"Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

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"Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:18 pm

I was discussing my upcoming CB with another student, and someone who was overhearing the conversation, came up and told me bluntly that the particular firm was a sweatshop, people had to work long hours there, etc., and that I should avoid that firm at all costs.

At first I was disturbed by that, but after thinking about it, aren't nearly all Big Law firms "sweatshops" to a certain degree? Does the fact that someone characterized a Big Law firm as a sweatshop really mean anything? I find it hard to believe that there would be an easy 40 hour work week at any Big Law firm.

On a related matter, some firms hold them out to have good work-life balance, but at the end of the day, a law firm is a business trying to make a profit for its owners. How realistic are those representations of work-life balance, to those in the know?

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:35 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I was discussing my upcoming CB with another student, and someone who was overhearing the conversation, came up and told me bluntly that the particular firm was a sweatshop, people had to work long hours there, etc., and that I should avoid that firm at all costs.

At first I was disturbed by that, but after thinking about it, aren't nearly all Big Law firms "sweatshops" to a certain degree? Does the fact that someone characterized a Big Law firm as a sweatshop really mean anything? I find it hard to believe that there would be an easy 40 hour work week at any Big Law firm.

On a related matter, some firms hold them out to have good work-life balance, but at the end of the day, a law firm is a business trying to make a profit for its owners. How realistic are those representations of work-life balance, to those in the know?

I wish I could answer your question, but I get a similar feeling - I think it's going to depend more on the practice group than the firm in most instances, and I can only imagine that all biglaw firms are more or less sweatshops to some degree.

I have another question to add to OP's:
How much does the market influence the hours? Everyone talks about NYC being the most sweatshop-esque, but how many more hours is a Junior Associate at a NYC firm work as compared to, say, an associate at a SF or LA firm (considering similar practice group areas)?

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Cavalier
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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Cavalier » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:42 pm

There's no such thing as a lifestyle firm. You will work long hours regardless of which big firm you end up at. However, some firms have more demanding hours than others. Even though 55 hours per week may seem like a lot of work, it's still much better than 65 hours per week. Use Vault to get a better sense of which firms have the most demanding hours.

With regard to location, I think it's generally true that NYC is the worst, and that the hours requirements are slightly less demanding on the West Coast and in secondary markets. But again, it depends on the firm.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Kohinoor » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:44 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I was discussing my upcoming CB with another student, and someone who was overhearing the conversation, came up and told me bluntly that the particular firm was a sweatshop, people had to work long hours there, etc., and that I should avoid that firm at all costs.

At first I was disturbed by that, but after thinking about it, aren't nearly all Big Law firms "sweatshops" to a certain degree? Does the fact that someone characterized a Big Law firm as a sweatshop really mean anything? I find it hard to believe that there would be an easy 40 hour work week at any Big Law firm.

On a related matter, some firms hold them out to have good work-life balance, but at the end of the day, a law firm is a business trying to make a profit for its owners. How realistic are those representations of work-life balance, to those in the know?

Yes, they are all sweatshops.

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paratactical
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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby paratactical » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:46 pm

If you're interested in Work-Life balance, stay out of NYC biglaw.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:52 pm

paratactical wrote:If you're interested in Work-Life balance, stay out of NYC biglaw.



OP- here. The comments were in regards to a secondary market, satellite office of a NYC firm.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Pablo Ramirez » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:53 pm

Bust your ass for 3-5 years and then lateral elsewhere. No big deal.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby paratactical » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:55 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
paratactical wrote:If you're interested in Work-Life balance, stay out of NYC biglaw.



OP- here. The comments were in regards to a secondary market, satellite office of a NYC firm.


I went from a NYC firm to a non-HQ office in Boston. The hours are so dramatically lower I cannot even begin to emphasize the difference in QOL. I've been able to have regular out side of work commitments and maintain them. It might not be the same everywhere, but just the fact that there aren't a dozen 24hr copy centers and eateries changes the hours you work dramatically, IME.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:57 pm

paratactical wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
paratactical wrote:If you're interested in Work-Life balance, stay out of NYC biglaw.



OP- here. The comments were in regards to a secondary market, satellite office of a NYC firm.


I went from a NYC firm to a non-HQ office in Boston. The hours are so dramatically lower I cannot even begin to emphasize the difference in QOL. I've been able to have regular out side of work commitments and maintain them. It might not be the same everywhere, but just the fact that there aren't a dozen 24hr copy centers and eateries changes the hours you work dramatically, IME.


But don't you still have to maintain billable hours? Or are billable hour expectations higher in NYC than in secondary markets?

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paratactical
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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby paratactical » Tue Oct 05, 2010 3:06 pm

Anonymous User wrote:But don't you still have to maintain billable hours? Or are billable hour expectations higher in NYC than in secondary markets?


Billable hour requirements are slightly lower (~150-200 hrs lower) which makes it easier to take vacations and have sick days, but I find the biggest difference is that because the satellite office is smaller, I have very few hours where I spend large blocks of time on unbillable work. Further, in NYC I exceeded my hours by quite a bit (as did everyone who wanted to make it through ITE) whereas the smaller office tends to make their goals actually what they are. There's also a larger allowance for doing work from home, which makes the hours a lot more bearable.

Also, to be candid, I'm a biglaw paralegal, so I know my hours and billables aren't the same as attnys, but I know the requirement drop was comprable and that the attorneys here don't work as crazy hours as the ones in NYC.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Noval » Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:58 pm

For your first years at BigLaw, don't be surprised if you work long/unpredictable hours and often made someone's doggy until you gain relevant experience in your field.

You are treated the same way as an IB Analyst in Bulge Brackets until you get to 5th-6th year.
Work hard during these years so you can make it to Partner, otherwise, use that Bigname as a stepping stone to more respected jobs, in-house, Government,etc...

Many firms have the "Work till everything's done" mentality and they never deviate from it.Biglaw is not for everyone and look at all your options before you go there.


Key success points in BigLaw:
-Do your job right and do it on time.
-Respect the billable hour limits(EXTREMELY IMPORTANT if you don't want to hear "GTFO" from your boss.)
-Excessive posterior ass kissing is a negative, don't do it.
-Never argue with people who have more experience than you.
-Don't whine, gossip, cry, act like a retard while everyone's working.
-If you get told "go get me coffee" or something like that from your superior, do it and shut up.
-Last but not least, enjoy your job, you're supposed to build on experience for your future success, don't screw up
and you will not regret it.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Veyron » Tue Oct 05, 2010 9:23 pm

Work life balance.

You work, you can afford the necesitites of life. See, that wasn't hard.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 9:49 pm

this is especially true for corporate which has more unstable hours, but there is a big difference b/t being able to leave at 6 when you have no deals to work on, or being forced to stay till 7-8 doing nothing just because your partner likes having u be accessible in case something pops up.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby dood » Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:00 pm

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Last edited by dood on Sun Oct 24, 2010 4:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Tacitus » Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:30 pm

You are going to be paid $160,000--before bonuses--and you're going to be working for people who pay upwards of $400 for your time your FIRST year out of school. What about that makes you think you get to check in at 9am and check out at 5.30pm? Big pay = big expectations. If that's not something you can handle, then why did you sign up to be a lawyer in the first place? I don't mean to be crass, but you really need to do a reality check if you thought that being a person or corporation's representative was going to be a casual affair. This thread is the exact reason why our generation has a reputation for being selfish, whiny, and disloyal.

The work is hard, but your just desserts are sweet. Buck up.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby blsingindisguise » Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:44 pm

This is purely anecdotal based on talking to friends who have worked at various firms:

There are no firms that are well-suited for keeping up that rigorous daily sport training, three-hour-a-day video game habit, regular partying, concert-level violin playing, etc. The firms that tend to be more of a "balance" are the ones that are usually cool with you taking work home so you can at least eat dinner with your partner or family, the ones where you work relatively fewer weekends (but still a good number), the ones where you don't feel that there is the same level of pure face-time pressure, where there isn't a contest to see who can stay in the office the latest. All are going to have longer hours than the average job, all are going to work you hard.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:47 pm

Let's not put so much emphasis on the general point -- yes, you will work hard regardless -- that the question gets stomped into the mud.

People absolutely do work more hours at certain firms. Wachtell and Cravath come to mind. I was told as much at my callbacks at both places, by partners and associates, and this is borne out by the aggregated statistics available on the internet. The difference between a 2000 hour expectation and a "no expectation (2400-2600 hours)" is very, very high. It means an extra 1-2 hours every single day.

It is true that if you are a superstar, you will probably work the same unbelievably high hours anywhere. But I would wager that you will see better returns on that investment if you make it somewhere where that is not the norm. That was the primary reason I turned down three V5 offers.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:01 pm

Can we all not attack the OP for asking a legitimate question?!?! It's hard enough to tell the difference between firms when their websites all say the same thing, and even harder to tell if there are truly any lifestyle firms when they all love to talk about work-life balance.

Here's my story: I went for a V15 interview at a firm that claims to be the best for work life balance. lots of working mother magazine awards, etc. Well, in my CB, one of the female partners had a psycho meltdown and told me how she never sees her kids and if anyone tells you that you can have a life and work at a big firm, "they're lying." She proceeded to tell me how she had to leave the practice area of her dreams to go into a less busy area in order to see her kids more, and that didn't help. A friend of mine interviewed at the same firm a month later, and met yet another female partner who told her a story about how she missed her child's first words and first steps and "that was the tradeoff of the lifestyle." She talked abt how her husband now stays at home and they're stuck in the lifestyle because of their mortgage.

Moral of the story - firms lie when they say work-life balance exists. Even if Yale Women votes them the best for 5,000 years in a row.
2nd moral of the story (and this is more for recruiting offices...) - try to pick partners who actually sell your firm, not partners who discourage people from joining by telling horrible stories of how if you work there, you'll never know your children

Last piece of advice - look at firms at the end of the Vault list with the lower billables or no billables requirements. These tend to be as close to "lifestyle" firms as you can get for 160k, and most of them have pretty awesome cultures. I ended up choosing a much lower ranked firm b/c the people were awesome and friends who work there love their job. Wasn't hard to turn down the V15 after my experience.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:12 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Last piece of advice - look at firms at the end of the Vault list with the lower billables or no billables requirements. These tend to be as close to "lifestyle" firms as you can get for 160k, and most of them have pretty awesome cultures. I ended up choosing a much lower ranked firm b/c the people were awesome and friends who work there love their job. Wasn't hard to turn down the V15 after my experience.



I don't know how a firm not having a BH requirement really affects things...often these firms will list requirements for bonsuses which become de facto requirements. After all, no one wants to be the one doing the "bare minimum".

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:33 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Last piece of advice - look at firms at the end of the Vault list with the lower billables or no billables requirements. These tend to be as close to "lifestyle" firms as you can get for 160k, and most of them have pretty awesome cultures. I ended up choosing a much lower ranked firm b/c the people were awesome and friends who work there love their job. Wasn't hard to turn down the V15 after my experience.



I don't know how a firm not having a BH requirement really affects things...often these firms will list requirements for bonsuses which become de facto requirements. After all, no one wants to be the one doing the "bare minimum".


I said that they tend to be lifestyle firms, insomuch as the cultures are better and when you read the surveys, you can actually take vacations and not check Blackberries as often as peers at other firms. Also, there are some firms (including the one I am going to) that do lockstep bonuses - meaning every single member of each associate class gets the same bonus, and the bonuses aren't tied to billable hours. Just saying - if you're looking for lifestyle, some of these firms are as close as you're going to get in big law. And they're still not perfect.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby crazycanuck » Wed Oct 06, 2010 1:23 am

NEWS FLASH:

Professional careers often require long hours.

Do you want to work an hourly wage for the rest of your life (and the jobs that typically accompany hourly wages) or do you want to advance a career?

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby Merriweather » Wed Oct 06, 2010 1:37 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Last piece of advice - look at firms at the end of the Vault list with the lower billables or no billables requirements. These tend to be as close to "lifestyle" firms as you can get for 160k, and most of them have pretty awesome cultures. I ended up choosing a much lower ranked firm b/c the people were awesome and friends who work there love their job. Wasn't hard to turn down the V15 after my experience.



I don't know how a firm not having a BH requirement really affects things...often these firms will list requirements for bonsuses which become de facto requirements. After all, no one wants to be the one doing the "bare minimum".


Image

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Oct 06, 2010 7:21 am

I hate to break it to you guys... But honestly, the practice of law (like most professions), requires a lot of work. The number of hours will differ from region to region and (to a VERY small extent), by the size of your office, but frankly, no matter where you are, you will find that you work more hours than your friends in other jobs. That is because your friends chose to take "jobs" and you chose a "career" in a "profession."

Professionals are doctors, lawyers and accountants. Thats it. When you look at the classical definition, those are the professions that are recognized by society. Each of those requires that you work a little harder, meet a higher standard in your work and private life and that you are, to some extent, "on call" for the needs of your clients.

I recently left a mid-sized firm and went to a very small specialty firm in NYC. It was the best decision i've made in a long time. I still work long hours (thougn not as long as I used to and with far less work on the weekends), but I am happier. I am happier because I have more control over my practice and I like the work I am doing. But the fact remains, that I am still a NYC Wall St area lawyer and that means I have to put in more time than my friends that are teachers, business owners, strippers, actors, bankers, etc. Its just the way it is.

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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby IzziesGal » Wed Oct 06, 2010 11:02 am

crazycanuck wrote:NEWS FLASH:

Professional careers often require long hours.

Do you want to work an hourly wage for the rest of your life (and the jobs that typically accompany hourly wages) or do you want to advance a career?


Again, OP never asked where he can work 9-5 for 160k. OP is asking about the QOL of some firms relative to others. OP seems well aware of the fact that he is going into a "professional career," by virtue of him saying "I find it hard to believe that there would be an easy 40 hour work week at any Big Law firm."

How about some constructive feedback in this thread, instead of everyone jumping at the chance to rant about hours and career advancement??

spondee
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Re: "Big Law Firm X is a Sweatshop"/Is Work-Life balance a myth?

Postby spondee » Wed Oct 06, 2010 11:15 am

Is there a source that collects the actual hours billed by jr associates at different firms?




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