When I graduated from NUJS, a total 32 of my batchmates including me took up jobs in big law firms. Only about a dozen batchmates joined litigation.
I left my job at a big law firm after 12 months exactly. By then, around out of those 32, 19 other bright young lawyers had already left their lucrative law firm jobs.
What were they doing?
You guessed it right, a majority of them went into litigation. A few became judges and civil servants. But the most of the rest went into litigation.
Out of those 32, there are barely 4-5 still left in law firms. About 22 of them in total have shifted to litigation in some form or the other.
You may have heard that from NLUs most of the students go on to work in law firms and in-house legal jobs. In reality, while they join those jobs in the first few years of their career, a vast majority leave those law firm jobs in order to pursue litigation.
I am not even talking about all those who work at a law firm in their litigation or disputes teams. It is a preferred choice for many of those who actually want to work in law firms, but strictly in litigation or arbitration.
A search of intellectual challenge and boredom
It can be incredibly boring for some people to work in a law firm. I initially thought it is so only for junior people who are doing due diligence after due diligence pouring over hundreds of documents, but I soon realised that many seasoned law firm lawyers in senior positions have the exact same problem and they often venture out to do counsel practice.
Even very senior law firm partners have been known to do so. I am talking about pure play corporate partners, and not just litigation partners. Take Anand Prasad, one of the founding partners of Trilegal for example. Despite being a senior founding partner at a top law firm, he went into his own counsel practice in 2016. While we cannot say definitely that it was a search of intellectual challenge that made him leave a lucrative position, but many others who leave big law firms cite this as one of the biggest reasons.
Many law firm lawyers leave their job for something more intellectually satisfying, because they are tired of doing the same work again and again, like this NLS bangalore graduate who left Khaitan for a job that paid far less.
This is not the case with litigation lawyers. They face new challenges every time, and I have never heard any one of them saying that they are bored of doing the same work too many times!
One option may be to work in the litigation or arbitration team of a law firm. While some law firms at times pay a little less to those who work in the disputes teams, litigation teams at a lot of law firms are often the best teams to work for due to a variety of work, a lot of exposure to the highest levels of litigation practice in the country and intellectual challenge involved.
Arbitration work is usually known to pay more than litigation in most cases.
There is more money in litigation
Who earns more money, a partner in a law firm or a senior advocate at the Supreme Court? There are Senior Counsels who earn hundreds of crores. Even successful lawyers in a district court has make a few lakhs per month. You can charge 50k -1 lakh for a bail matter. One easily charges 5-10k per appearance and 15-20k for drafting in a city like Delhi or Mumbai, if not more, provided they can find their own clients. As you climb the ladder of seniority and build a powerful brand, you could earn many times that amount.
Successful litigators make a lot more money than a lot of law firm lawyers. While law firms give more certainty and security, litigators can earn more if they can build a practice. This is a lure that attracts many law firm lawyers to litigation.
Law firm lawyers find it easy to get referrals when they begin litigation
Law firm lawyers are polished, bring tremendous work ethics and quality standard into litigation. They are also more adept and networking and find it easier to land lucrative clients who respect their previous law firm experience.
They also have many friends in various law firms who have respect and camaraderie with them, and can hence start referring work to them. This is a huge advantage.
Law firm lawyers get into litigation because they want better control over their time, work-life and destiny
In most law firms, associates and partners are subject to the whims and fancies of a few partners or a single managing partner cum owner of the firm. While they can do professionally well on the surface, they may struggle with the burden of the ignominy of having no control over their time, working style, may have serious issues with the management style they are expected to enforce and may simply be tired of being told what to do. They are often expected to sacrifice everything else in their life at the altar of career and partnership.
This does not suit law firm lawyers beyond a point. One is lucky if they find a good boss, and may still be the victim of rampant politics. They dream of having their own set up, where they can do things more equitably and have more control over their time and life. Many lawyers simply want to get away from the toxic environments of the law firms they deal with.
Litigation is hard, but it has more rewards…
For a lot of law firm lawyers, litigation has its charm and while they are scared of the hardship they may face in the beginning, they are also attracted to all the perks of being a litigator, and especially the freedom that comes with it.
In a way, litigation is the entrepreneurship of the legal world. Those who want more risk and has an entrepreneurial appetite, often shift to litigation over time.
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