OK, let's start with two things about life after that first biglaw job:(1) Unexpected events and/or come-to-jesus moments:
Some people leave the rat race more or less entirely. They drop out and open trendy cupcake shops (I assume this is why there are 4 or 5 per city block in NYC), become the next Scott Turrow, or else have kids and become stay at home parents or high school teachers or something. (2) "Exit options" vary dramatically by geography, practice area, firm reputation, and economic climate:
The numbers are hard to track in general, but these make them much more difficult. I can tell you litigators are having a harder time moving around because of the sea change in litigation, and that patent law seems to be booming. There are growth areas of law and dying areas of law, etc. Also, the big firm game is often like a giant plinko board. People lateral from one firm to another, and veeerrryyy frequently it's from the "better" firms in a practice area to the less-good ones.
I want to start there because it's really hard to generalize. M&A associate in NYC at Skadden is in a different world than real estate lawyer at a midlaw firm in texas. And it becomes very individualized, and down to what people want and try to do - no more OCI means getting data and doing studies just isn't feasible anymore.
On attrition - at gigantic mega firms, something like 5% of each incoming class might make partner. But studies (link not on hand, sorry) suggest that more like 20% of incoming associates from top school will make partner SOMEWHERE. It's important to keep the plinko analogy in mind.
About exit options more broadly:
They 'exist' from very early on. If you really want to move, and are at a decent firm, a call to a head hunter can often get you placed. I know people who have switched big law firms at a year of practice or less. But those are shitty lateral moves, because you're just joining another Name & Ampersand LLP and will probably be starting from the bottom up again.
I can't speak for all associates at all firms, but at good firms I'm familiar with random calls from hundhunters are quite common. While they might not be offering plum jobs, it's a strong indicator of the "you're not going to starve on the street after your stint in biglaw." A lot of the people proclaiming the difficulties of the post-biglaw job search are either ignorant/bitter people who aren't in biglaw, or come from the horror story examples as opposed to the average examples. Good
exit options tend to by jobs related to your field of practice that come through connections to the clients and industry. In house counsel, regulators, trade groups, litigation boutiques, government agencies, prosecutor's offices, legislative/policy roles, teaching, etc. It's never going to be handed to you buffet style the way OCI was, but they're out there. They will be most common after 2ish years when you're more established and have gained the experience and training (no joke) that future employers find valuable.
Never forget an important systematic element of the legal industry: A big reason there are so few entry level jobs outside of biglaw is because its so easy for employers to hire former biglaw associates.
They're pain tolerant, trained, often eager to leave, etc.
Some firms are slow, and some firms go bust. Some associates are unlucky and there aren't glamorous options for them. But overall, biglaw associates are in very high demand.
Hiring freezes mean there are fewer of them, but there's still a lot of work to be done - and firms are needing to plug gaps from people leaving. And leave they do! Attrition rates are quite high.
As for salary post-biglaw, it's often a paycut but still 6-figures+. Law is a career, and former biglaw attorneys often take a paycut when they move but they have growth potential, access to security (fed gov) or income sources (stock options etc.) or perks (being able to go home ever) that make the transition worth it.
When it comes time to move, it's important to realize that the practice of law is VERY much a 'club' once you're on the inside. Firms are often keen to place calls and help their associates land on their feet elsewhere. Once you're in the legal world, you're a part of that club and there's a big network automatically at your disposal for help you land on your feet. There are also often generous and gradual partings - outright firings are very rare. Even getting 'lathamed' involved a large cash payment.
NYstate wrote:I wonder how many people actually make 6 figures for the rest of their life. I honestly have no idea. It doesn't seem like something to count on. Hard to know. People get pushed out of in- house jobs too, that isn't usually a lifetime gig.
Probably more than you'd expect. Even government work for people leaving biglaw often at least approaches 6-figure salaries.
NYstate wrote:Just wanted to point out that this attitude and belief is exactly why I think big law could cut salaries and still have more than enough grads to choose from. Big law is probably overpaying by at least $15,000. Not that a decrease is likely, but I wouldn't expect an increase soon.
Look up revenue per lawyer and profits per partner stats. Big law associates, even young ones, are worth their salary. As attrition rates, rent, and student loan expenses increase, I'm not so sure salary increases are impossible either. I wouldn't say more likely than not short term, but there's more pressure on the system than you'd realize. And while $160,000 is very generous, after all of the expenses associated with getting a law degree and leading a lifestyle as a big firm lawyer, it's definitely a somewhat rationale bargain between the firm and the associate. They're paying for pain tolerance and obsessive type-A personalities as much as they're paying for raw talent.
kappycaft1 wrote:Do you all have any links that show data about how long associates last in biglaw? I keep hearing stats thrown around on TLS and elsewhere which state that [any number between 50 and 80] percent of biglaw associates only last for [any number between 2 and 5] years, and it isn't that I doubt this, but what is this based off of?
Also, what do current bonuses look like for new associates (assuming bonuses still exist), and is there anything that shows general trends of how much salaries/bonuses in biglaw increase each year?
Bonuses for first years were $10,000 last year and (IIRC) $7,500 the year before.
Attrition at the firms is on the order of 20% per year. That's REALLY high when you think about it, and it's slanted - almost nobody leaves before year one, not many leave before year two, and from there the proverbial floodgates open. Options become available and burnout becomes real.
If you look at the salary scale, you'll notice the largest baked-in raise comes after the third year. That's when an associate tends to be much more valuable to the firm - and also valuable to potential recruiters.
To see one reason why salaries increased (as did bonuses) see this article about Sullivan & Cromwell from boom-times: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/01/24/sul ... te-morale/
Unsustainable. And while maybe S&C was worse because it's stereotypically not a great working environment, all firms were struggling with attrition. That's how salaries got to where they are now.
- - - - -Random aside about math and cost:
If you look at life time earnings, I'd imagine most of the T14 are still worth their cost at sticker over time, on average. The problem is that if you fail to get biglaw (or whatever gov't/PI position you dreamed of) out of the gate, or flame out too soon, the fact that the 'average' result was highly lucrative relative to its cost won't help you with your