I recently caught up with a friend and former colleague from my law firm days. He (or she!) is currently working for Axiom, the ‘new model’ firm which we recently profiled here. I asked her (or maybe ‘him’) for the Axiom insider’s perspective:
Do Axiom attorneys really “have more time for themselves”?
Yes, definitely. Working with Axiom feels like a normal/real job. I pick up my work when I arrive in the morning and leave it in the office when I go home in the evening. There are NO work/voice messages/emails in the evenings, on weekends or while on vacation—ever. And I have normal work hours, around 9 to 6 or 6:30.
How much of the time are Axiom lawyers on-site with clients?
Most Axiom attorneys work on-site with clients full-time during normal business hours. I believe only a very small number of attorneys work from home.
If they are on-site, and the client needs something ASAP, how does that really differ in terms of pressure to produce?
I can’t speak to every single Axiom assignment, as experiences and environments may differ, but generally, (i) the pressure in an in-house environment is less than at a law firm—in-house attorneys often have a different understanding about what is considered “normal” response time, (ii) often you are hired to work on a particular project, do a specific type of work, or work with a small group of people; multiple unreasonable deadlines are a lot less likely in this type of environment, (iii) as you are seen by the client as something like a consultant, there is a certain “arms-length”, respectful relationship (i.e., the client does not feel they are your “boss”) and the client may be hesitant to make unreasonable demands or arbitrary deadlines in this context.
How is firm culture/life in a place where there is little shared office time? Do Axiom attorneys actually care about culture, or are they just happy to have their own lives? Is such work more for the “lone wolf” type?
I don’t think there is very strong cohesiveness or firm culture, as you may not see other Axiomites more than several times a year at Axiom events. I think that Axiom has been trying to address this issue. Still, there is a strong feeling of belonging to a successful organization that is growing, vibrant and pushing the envelope in terms of legal services. The job definitely works for the “lone-wolf” type (or for people who have social lives outside of work) but need not be for the lone-wolf exclusively. You can connect with client personnel and employees that you work with on a day-to-day basis, just like any other in-house attorney can.
The money issue: in your opinion, do Axiom attorneys feel that they are well-compensated?
Personally I feel it is adequate and fair compensation, but certainly it’s a subjective question and opinions will differ. I believe there are few (or no) places where an attorney will get this level of compensation for this type of work (i.e., normal hours, chance to do quality legal work at a highly-professional level in a humane work environment, ability to experience different work environments and varying types of assignments over time, etc.).
Do you anticipate that Axiom’s model will rival the traditional private practice model any time soon?
Personally I don’t think it can rival traditional firm practice in certain areas. Large firm expertise, which is both deeper (partners who have very extensive experience in just one or two very particular areas) and broader (ability to gather experts in many different areas of the law, who each have a small part in a large transactions, as well as the ability to staff large numbers of associates for short periods and on short notice) will always be needed for very large and complex transactions, i.e., those 50-page research memos analyzing every last area of a complex legal question or for similar large-scale legal projects. However, I believe Axiom-style legal service will grow in certain areas (for example, the more mundane and common areas, such as contract review, small and standard M&A projects, standard securities work, etc.) as the word gets out and clients become more comfortable with the concept.
In reference to the Axiom model, a Stanford law professor was quoted as saying “If this is your ambition, you should twice about coming to a school as challenging, difficult and expensive as Stanford.” Would you ever consider going back to a big firm, and if so, do you worry that you will be regarded as having taken the “easy” way out?
I personally believe that this job beats the hell out of working for a law firm, and I would not want to go back. I’ve seen a number of surveys indicating that a majority of in-house attorneys would not choose to return to law firm life. My guess is that this is also true for Axiom attorneys. Once you’ve tasted this it is probably hard to go back—for most attorneys.
So, make the case for Axiom being preferable to the conventional BigLaw path.
The hours are much more favorable. There are no nights and weekends, period. Also, it is much less stressful even while you are in the office. You can also take relatively long vacations between projects if you wish, with no work pressures, emails, etc. Vacations are unpaid, though.
People I have worked with were generally very respectful (just my own experience—can’t speak for others).
There is no billable hour. On most Axiom assignments you essentially get paid by the day, which makes a surprisingly big difference. You are actually getting paid for every day that you are at work (at a law firm there is no extra compensation specifically for staying the weekend or extra hours at night).
You have an ability to vary your assignments, i.e., you can do contract review for several months and then an M&A transaction or securities work, etc. (based on your experience, of course). This keeps you from getting bored. Also, if it turns out you don’t like the people you are working with—no worries, it’s likely a short-term assignment and you will be on to something else in a few months!
You have the ability to be an “old-world” professional attorney, taking pride in knowing your area of the law and doing a good job because you actually have the time and mental wherewithal to focus on learning and honing your craft.
On the contra side, I would agree that law firm work can often be more challenging. Of course, firms also offer greater compensation and the potential for partnership.
-posted by brian
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