How Some Gen Y Lawyers Are Steering Their Law Careers Around Their Personal Values and Leaving Big Law

Alina Lee, solo practice small law firm

Alina Lee is one example – a lawyer who left Big Law to settle for a Small Law Alternative

Alina Lee did well working for Big Law and then in-house at a corporate legal department, but at age 30, she’s started her own firm, Your Ad Attorney, motivated by a desire to practice law how she wants and according to her own personal values.

“I really want to use my legal skills to do more than help uber-rich companies with their bottom line and reducing their legal risk,” Lee said. “That’s where the money is, but there is so much more to life,” she said to Law.com

And her move to Small Law with her own firm, Your Ad Attorney, reflects what a growing number of millennial lawyers are doing as they look more to personal values when working out their law careers and what’s important to them.

Barriers to entry for solo law are easier today – more so than ever with the addition of key law tech initiatives and social media marketing initiatives.

And lawyers like Lee are doing the jumping themselves – there’s no pushing involved. Unlike the global financial crisis when a number of lawyers needed to leave their firms to hang their shingles elsewhere, these days the pressures are not the same to leave Big Law.

And the trend for more young lawyers making the move from Big Law is set to continue.

Now that law school students protest outside law firm offices for representing ‘old economy’ clients when younger lawyers are more focused on climate change, environmental issues and other matters of greater concern in the 21st century.

Big Law Security & Prestige

Earlier students were more focused on the security and prestige, which continues for many lawyers today, unsurprisingly. But Gen Y is bringing a change.

Gen Y lawyers are less defined by past generations and are more receptive to risk taking and following newer, non-traditional sources of work.

Many lawyers are seeking work that provides greater work flexibility and without Big Law pressures. But there are more lawyers like Lee who are setting up their own practices, unwedded to Big Law demands and prestige.

Your Ad Attorney was set up by Lee in February, providing advice helping local, national, and global brands comply with business and consumer laws – and advocating in roles as outside counsel and in-house corporate counsel.

Your Ad Attorney on LawFuel

After working for eight years in larger firms in Atlanta and then as in-house counsel working in marketing, tech and trademark law, including working with Atlanta-based mailing app Mailchimp and latterly working for the company that handled work for a natural gas operation, handling marketing and transactional work.

It was the work in that area that created some personal concerns, including worries about environmental and climate change matters.

“I felt that I was contributing to potentially irreparable harm to the environment,” she said. “I wanted to work for a company where I believe in what I’m selling.” 

She was attracted to Mailchimp’s mission to give small businesses access to the online marketing resources they need to flourish and joined as senior corporate counsel in 2020.

Lee wanted to work with small and medium-sized businesses, especially women-owned ones, which can’t afford high-priced firms.

She was also keen to advise on marketing and tech law matters, charging a flat rate and running her own operation in a way that provided flexibility to charge what she wanted.

“Billing by the hour—essentially telling clients you don’t know how much the job is going to cost—is very poor customer service,” she said. “If they can provide me with a clear scope, I can provide a flat rate.”

The Solo Law Advantage

There are increasing advantages to go solo for those lawyers who are tiring of their Big Law careers. Millennials are increasingly feeling empowered to make the small law move. Technology has removed the costly overheads that once helped inhibit such moves.

“People from smaller-sized shops are bidding and getting the work with companies that might not have considered them before,” said Raj Nichani of RMN Agency. “The legal market is getting a lot more competitive. It’s more about the talent and what you bring to the table and less about the old-school reputation [of a firm].”

How Some Gen Y Lawyers Are Steering Their Law Careers Around Their Personal Values and Leaving Big Law 6

Another Big Law alumni in Atlanta is Stephanie Everett who left a firm now part of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner to co-found Bloom Sugarman Everett (later The Bloom Firm). She recalls how things were different when she made that move in 2007.

“You had to buy servers, a phone system—and you had to have a fancy office downtown with a Peachtree Street address. That is what it meant to have a firm,” said Everett, who currently coaches small firm lawyers at Lawyerist. “Now the young lawyers I work with all work from home with just a computer and a few cloud-based subscriptions.”

Everett said a lot of lawyers, like Lee, start their own firms because they want to offer flat fees and subscription services. “They’re figuring out new business models. When you bill by the hour, it doesn’t encourage efficiency.”

There can be obstacles to going solo beyond leaving the security of Big Law. Making a legal career change like that can also create pressure on issues like paying down student loans too.

But Gen Y lawyers are also waiting longer to buy their houses and have children. And the lower overheads offered by technology and social media marketing opportunities, particularly with sites like LinkedIn, make legal careers moves like that a great deal easier.

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