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When Steven Beede graduated law school in 1990, he had no doubt that he wanted to be a litigator. Swayed by images from the media, he thought litigators did the glamorous trial work while corporate lawyers, well, first-year corporate lawyers, spent their days scouring documents for typos. But after seven years of dealing with belligerent adversaries, who were “uncivil from beginning to end” and filed meritless suits to boot (or so it seemed to him), Beede decided that corporate law had its advantages. “In the end, I didn’t cotton to litigation,” said the 39-year-old associate. “I wanted to do something more constructive.” Beede, who has been at New York’s Proskauer Rose since 1993, was prepared to look for a corporate job at another firm when a partner urged him to change departments. Feeling he had nothing to lose, in 1997 Beede requested a move to the corporate side of the firm and Proskauer obliged, but at a price: he gave up four years’ seniority. Among litigation associates, Beede was hardly alone in his discontent. In a “new economy” heady with the promise of technology, many lawyers are saying they would prefer to help build businesses than spend their days in endless, wearying battle. That Beede changed practices within his firm, however, was unusual. Proskauer partner Robert Kafin said that radical career changes among associates are relatively rare. “I find that we seldom get requests,” he said. Kafin added that it is difficult for an attorney with only litigation experience to suddenly do corporate work without significant retraining, which can translate into loss of seniority. However, while Proskauer would prefer to have lawyers change departments than leave for other firms, lawyers determined to change practices do sometimes end up going to other firms. At Proskauer, exit interviews showed that two of 50 associates who left, or 4 percent, did so because they wanted to change departments. A recent survey by the National Association for Law Placement shows that almost 10 percent of associates who leave a large law firm go to another equally large law firm in the same city. While the survey does not examine how many of those people changed practice groups, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the desire to change fields is behind at least a portion of the moves. Recruiter Nancy Klein, of Klein Windmiller, said the most common reason she hears from associates who want to change firms is that they want to change practice areas, mainly from litigation to corporate. Most, like Beede, are prepared to give up seniority to do so, she said. Switching departments within a firm can be difficult politically, added Klein, because people are afraid they will offend the partners in their department. “Even making the request can create bad will,” she said. Although a number of firms say they are open to lawyers changing career paths, associates can be too fearful of reprisals to make the suggestion. At New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, director of associate development and recruiting Liz Reichard said the firm would rather accommodate people than have them leave, but that some associates are skeptical about requesting a change. “I just had an exit interview with someone who left for that reason,” she sighed. “People are afraid to speak up. It’s human nature.” When associates do move within their firm, they face not only a possible loss of seniority, but also a steep learning curve. “The first six months were tough; I did a lot of reading on the side,” admitted Jared Gurfein, who several years ago moved from litigation to corporate law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Like many who leave litigation, Gurfein found the constant posturing and antagonism stressful. He also believed he would have more opportunities with a corporate background, and in fact is now in-house counsel for one of Skadden’s clients. Legal consultant Susan Raridon Lambreth, of Hildebrandt International, has seen a general trend away from litigation and towards corporate work. Many associates, she said, leave law school unprepared for the realities of practicing law and find they do not like the constant adversarial nature of litigation. Lambreth said she believes it is incumbent on firms to encourage people to change practice areas rather than leave, especially since firms today are plagued by high attrition and need more transactional associates. At least one California firm agrees. Last year, the San Francisco-based McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen extended an invitation to associates wishing to move from the litigation to the corporate department. Six litigation associates took the 275-lawyer firm up on the offer and started doing the corporate securities work that the firm’s dot-com clients required. Partner Geoffrey Howard said that although the firm has “always tried to be as flexible as we can be,” the Silicon Valley lawyer shortage led McCutchen Doyle to become more open to new staffing ideas. In an unusual development, the associates making the move did not lose seniority or pay. “The skills they learned as litigators were not going to be useless to them as corporate lawyers,” explained Howard. While he is a dyed-in-the-wool litigator, holding that “there is nothing that compares to being on trial,” Howard admits that corporate work these days has taken on a glamour all its own. “In Silicon Valley, with the dot-coms, there is a certain excitement to the work that almost rivals the excitement of trial.”

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