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 Post subject: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 10:44 am 
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I keep hearing after the 2 year mark, they let a lot of associates go--what is the average length of a biglaw career?


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 10:57 am 
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wikipedia, citing an article and in line with conventional wisdom, wrote:
Entry to the firm [Cravath] is highly selective, generally open to only the most academically successful students from the most elite law schools in the United States and Canada. As with many top law firms, employee turnover is exceedingly high, with many attorneys departing the firm following a relatively brief tenure. As a rule of thumb, a third of an entering class departs by the end of their third year, and another third of those remaining depart by the end of their fifth year.


First year departures are quite rare, but get pretty common starting after two years. Keep in mind that at a big firm with a fancy-pants name (Especially but not only Skadden, Cravath, etc.) a few years as an associate will open doors to any other career you choose to pursue.

The earlier the departure, the more likely it will be based on a desire to leave / find other work. Firms don't like to fire associates, but can make it abundantly clear that it's 'time to go'. Can even happen to partners if their business starts to dry up.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:11 am 
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I recently spoke with a career services person at a T14 school, and he sort of explained it to me. He showed me a breakdown of where 1L's do their summer work, and the work is scattered across the board, with many people doing government, public interest, etc. Then the 2L summer breakdown is almost all private firm work. So students end up in private firms when they graduate, in order to pay off their loans. But he said that firms typically count on 3rd year attrition. So firms actually count on large numbers of people leaving after approximately 3 years, so I guess that is the answer you are looking for. And just to finish the anecdote, the breakdown of where people worked 5-10 years after graduation looked very much like the 1L summer chart. People had paid off their loans through a few years of biglaw work, and were able to then switch to positions that they found more rewarding or had better hours, such as government or PI work. It was interesting to see the progression over the years.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:15 am 
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I heard somewhere the median is three years.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:27 am 
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I've heard smaller market "biglaw" has significantly lower turnover and much better odds of making partner than V100-type biglaw.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:31 am 
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Aeroplane wrote:
I've heard smaller market "biglaw" has significantly lower turnover and much better odds of making partner than V100-type biglaw.


What kinds of cities are you calling smaller market?


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:39 am 
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jerjon2 wrote:
Aeroplane wrote:
I've heard smaller market "biglaw" has significantly lower turnover and much better odds of making partner than V100-type biglaw.


What kinds of cities are you calling smaller market?

Not NYC/DC/Chicago/LA/Houston/Boston/Atlanta/Philly. NLJ250 firms in smaller cities. My most direct knowledge is about the Midwest, but I imagine there are similar places in the South & West.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 12:03 pm 
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I think there is variance even within the Vault 100. New associates at Cravath are literally working 18 hours days, 7 days a week. That leads to a much quicker burnout rate than those working 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. Personally, while I don't expect that I will stay in big law for a long time, I turned down a summer offer from a very prestigious place which gave me the clear impression it was a sweatshop in favor of a lower ranked, but still reputable V100 firm that put greater emphasis on some sort of balance, plus it is a smaller office where I hope to be treated less like an expendable drone. My friend is going to work at Simpson & Thatcher, which typically has a summer class of at least 100 people (although this summer it is down to 87 or something). If you're going to that place, I think it' pretty obvious that you are going there to put the name on your resume and then move on after 2-3 years of grind work. How can you realistically hope to distinguish yourself amongst 100 other very smart young associates in your class alone? Just my opinion, but that very much seems like grade A meat being put into the grinder. I'm hoping that at a smaller office of a "not quite as prestigious" firm, I will get to do more at an earlier stage, and not feel like I am just counting the days until I can jump ship. While I of course want a good legal career, I also don't want to miss a significant amount of my 20s being in an office every waking minute. There is a large lifestyle difference between working 2000 hours a year and 2500-3000 hours a year.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 12:16 pm 
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thedogship wrote:
I think there is variance even within the Vault 100. New associates at Cravath are literally working 18 hours days, 7 days a week.


False.

You're right though that some smaller / 'less prestigious' firm are less sweatshopy... but it really varries, there are plenty of 'crappy' firms that are also meatgrinders.

thedogship wrote:
There is a large lifestyle difference between working 2000 hours a year and 2500-3000 hours a year.


That is very, very true - but note that at the worst most festeringest TTT firm you'll still work much, much more than 2,000 hours per year. But the difference between billing ~2K and billing ~2.5K is likely to be enormous over the long run as well.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 1:01 pm 
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thedogship wrote:
I turned down a summer offer from a very prestigious place which gave me the clear impression it was a sweatshop in favor of a lower ranked, but still reputable V100 firm that put greater emphasis on some sort of balance, plus it is a smaller office where I hope to be treated less like an expendable drone.


How were you able to determine the emphasis they put on the balance? I've looked at firms websites etc just to see what I might be getting into if I end up going to law school and it seems they all trumpet their commitment to work/life balance etc. What are some concrete things that made you think the firm you selected is going to be better? And how did you get the clear impression that the other one was a sweatshop?


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 2:15 pm 
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iShotFirst wrote:
thedogship wrote:
I turned down a summer offer from a very prestigious place which gave me the clear impression it was a sweatshop in favor of a lower ranked, but still reputable V100 firm that put greater emphasis on some sort of balance, plus it is a smaller office where I hope to be treated less like an expendable drone.


How were you able to determine the emphasis they put on the balance? I've looked at firms websites etc just to see what I might be getting into if I end up going to law school and it seems they all trumpet their commitment to work/life balance etc. What are some concrete things that made you think the firm you selected is going to be better? And how did you get the clear impression that the other one was a sweatshop?


1. they actively represented themselves as a contrast to those larger sweatshops in terms of abstract firm policy. I read between the lines a lot in my interviews with how each place answered my questions and what they emphasized. A lot of the interviewing process is gathering as much info as you can while at the office, talking to as many people as possible to get a total flavor for the place, and then trusting your gut about what you think that place is about and what's important to you. The firm I will be at is a CA based firm (and I will be in a smaller NY satellite office) so that general firm outlook is somewhat different from NY based firms, and they presented it that way to me. No other place I interviewed presented themselves as a contrast to sweatshop firms. All the others said "Yeah, we work a lot, but it's a New York firm, so..." I fully expect to be working a lot at the firm I chose (like 2000+ hrs/year), but I think that how the firm approaches those hours is important.

2. Speaking with associates (especially 1st and 2nd year associates) at both places, and asking them what their daily/weekly/monthly schedules are (I did this not in my callback interviews, but at follow-up visits after I got the offers). Some of the associates that the place I will be talked about their experience in comparison to those of their friends work at some of those "top" firms, i.e. Cravath, Skadden, etc... The associates I spoke to at the "sweatshop" firm talked about always working on weekends, not foreseeing any reasons they could leave before 9 pm except maybe "if [they] had World Series tickets or something." I just generally got a different vibe at the two places. Not to mention that the place I will be at took me out to lunch on all of my visits, let me stay as long as I liked and talk to as many people as I wanted, had me meet with the senior partner in the office for like 40 minutes, etc... At the other places I felt like I was intruding in peoples' schedules a bit by interviewing with them. Now of course it could be that the larger offices were just busier with more work to do, but I also got a more "people first" vibe at the place I will be at, or that they treated my like a person with a name they were looking forward to meeting, as opposed to just interviewee #14 for the day.

3. The office of the firm I will be at is much smaller, so I felt that there would be a need and opportunity to do more important things at an earlier stage. They spoke about having 2nd years handling depositions, etc... out of need, and those associates felt that they were much better lawyers having been thrown into the fire, in contrast to doing doc review for 3 years and then not getting to do a depo until year 4.

4. The firm I'm going to has the practice areas I am interested in, that many of the other firms I got offers from did not have. While it is not a guarantee that I will get involved in those practice areas right from the start, I thought I should go to a place where i at least have a shot at doing those things, since they are the reason that I came to law school in the first place. I never really cared too much about working on some colossal Bank of America merger deal. For some people, that is what they want to do, and I say, if it is, go for it. I just didn't want to wake up when I was 30 and realize that I was on a track to never getting to do what I wanted with my legal career and never seeing the light of day at some "super prestigious" firm. Since the pay at both places is roughly the same, I figured the value of prestige I was going to get at the bigger place was not going to be worth more to me on a day to day basis than my own sanity/happiness.

Again, this is a personal choice of mine. For some people, prestige outweighs work/life balance, or outweighs everything else. I certainly see the value of grinding 2-4 years at a place like Cravath (not that I was in the running to work there), and having that name on your resume going forward. I just knew I wasn't going like being at a place like that, nor would I get a chance to do what I want to do there. Let's say for example that you want to do family law or environmental law or some more niche practice. You're probably better served going initially to a less prestigious firm that does those practice areas than going to Cravath for 3-4 years and doing doc review and then trying to get into those areas with no experience in those areas. If you want to work as in-house counsel for a major bank, I can see how going to one of the biggest name firms would be of great benefit, because those places do a ton of that kind of work. But if you want to do entertainment law, it might be a better idea to go to a less reputable place with a strong entertainment practice with better connections to entertainment/media companies in-house counsel.

Again, just my own personal opinions.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 3:58 pm 
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Quote:
New associates at Cravath are literally working 18 hours days, 7 days a week.


Cravath associates work a lot, but nobody works 18 hours a day 7 days a week on a constant basis. That would imply billing well over 4,000 hours.


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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 4:19 pm 
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I have heard that it's 3-5 years. my understanding is that you are on proverbial probation for the first 2 years. If you make 3, they like you. And if you stay beyond 3, you like them...or you need them. But by 4 or 5 years, it's usually burnout, and you're doing you're own thing. You find out that partner track isn't that attractive. That's just my understanding based on conversations with profs and such.


Last edited by PDaddy on Sun Mar 14, 2010 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: curious-what's the average length of a biglaw career
PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2010 4:23 pm 
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I think it depends on career goals. For people looking to switch to government, etc 3 years if often the magic number. I think 3 years is also a common point to be "counseled out" of a firm (the "you don't really have a future here" talk). But for firms with "up or out policies" 5-8 years. It be hard to generalize an overall average, but easier within groups with similar goals.


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