Biglaw or Bust: What Today’s Wannabe Attorneys Should Know

“Biglaw” is a collective term regularly used throughout the legal industry to refer to the world’s largest and most successful law firms. 

Generally speaking, biglaw firms comprise those which have thousands of associates and partners, headquarters in major cities such as New York and London, a global reach, and pay their talent a handsome sum of money in return for their skills and experience. Biglaw fees are huge, too, with many firms charging their clients well more than $1,000 per hour for their services, and this only increases for more serious and complex problems.

With partners in these firms taking home millions of dollars per year, it is no surprise why today’s finest young legal minds are chasing a career in The Big Apple or hopping overseas to The Big Smoke in pursuit of careers at some of the world’s most formidable firms. 

Big pay packets are not exclusive to partners, either. Many of these biglaw firms pay their first-year trainees and junior associates $150,000 to $200,000 or more when they are fresh out of law school… not something to be sniffed at. 

Although biglaw has a lot to offer the country’s best legal talent, there’s a price to pay (no pun intended) for those who chase this dream. 

The work is hard, the hours are long, your briefs are tiring, and you will likely spend much of your spare time in the office, especially as a junior associate. Even at smaller firms, junior associates work hard and spend a lot of time at the office; law is by no means a nine-to-five job.

Heading to or In Law School? Here’s What You Need to Know About Biglaw

While working in a biglaw has many advantages to offer those lucky enough to get themselves through the door, there are many things which you need to consider before you go for it. 

Sure, you require stellar academics, having the name of a huge firm on your resumé gives you a great advantage should you ever re-enter the job market, but have you really put much thought into whether biglaw is for you? 

  1. Quality of Life

This is the factor which requires the most careful thought when you are polishing your resumé and writing cover letters ready to send off to firms for internships and jobs. 

What do you value more – working at a major firm, or your quality of life? Unfortunately, in most cases, you can’t work for huge firms and still enjoy the same quality of life you are used to.

Smaller firms are more likely to be flexible and reasonable when it comes to working hours, however, in contrast, working hours in major city firms are hugely skewed and it is not unheard of for even the more experienced associates to be spending 12 to 18 hours in the office. 

In addition to this, smaller firms tend to have a more relaxed working environment whereas biglaw firms are far stricter and more obtuse. It all comes down to what you value more… remember, your decision will impact your personal life both socially and romantically for several years.

  1. Amount of Client Contact

It is no secret that junior associates at larger firms have far less contact with clients than their counterparts at smaller firms. With the huge talent pool which already exists in larger firms and the massive international reach of the firm’s clients, there can often be less opportunity for junior associates to get that all-important exposure to clients.

In smaller firms, however, relationships with clients are much more intricate and personal. The fact that smaller firms’ clients are likely to have a more local reach means that you have more of an opportunity to get face-to-face contact with the client and see how the firm’s cases are affecting real people and the local community. 

  1. Overall Responsibility

If you want to be given a fair amount of responsibility from the word go then a biglaw firm may not be for you. It is no secret that the nature of larger firms means that their junior associates are slowly drip-fed work and don’t have a huge amount of responsibility and aren’t handed their own projects and briefs early on.

While this is ideal for some people, it can be very off-putting for junior associates who are proactive and natural leaders who are used to having a large amount of responsibility weighing down on their shoulders. Some people thrive under this type of pressure and if this sounds like you then it may be a good idea to look into some smaller or medium-sized firms as well as biglaw firms.

Smaller local and regional or small international firms are typically located in a small handful of cities, and this means that there is more room for growth. You will find yourself exposed more to senior associates and partners, providing you with the opportunity to prove yourself as trustworthy and be rewarded with more fulfilling work as a result. 

These are just three of several things which you need to consider when you are thinking of a career in biglaw. It is a huge decision to make, there is no denying that, and it something which will have a huge impact on your life for several years should you be successful. 

Biglaw is Serious Business

If you think that joining a biglaw firm as a junior associate is an easy ticket to a good salary, perks and benefits, think again. 

You are worked and worked hard as a junior associate in these monolithic firms, and to say that they make you work for what they give you would be a massive understatement. While this isn’t the ideal working environment for everybody, some people thrive under this kind of pressure and make wildly successful careers out of it. Some crumble, however.

When push comes to shove, it is entirely your decision and it is something which requires a lot of careful thought.