Running from the law: Tales from Big Law refugees

Only a fraction of young lawyers eventually make partner. So where do the rest go? Here are a few who successfully left the profession altogether.

Where do law grads go?
Where do law grads go?

In a market where only 55% of legal graduates find jobs requiring law degrees within nine months of graduation, it's hard to feel bad for the 8% that managed to land a coveted $160,000 a year associate position at a big firm. But what the most recent employment numbers from the American Bar Association don't show is that those who land those spots have not won a guaranteed ticket to riches. Only a fraction of these young lawyers will make partner. Most will leave voluntarily long before that is even on the horizon. This is borne out in the high attrition rates at most firms. If a law firm hires 54 entry-level associates and that same year only announces four new partners -- as Cravath, Swaine, & Moore did in 2011 -- the expectation is clear: most incoming associates will eventually have to leave.

So where do all these lawyers go? While some open solo practices, head to boutique firms, or in-house counsel positions, many leave the profession entirely. Forty thousand attorneys leave the legal industry every year. Here are just a few of their stories. While these former Big Law associates have taken wildly different paths, with varying degrees of success, they each had two things in common. First, they all graduated law school with significant debt -- no surprise, considering the average debt of law grads has topped $100,000. Second, they all had essentially the same advice to others looking to get out: Just do it.

By Deena Shanker, contributor @FortuneMagazine - Last updated July 17 2012: 11:15 AM ET
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