What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

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Anonymous User
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What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:43 am

Either I am missing something or else my life goals don't align with most law students'. Let's say you have the two options I have:

1) Take an offer from a small firm. Work on relatively small cases, a lot of family law (which I'm interested in), some civil litigation, criminal defense, juvenile, a better mix of practice areas than I would have thought before SA'ing. Live in a low cost of living area, smaller town, pretty clean and nice. Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial). Pay off loans, then it seems like the things to do from the firm are to retire / go "of counsel" or become a state district court judge when entering middle age. Other than that, probably have limited exit options in terms of practicing at other firms. Never make the national news or NY Times, probably never or rarely work on a case that gets national or regional coverage, never can brag about being a high-powered lawyer.

or

2) Pursue a Big- or Mid-law job. Start at $80k - $145k (in the markets I'm considering) in a relatively high cost of living area. Do either litigation or transactional work, but be discouraged from practicing in a wide array of areas as my career advances. Work 55-60+ hours a week for several years trying to make partner. Make from $500k to several million if I make partner. Work on big-name cases, several of national significance. Have high job prestige.

To me, it seems like taking #1 is a no-brainer. Working literally half or maybe 2/3rds of the hours is a big factor, as is the all-but-guaranteed partner track, and the income ceiling is adequate for my goals. But if everyone else prefers #2, I feel like I am missing something in my analysis? Which factors involved do other people weigh so differently than me? I just don't want to make a decision that feels like an easy one now only to regret it down the road.

(posting anon b/c I am doing OCI with some big firms)

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Grizz
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Grizz » Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:48 am

Anonymous User wrote:Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial).


hoo boy

I recommend finding a poster named areyouinsane and reading his posts about what life's like at a lot of small firms.

Anonymous User
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:07 am

Grizz wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial).


hoo boy

I recommend finding a poster named areyouinsane and reading his posts about what life's like at a lot of small firms.


OP here. I don't know what it's like at a lot of small firms; but those are all direct observations of the one I worked for and have an offer from. The only thing I can't verify is the salary, but I don't feel the partner would blatantly lie to me about that because I'd find out after receiving the first quarterly bonus report as an associate. The other stuff was/is easy to verify.

random5483
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby random5483 » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:28 am

Many small firms = similar hours to big law without the pay. Not all small firms are bad, but do your due dilligence before accepting the offer.

Anonymous User
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:31 am

I find #2 substantially more appealing, but I don't think that means you are "missing something." Most important to me is that I love being in a big city; I actively avoid firms in "low cost of living" areas because those aren't the places I want to live. You may feel differently about that, and that's all personal preference. I want to work for a big firm because I want to specialize in one area of law, not become a jack-of-all trades as you've described for small firms. Again, personal preference. Based on my limited experience, I also think the culture of big firms can be more rewarding (emphasis on the "can", I am sure many TLS'ers will disagree) because I find it very appealing to work on cases of national significance. Personal preference.

You have to remember that you are in the Legal Employment forum of a website called "Top Law Schools," which means this place attracts some of the most ambitious, credentialed and competitive law students out there. There's going to be a natural slant towards Biglaw here, but that doesn't mean small firms are de facto less preferable. If you still feel like you're missing something, though, take a look at this amazing article about the attraction to Biglaw: http://www.vallexfund.com/download/Bein ... Member.pdf. It may shed some light on why highly competitive people feel the need to chase big firms (thesis: Biglaw is not better than a small firm environment).

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JusticeHarlan
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby JusticeHarlan » Wed Aug 24, 2011 7:24 am

Anonymous User wrote:Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial).

In what market is this possible? I should've tried going there.

SpiteFence
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby SpiteFence » Wed Aug 24, 2011 7:39 am

I would be weary of the salary figures you cite, but that aside one thing to consider is that if you start at #2 you can likely switch to #1 later in your career. When you start at #1, you are stuck at #1 for life.

Also, #2 open up more doors, such as in-house counsel, that offer better work/life balance.

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Veyron
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Veyron » Wed Aug 24, 2011 8:06 am

Hey bro, if you know of a small law firm like that that's hiring, do let us know. Unfortunately, most small firms aren't nearly so attractive. Sounds like you lucked out.

tamlyric
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby tamlyric » Wed Aug 24, 2011 8:46 am

Anonymous User wrote: If you still feel like you're missing something, though, take a look at this amazing article about the attraction to Biglaw: http://www.vallexfund.com/download/Bein ... Member.pdf. It may shed some light on why highly competitive people feel the need to chase big firms (thesis: Biglaw is not better than a small firm environment).


+1

This is a really wonderful article. I think it should be mandatory reading for 1Ls thinking through what they want to do with their lives in the law. As the above poster noted, one reason for the BigLaw bias on TLS is the disproportionate number of highly ambitious people who go to TLSs. One point the article makes quite forcefully, however, is that these ambitious people would be wise to consider exactly what it is they are chasing and whether it's worth the things that will probably be sacrificed in the process.

I don't think you're missing anything, OP. I suppose going to BigLaw right out of the gate would leave more doors open in the long-term than to going SmallLaw right out of the gate. The question is whether (or how much) you care about the risk of closing those doors by taking the path that is most appealing to you now. In any case, choose the path that you think will make you happy, do your best, and forget the rest.

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SteelReserve
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby SteelReserve » Wed Aug 24, 2011 9:10 am

1) Take an offer from a small firm. Work on relatively small cases, a lot of family law (which I'm interested in), some civil litigation, criminal defense, juvenile, a better mix of practice areas than I would have thought before SA'ing. Live in a low cost of living area, smaller town, pretty clean and nice. Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial). Pay off loans, then it seems like the things to do from the firm are to retire / go "of counsel" or become a state district court judge when entering middle age. Other than that, probably have limited exit options in terms of practicing at other firms. Never make the national news or NY Times, probably never or rarely work on a case that gets national or regional coverage, never can brag about being a high-powered lawyer.


This is ridiculous. Partner in 4 years? 200-300k w/n 10 years? 9:30 to 4:30? Ridiculous. This is a unicorn if ever there was one. In your shoes I would absolutely take it because it's literally a one in a million firm. This post and discussion is worthless because these circumstances cannot be replicated. Why would you even need to ask this question? This is like "well I hit the lottery....should I take the winnings or say no and go work like a dog like everyone else tee hee"

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Blindmelon
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Blindmelon » Wed Aug 24, 2011 9:27 am

SteelReserve wrote:
1) Take an offer from a small firm. Work on relatively small cases, a lot of family law (which I'm interested in), some civil litigation, criminal defense, juvenile, a better mix of practice areas than I would have thought before SA'ing. Live in a low cost of living area, smaller town, pretty clean and nice. Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial). Pay off loans, then it seems like the things to do from the firm are to retire / go "of counsel" or become a state district court judge when entering middle age. Other than that, probably have limited exit options in terms of practicing at other firms. Never make the national news or NY Times, probably never or rarely work on a case that gets national or regional coverage, never can brag about being a high-powered lawyer.


This is ridiculous. Partner in 4 years? 200-300k w/n 10 years? 9:30 to 4:30? Ridiculous. This is a unicorn if ever there was one. In your shoes I would absolutely take it because it's literally a one in a million firm. This post and discussion is worthless because these circumstances cannot be replicated. Why would you even need to ask this question? This is like "well I hit the lottery....should I take the winnings or say no and go work like a dog like everyone else tee hee"


+1. Most small firms I looked at start around 40k in Boston and 10 or so years down the pipe (if you build enough business), you can expect to make over 6 figures. Working your cases + building business = tons of time. I doubt you will be working 8 hour days.

Anonymous User
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:11 pm

SteelReserve wrote:
1) Take an offer from a small firm. Work on relatively small cases, a lot of family law (which I'm interested in), some civil litigation, criminal defense, juvenile, a better mix of practice areas than I would have thought before SA'ing. Live in a low cost of living area, smaller town, pretty clean and nice. Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial). Pay off loans, then it seems like the things to do from the firm are to retire / go "of counsel" or become a state district court judge when entering middle age. Other than that, probably have limited exit options in terms of practicing at other firms. Never make the national news or NY Times, probably never or rarely work on a case that gets national or regional coverage, never can brag about being a high-powered lawyer.


This is ridiculous. Partner in 4 years? 200-300k w/n 10 years? 9:30 to 4:30? Ridiculous. This is a unicorn if ever there was one. In your shoes I would absolutely take it because it's literally a one in a million firm. This post and discussion is worthless because these circumstances cannot be replicated. Why would you even need to ask this question? This is like "well I hit the lottery....should I take the winnings or say no and go work like a dog like everyone else tee hee"


OP here. I think you answered your own question; if I asked, it must have been because I didn't know it was one in a million.

JusticeHarlan wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Start well below $100k but make over $100k within 3-4 years. Basically everyone makes partner at that point unless they leave, so ride the partner track to $200k-$300k per year within ten years of graduating law school. Come in to work around 9:30, take an hour for lunch, cut out by 4:30 like all the other attorneys (unless preparing for trial).

In what market is this possible? I should've tried going there.


It's in the Midwest in a fairly rural area. Not desolate...think Ohio or Minnesota, not Nebraska or Kansas. It has a handful of offices in small towns and between 10-20 attorneys. Makes money through civil litigation, probate of multi-million dollar agricultural properties, tax prep, and several smaller steady areas such as court-appointed stuff, adoptions, divorces, etc. Since it's the only show in town (or at least the biggest/most prestigious), also does a good share of real estate/construction law. The firm also represents several city governments and other government entities at or below the county level. I'm sure there are others out there like it. If I wanted to find one, I'd look at appellate cases involving farmland (e.g. foreclosures, estates, partitions, tax disputes) and see who the farmers hire, because that's where the money is.

Anonymous User
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Re: What Am I Missing (Big Law vs. Small Firms)

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:38 pm

Anonymous as there are a few identifying details in here. Apologize in advance for it being so long.

They are just different paths, is all. You are not missing anything if Big Law does not appeal to you and you want to go the smaller route, you just need to choose the area that works for you.

I chose the small firm life (6-8 lawyers) right out of school, primarily as I had already had enough work experience in the "corporate world" by the time I went to law school to know that I did not want to go back to that culture again. I also moved to a smaller city (under 100K) across the country, knowing a small firm in the larger city I was originally in/went to school in was not exactly going to be what I was looking for either.

I feel very lucky to have ended up where I am; and I am one of those who can say I truly enjoy practicing law. I can honestly say my coworkers are all awesome people, that there has been an emphasis on encouraging me to develop my practice, the work is varied and interesting, and I have had conduct of matters from day one (and lots of courtroom time which appeals to me). There is definitely a mutual interest in me being here a long time, and moving toward partnership in 7-10 years if I so choose. The legal community here is also very small, and collegial. Every firm is small here (or solo). Business is pretty steady. In a small community people will come in, or other firms will refer clients all the time due to conflicts (lots of conflicts in small locales!).

However, by "well below $100K", you may be wise to go with closer to "half of $100K". I have one of the more generous compensation arrangements compared to some of the other lawyers around here who started at same time I did in other firms, and even then after 3-4 years I am not breaking $100K. My hours are generally 8-4:30 and I eat lunch at my desk most days (of course, with trials or other pressing deadlines, I can expect to put in more on some days or weekends). I don't have a set target, but certainly there is an expectation I do not slack off either! There are days I put in much more, many not ultimately billable to clients. In a small community you also find there is a "limit" to how much people will pay, no matter how much they appreciate your work - I end up discounting quite a bit when I am sending out my bills which of course at the end of the year hits my own pocketbook as part of my compensation structure is also a percentage of realized billings; however, it is important to also keep people coming back. I'd rather have a client pay me $20,000 over two years for a couple matters, and refer others to me, than pay me one year $15,000 for one matter and never return as they think I cost too much. You are also thrown into client management from the get-go in a smaller firm, usually, which can be an adjustment for some.

I have a very good quality of life. I get to spend time with my spouse (actually, my own spouse actually works much longer/much more unpredictable hours than I in a more blue-collar position (and also makes about 1.5-2x more right now!)). I do notice that every lawyer I work with is still married to their first spouse (after anywhere from 5-25+ years) and seem to have pretty healthy relationships. I have plenty of time for my other pursuits, like running and cycling, or volunteering on various boards and committees. There is a very "team" approach here and everyone is approachable. We know each others families and spend time together socially (even take trips together now and then). While I do not get involved in mega-deals with multinational companies, I do get some very interesting work with interesting issues, and my clients are not bottom of the barrel either! I have been able to work around in many different practice areas to figure out what fit for me from experience. I have been able to work in, and enjoy, areas of law I never even would have considered during law school, or if I had ended up in big law. And, I learned quite quickly that some of the areas I *thought* I would enjoy are most definitely not for me.

Many of our practice areas and clients are similar to the ones you outlined in your last post (municipal government, other government entities, agricultural/irrigation law, civil litigation, real estate, wills/trusts, probate of large farmlands/estates, ID, etc). Some in our firm focus primarily on family/adoption/child welfare. While we are in a small city, we get clients from way outside the city as the next nearest city is about 2+ hours away (and much bigger city which many of our clients avoid).

There are a few people who exit as judges from around here (actually, quite a few in the last year or two) though most of them got that more through political ties or other service to the community rather than being in the legal community. Many move to other firms, or start their own. There have been some who have found in-house positions, or moved to government positions. The "real" difference between big and small is that big generally gives you more chances to network with bigger clients that may lead to more in-house opportunities; it does not mean you are a more practiced or skilled lawyer than someone from a small firm. Likely you will not end up having the option of being in house or a consultant for a big corp from here, but who cares if that does not fit in with your ultimate goals? Not everyone wants to end up in-house. I really do not agree with the idea that one is "stuck" at small for life if they start there. That is not what I have observed. I also find it kind of strange to choose a place to work based on your exit options, but again, I already had a career I could not wait to leave, so was more interested in finding a place that I could see myself at for a great many years, and if one's ultimate goal is in-house then maybe going Big Law is the way for them.

It sounds like you have been working at this firm already so at least have *some* idea (though of course, as anyone will tell you, being an SA is a bit different than being a first year associate or beyond!). It sounds like you have been offered an opportunity that is a great fit for you. And you are the only one that needs to be comfortable with whatever decision you make. There are many different paths out there (well, in an ideal economy anyway) so there is no need to take one that you do not feel fits for you just as everyone else is saying it is the way to go.




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