicing law, I joined a firm which had one exceptionally large client and very many small clients.

The large client needed help with interesting transactions, sophisticated corporate reorganizations, financings with lots of zeros, and creative corporate structures. Large files with large billings.

The smaller clients brought simpler work such as incorporations, small business purchases, and simple shareholders agreements. Small files with small billings.

I had a colleague named Ed. In the beginning, the two of us worked for both the large client and the smaller clients.

Ed preferred the large client work. The deals were interesting and he enjoyed working with sophisticated businesspeople who knew what they were doing. The smaller clients frustrated Ed. They tended to be independent business owners who did not understand legal concepts. They needed lots of handholding, which Ed found tedious.

I, on the other hand, did not like working for the large client. Although the work was interesting, I hated working for middle management. I found that their prime objective was to get me to work as quickly and cheaply as possible to make themselves look good. When their bosses complained that things were taking too long, or if anything went wrong, they were quick to point fingers and blame it on ‘the lawyer.’

On the other hand, I enjoyed providing guidance to the smaller clients. I did not care if the work was less sophisticated, because I was doing it for real people who appreciated my efforts.

Eventually Ed took over most of the large client’s work and I dealt with most of the smaller clients.

I also knew a lawyer named Bob who left a national firm for a small boutique firm, looking for a better lifestyle. He found that there was a tradeoff. In exchange for having a life, he had to give up the opportunity to work on cutting edge legal matters and put up with doing less sophisticated, more repetitive work. That bothered him a little bit.

Although I handled some fairly sophisticated legal work in my time, I never minded doing simpler work. Even after thirty-five years, I was content to handle yet another shareholders agreement. I enjoyed meeting clients, finding out about their lives and goals, and crafting solutions and strategies to meet their needs. Even though I could do this type of work in my sleep, I preferred it to work which was more stressful and less appreciated.

People are different. Some, like Ed, need to be intellectually challenged. Others, like Bob, would prefer to do the more challenging stuff, but will trade off such challenges for lifestyle. And then there are people like me. The intellectual challenge is fun but almost never worth the accompanying stress, and the real satisfaction comes from the personal relationships.

Of course, let’s not forget those who are just in it for the money and could not give a damn about the rest of it.

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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