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ATL’s David Lat on Contract Lawyering’s Appeal to BigLaw Associates, MSM Coverage of Legal Job Market

David LatThe last two posts here have focused on issues that arose in the wake of my participation in a panel discussion on alternative legal careers that was part of Getting Back in the Game: How to Restart Your Career in a Down Economy, a day-long seminar on June 16 sponsored by the New York City Bar and Vault.com. The day after the program, I noted that that the New York Times coverage of the program focused almost exclusively on the day’s first panel, which discussed how to (eventually) break back into a large law firm, and decried the fact that the ABA Journal’s coverage was similarly one-sided.

By contrast, I have been very favorably impressed with blogger David Lat’s balanced coverage of the event. (For those who may be new to the legal blogosphere, Lat is the founding editor of Above the Law, a powerhouse legal blog that receives over 6 million page views a month.) Although ATL is known for reporting primarily on BigLaw news (scandalous and otherwise), Lat devoted a detailed ATL post to each of the day’s four panels (Breaking Back into a Large Law Firm: How to Make Your Way Back into a Top Law Firm; Casting a Wider Net: Small to Mid-Sized Law Firms; Career Alternatives for Attorneys; and Start Up LLP: Creating Your Own Law Firm). In fact, Lat’s post on the Career Alternatives for Attorneys panel provided fodder for my most recent post, in which I respond to ATL commenters who complained about bar ethics opinions that allow outsourcing overseas.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lat between panels (he spoke on the BigLaw panel, adding some levity to an otherwise fairly grim discussion). When we continued our conversation via e-mail, he shared his views on some issues of particular interest to contract lawyers:

Solomon: I found it very interesting that there was so much interest among audience members in the idea of working as an independent contract lawyer (the first three or four questions for the alternative legal careers panel were about that topic). Do you have any insight as to why the (presumably) BigLaw associates in attendance would be particularly interested in taking that career path?

Lat: As the Biglaw world suffers through the downturn, lawyers from that world are looking for new modes of practice. They tried the safe path of going to a large law firm, only to find out that it wasn’t as safe as expected. In light of all the layoffs from large firms, folks are looking for greater independence—the ability to practice law regardless of what some management committee has to say about it. I think the independent contract lawyer model is appealing for these reasons.

Solomon: What are your thoughts on how the mainstream media covers the current legal job market?

Lat: While all media outlets, from the mainstream ones to the new ones, could always do a better job covering any given topic, I don’t have any huge objections to media coverage of the current legal job market. People are attracted to dramatic stories, and the fall of Biglaw is dramatic. That’s really all there is to it—I wouldn’t chalk it up to any kind of conspiracy.

While I continue to believe that the legal press should be spilling more ink on stories about, and of interest to, small firms and solos, Lat’s point about the drama of BigLaw makes a lot of sense: after all, good news (especially about the small guys) doesn’t sell many papers to the general public.

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