Biglaw associates face constant pressure when it comes to meeting their billable hour expectations — and that pressure can grow even more when an associate hopes to become a partner someday.
But with a professional life that depends on billing, sometimes work-life balance gets tossed aside and lawyers find themselves missing out on other important things, like staying connected to their families and their friends. Important milestones can pass you by in the blink of an eye unless you take a moment to evaluate where your life is headed. If you take a step back, you may suddenly realize that this is not the life you envisioned for yourself.
This is exactly what happened to Eli Albrecht, a former Gibson Dunn associate who recently turned down a partnership offer at another Biglaw firm. Albrecht had long dreamed of becoming a partner. But as it turns out, it wasn’t meant to be.
“Tell me this is not my forever.”
In a now viral LinkedIn post, Albrecht described how he threw himself completely into his work at his firm, bringing a sleeping bag to the office and leaving his family behind while he stayed there for days on end. In an interview with Above the Law, Albrecht said that he was billing between 2,500 and 3,000 hours each year. Unfortunately, while he was racking up billable hours, the family life he thought he’d built was crumbling. Here’s an excerpt from his LinkedIn post:
“[L]ife was happening outside of that high-rise office. My son took his first steps. My daughter cracked her first smile and said her first babbly words. My son was growing up and having crushes, and my daughters had dance parties I never saw. My wife built a flourishing business.”
Every breathless step I took toward that next title was a step that took me away from those I loved. I was losing touch with all life outside of that office and they were losing touch with me.
I came home one day and I was a stranger in my own house. I crumpled on my wife’s shoulder and said, tell me we can do better. Tell me this is not my forever.”
Albrecht had finally done it — Biglaw’s brass ring was nearly in hand, but it wasn’t like what he’d imagined. “I worked so hard to get the offer of law firm partnership,” he wrote, “and now that I am here, it is not what I want.”
With nearly 10,000 likes and more than 900 comments, Albrecht’s post hit home for many lawyers and legal professionals. It was his next step that may serve as inspiration for so many who may be be struggling in Biglaw and unwilling to make any more sacrifices when it comes to their personal lives: he decided that it was time to leave his firm. Albrecht wrote:
Today I’m turning down the pursuit of the Biglaw corner office. I’m turning down the offers for partnership at other Biglaw firms. Today, I am stepping off the hamster wheel.
The decision was not easy. I am taking a leap of faith. I am letting go of a certain and linear path to success and betting on myself.
Albrecht told Above the Law that he’d finally discovered that what he’d been pursuing for all those years was no longer worth pursuing. “Biglaw partnership is a mirage. I was pursuing this fantasy that turned out not to exist,” he said. “You don’t ever arrive at this magical place where you’re going to have time, and money, and the ability to engage deeply with your family while doing enriching work. It’s a mirage.”
The very next day, Albrecht announced that he had, in fact, taken up the partnership mantle — just not within a Biglaw setting. Albrecht is now a partner at SMB Law Group, a fully remote boutique firm that focuses on small and medium-sized mergers and acquisitions transactions. The firm, he says, is enabling him not only to to “do life-changing M&A work with real people,” but it’s also giving him the “freedom to control his own life.”
“The choice I made for my family could not have been a better one.”
SMB Law Group “puts family first,” he told Above the Law. “Having the option to work remotely is so critical for people who want to balance family.” Albrecht says he’s working just as many hours as he did before, but thanks to SMB’s remote platform, he’s now able to be more involved with his family. “I used to leave the house before they were awake and come home after they were asleep. Now, I can give my kids big hugs when they come home from school. I can help them bathe them and put them to bed. It’s a whole new life.”
“SMB is building a new model of a law firm and I want to be along for the ride,” Albrecht said.
Congratulations to Eli Albrecht on finally finding the partnership role he dreamed of, on his own terms. Are you thinking of “stepping off the hamster wheel”? You may find just what you were looking for if you decide to make the leap.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.