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Big firm not working for you? Try a small one. I did. Feel stifled by private practice? Try public service. I did. Hardships of government service got you down? Head back to private practice. I did. Not all at the same time, of course. But I’ve spent the six years since graduating from law school trying to figure out where my law degree and I should hang our shingle. My father despairs of me, my friends claim to envy me, and I’m starting to worry that I won’t be able to keep track of all my retirement accounts in my old age. But I still keep looking for that elusive perfect job that uses all of my many talents and makes me sing in the shower in the mornings. I’ve learned something about myself at every job I’ve left: At Cravath, Swaine & Moore, I learned that by the time I’ve been working for 36 hours straight, any little thing will send me to the bathroom, sobbing. At the New York County District Attorney’s Office, I learned that I can work with a weeping 6’6” man handcuffed to my filing cabinet. And at a boutique entertainment law firm, I learned that even if the plaintiff is Julie Andrews, a medical malpractice case is still a medical malpractice case when you get right down to it. Actually, it’s a little bit worse than a noncelebrity case because in most of those cases you’re actually allowed to speak to your client. As far as I could see, nothing I did at Cravath had any effect on any of the giant pieces of litigation I was working on. I had what sounds like a great first two years: I took depositions, I managed some fact finding, and I had a lot of client contact. But I couldn’t get past the sheer magnitude of the cases. At one point, I called every single cable company owned by Time Warner to get the answer to a question that ended up being a few throw-away facts in a brief with hundreds of pages. (I’ll never forget collating that thing — associates, partners, and paralegals all gathered together, carefully making sure none of the hundreds of copies had any upside-down pages.) I respect that kind of work. I’m a wicked proofreader and a ruthless perfectionist where appropriate, but I wouldn’t say that I like it. At four in the morning, I like it even less. There is little perfectionism and no time for throwaway facts at the DA’s office. When attorneys are dealing with anywhere from 40 to 120 cases at a time, the court has had to learn to live with upside-down pages. At that job, I never once presented or argued a case where I didn’t believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty — a luxury I’ve never seen in any other job in litigation. I never had to try to get impassioned about an issue knowing that if the other side had hired us, I’d have had to get just as passionate the other way. In fact, the DA’s office is the greatest job for a litigator in many ways. You get autonomy, time in court, the illusion of glamour, and relatively fast and concrete results compared with the average civil case. The understaffing means that even if you’re working with a colleague on a case, you’re handling 20 of the witnesses — rather than three pages of the reply brief. You can negotiate with defense attorneys and judges to come to a fair resolution. People are actually interested in hearing about what you did with your day, or at least in having you explain to them once more the exact nuances of New York’s marijuana laws. (Well, that’s what people I know wanted, anyway.) Unfortunately, it’s also among the most underpaid and unappreciated jobs any lawyer can have. Most witnesses to most crimes — even the victims — want nothing to do with law enforcement, and those that don’t mind being involved at the beginning of things do mind 18 months later when the case is finally coming up for trial. I specialized in domestic violence, which is not an area known for its cooperative witnesses, and eventually the endless litany of sad stories took its toll. I was avoiding the calls of the witnesses who thought I should prosecute cases I couldn’t prove, while frantically chasing the witnesses — neighbors, doctors, relatives — we really needed to try to resolve truly dangerous situations. Suddenly, the chance I could help one person didn’t outweigh having to deal with all the ones who didn’t want our help. I have to admit that I also wanted my perks back — carpeting, windows and floors that had been cleaned within living memory, a desk without mousetraps, and the money to buy decent clothes, plus a place to wear them. I never appreciated any of that until it was gone — nothing makes a tough job tougher than doing it in a filthy office for no money. When that boutique firm offered me more than double my salary, a lovely office on Fifth Avenue, and the chance to work on cases that involved Bruce Springsteen, I jumped. (I also got Springsteen tickets, but even I wouldn’t change jobs for that.) Inaccessible celebrity clients turned out to be a minor annoyance compared with the difficulty of returning to civil litigation. Most of the clients were still big companies in the entertainment industry, and their unspoken goal was to make a case move so slowly that the plaintiff would run out of money. Everything was combative, everything was challenged, and there was nothing to be gained by being reasonable. There were also moments when the hours rivaled Cravath’s, with this important difference — if you stayed late to finish a brief, you also proofed it, input the changes, and faxed it or waited for the FedEx pickup. There was one paralegal, there were rarely night secretaries, there was no all-night mailroom. It all came down to you. Finally, in my most recent move, I found another ex-lawyer to take a chance on me and I fled. Now I work for a small executive search company that’s focused on the tech industry, and I do a little of everything — I work with clients, I write contracts, I try to develop the business. Law is a tool that I can use to inform our company’s decisions, make a partnership, or ink a deal, and I like it that way. No billable hours, very few late-night emergencies, and tech clients who hire us when they need us to find an executive with a certain experience — so they’re always happy when we call. I can imagine taking another job where the proportion of law to business is different, but I can’t imagine I’ll ever go back to just plain law again. Even on the days when law is the main course, I’m thrilled to have an appetizer and dessert as well. K.J. Dell’Antonia is managing director at Sunny Bates Associates and Riverside Ventures. She can be reached at [email protected]

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