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.