Legal Career Resources

Legal Practice Areas Burn Out Eventually Before Picking Back Up
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cycle of life

Summary: Practice areas in law follow cycles of death and rebirth that can ruin an attorney’s career if they aren’t mindful and prepared to find a way to always be working.

Read Why Every Big Law Practice Area Eventually “Self-Destructs” at Least Once Every Eight Years to learn more.


A common trend in every legal practice area is for an eventual burn out. This eventual self-destruction tends to happen every eight years or so. Typical factors like economic forces, geographic forces, seniority of partners in the practice area, and others play a role in this occurrence. Harrison Barnes teaches readers that no one is safe because this happens in every area.

The amount of work that an attorney has is not an indicator of whether or not they will be safe from a slow-down. The work may be flowing and then suddenly stop, leaving the attorney out of work and out of a job. One of the hardest things an attorney faces is coming back from unemployment.

The area of litigation can easily self-destruct. Cases settle and the work dries up so the attorneys on those cases then find themselves short on billable hours. The life cycle of litigation is easier to follow because it goes against the economy. When the economy gets slow, litigation gets busy.

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Corporate and tax law follow the economy. When the economy freezes, the corporate market also dries up. This event is usually so drastic that nearly all attorneys in the area are without work, especially those with lesser qualifications.

When interest rates are low, the real estate market is more active. Unfortunately, it is not known exactly when interest rates will dip so real estate attorneys are often left exposed once the rates jump.

Trademark is another area that will always self-destruct, which is partially why firms do not employ many in the area. Bankruptcy is extremely vulnerable to economic factors and depends highly on the clients.

Patent prosecution is dangerous because many firms rely on one client as their source of patent work. When that client leaves or the work for them slows down, there is nothing left for the attorneys to fall back on.

Labor and employment is similar to litigation work. When the economy is doing better and there are more jobs, there is less need to sue employers. The work needed to be done in this area can also quite often be handled by any attorney, so in-house counsel and cheaper local counsel can be used instead of the higher cost required with big law firms.

The best credentials will not always save you from getting cut from a law firm. Be on the lookout for warning signs that you could be laid-off by having a back-up plan when billable hours drop.





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