Nearly a year after Lynne Zagami was laid off from Brown Rudnick, she's back to work. After the third-year corporate associate was let go in a round of firings at the Boston-based firm last November, she spent 11 months scrambling to find a new job. (Zagami's job search efforts were chronicled in a story in The American Lawyer's August issue and also in this video.)
On Monday, Zagami began her new job as the director of client strategic processes at Brightleaf Corp., a startup company based outside of Boston. Brightleaf's six employees in Massachusetts and 30 employees in India are developing software to streamline document production in law firms and in-house legal departments.
Although Zagami won't be practicing law, she will be using her legal expertise to create software for lawyers who are. We spoke with Zagami about her new job, why she thinks the big firm model is broken, and whether she'd ever go back.
Q: How did your job search lead you to Brightleaf?
A: I had been interviewing with three companies that were vastly different opportunities. One was a junior role at a midsize financial services company doing a lot of public company work. Another was at a more entrepreneurial company where I would be doing contracts. And then there was Brightleaf, which was totally different, and would be a step away from practicing. It is a company that is trying to capitalize on a lot of problems that exist in larger law firms.
Q: What is Brightleaf doing to solve problems at larger firms?
A: When you are a first- or second-year associate at a big firm you do a lot of document editing. It ends up being very mundane. It's also risky because the document is only as good as the person who is editing it. The document doesn't prompt you and say if you make this change here, than you should probably change it there. Brightleaf is developing technology that would automate this process so there is less margin of error.
Q: Would it also mean there would be fewer associates doing document review?
A: Big firms operate in a triangular model where they have a small number of partners and a huge number of associates. When the economy went sour and profits per partner took a dip, firms couldn't support all of the associates at the bottom. It would be wiser to use technology to free up junior lawyers from word processing to do actual legal work.
Q: Throughout your job search you were looking at jobs at firms or in-house legal departments. When did you make the decision to stop practicing law?
A: I was under the impression that I needed to continue practicing, at least for a while, to really develop my career. But in my first conversation with Luke O'Brien, who is our VP of strategy (and a former lawyer), I was so excited when I hung up the phone. I realized that all of the things I loved about my work had nothing to do with practicing law.
Q: Do you think your experience as a big firm associate will be helpful in your new role?
A: Yes, they really wanted to bring in someone like me because I sat there for three years doing this kind of work. I know exactly what the problems are and how firms will expect to use this tool.
Q: Do you think you will practice again?
A: I don't think anyone can plan more than five years out. But it's my first week of work and I'm happy getting into the car, which is something I've never experienced before. It's the difference between "Oh sure no problem" if I have to work late as opposed to "Oh jeez, here we go."
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.