Why Big Law can be miserable.

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Anonymous User
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Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Why Big Law can be miserable.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 02, 2015 12:57 pm

I don't believe Big Law has to be miserable for everyone. Some people (though I have never met any) apparently enjoy Big Law. I despised it. But sometimes it is hard to articulate why exactly. After all, it is hard to complain about being gainfully employed (and extremely well-compensated by any reasonable. informed standard). I thought this article is worth sharing because it highlights (though only briefly) two of the main reasons Big Law can crush souls:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrewyan ... 53002.html

"I hated my job, I didn't admire the people I was working with, and I felt that I was becoming a smaller, less imaginative, less risk-taking, less likable version of myself."

One of the hardest things about Big Law is looking to the people above you and hoping that you never become anything like them. You want to look up to those above you. You want to aspire to be like them. That is very difficult in Big Law. Though many of the partners are very smart (as they will be quick to tell you) and accomplished (as again, they themselves will make clear), they are often brash, insensitive, arrogant and delusional in that they think anyone outside of the legal industry would be impressed by them for more than an instant. They also tend to have awful personal lives (though this is not always true). Lots of divorce, lots of substance abuse, and an unhealthy obsession with material things.

The second thing that is difficult is that a Big Law firm is, by design, a pyramid. There are a few people at the top who get to do interesting work, and everyone at the bottom is there to support that work. You get to contribute very little to the creative aspect of litigation (I cannot speak to the transactional side) and are not likely to get substantive experience that makes you feel like you are growing as an attorney. I knew 5th and 6th years at my firm that had never taken a deposition. This presents a real problem when you want to move on to something else (a smaller firm or government work) and you can't speak to any real experience you have had. Not to mention it feels shitty in the meantime, since you just spent lots of time and money investing in yourself, and you want to capitalize on that with additional investment and growth.

I am sure lots of people have thoughts as to why Big Law is miserable. And I am sure some have thoughts as to why it isn't so bad. But this article touched on two reasons it is a tough environment for young people looking to have success in their careers. I thought it was worth sharing for that reason.

Anonymous User
Posts: 273187
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Why Big Law can be miserable.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 02, 2015 1:19 pm

I see similar arguments all the time re: partners are horrible people and basically poison the well for everyone, and it makes perfect sense. I'm curious though, do people think that these partners are still happy with their careers even if they are by all accounts miserable people generally? Do people think partners are this way because being in biglaw that long would turn anyone into that kind of person, or is it that those kinds of people are the only ones that would survive in that environment without despising it enough to leave?

The bolded quote seems to support that everyone would slowly turn into what these partners ultimately seem to be, but still seems to be the case that if you're already that douchebag you may have more longevity.

So I guess what do people think came first . . . the partner or the douche?

Anonymous User
Posts: 273187
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:32 am

Re: Why Big Law can be miserable.

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 02, 2015 1:23 pm

The first functional alcoholic I knew was my boss in a DC office of a top firm. And I was totally amazed that you can still function day to day business after consuming so much alcohol.

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nealric
Posts: 2391
Joined: Fri Sep 25, 2009 9:53 am

Re: Why Big Law can be miserable.

Postby nealric » Mon Mar 02, 2015 3:13 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I don't believe Big Law has to be miserable for everyone. Some people (though I have never met any) apparently enjoy Big Law. I despised it. But sometimes it is hard to articulate why exactly. After all, it is hard to complain about being gainfully employed (and extremely well-compensated by any reasonable. informed standard). I thought this article is worth sharing because it highlights (though only briefly) two of the main reasons Big Law can crush souls:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrewyan ... 53002.html

"I hated my job, I didn't admire the people I was working with, and I felt that I was becoming a smaller, less imaginative, less risk-taking, less likable version of myself."

One of the hardest things about Big Law is looking to the people above you and hoping that you never become anything like them. You want to look up to those above you. You want to aspire to be like them. That is very difficult in Big Law. Though many of the partners are very smart (as they will be quick to tell you) and accomplished (as again, they themselves will make clear), they are often brash, insensitive, arrogant and delusional in that they think anyone outside of the legal industry would be impressed by them for more than an instant. They also tend to have awful personal lives (though this is not always true). Lots of divorce, lots of substance abuse, and an unhealthy obsession with material things.

The second thing that is difficult is that a Big Law firm is, by design, a pyramid. There are a few people at the top who get to do interesting work, and everyone at the bottom is there to support that work. You get to contribute very little to the creative aspect of litigation (I cannot speak to the transactional side) and are not likely to get substantive experience that makes you feel like you are growing as an attorney. I knew 5th and 6th years at my firm that had never taken a deposition. This presents a real problem when you want to move on to something else (a smaller firm or government work) and you can't speak to any real experience you have had. Not to mention it feels shitty in the meantime, since you just spent lots of time and money investing in yourself, and you want to capitalize on that with additional investment and growth.

I am sure lots of people have thoughts as to why Big Law is miserable. And I am sure some have thoughts as to why it isn't so bad. But this article touched on two reasons it is a tough environment for young people looking to have success in their careers. I thought it was worth sharing for that reason.


I put in three years at biglaw (tax) and thought it was a good experience. Yes, it was very stressful at time. No, I couldn't imagine doing it for a long-term career. But, I couldn't have gotten my current job without it and it was a fantastic learning experience.

#1) Was not my experience at all. The majority of the partners I worked with were decent human beings. Overworked, sure. Sometimes them being overworked lead to you being overworked. But I never got the impression that any of them were lording their power over me or were arrogant about being smart. Of course, this can vary wildly even within a firm. Just stating that it is far from universal.

#2) True, to some extent. But it was my experience, both personal and by observing others, that you will get good experience if you are proactive about getting it. Just letting the work come in will guarantee you get stuck with the grunt work. If you take charge, you can get amazing experience very quickly. Besides biglaw, there are very few avenues (maybe some federal government jobs) for a brand new lawyer to get exposure to the level of work biglaw offers. Some people do get stuck in bad situations where it's difficult to do this, but that may just mean it's time to lateral. FWIW, my spouse is a biglaw litigator and did depositions within the first few weeks of getting admitted. That opportunity was not just offered.




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