BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

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BigLaw or BigFed Honors Spot

BigLaw - V50 firm in desired practice group, sucky life, but $$$$$
4
8%
BigFed Honors Attorney - ideal work-life balance, $$$
46
92%
 
Total votes: 50

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UnicornHunter
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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby UnicornHunter » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:48 pm

rpupkin wrote:
wolfie_m. wrote:I find it funny that someone always goes nuts on BigFed threads about how BigFed is sooooo not better than BigLaw. I'd like to meet this fabled person who spends 12 hours a day (assuming it's only 12) in BigLaw and truly "loves" it.

After a clerkship, I turned down a federal gov't job in favor of a private firm job. The pay difference is substantial. Also, you can go big law ---> big fed but, with a few exceptions, it's generally not possible to do the reverse.

No, I don't "truly love" private practice. And I totally get why some folks want to go straight to "BigFed" if they have the opportunity to do so. But it's not crazy to decide that you want to make some money for 3-5 years at a firm first.


Is that really true though? Seems like there are a lot more big law mid-level associates out there looking for exit options than there are open FedGov spots. I get that it may be an option, but I'd be surprised if it's really that much easier to go one way than the other.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby wolfie_m. » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:51 pm

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Last edited by wolfie_m. on Tue Dec 22, 2015 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby rpupkin » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:53 pm

TheUnicornHunter wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
wolfie_m. wrote:I find it funny that someone always goes nuts on BigFed threads about how BigFed is sooooo not better than BigLaw. I'd like to meet this fabled person who spends 12 hours a day (assuming it's only 12) in BigLaw and truly "loves" it.

After a clerkship, I turned down a federal gov't job in favor of a private firm job. The pay difference is substantial. Also, you can go big law ---> big fed but, with a few exceptions, it's generally not possible to do the reverse.

No, I don't "truly love" private practice. And I totally get why some folks want to go straight to "BigFed" if they have the opportunity to do so. But it's not crazy to decide that you want to make some money for 3-5 years at a firm first.


Is that really true though? Seems like there are a lot more big law mid-level associates out there looking for exit options than there are open FedGov spots. I get that it may be an option, but I'd be surprised if it's really that much easier to go one way than the other.

I didn't mean to suggest that big law-->gov't was easy, but it is possible. I mean, if you have the connections and credentials to get a fed gov job when coming off a clerkship, you basically still have them 3-4 years later. Plus, you'll have actual litigation experience, which most government agencies value.

But going the other direction--government to big law--is generally not possible. Sure, if you're an ausa you can get hired in a white collar group at a big law firm, but the vast majority of government attorneys are shut out from big law as a possibility. It's basically a one-way street.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Feb 05, 2015 11:05 pm

rpupkin wrote:
TheUnicornHunter wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
wolfie_m. wrote:I find it funny that someone always goes nuts on BigFed threads about how BigFed is sooooo not better than BigLaw. I'd like to meet this fabled person who spends 12 hours a day (assuming it's only 12) in BigLaw and truly "loves" it.

After a clerkship, I turned down a federal gov't job in favor of a private firm job. The pay difference is substantial. Also, you can go big law ---> big fed but, with a few exceptions, it's generally not possible to do the reverse.

No, I don't "truly love" private practice. And I totally get why some folks want to go straight to "BigFed" if they have the opportunity to do so. But it's not crazy to decide that you want to make some money for 3-5 years at a firm first.


Is that really true though? Seems like there are a lot more big law mid-level associates out there looking for exit options than there are open FedGov spots. I get that it may be an option, but I'd be surprised if it's really that much easier to go one way than the other.

I didn't mean to suggest that big law-->gov't was easy, but it is possible. I mean, if you have the connections and credentials to get a fed gov job when coming off a clerkship, you basically still have them 3-4 years later. Plus, you'll have actual litigation experience, which most government agencies value.

But going the other direction--government to big law--is generally not possible. Sure, if you're an ausa you can get hired in a white collar group at a big law firm, but the vast majority of government attorneys are shut out from big law as a possibility. It's basically a one-way street.


I still don't see why "Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup for the vast majority of students with options in both." Federal government is a long-term career option, whereas biglaw lasts 3-5 years (if you can last that long). After 3-5 years, your best case scenario is to either move to another firm, in-house, or the fed govt, and most of those people will take a massive paycut back into the low to mid $100,000s. If you can get fed govt in the first place, I don't really see why the "vast majority of students with options in both" would choose biglaw. The only point you made in that respect is that the majority fed honor programs don't convert into full-time positions, and that isn't really correct.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Thu Feb 05, 2015 11:11 pm

Anonymous User wrote:hahahah this could not be more incorrect. Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup (I'm a 2L top 25% of class at HYSCCN)

(guy in second week of Property at NYU giving career advice)

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby rpupkin » Thu Feb 05, 2015 11:16 pm

XxSpyKEx wrote:I still don't see why "Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup for the vast majority of students with options in both." Federal government is a long-term career option, whereas biglaw lasts 3-5 years (if you can last that long). After 3-5 years, your best case scenario is to either move to another firm, in-house, or the fed govt, and most of those people will take a massive paycut back into the low to mid $100,000s. If you can get fed govt in the first place, I don't really see why the "vast majority of students with options in both" would choose biglaw. The only point you made in that respect is that the majority fed honor programs don't convert into full-time positions, and that isn't really correct.

I'm not the one who wrote that "Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup for the vast majority of students with options in both." I don't know if that's true or not, but it doesn't sound right to me.

But I'm not really following your logic either. You write that if you can get fed govt in the first place, you don't see why many would choose big law because they'll eventually have to take a "massive paycut" anyway. The answer, of course, is that you'll average about $220k/yr for the five years you stick it out in big law. That's about twice as much as you would make during the same period in a government job. For those with loans, or for those who want to buy a house in an expensive urban area, those few years of relatively high income can make a real difference. The fact that you later take a paycut doesn't make that extra earned income disappear.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 12:14 am

Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:BigFed honors is the better decision for the long-term. I mean the likelihood you're going to remain at the firm more than 3-5 years is pretty slim, and then you'll be lucky to get BigFed. Why not just go to the BigFed to begin with and avoid the misery of biglaw? Also, if you're going to be on the GS payscale, and are going into a position that caps out at GS-15, you'll be making around $125k /year around your 4th year out, which isn't bad. If your going to to a banking agency (e.g. FDIC, FRB, etc.), you'll be making a shitload more. Moreover, depending on the practice area you'll be in at the fed govt, you might even have a shot at lateraling back to a firm in 10 years at the federal government as a partner. Your odds of making partner at a v50 firm if you start there as an associate are really, really low. Biglaw really was the backup plan for people who couldn't get federal government or fed clerkships at my school before the great recession. Even today, I think the vast majority of people who starts as first year associates at big firms would have taken federal government instead if it had been an option for them.



hahahah this could not be more incorrect. Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup (I'm a 2L top 25% of class at HYSCCN) for the vast majority of students with options in both. Everyone is ignoring the fact that the pay is not only MASSIVELY lower but that the majority, yes majority, of honors program spots do NOT CONVERT TO FULL TIME positions after the 1 or 2 years is up.

Sure, some do, but it's not something you bank on. And if you then start at mid-law after or go to a shittier agency, DA, whatever, you are behind your peers in a number of ways.

I also would not put too much stock in the work life balance aspect. Yes, it is certainly much better. however, it my summer experience at a high-prestige federal agency (SEC, CFTC, etc.) the top dogs worked very hard and long hours pretty often. If you end up doing that anyways, you will be pissed when your pay is 1/3 of what it could be after a few years. And yes the workplace politics are as bad or probably worse than in biglaw. As for benefits, biglaw benefits are just as good as government or better at most legit firms (V50- V100 included).

The most important aspect by far is the degree to which you enjoy the work. Working 10 hours a day in big-fed honors but hating it is FAR worse than 12 hours a day in biglaw and loving it, and vice versa of course. That should be the primary driving factor, with exit options and pay being close seconds, IMO.

But to the guy above, bigfed honors are a first choice to a select few who self-select. Don't try to self-justify your choice on here bro.


LOL. There are definitely both upsides and downsides to doing government or biglaw, but federal government spots are in no way any kind of backup option. I would be shocked if the vast majority of those going to biglaw at a CCN could even get an interview in an honors program, let alone an offer. Getting an honors program position is nothing like getting an unpaid government internship for the summer, or even a paid one. It is 10 times harder. Also, almost all honors program positions are permanent to begin with or designed to convert to permanent positions.

As others have pointed out, biglaw salaries are fake. For 90% + of people, you will get that salary for only 2-4 years before dropping significantly to a real salary. Yes, you will make more on average than someone going into government in the first five years, but the difference is not that massive when you take into account LRAP and PSLFP, incomparable quality of life, and the far superior government benefits. You clearly have never worked in a firm before if you think firms offer good benefits. Other than the salary, benefits are as basic as it gets even at the top firms. And yes, not everyone in government works 9-5, but believe me that there is no comparison to the hours at a firm.

There are definitely reasons to go to a firm over going to the government, but the above comment is ridiculous. And I say that as someone (because it clearly matters so much to you) who was top 1/3 at a CCN and actually has 3 years of practice experience.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Fri Feb 06, 2015 12:57 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 12:30 am

rpupkin wrote:
TheUnicornHunter wrote:
rpupkin wrote:
wolfie_m. wrote:I find it funny that someone always goes nuts on BigFed threads about how BigFed is sooooo not better than BigLaw. I'd like to meet this fabled person who spends 12 hours a day (assuming it's only 12) in BigLaw and truly "loves" it.

After a clerkship, I turned down a federal gov't job in favor of a private firm job. The pay difference is substantial. Also, you can go big law ---> big fed but, with a few exceptions, it's generally not possible to do the reverse.

No, I don't "truly love" private practice. And I totally get why some folks want to go straight to "BigFed" if they have the opportunity to do so. But it's not crazy to decide that you want to make some money for 3-5 years at a firm first.


Is that really true though? Seems like there are a lot more big law mid-level associates out there looking for exit options than there are open FedGov spots. I get that it may be an option, but I'd be surprised if it's really that much easier to go one way than the other.

I didn't mean to suggest that big law-->gov't was easy, but it is possible. I mean, if you have the connections and credentials to get a fed gov job when coming off a clerkship, you basically still have them 3-4 years later. Plus, you'll have actual litigation experience, which most government agencies value.

But going the other direction--government to big law--is generally not possible. Sure, if you're an ausa you can get hired in a white collar group at a big law firm, but the vast majority of government attorneys are shut out from big law as a possibility. It's basically a one-way street.


I currently work at a federal agency (not an AUSA). We have people leaving for biglaw all the time, and get hundreds of biglaw resumes for nearly every opening we have. This isn't true of all agencies, but from agencies in fields where there are large biglaw practice groups it is not even remotely impossible to go from gov--> biglaw. In fact it's pretty easy.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby UnicornHunter » Fri Feb 06, 2015 12:33 am

Anonymous User wrote:
I currently work at a federal agency (not an AUSA). We have people leaving for biglaw all the time, and get hundreds of biglaw resumes for nearly every opening we have. This isn't true of all agencies, but from agencies in fields where there are large biglaw practice groups it is not even remotely impossible to go from gov--> biglaw. In fact it's pretty easy.


This seems a lot more consistent with what I've heard and basic math (compare # of firm jobs to # of fed jobs)

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Fri Feb 06, 2015 1:39 am

rpupkin wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:I still don't see why "Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup for the vast majority of students with options in both." Federal government is a long-term career option, whereas biglaw lasts 3-5 years (if you can last that long). After 3-5 years, your best case scenario is to either move to another firm, in-house, or the fed govt, and most of those people will take a massive paycut back into the low to mid $100,000s. If you can get fed govt in the first place, I don't really see why the "vast majority of students with options in both" would choose biglaw. The only point you made in that respect is that the majority fed honor programs don't convert into full-time positions, and that isn't really correct.

I'm not the one who wrote that "Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup for the vast majority of students with options in both." I don't know if that's true or not, but it doesn't sound right to me.

But I'm not really following your logic either. You write that if you can get fed govt in the first place, you don't see why many would choose big law because they'll eventually have to take a "massive paycut" anyway. The answer, of course, is that you'll average about $220k/yr for the five years you stick it out in big law. That's about twice as much as you would make during the same period in a government job. For those with loans, or for those who want to buy a house in an expensive urban area, those few years of relatively high income can make a real difference. The fact that you later take a paycut doesn't make that extra earned income disappear.


Okay, fair point. If you're someone who has such a competitive resume that you'll almost for sure be able to get fed govt after biglaw, it wouldn't be crazy soak up the biglaw salary for the first few year to help you buy that house in the expensive urban area that isn't in NY (that associate biglaw salary is not enough to buy real estate in NY). But for everyone else who has both options on the table after graduation, it's a huge risk since the fed govt job might not come around again after biglaw (this is basically the exit option that a ton of people leaving biglaw want). Re: your point about loans--I think you're actually better off with fed govt if you have significant loans when you factor in PAYE, PSLF, your school's LRAP, the fed govt's loan repayment program, etc.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby rpupkin » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:14 am

Anonymous User wrote:I currently work at a federal agency (not an AUSA). We have people leaving for biglaw all the time, and get hundreds of biglaw resumes for nearly every opening we have.

Really? What's the agency?

To be clear, I'm talking about an apples-to-apples, associate-with-3-to-5-years-of-experience versus govt-atty-with-3-to-5-years-of-experience comparison here. Yes, I know there are people who are at the partner level in big law, lateral over to an agency for a few years, and then lateral back out into big law practice. But that's not the kind of lawyer we're talking about in this thread. If your agency has young attorneys with 3-5 years of experience "leaving for big law all the time," I am genuinely curious where you're working. I did not know that such an agency existed.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:25 am

rpupkin wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I currently work at a federal agency (not an AUSA). We have people leaving for biglaw all the time, and get hundreds of biglaw resumes for nearly every opening we have.

Really? What's the agency?

To be clear, I'm talking about an apples-to-apples, associate-with-3-to-5-years-of-experience versus govt-atty-with-3-to-5-years-of-experience comparison here. Yes, I know there are people who are at the partner level in big law, lateral over to an agency for a few years, and then lateral back out into big law practice. But that's not the kind of lawyer we're talking about in this thread. If your agency has young attorneys with 3-5 years of experience "leaving for big law all the time," I am genuinely curious where you're working. I did not know that such an agency existed.


I don't want to say what agency, but it's in the financial regulatory sector. Think similar to the SEC, CFTC, etc. There are basically two times when people leave at my agency. The first is around 5 years out, when people have real marketable experience and limited growth potential at the agency. It also usually coincides with when their loan repayment commitment to the agency ends. The other is around 10 years out (or later), when people can make a lot more money as counsel or sometimes a partner in biglaw (note btw that I'm including market paying boutiques in my definition of biglaw). I agree that prior to around 5 years, it's hard and uncommon to make the move, but we did have one person leave last year for biglaw after literally a year at the agency. I should also note that most attorneys at my agency worked for biglaw for a few years before coming here. But they are usually not the ones leaving at the five year point--it's the ones that came straight out of law school that are.

I think this is true for all the financial regulatory agencies and other agencies in lucrative fields like the FTC, FERC, etc. I'm honestly surprised you think this is so strange. I had always been under the impression that this was the norm. In fact, it's a big problem for my agency because it makes staffing cases a nightmare and we lose people right when they finally begin to know how to do things. For places like DOJ, DHS, HUD, or the like that are in less marketable fields, it might be a lot harder to leave for biglaw. Also, at any agency people who work in the "general law & ethics" group will have a very hard time leaving government.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 10:51 am

Working 10 hours a day in big-fed honors but hating it is FAR worse than 12 hours a day in biglaw and loving it, and vice versa of course.


different anon (I'm anon b/c I was silly and put part of my actual name in my username) but I will tell you I work for a shit agency in TLS terms (DOL, HHS, SSA, DHS). Biglaw was never an option for me and Biglaw exit options basically don't exist but most lawyers here are gs-14s or 15s. We literally have to request and be approved to work over 8.5 hours a day. If we need to and the request is approved that additional time is called credit hours and the hours are added to your annual leave. I know people that have been here 10 years and never worked a 50 hour week. Weekend work doesn't exist the facility is locked on the weekend. We get 30 days off a year (20 days leave, 10 fed holidays thats on top of sick time) We also telework 2-3 days a week.

I have no experience in biglaw I didnt summer or anything but it sounds terrible. There are a couple of people in my office from biglaw. People are here to live comfortably while raising their children and having hobbies not for biglaw exit options.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Fri Feb 06, 2015 10:54 am

^^ this is the point. If you want to do biglaw then yeah, go do biglaw. But you almost certainly shouldn't want that. So why worry about whether the fed job will let you do the thing later that you shouldn't do now or ever? Stop worrying about keeping all the doors open, it's impossible and will make you miserable.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby seizmaar » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:31 am

hold up, telework "2-3 days a week"? please sign me up for this shit.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:46 am

Yeah, different federal anon, but I'm just waiting for the day when I can shift to flex time (work slightly longer days and get every other Friday off).

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby fats provolone » Fri Feb 06, 2015 11:51 am

dixiecupdrinking wrote:Stop worrying about keeping all the doors open, it's impossible and will make you miserable.

this is really good advice for life in general

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 1:00 pm

Yeah, different federal anon, but I'm just waiting for the day when I can shift to flex time (work slightly longer days and get every other Friday off).


We also have flexible work schedule if you want you can work 5/4/9 (work 8 9.5 hours days and an 8.5 hour day then you get 1 day off every 2 weeks) or 4/10 (4 10.5 hour days 1 day off a week) then you can combine that with telework too if your supervisor will let you. I've got a guy in my office that works 4/10 and teleworks 3 days a week so he's in the office 1 10.5 hour day a week. Thats an exception though hes the only one approved for 4/10 with 3 telework days speculation is that its part of a reasonable accommodation. I'm currently working regular schedule teleworking M, W, TH. 2 commutes and 2 monkey suits a week really cuts down on wasted traffic time, car mait., dry cleaning.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:23 pm

seizmaar wrote:hold up, telework "2-3 days a week"? please sign me up for this shit.


Yeah, telecommuting seems to be pretty common in federal government. It's one of many perks that fed govt offer that you're not likely to find in biglaw. Honestly, only reason I can see choosing biglaw over fed govt. is the amount of money you make in the short-term. It takes a special kind of person to truly enjoy biglaw more than fed govt (I think a lot of v50 partners fit into this category).

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby fats provolone » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:33 pm

wfh is pretty common in biglaw i think?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:34 pm

Somewhat off-topic but not: are honors programs available for long-term (3-4 year) clerks?

I will have four years of clerking (and nothing else) in a couple of years. Will honors programs still be a possibility? I've seen them limited to those coming off of clerkships, but there is no indication of if it's limited to 1-2 year clerks.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:35 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Yeah, different federal anon, but I'm just waiting for the day when I can shift to flex time (work slightly longer days and get every other Friday off).


We also have flexible work schedule if you want you can work 5/4/9 (work 8 9.5 hours days and an 8.5 hour day then you get 1 day off every 2 weeks) or 4/10 (4 10.5 hour days 1 day off a week) then you can combine that with telework too if your supervisor will let you. I've got a guy in my office that works 4/10 and teleworks 3 days a week so he's in the office 1 10.5 hour day a week. Thats an exception though hes the only one approved for 4/10 with 3 telework days speculation is that its part of a reasonable accommodation. I'm currently working regular schedule teleworking M, W, TH. 2 commutes and 2 monkey suits a week really cuts down on wasted traffic time, car mait., dry cleaning.


I have a few questions, if you don't mind me asking. What's the pay like? What Corporate practice groups are best prepared to enter into a federal agency like this? Sounds like the life.

How much work do you actually do at home anyway?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:36 pm

fats provolone wrote:wfh is pretty common in biglaw i think?


What firms let you work from home on a regularly basis?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby fats provolone » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
fats provolone wrote:wfh is pretty common in biglaw i think?


What firms let you work from home on a regularly basis?

i work from home 2-3 days a week. but i also work every weekend so hey more like 4-5!

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby rpupkin » Fri Feb 06, 2015 2:41 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
fats provolone wrote:wfh is pretty common in biglaw i think?


What firms let you work from home on a regularly basis?

Don't most of them? I've worked at two firms and neither cared where you worked. I mean, if there was a meeting or something you needed to be in the office, but otherwise you could basically work from anywhere.

The government job I turned down would have required a lot more face time than my big law job.




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