How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 13, 2012 7:44 pm

anon168 wrote:Reading through this thread, I just have to wonder.

How in the world do people know, or even think they know, enough to offer an opinion on hours in biglaw vis-a-vis government work?

Not only have the majority (or none?) of the posters worked, full-time or otherwise, at both biglaw and the government to make a meaningful comparison, few have even worked consistently at either place to even offer anecdotal opinions of either biglaw or the government hours.


I work at a big law firm. My father was a partner at a different big law firm in a different city and then worked in the general counsel's office of a federal government agency. My mother is an Attorney who works with Congress.

As somebody who graduated from a good law school, I also know dozens of people at other big law firms across the country and a smattering of clerks and other government attorneys.

So I personally don't have any hesitation when it comes to commenting on this topic.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Citizen Genet » Tue Nov 13, 2012 8:36 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
anon168 wrote:Reading through this thread, I just have to wonder.

How in the world do people know, or even think they know, enough to offer an opinion on hours in biglaw vis-a-vis government work?

Not only have the majority (or none?) of the posters worked, full-time or otherwise, at both biglaw and the government to make a meaningful comparison, few have even worked consistently at either place to even offer anecdotal opinions of either biglaw or the government hours.


I work at a big law firm. My father was a partner at a different big law firm in a different city and then worked in the general counsel's office of a federal government agency. My mother is an Attorney who works with Congress.

As somebody who graduated from a good law school, I also know dozens of people at other big law firms across the country and a smattering of clerks and other government attorneys.

So I personally don't have any hesitation when it comes to commenting on this topic.


I haven't commented till now, but I will add that I've talked to at least a couple dozen people who went from BigLaw into prosecutor's positions (and one into a city attorney office). Uniformly they have said that government hours are much, much better than BigLaw. The differences in times I have heard ranges from 15 hours/week to 35 hours/week less over a year. Each admits there are times that you are as busy as you are at a big firm but that those time periods happen for days at a time, but none have had anything longer than that.

I mean, I'm not saying going BigLaw is bad or that time is more important than money. I think it comes down to personal preferences and goals. But I do not think anyone can make an objective case that any associate who is trying to stick around at a Vault 100 firm will have anything less than absurd hours and unpredictability compared to government work.

Edit: And I should note that since I've talked to government litigators, it's almost alway been a litigation associate comparison. I don't know if any of the people I've talked to can compared transactional work to government work. I imagine had they been transactional, they would have said similar things about the hours, but not as much about predictability -- but that would all be conjecture.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby nygrrrl » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:24 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
I work at a big law firm. My father was a partner at a different big law firm in a different city and then worked in the general counsel's office of a federal government agency. My mother is an Attorney who works with Congress.

As somebody who graduated from a good law school, I also know dozens of people at other big law firms across the country and a smattering of clerks and other government attorneys.

So I personally don't have any hesitation when it comes to commenting on this topic.

Just edited an earlier post of mine to thank those of you who are posting solid, honest advice, using the Anon Feature (it's largely designed for posts like these!) Appreciate the insight.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:32 pm

At my NYC DA office first and second year ADAs tend to work 7-5:30/6 or 8:00 - 7:00. Our office keeps track of your time and the DA uses that as a factor when determining who gets promotions/raises/bonuses.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby FlanAl » Tue Nov 13, 2012 10:54 pm

Anonymous User wrote:At my NYC DA office first and second year ADAs tend to work 7-5:30/6 or 8:00 - 7:00. Our office keeps track of your time and the DA uses that as a factor when determining who gets promotions/raises/bonuses.


This is probably pretty naive, but if the office is keeping track of your time and you're gov. employees are you clocking overtime? I totally understand if its expected to put in longer than 9-5, but it also seems weird for a gov. employer to be strict about you doing more than 40hr weeks. I just mean is it that it takes 11hrs a day to get the work done or are they adamant about ass in chair time being 11hrs a day?

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 14, 2012 7:35 am

FlanAl wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:At my NYC DA office first and second year ADAs tend to work 7-5:30/6 or 8:00 - 7:00. Our office keeps track of your time and the DA uses that as a factor when determining who gets promotions/raises/bonuses.


This is probably pretty naive, but if the office is keeping track of your time and you're gov. employees are you clocking overtime? I totally understand if its expected to put in longer than 9-5, but it also seems weird for a gov. employer to be strict about you doing more than 40hr weeks. I just mean is it that it takes 11hrs a day to get the work done or are they adamant about ass in chair time being 11hrs a day?


We don't get overtime. Like I said, the benefit of working extra hours is that you have a better chance of getting bonus/raise/promotion.

They're not super strict about it but if you're staffing a part for the week you're still getting new cases and work needs to get done on your old cases. It certainly makes life easier to stay late or come in early to get work done when you have 150-200 cases.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:04 pm

As someone who has worked for both, I think there are three main differences.

Difference #1: Non-fire-drill schedule. The typical non-fire-drill day in biglaw is roughly 9:30-7:30. The typical non-fire-drill day in the government is typically 8:45-5:15. Also, it's usually pretty normal in biglaw that you'll work a half day on a non-fire-drill weekend, even when you're not super busy -- though this can be from home most of the time, and it's often spread out over both days (so 2-3 hours on Saturday and Sunday). That's very rare in the government.

Difference #2: Fire drill schedule and frequency. In biglaw, you'll get more fire drills, and they'll be longer in duration. It varied widely for me, but I'd say on average there was maybe one a quarter, and they lasted for about two weeks each. In the government, it's more like a couple of times a year, and it's usually for less than a week. Plus, a fire drill in biglaw means you go home at 2:00 AM. In government, it means you go home at 9:00 PM. More abstractly, I'd say that the goal for a biglaw firm when there is a fire drill is to put out work product (whether that's a brief or transaction documents or a hearing) that's as close to non-fire-drill quality as possible, which generally means trying to cram the requisite man-hours into a shorter time period. The goal in government is to get the work product to "good enough" even if it is noticeably inferior.

Difference #3: Travel. In many biglaw practices, you go through periods where you are travelling every month, often for several days or a week at a time. That generally doesn't happen in the government.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby anon168 » Wed Nov 14, 2012 2:43 pm

Anonymous User wrote:As someone who has worked for both, I think there are three main differences.

Difference #1: Non-fire-drill schedule. The typical non-fire-drill day in biglaw is roughly 9:30-7:30. The typical non-fire-drill day in the government is typically 8:45-5:15. Also, it's usually pretty normal in biglaw that you'll work a half day on a non-fire-drill weekend, even when you're not super busy -- though this can be from home most of the time, and it's often spread out over both days (so 2-3 hours on Saturday and Sunday). That's very rare in the government.

Difference #2: Fire drill schedule and frequency. In biglaw, you'll get more fire drills, and they'll be longer in duration. It varied widely for me, but I'd say on average there was maybe one a quarter, and they lasted for about two weeks each. In the government, it's more like a couple of times a year, and it's usually for less than a week. Plus, a fire drill in biglaw means you go home at 2:00 AM. In government, it means you go home at 9:00 PM. More abstractly, I'd say that the goal for a biglaw firm when there is a fire drill is to put out work product (whether that's a brief or transaction documents or a hearing) that's as close to non-fire-drill quality as possible, which generally means trying to cram the requisite man-hours into a shorter time period. The goal in government is to get the work product to "good enough" even if it is noticeably inferior.

Difference #3: Travel. In many biglaw practices, you go through periods where you are travelling every month, often for several days or a week at a time. That generally doesn't happen in the government.


You want to know another difference?

You get paid for working more hours in biglaw.

At the USAO our pay raises and/or bonuses (if any) were generally not tied to hours. That's assuming there were pay raises (COL does not count) or bonuses because in most years the Feds were so shitfaced broke we were happy just to have enough competent support staff to go around.

I never turned out inferior work or "good enough" work product either in private or public practice. Never.

The amount of travel varies -- it's impossible to generalize that private lawyers travel more or less than public ones. When I did a detail at DOJ I traveled weekly. Total pain in the ass. At least when I traveled in private practice it meant easy billable hours. The biggest collateral benefit of government travel is comp time (and perhaps government rates at nice(er) hotels).

Here's another difference. When there's a fire-drill at the government, you're there alone. At least I was. Making my own photocopies and putting together my own exhibit binders for trial the next day. Totally sucked, esp. if there was a jam in the copier, or you ran out of 3-ring binders, or whatever. Legal assistants and paralegals and IT clock out at 5, and most of the time overtime was not authorized. This is in stark contrast to private practice, where I have 24 hour lit support.

Those are things people don't think about or consider when they talk about "hours".

And, you know what, I rarely ever worked consistently 9-5 at the USAO. On a typical month I would spend at least 2 Saturdays at the office. So would many of my colleagues. Of course, we didn't have to work more than 9-5/5days a week, but we wanted to. And the frustrating part is that we were never compensated for working harder or better than other people. Because like I said above, you don't really get true meaningful raises or bonuses in the government, and the prospects of advancement in the USAO is limited, to nonexistent, unless you wanted to be in management (e.g. Deputy or Section Chief), which I did not want to be in. I wanted to prosecute cases, not manage other AUSAs.

There's no perfect situation, and like I said up above, using hours as a determining factor of which road you want to take is shortsighted.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Lwoods » Wed Nov 14, 2012 3:27 pm

I think it depends. Government can vary significantly based on the type of job(s) you're pursuing and in which locations. BigLaw is probably a little more standard, but there are certain nuances between litigation and transactional.

I worked for the New York office of a well-known BigLaw firm, primarily supporting transactional attorneys. My dad has spent most of his career as a small-town prosecutor in the midwest, and my aunt and uncle are attorneys for the state legislature of a midwestern state.

BigLaw transactional life involves minimal travel (if any), but there are some serious late nights, particularly leading up to a closing. The hours are heavy throughout, but there are ebbs and flows with the deals. Sometimes difficult to plan vacations; one partner on a deal I assisted took conference calls from his boat because something came up while he was on his family vacation.
I can't speak to the lifestyle of litigators beyond acknowledging that they travel more for work.

As a prosecutor, my dad was at the office M-F 7-5, 7-6 (he's a morning person). He would have time to hang out, come to recitals, games, etc., but he was also on the phone all the time (usually advising the police). I'd say he was in the office 50 hours/week, but his work from home was probably another 20ish hours/week (including 4am phone calls). The work was pretty steady week-to-week, though, and when he was on vacation, someone else in the office covered.

Working for the state legislature, my aunt and uncle have crazy "busy periods" where they basically live at the office. I can't speak to their week-to-week areas, but vacation planning was at the mercy of the legislative calendar.

I think what I've learned from the lawyers that I've met in my life is that you have to love what you do because it's a time-consuming career. I know most (sometimes all) of the public defenders my dad knew in my home county were part-time, as were some of the prosecutors, so I guess if you want fewer hours, that is possible... but knowing the full-time salary of those attorneys, I can't imagine the part-time salaries would be desirable beyond a supplemental income.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Nov 14, 2012 11:11 pm

I've worked in a non-prosecutor BigFed office and while I don't doubt that there are prosecutors that work 50+ hours a week, that's not universal for all government. I like to get in at 8:30-8:45am, and I am the first person in the office 90% of the time. Most people eat lunch together for 45 minutes to an hour, every day, and it's no big deal to take a 2 hour lunch whenever. By 4pm, a lot of people have gone home. It's the most laid back job I have ever seen in my entire life, non-law included.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby anon168 » Wed Nov 14, 2012 11:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I've worked in a non-prosecutor BigFed office and while I don't doubt that there are prosecutors that work 50+ hours a week, that's not universal for all government. I like to get in at 8:30-8:45am, and I am the first person in the office 90% of the time. Most people eat lunch together for 45 minutes to an hour, every day, and it's no big deal to take a 2 hour lunch whenever. By 4pm, a lot of people have gone home. It's the most laid back job I have ever seen in my entire life, non-law included.


This sounds like one of the worst jobs in the world to me.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby bdubs » Thu Nov 15, 2012 12:16 am

If you are an ambitious young attorney at DOJ you will work hours that at times will rival biglaw hours. Having lived in DC and knowing how government works there is a big difference between the lifer positions and the headline grabbing, lateral in to biglaw partner kind of positions.

Lots of former clerks want the more ambitious positions and not the lifer positions, but it's really up to you.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Sep 17, 2016 4:04 am

anon168 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I'm currently clerking and considering whether to pursue government work or big law firm work. I hear all kinds of stories about not having a life in big law. How true is that? Are you working every night and weekend? Or does it go in spurts? Do you get any vacation?


I'm sorry, but this is a dumb question. And, in reality, the wrong question to be asking.

If given the choice, choose the career path -- be it biglaw or government work -- based on what you will enjoy the most, and excel at. Because if you don't enjoy what you are doing, no matter how minimal the hours are, you're going to hate your job, and your life.

I've known DOJ trial attorneys, AUSAs, SEC Enforcement attorneys, DHS/ICE attorneys, who've hated their jobs, but they have basically life time tenure and work nothing but 9-5 hours, 5 days a week and get all the silly federal holidays off. But they dread going to work, and many of them have no exit options.

Conversely, I know quite a few attorneys in the private sector (at biglaw and V50 firms) that really enjoy what they are doing. The hours are no doubt greater than the 9-5/5days you find in the public sector, but not always by a significant amount. But even when you ask them if the hours are a major drag, those that enjoy their careers will say, something to the effect of, "No, I hardly notice it because I like what I'm doing."

The work of a government attorney vis-a-vis one in the private sector is very different. Never mistake or presume that those two career paths are interchangeable.

Choose a career path that you feel you will enjoy, don't worry about the hours because if you really have gumption and career aspirations, working hard or long is almost a non-factor. Fear of working hard is for those who ultimately realize that they are nothing better than a modern day Willy Loman.


I'm sorry, but this is a dumb comment. There is a cost/benefit analysis that goes into a career choice that involves more than just job satisfaction. If you have a family, you know that there's no job so satisfying that you would rather be doing late in the evenings and on weekends than spending it wife them. All things being equal you will choose the job that's most satisfying, but personally I'd rather choose a job that's slightly less exciting that lets me see more of my family. No matter how much you enjoy your job, you'll hate your life if things at home are bad. Take a well rounded approach that incorporates hours, compensation, job satisfaction, and everything else that is important to you.

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby lawman84 » Sat Sep 17, 2016 4:45 am

Anonymous User wrote:I'm sorry, but this is a dumb comment. There is a cost/benefit analysis that goes into a career choice that involves more than just job satisfaction. If you have a family, you know that there's no job so satisfying that you would rather be doing late in the evenings and on weekends than spending it wife them. All things being equal you will choose the job that's most satisfying, but personally I'd rather choose a job that's slightly less exciting that lets me see more of my family. No matter how much you enjoy your job, you'll hate your life if things at home are bad. Take a well rounded approach that incorporates hours, compensation, job satisfaction, and everything else that is important to you.


Seriously? You posted anon to fight with a guy over a comment made nearly 4 years ago? Yes, it was a dumb comment, but it was made NEARLY FOUR YEARS AGO. :lol:

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Re: How bad are big law hours compared to government, really?

Postby zot1 » Sat Sep 17, 2016 10:59 am

Government hours vary by level and then within agency. I work 40 hrs/week consistently. I thought this was pretty standard across fed gov but just realized it wasn't.




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