Weekly blog series about corporate immigration attorney and Law Firm Suites client, Neena Dutta, who left the Biglaw world (and paycheck) behind for the personal rewards of solo law practice.
In 2007, I start practicing at a large, multi-service firm, with a salary that matched my ambition.
By industry standards, it was a dream job.
Jobs like this one were not a possibility for me when I graduated from law school. I am not a pedigree person. I started my career just over three years earlier at a small general practice firm. The fact that I found myself working in such a prestigious place was a testament to persistence and hard work.
This firm was the firm: Midtown and multiservice. I was living the dream.
Yet I couldn’t ignore the over-whelming sensation that something didn’t “feel” right. Within a very short time of landing the last job, I left the warm cocoon of a steady paycheck for the uncertain world of legal self-employment.
This is my story.
My name is Neena Dutta and I am corporate immigration attorney.
I graduated law school in 2003 and within a few months after graduation was working for a general solo firm, which led to a small, boutique immigration law firm. I was eager, hard-working and willing to learn the nuances of immigration practice.
Sadly, it seemed no one there was that eager to teach me.
I learned immigration regulations the hard way: I studied. I read treatises, articles, regulation after regulation until I built a true foundation of knowledge. I concentrated on mastering business immigration, a very marketable niche. I attended CLE’s and joined as many bar association committees as I could.I learned a valuable lesson early on: learning and networking are two sides of the same coin. Click To Tweet
It was through my extensive networking efforts that biglaw found me.
After having “honed my craft” at a small boutique firm, I toyed with the idea of a larger firm, but still did not think I had the pedigree to be considered. I was wrong. (Lesson learned: Self-doubt is professional suicide.)
I received a job offer and started my Biglaw odyssey on New Year’s Day.
I won’t lie. It was thrilling.
I was assigned a secretary. I gave out business cards at partner lunches. I was still able to network heavily, and was bringing in clients for my firm.
It was at this job that I first thought about going solo.
But, the thought was fleeting. I wasn’t ready, but this is the topic of a future post.
My next firm let me spread my wings a little more. This firm was much larger, but the department was – well me. Bringing in new clients was a rush. I loved it, which incentivized me to network more, even if it meant working 80 hour weeks.
But, as good as the compensation was at this firm, I wasn’t getting any credit for bringing new clients.
Had there been more recognition for my efforts, which cost the firm nothing, I might still be there.
At first, I didn’t even know I wanted the credit. I only realized the desire for recognition in its blatant absence.
Professionally, I had made it.
My parents were proud. My colleagues respected me. My hard work had been validated. I was even getting cold calls from recruiters for bigger and better paying firms! It was like being picked first in gym class (something I had never experienced). But it was also like when Charlotte married Trey: Picture perfect, but broken and crumbling behind the scenes (yes, that is a Sex and the City reference). Something not quite right.
I began to feel more strongly that, for me, only through self-employment could I reap the rewards of my intellect, personal drive, work ethic and client retention skills. But I still wasn’t ready.
The biggest factor was financial.
A steady (and generous) paycheck handcuffed me to working for someone else.
Oddly, stability might be the most addictive of all drugs.
Plus, I liked going to pitch meetings with the weight of a Biglaw firm behind me. It gave me confidence that helped me land quality clients.
I inadvertently tested that theory when I made a pit stop at the last and final firm.Stability might be the most addictive of all drugs Click To Tweet
Much to my surprise, the majority of clients I had retained chose to follow me. I felt like a rock star.
I finally realized that clients weren’t hiring me because of the firm, but that they wanted to do business with me, no matter where I was. This was the final hurdle I had to mentally overcome. I wasn’t scared anymore.
It was liberating.
I resigned from that job, took some time off, braved a little storm called Sandy and did some research.
In December 2012, I hung my shingle out at Law Firm Suites
So far the firm is going strong. In some way, I always knew this was my lot in life. Since going solo, I’ve heard this from a number of other colleagues who have chosen the same career path.
But I also realize that practicing law as a self-employed professional is not for everyone (frankly neither is a Biglaw partnership track).
Through this blog series, my hope is that other lawyers who are feeling the way I did at my last Biglaw job get a glimpse of what life can be like on the “other side”, and that if self-employment is right for them, they find some inspiration to make their own move.
Neena Dutta is a corporate immigration attorney with the Dutta Law Firm, a firm she founded after leaving a Biglaw associate position with a prestigious New York firm. Neena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ shared law office space in Downtown, New York and her weekly blog series, The Dutta Diaries, explores the thought process that goes into leaving a Biglaw job for the world of solo practice, and her experiences since making this career altering shift.