Anonymous User wrote:How stressful is it to be a first year associate at a small firm? Less so than at a big firm?
Depends what you mean by stress. Some stress might actually come from something you enjoy.
Long hours x no substantive work (big law) = stress
Long hours x very substantive work (Susman, Boies) = stress
Low hours x no substantive work = stress (if you care about being a lawyer)
Low hours x very substantive work (many p-side firms) = stress
So on and so forth.
My limited experience (interviewing, and one summer) at a small firm compared to my experience as a big firm...
I've found small firms to be much more of a "family." When you actually know everyone in your office, things just seem to be happier and more enjoyable. When your entire office can fit into one conference for a fantasy football draft, it's pretty awesome. Of course, this is totally firm dependent, because if you know everyone and they all suck, well...
You're going to get more substantive work sooner in small firms, simply because they cannot afford to overstaff cases at multiple tiers (partner > sr associate > midlevel > first years) like big law can. You might get thrown into the fire some.
Hours...totally firm and practice area dependent. A firm like Susman (if you can consider that small) or Gibbs & Bruns or Bickel & Brewer, you're going to be billing more than big law. A smaller, lesser-known p-side shop that does all contingency work will, on average, have you working less.
Opportunity for advancement...firm dependent again. In my limited experience, if you get your foot in the door at a small firm, you're going to make partner if you stick it out and do good work. You don't necessarily need to be a superstar (though you would need to be a star to make equity partner). These firms don't hire a ton, and when they do, they hire people who want to be there a long time. Attrition is not their model. However, some firms concentrate power in a very few, and the odds of cracking equity partner status are almost non-existent (I believe The Lanier Law Firm has a reputation like this, but I may be misremembering).
Pay...also firm dependent. Many smaller p-side firms will start you much, much less ($30k-$100k less than big law), but there is a higher earning potential (due to the likelihood of making partner and the amount the equity partners earn in a good year). Other smaller firms (Susman, Bickel & Brewer, Gibbs) pay more right off the bat.
What it boils down to, really, is that outside of the comfortable confines of lockstep and "market" (the area where most small firms fall) your experience is entirely dependent upon the firm.