Leaving Biglaw

7PM. The hallway is empty. I walk by neatly organized desks and not-so-neatly organized offices. This is the last time I will be walking down this corridor for a while … Look down toward the Statute of Liberty one last time. Good bye from the top of NYC!


I have taken the almost unthinkable step: quitting a $200k job as an associate attorney at a big law firm without a replacement position. Am I crazy? Some friends sure think so. Who would give up such a sought after position that almost every law student fight for three years to land?

Best Job Ever Had

This is not the first time someone did this and it surely wouldn’t be the last. But people do it for different reasons. One of the most common reason is people hated working for large law firms — we call it “biglaw.” Actually, many people just hated the law period, so they are leaving to pursue whatever it is that they want to do in life. I applaud that.

But I am different. I had a great job. Sure we worked hard, had long hours, and dealt with incredible stress, but it was a great job compare to any other job I had. And I got paid a lot of money. It was definitely the best job I ever had.

I also loved the practice of law. It was great to be able to find answers and solutions for my clients. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to cut a client’s fire drill problem down to size and ultimately put the flame out. Nothing like it in the world.

Confused about why I left yet?

Following My Dream

The reason why I left, believe it or not, is that I love practicing law too much. I love it so much that I am constantly thinking about how I can improve and innovate so I can enjoy what I do better. Sounds like a decent thing right? But unfortunately biglaw is not the ideal environment for an entrepreneurial innovator. I feel constrained. I feel that I could do more and better by working outside of the box.

Now I completely understand why biglaw is big on tradition and inertia. Truth be told, if I ran a large law firm I would probably try to maintain a status quo too. That’s the nature of large enterprises — why fix something if it is not broken? And when firm revenues are hovering around all time highs, why change how they do business? (seriously, why?) The box is profitable.

So there you have it, biglaw is not entrepreneurial. It should come as no secret to anyone. But that is a unique problem to a unique group of businesses. What should entrepreneurs do when they need legal services? Should they have to choose big firms who can’t relate to their businesses and spirits?

So that’s why I left. I want to be the kind of lawyer I want to be and work with clients like myself — entrepreneurs and innovators. They are following their dreams, and I am following my dream by helping them.


Dafan Zhang

Dafan Zhang is the managing principal of Zhang Law PC. Known as the High Tech Counsel, Dafan's practice focuses on technology, intellectual property, startups, and litigation. Please visit www.hightechcounsel.com for details about his practice.