BigLaw --> Public Interest?

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Dato
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BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Dato » Wed Jun 15, 2011 2:49 pm

My ultimate goal is Public Interest, but I'm wary of t14 restrictions on what that entails in order to qualify for LRAP. Also, who knows what kind of job offers might come up 5 years into my career? I was admitted to eight t14's last year, but I had to withdraw my acceptances for personal reasons. My reasons were sound, and will be covered extensively in my reapplication.

Let's assume that I graduate in the top 40% of my class from a t14 (leap of faith, I know).
Let's assume that I have 100k of debt.

Would it look bad to potential PI/government employers if I did a 3 year BigLaw stint before looking for employment with them? Or is this common practice?

I ask because my calculations (based on Cali taxes) were as follows:

100k of debt. About 7% interest/year on my combined loans.

1st year BigLaw: 160k... 107k after taxes.
Live on 50k, spend 57k to get rid of 50% of debt.

2nd year BigLaw: 170k... 116k after taxes.
Live on 55k, spend $53,500 to get rid of the rest of debt, put remaining $7,500 into savings.

3rd year BigLaw: 185k... 130k after taxes.
Live on 60k, put 70k into savings.

End of 3rd year: debt repayed, $77,500 in savings.

My questions then are:
Is this doable?
Is there anything I'm missing?
Will PI/Gov. employers look down on my BigLaw work?

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Borhas
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Borhas » Wed Jun 15, 2011 3:51 pm

If you want to do PI/Gov't then why even pay off your debt so quickly?

It seems like you are going to have all the costs of Big Law (as far as lifestyle), but without any of the benefits (money to spend)

Instead of paying off the debt, might be better to just save it, and then when you switch to PI/G just pay bare minimum that LRAP/IBR allows, and just ride it out until the 10 yr debt cancellation

Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 15, 2011 4:39 pm

Moving from biglaw to government still happens. The economy has made it far more difficult, but government jobs are more open to biglaw laterals than other public interest employers.

As for other public interest employers-- that will be a far tougher lateral move to make. The public interest market is highly competitive, and biglaw associates do not tend to have developed the requisite skills for public interest jobs (i.e. client counseling, trials, taking depositions, etc.). Additionally, the point at which you are hoping to transfer from biglaw to public interest employment is around the same time that young lawyers who started in public interest will be completing their first fellowships, and they will make much more desirable candidates than biglaw associates hoping to lateral.

So basically...it's a tougher move to make than people realize, and it's something that you should make sure to think through before starting law school if you are worried about the debt.

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DaveBear07
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby DaveBear07 » Wed Jun 15, 2011 4:47 pm

This is relevant to my interests. Surely there might be a way to help distinguish your BigLaw career, through Pro Bono or associations/community work, that might make the transition more realistic and/or natural?

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Dato
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Dato » Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:02 pm

Borhas wrote:If you want to do PI/Gov't then why even pay off your debt so quickly?

It seems like you are going to have all the costs of Big Law (as far as lifestyle), but without any of the benefits (money to spend)

Instead of paying off the debt, might be better to just save it, and then when you switch to PI/G just pay bare minimum that LRAP/IBR allows, and just ride it out until the 10 yr debt cancellation



Yea... but here's the thing... what if 5 years down the road I get a job offer that I just cannot refuse... say... working for the ICC in the Hague? With LRAP at many schools (e.g. Berkeley), this would not qualify as public interest work, and so all my debt would fall right back on my lap.


Another question just came to mind. Many schools seem to give a two to three year "grace period" for LRAP. What if I worked BigLaw for 2-3 years, paying back the bare minimum on a 10yr plan (13,800/year) each of those years, and then jumped into PI/Gov. I would have 150k saved, and (cross my fingers) growing at 8-10%/year in a managed portfolio. On top of that, I would still be eligible to enroll in LRAP. I could then take advantage of LRAP, and have enough saved up to handle any unforeseen circumstances like the one noted above. Is this feasible?

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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:05 pm

DaveBear07 wrote:This is relevant to my interests. Surely there might be a way to help distinguish your BigLaw career, through Pro Bono or associations/community work, that might make the transition more realistic and/or natural?


Yes, those things will help and will improve your chances. But I wouldn't say that they will make lateraling to public interest employment "realistic." It's important to keep in mind the structure of the public interest market. Very few organizations can afford to hire young attorneys who require extensive training. Therefore, most new public interest lawyers need to start on fellowships to defray the costs to the organizations. Through their fellowships, they receive training and become ready to hit the ground running at their next jobs.

Laterals from biglaw, by contrast, are not ready to hit the ground running. Even if you do pro bono work, you will not have the experience that lawyers have who started in public interest. For example, at direct legal services organizations, you will probably have trials in your first year. You will develop strong client counseling skills and take depositions right away. Even at an impact litigation organization, you will start taking depositions in your first year. Associates at biglaw rarely do trials or take depositions right away, even on pro bono cases. It becomes quite hard to sell yourself as a lateral when you have skills closer to a brand new lawyer.

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WrappedUpInBooks
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby WrappedUpInBooks » Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:14 pm

I believe that post LRAP plans have provisions built in to prevent you from doing biglaw, only paying the minimum on your loans, and then jumping into PI/Gov't. They will expect you to pay down your loans while in biglaw - after a couple years at a firm, you may find yourself ineligible for your school's LRAP program.

If you're trying to do fancy PI (e.g., ACLU), most people work at firms before going there, but you'd better be at a pretty prestigious firm.

Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jun 15, 2011 5:16 pm

WrappedUpInBooks wrote: If you're trying to do fancy PI (e.g., ACLU), most people work at firms before going there, but you'd better be at a pretty prestigious firm.


This was true in the past but has become much less so over the past 5-10 years. Now top PI organizations largely hire former PI fellows.

NarwhalPunter
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby NarwhalPunter » Wed Jun 15, 2011 6:28 pm

Dato wrote:My ultimate goal is Public Interest, but I'm wary of t14 restrictions on what that entails in order to qualify for LRAP. Also, who knows what kind of job offers might come up 5 years into my career? I was admitted to eight t14's last year, but I had to withdraw my acceptances for personal reasons. My reasons were sound, and will be covered extensively in my reapplication.

Let's assume that I graduate in the top 40% of my class from a t14 (leap of faith, I know).
Let's assume that I have 100k of debt.

Would it look bad to potential PI/government employers if I did a 3 year BigLaw stint before looking for employment with them? Or is this common practice?

I ask because my calculations (based on Cali taxes) were as follows:

100k of debt. About 7% interest/year on my combined loans.

1st year BigLaw: 160k... 107k after taxes.
Live on 50k, spend 57k to get rid of 50% of debt.

2nd year BigLaw: 170k... 116k after taxes.
Live on 55k, spend $53,500 to get rid of the rest of debt, put remaining $7,500 into savings.

3rd year BigLaw: 185k... 130k after taxes.
Live on 60k, put 70k into savings.

End of 3rd year: debt repayed, $77,500 in savings.

My questions then are:
Is this doable?
Is there anything I'm missing?
Will PI/Gov. employers look down on my BigLaw work?


Your math is way off on what your take home pay will be, fyi. Toss in mandatory Medicare/SS deductions, your health care deductions (not cheap), vision/dental, and the fact that you'll probably want to take advantage of your firm's 401k match...suddenly you're looking at more like $86-90k take home in CA on a $160k gross.

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Borhas
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Borhas » Wed Jun 15, 2011 6:35 pm

Dato wrote:
Borhas wrote:If you want to do PI/Gov't then why even pay off your debt so quickly?

It seems like you are going to have all the costs of Big Law (as far as lifestyle), but without any of the benefits (money to spend)

Instead of paying off the debt, might be better to just save it, and then when you switch to PI/G just pay bare minimum that LRAP/IBR allows, and just ride it out until the 10 yr debt cancellation



Yea... but here's the thing... what if 5 years down the road I get a job offer that I just cannot refuse... say... working for the ICC in the Hague? With LRAP at many schools (e.g. Berkeley), this would not qualify as public interest work, and so all my debt would fall right back on my lap.


Another question just came to mind. Many schools seem to give a two to three year "grace period" for LRAP. What if I worked BigLaw for 2-3 years, paying back the bare minimum on a 10yr plan (13,800/year) each of those years, and then jumped into PI/Gov. I would have 150k saved, and (cross my fingers) growing at 8-10%/year in a managed portfolio. On top of that, I would still be eligible to enroll in LRAP. I could then take advantage of LRAP, and have enough saved up to handle any unforeseen circumstances like the one noted above. Is this feasible?


so worst case scenario you get your dream job and have 100k to pay off? That's not so bad... and probably not a terrible risk.

don't know anything about a grace period, but that sounds like a better idea than the one in the OP

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OperaSoprano
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:01 pm

A word about transitioning. I am at a large nonprofit, and we do have some former biglaw attorneys, but they are here on a volunteer basis later on in their careers. However, we also have people who take time out of their biglaw careers to extern here and are paid by firms. If you could do this, it would be the best way to establish that you are serious about PI. Otherwise, IBR makes it possible for indebted people to go straight into PI, and it becomes less necessary to go to a firm first. Preference is shown to people who do have the relevant background and have done a fellowship or worked as a staff attorney. So I am saying it's not impossible, but you will simply be less valuable to a nonprofit absent relevant experience on an ongoing basis. I would think long and hard, and if you do opt for biglaw, make sure the firm will pay for you to extern at a nonprofit after two years or so.

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observationalist
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby observationalist » Thu Jun 16, 2011 3:26 pm

On the transitioning question, a major restriction many NGO's face in hiring is that they don't have the funds or the time to hire recent graduates and train them how to practice law. Many have always had a rule-of-thumb where they want people to have a few years of work experience first... one of my favorite enviro NGO's just made a new staff attorney hire who previously spent four years at a prestigious enviro law firm, and that's still probably their ideal candidate. You might try to narrow down your PI ambitions or (if that's not possible right now) investigate the hiring practices of a few specific NGOs within different potential areas of interest. It will help you get a better feel for what the typical career track might be. That said, I don't think two years of transactional work at a large firm will look better to an NGO than two years of actual experience learning to do something similar to what they do. I would imagine it can be difficult to transfer from biglaw -- public interest work if you can't indicate some sort of ongoing interest and training in their area of the law. The trick though would be finding a non-biglaw, non-NGO employer willing to hire and train you right out of law school, which in the eyes of many doesn't exist.

Otherwise, I'm enrolled in IBR and between that and my school's LRAP I was able to jump right into public-interest work without worrying* about my loans. If you can find a way in that suits your specific goals and interests then you don't need to rely on biglaw to foot the bill for you.

(worth qualifying 'worrying' because there's an open question as to whether we will actually see our loans forgiven at the end of the 10-year payment period).

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OperaSoprano
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby OperaSoprano » Thu Jun 16, 2011 4:55 pm

Observationalist, as always, knows whereof he speaks. I should draw a distinction between public interest advocacy and direct legal services for the indigent, which is what my org provides. Where you are working with individual disadvantaged clients, it may be harder to gain the relevant WE solely from work in a firm. That said, there are small firms that represent tenants or take civil rights cases but are not nonprofits, and these might be a more relevant match. These are not V100 firms, though, generally speaking. There are also a few large nonprofits that do routinely train new graduates, though it is funding and need specific. Many people will start with a more temporary fellowship to gain the necessary training.

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Patriot1208
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Patriot1208 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 5:01 pm

NarwhalPunter wrote:
Dato wrote:My ultimate goal is Public Interest, but I'm wary of t14 restrictions on what that entails in order to qualify for LRAP. Also, who knows what kind of job offers might come up 5 years into my career? I was admitted to eight t14's last year, but I had to withdraw my acceptances for personal reasons. My reasons were sound, and will be covered extensively in my reapplication.

Let's assume that I graduate in the top 40% of my class from a t14 (leap of faith, I know).
Let's assume that I have 100k of debt.

Would it look bad to potential PI/government employers if I did a 3 year BigLaw stint before looking for employment with them? Or is this common practice?

I ask because my calculations (based on Cali taxes) were as follows:

100k of debt. About 7% interest/year on my combined loans.

1st year BigLaw: 160k... 107k after taxes.
Live on 50k, spend 57k to get rid of 50% of debt.

2nd year BigLaw: 170k... 116k after taxes.
Live on 55k, spend $53,500 to get rid of the rest of debt, put remaining $7,500 into savings.

3rd year BigLaw: 185k... 130k after taxes.
Live on 60k, put 70k into savings.

End of 3rd year: debt repayed, $77,500 in savings.

My questions then are:
Is this doable?
Is there anything I'm missing?
Will PI/Gov. employers look down on my BigLaw work?


Your math is way off on what your take home pay will be, fyi. Toss in mandatory Medicare/SS deductions, your health care deductions (not cheap), vision/dental, and the fact that you'll probably want to take advantage of your firm's 401k match...suddenly you're looking at more like $86-90k take home in CA on a $160k gross.

I was just about to post this.

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observationalist
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby observationalist » Fri Jun 17, 2011 6:54 pm

OperaSoprano wrote:Observationalist, as always, knows whereof he speaks. I should draw a distinction between public interest advocacy and direct legal services for the indigent, which is what my org provides. Where you are working with individual disadvantaged clients, it may be harder to gain the relevant WE solely from work in a firm. That said, there are small firms that represent tenants or take civil rights cases but are not nonprofits, and these might be a more relevant match. These are not V100 firms, though, generally speaking. There are also a few large nonprofits that do routinely train new graduates, though it is funding and need specific. Many people will start with a more temporary fellowship to gain the necessary training.


Good points OS. Glad to hear you're enjoying the work up there and stay cool.

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dr123
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby dr123 » Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:19 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
WrappedUpInBooks wrote: If you're trying to do fancy PI (e.g., ACLU), most people work at firms before going there, but you'd better be at a pretty prestigious firm.


This was true in the past but has become much less so over the past 5-10 years. Now top PI organizations largely hire former PI fellows.


TCR, I work in PI and the recent grad (up to a few years out) lawyers we have hired have all been former fellows.

ETA: we have a couple who worked at a firm for a couple years but the path was. Law school --> firm --> fellowship ---> Staff attorney

Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:11 am

Anonymous User wrote: This was true in the past but has become much less so over the past 5-10 years. Now top PI organizations largely hire former PI fellows.


I suppose I should add a slight addendum to this. As other posters in the public interest world has confirmed, the above is definitely true for public interest litigation positions (direct legal services, impact litigation etc.), so lateraling from biglaw to litigation organizations is extremely challenging.

But if you want to do corporate or real estate work for a non-profit, a biglaw background is desirable. For example, biglaw can be a good background if you'd like to be in-house counsel at a large non-profit. It can also be a good background for affordable housing/community development law, but this is a relatively niche area.

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MC Southstar
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby MC Southstar » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:13 am

I've been told the transition is possible as long as you show a commitment to pro bono work while you are at the firm.

Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:29 am

MC Southstar wrote:I've been told the transition is possible as long as you show a commitment to pro bono work while you are at the firm.


Now that's the part that is a bit of a myth. As I said above, if you've done corporate/real estate work at a big firm and want to do that for a non-profit as in-house counsel, that can be a realistic goal. But biglaw lawyers make very poor lateral applicants for public interest litigation positions. Doing some pro bono is not nearly enough to develop the necessary skill set to lateral into public interest.

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MC Southstar
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Re: BigLaw --> Public Interest?

Postby MC Southstar » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:46 am

Anonymous User wrote:
MC Southstar wrote:I've been told the transition is possible as long as you show a commitment to pro bono work while you are at the firm.


Now that's the part that is a bit of a myth. As I said above, if you've done corporate/real estate work at a big firm and want to do that for a non-profit as in-house counsel, that can be a realistic goal. But biglaw lawyers make very poor lateral applicants for public interest litigation positions. Doing some pro bono is not nearly enough to develop the necessary skill set to lateral into public interest.


staff attorney at ACLU told me that. I think it depends on the practice area of the non-profit, and honestly, why would anyone want to do corporate work if they planned on leaving? Low-level corporate work sucks.




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