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Study finds those in tax law are most satisfied with their legal careers

Posted by: Laurence Simons 11/10/12

Scientists at Above the Law (ATL) have crystallised and distilled their ATL Insider Survey results and pushed them through a tube and coloured them green and spun them around in a vacuum and taken a break for a sandwich and then spat out the results. And what they have found is which particular area of Biglaw results in the happiest lawyers: tax.

Yes, tax. According to the ATL analysis of over 8,000 results, Davis Polk was the firm that topped the anonymous poll for lawyer satisfaction in April - but further analysis found that tax was the area that forged the most satisfied legal careers among Biglaw firms. When asked the question "If you had the chance to do it all over, would you choose to work for your firm again?", 89 per cent of those in tax would say 'yes, yep, yay', while following close behind were those in IP (85 per cent) and litigation (81 per cent). Bankruptcy came out dead bottom with 76 per cent. Boo, bankruptcy.

It's an interesting analysis into whether a lawyer's practice area has any influence into their overall job satisfaction that seems to indicate that yes, sort of, it does. But the ATL survey also managed to figure out which aspects of working life were most important to lawyers in the two largest practice groups, Corporate Law and Litigation. Prepare to sit down in shock, prepare for this: compensation came out near the top. But it wasn't the be-all and end-all: culture and colleagues were also deemed important by those in corporate and litigation practices. Morale, training and hours worked fared a little less well, but on the whole it seems Biglaw lawyers in the two main practice areas are a cheery, happy bunch. So: hooray.

But if you're stuck in bankruptcy and sick of sanctioning metaphorical kneecap beatings to various indebted companies, a lateral move elsewhere could be just the tonic - and according to, now is the time, what with that election thing that is going on.

As National Law Journal reporters Jenna Greene and Matthew Huisman note, there is sort of a weird revolving door between law firms and federal government that is spinning into overdrive in the run up to the election. "In the first half of the year, big law firms picked up at least 50 partners from various government agencies, bolstering their white-collar, litigation, corporate and securities and lobbying practices." Which means things in Biglaw are all a-jumble.

However, those looking to make the leap to the mixed-up world of private practice from in-house or federal government are going to have to bring their legal knowledge A-game if they are going to succeed. As Greene and Huisman explain, firms are "inherently cautious" about making job offers to those attorneys who come without a book of business - meaning they need legal know-how in spades or a track record of business development.