Last month, I shared my thoughts about how Big Law offers a pathway to success and fulfillment in the legal field. I then shared the success story of Alyssa Moscrop, one of my mentees, and her experiences with Big Law recruiting. I’ve even published a book, The Law Career Playbook, which describes just how I got my Big Law job.
Now, I would like to share my own story through Big Law, a path that allowed me to make a leap from Big Law to being an entrepreneur.
I’m an alumna of UCLA and Southwestern School of Law and started my legal career more than a decade ago at the Los Angeles office of Jones Day. I still vividly remember my first day. I was in disbelief. There I was, a newly-minted attorney, nervous and inexperienced, hired by one of the best firms in the world. I thought to myself, I did it! All that hard work in law school, at networking events, over countless coffees and lunches, paid off. I’m finally here. But what do I do now that I have a job at Jones Day?
Nothing can really prepare someone for the actual practice of law. That was definitely true for me. But, by working in Big Law that changed and quickly. I knew early in my career that I wanted to do trial work, but I didn’t really understand what being a trial attorney meant. This changed when I had the privilege of working with some of best trial attorneys in my office. I saw these attorneys argue motions, take compelling depositions, and advocate for clients in open court. I was hooked.
I wanted to be just as good as they were. So I devoted my time to working for them, to learn under them. And those partners took me under their wings. They taught me how to write. They taught me how to pay attention to detail in my work. They taught me how to analyze issues, think critically and advocate effectively for Jones Day clients.
Even as a young attorney, I was frequently in court, often as a member of a close-knit trial team, representing individuals and corporations on a wide-variety of civil matters. Through these often intense experiences, I was able to forge and hone my skills as a litigator. I learned to distill complex issues into simple but understandable ones, to advocate vigorously and zealously for my client’s interest, and to always maintain my composure.
Leaving Big Law
So, why did I leave Jones Day?
Going back years, even to my days as a documentary filmmaker, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial itch. I’ve always wanted to go out and build something. I even built a blog, breakintobiglaw.com, while still at Jones Day. But I wanted more. I wanted a chance to construct my own platform for providing excellent legal services to clients and I wanted to create unique opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurial lawyers who might want to join me.
In 2017, I found the perfect opportunity and jumped into it without looking back. Liang Ly LLP, my firm, is a boutique litigation firm, started by two former Jones Day attorneys (and my friends), Jason Liang and John Ly.
They founded Liang Ly in 2015 because they wanted to be entrepreneurial while being able to provide high-quality legal representation for their clients. By 2017, their business had grown and they were looking to expand. To them, I was the ideal candidate who possessed the requisite litigation experience, attention to client service, and professional background.
To me, Liang Ly was the perfect fit because I was able to work in a successful startup and in the company of friends who would encourage me to be more entrepreneurial. So I did not hesitate. After more than 10 years at Jones Day, I had enough confidence in myself and my abilities to leave the comfort of Big Law, and to bet on myself and my friends.
It turns out that joining Liang Ly was one of the best professional decisions I’ve ever made. We are friends first and colleagues second. And this makes a big difference. Jason and John are endless sources of support. We collaborate seamlessly. We strategize together. We laugh a lot. We push each other. And we hold each other to the highest standards. It helps, a lot, that the three of us “grew up” together in Big Law, and were all battle-hardened through the same training regimen. That common experience means that we understand each other and we know what it means to provide excellent service to our clients.
And in the past two years, I’ve grown so much more as a litigator. I’ll spare you the war stories except to say this: I’ve now experienced firsthand those terrifying moments when a judge issues the tentative and it is against my client and I have to (and do) convince the court to change its mind.
It is now me in the courtroom making that winning argument; me taking and defending depositions and me in the lead counsel’s chair. I am doing it. I’m running cases from client intake through case resolution. And it feels so good.
Rachel Gezerseh is the author of The Law Career Playbook, and a partner at boutique law firm Liang Ly LLP, where she focuses on complex commercial litigation in federal and state courts. Previously, she spent a decade as a business litigator for Jones Day in Los Angeles. She is the creator of the Break Into BigLaw blog and recently joined the faculty at the University of Southern California as an adjunct law professor.