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The Law Firm Disrupted: Helping Pave a New Path Out of Big Law

The timing is fortuitous for Ex Judicata, a new online platform aimed at helping lawyers transition into non-legal jobs.

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The layoff chatter in recent months has been at a low murmur, certainly not a deafening roar. But there are slow practice areas, leading some firms to turn to performance improvement plans as a pretext for trimming headcounts, as my colleague Dan Roe reported last week. 

I like to think that firm leaders don’t enjoy getting rid of attorneys, and when pushed by circumstances would prefer to ease them out into waiting opportunities. Take the cuts announced by Cooley last fall, in which the firm promised severance as well as “other services” to help the transition. 

Neil Handwerker, a long-time legal recruiter in New York, told me that most firms do have proprietary employment platforms that allow their personnel to search and find jobs.  But when he approached a half dozen law firms with a new idea that he’d been working on, the response was unexpectedly positive. 

That new idea is Ex Judicata, which Handwerker describes as the first job board dedicated specifically to finding non-lawyer jobs for JDs. Handwerker and former ALM Events director Kim Fine rolled out the platform earlier this summer. 

“At first, we were worried we were going to upset law firms,” he told me. But that turned out to not be the case. 

“They said, ‘We’re looking for other platforms to help our JDs who told us they don’t want to stay with us and practice law, or when we’ve regrettably asked them to leave,’” Handwerker continued.

The distinction between his platform and firms’ existing resources is in the type of jobs that will be on offer. While firms resources are generally limited to finding opportunities at clients’ legal departments, the focus for Ex Judicata is specifically on jobs that take advantage of attorneys’ skill sets but no longer involve the practice of law. 

That’s an appealing option not just for people who might not be hitting their hours targets but also for those who are and remain unsatisfied. But the pitch isn’t just for frustrated young lawyers who don’t see themselves flourishing and want out sooner rather than later, it’s also for established partners. 

“They’ve reached the plateau, they’ve made enough money,” Handwerker said. And when he’d previously connected these veteran lawyers in his capacity as a recruiter, they were frequently asking, “What else do you have? Do you have a business job?”

That is, if they were even responding to him, given that for his traditional legal searches, 50 inquiries would generally yield roughly five callbacks. 

But the outcome was different when a Fortune 500 risk management company asked him to find bankruptcy partners from elite law firms for a new turnaround and recovery unit. Handwerker’s message this time was, “This is not a law department,” and the response was dramatically different: about 40 callbacks out of 50.

That was a sign that they were onto something. 

For Ex Judicata advisory board member Carolyn Renzin, now the chief legal and compliance officer at FanDuel, it was easy enough to jump from Big Law to a litigation firm and then in and out of legal and non legal jobs. 

“I didn’t really have an identity wrapped up in being a lawyer, so it wasn’t that hard to make that shift,” she said. But for many of her friends and colleagues in the profession, the idea of leaving feels like jumping off a cliff. 

“If you can change that narrative… it’s not jumping off a cliff, it’s just taking a different path and that path is as tired and true as the one you’re on and you just don’t know about it yet,” Renzin said, explaining a platform that lays out the existence of relevant non-legal jobs as well as offers asynchronous courses, career diagnostic testing and access to experts on personal branding and CV and LinkedIn presentation. 

While lawyers have always been looking for that different path, the dislocations and upheavals of the last few years have only increased curiosity about career avenues. And even as the pandemic recedes into memory, fresh motivating factors emerge. Like law firms that are aggressively pushing personnel back into the office. 

“I’m having lots of conversations with friends who are saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Renzin said. “This is a time when there’s a lot of evaluation of priorities.”

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