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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. I never thought that someday I would reflect on how Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” influenced my life as a lawyer. But each time I read the words aloud, I realize how much they define who I am as an attorney. A fourth-year associate at Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt, a medium-sized defense firm in Philadelphia, I made the decision during my job search to take the road less traveled. My classmates and I were faced with a strong economy that embraced a record number of students graduating from law school. We also witnessed the salary wars that took over the front page of the paper. The large firms in Philadelphia were significantly increasing salaries for first-year associates to prevent them from traveling to New York or Washington, D.C., for higher salaries. I had the option of competing in the large-firm market, but I recognized that I wanted to join a firm where I could build my career and practice for the duration. After practicing at a medium-sized firm for four years, I can say that I have never had a regret. I have gained a tremendous amount of experience that I know I would never have gotten at a large firm. The associates at my firm are fortunate enough to have extensive training from a partner in their department. This means that whenever I have a question or need advice, I have the luxury of walking in to the office of the partner I work for and discussing the case and developing a strategy for litigation. I have also been able to deal directly with the firm’s clients. At many firms, the partners are strict about the interaction between associates and their clients. At my firm, associates are encouraged to develop relationships with existing clients and to foster relationships with future clients. This means that I have the opportunity to use the firm’s season tickets for a sporting event or to meet a client for lunch. Because I have been able to deal directly with many clients, I now have clients requesting that I handle their files. Of course, there are many challenges that attorneys in medium and small firms face. For instance, in addition to lower salaries, medium and small firms often do not pay fully for bar dues, CLE credits and other perquisites that most often are paid by the large firms. Large firms can afford to be more supportive of nonbillable activities, such as bar association work, while small firms, out of necessity, take a more bottom-line approach. I am not suggesting that I have not become envious in the past year when reading about the rising salaries at the large firms. It was tempting to leave my firm behind and pursue a big-firm life with a big salary. It would equate to paying off my student loans faster and moving in to my dream house. But it was at that time that I realized the value of working for a firm the size of mine. Were I to leave my firm, I would be sacrificing what I believe are the things I love most about being an attorney. Once I made that realization, when I saw the articles regarding the salary wars, I read them and then turned the page without looking back. Now that I am approaching the end of my fourth year with the firm, I am observing the downturn of the economy. The stock market has not been stable, and many dot-coms are going belly-up. Instead of reading about the salary wars in the paper, I am learning about those same large firms downsizing. While I recognize that this will not be the last time I observe a change in the economic climate during my career, I’m glad that, for the time being, I am secure in my position with the firm. I cannot predict what is ahead in my future as an attorney, but I can tell you that so far, my experience has made a difference in who I am — professionally and personally. Melissa Schwartz is an associate in the law firm of Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt. She is a member of the executive committee of the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

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