Big law or start-up?

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Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 15, 2017 2:38 pm

3L considering big law in NY or start-up. The start-up pays about 110k and has better hours. My biggest concern about big law is the lifestyle. As a single, 28 year old female, I would like to get married and start a family within the next few years and I’m worried how much time I could realistically devote to having a social life if I spend the next few years in big law.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby patentlaworbust » Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:23 pm

Depends on your long term goals. Some questions to ask yourself: 1) Do you plan to stay home with your future kids (and/or work eventually for a nonprofit or outside of the Law), or do you plan to continue to work as a lawyer for a firm, in house, or for the government? 2) If unsure, do you wish to keep the latter option open? 3) Do you want to practice in big Law (now or ever)?

If you see a future for yourself continuing to practice Law for a firm, company, or the government, then you should choose BigLaw now for the training opportunities (formal and informal), the ability to work on complex matters, and for the sake of having a recognized a well reputed firm name on your resume. The hit you take to your short term social life (which I know is more valuable than you’d think before starting a family) may be worth it to fit your long term personal and career goals

Separately, if you have any interest in doing big Law (ever) you should get in now while you can. It is much harder to break into big Law than it is to move around within big Law. For better or worse, big Law is a very exclusive club at most all levels, and leaving big Law or not being there to begin with can make it much harder to return or break into the mold.

Working for a startup can have its hardships as well. Depending on the stage of the company or the sophistication of its law dept (assuming it’s not just you) then you need to be concerned about the long term solvency of the company and the possibility that you will receive no formal training or mentorship opportunities. IMO, It is often better to devote energy to a start up (as a client or in house) as a more seasoned lawyer than to jump on board in house fresh out of Law school.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:41 pm

From a lifestyle perspective, and very possibly from a day-to-day interest/fulfillment in your job perspective, I'd take the start-up over biglaw every day of the week, even at that pay differential.

My general concern, that may be completely unfounded, is that every legal job seems to ask for X number of years spent at a major law firm (biglaw), and/or in-house at a major corporation in addition. There never seems to be a shortage of unhappy associates leaving biglaw competing for these positions.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby delusional » Fri Dec 15, 2017 3:56 pm

To play devil's advocate, successful startups involve as much if not more work than biglaw.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby RedGiant » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:50 pm

I would caution that not all startups are created equal. Do you believe in the management team? Have they successfully exited before? Does the company have good funding and a long cash runway? What "round" of financing are they at--early stage, mid-stage or later-stage? Lots of startups require crazy-long hours....Are they offering you equity? What percentage? Are they planning on bringing in an attorney above you or will you be winging it on your own? Do you have access to the databases you need, or will you have to "bootstrap?" Are you comfortable with ambiguity?

This is not just a question about lifestyle at all.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby 1styearlateral » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:58 pm

RedGiant wrote:I would caution that not all startups are created equal. Do you believe in the management team? Have they successfully exited before? Does the company have good funding and a long cash runway? What "round" of financing are they at--early stage, mid-stage or later-stage? Lots of startups require crazy-long hours....Are they offering you equity? What percentage? Are they planning on bringing in an attorney above you or will you be winging it on your own? Do you have access to the databases you need, or will you have to "bootstrap?" Are you comfortable with ambiguity?

This is not just a question about lifestyle at all.

To address one of these points I highly doubt any startup would bring in a law grad as their sole attorney. OP will very likely be supervised.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby SFSpartan » Fri Dec 15, 2017 4:59 pm

RedGiant wrote:I would caution that not all startups are created equal. Do you believe in the management team? Have they successfully exited before? Does the company have good funding and a long cash runway? What "round" of financing are they at--early stage, mid-stage or later-stage? Lots of startups require crazy-long hours....Are they offering you equity? What percentage? Are they planning on bringing in an attorney above you or will you be winging it on your own? Do you have access to the databases you need, or will you have to "bootstrap?" Are you comfortable with ambiguity?

This is not just a question about lifestyle at all.


All of these questions are spot on. Will add that I would personally be uncomfortable if this were a pre-Series B Company or if the Company's last round of funding was more than a year ago (the exception would be a software startup that raised close to $100MM at a unicorn valuation - there aren't many of those). Also, the specific biglaw firm you are planning on going to matters. If the ultimate goal is in-house, you should feel comfortable going to the NYC offices of one of Cooley, Goodwin, WSGR, or Fenwick.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby SFSpartan » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:00 pm

1styearlateral wrote:
RedGiant wrote:I would caution that not all startups are created equal. Do you believe in the management team? Have they successfully exited before? Does the company have good funding and a long cash runway? What "round" of financing are they at--early stage, mid-stage or later-stage? Lots of startups require crazy-long hours....Are they offering you equity? What percentage? Are they planning on bringing in an attorney above you or will you be winging it on your own? Do you have access to the databases you need, or will you have to "bootstrap?" Are you comfortable with ambiguity?

This is not just a question about lifestyle at all.

To address one of these points I highly doubt any startup would bring in a law grad as their sole attorney. OP will very likely be supervised.


Very early stage startups (like pre Series A) take on new grads sometimes...

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:06 pm

delusional wrote:To play devil's advocate, successful startups involve as much if not more work than biglaw.


I see this kind of qualification posted here a lot and this is absolutely not true.

Yes, you may have to work a lot at a start up that's growing and lacks the bodies to get things done. No, you will not work the equivalent of 2200+ billable hours in a year. Expectations re: your availability will not resemble anything like those of BigLaw. Most importantly, you will be required to do things that help YOUR company grow and improve. That's a lot easier to work hard on than what you're doing in Big Law (the paper work for someone else's company).

I also think the training issue is overblown. In Big Law, you will most likely be put in a group that is relatively specialized and you will get little to no real substantive work experience until year 2-3. The vast majority of your work will be repetitive and administrative. When you talk to lawyers with 2-3 years of biglaw experience, very few of them feel like they can answer most of the basic legal questions a growing company faces. They know their firms form documents and how to be a cog in a well oiled machine assisting another well oiled machine.

By contrast, you won't know what the hell youre doing at the start up, but you will be tasked with figuring it out. You won't do the perfect job a law firm would do, but you'll do a good enough job and develop a wide range of experience and skills that make you valuable to a company day-to-day.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby mcmand » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:37 pm

Do the start up and never look back.
Last edited by mcmand on Mon Jan 29, 2018 6:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 15, 2017 5:44 pm

A lot of the time-constraints of biglaw are made worse by the rigid hierarchy. If you're the junior on the deal, that all-hands call might just ruin the 3 hours that you wanted to go see a movie with your friends when it could have been done later. That weekend you wanted to go to the beach might just be the weekend the senior associate wants to turn a draft of the purchase agreement.

You'll work a lot at a start-up, but completely depending on the start-up, you might enjoy the comparatively flat structure a little more and feel like you have a bit more autonomy/respect off the bat. This also comes with a lot more responsibilities and less hand-holding, so it's not a good thing altogether. Also, you'll feel more personally attached to the work, since it directly correlates with your future earnings and/or resume marketability. All-in-all, I would feel comfortable assuming that your immediate life would be better at a start-up (although it won't be a 9-5). (One more thing is that my friends at early stage start-ups, albeit non-legal, say that it's impossible to truly take time off because there's not really anybody who can cover or sub for you. I will point out that vacations as a junior are likely the one thing that doesn't suck about biglaw life.

That said, the above are only lifestyle concerns. I think that the points raised about your long-term marketability/exits/career prospects would concern me more. I don't have the answers to them, nor any valuable perspective (all of my start-up friends are non-lawyers), but I would definitely investigate them, because a lot of start-ups fail.

My non-lawyer friends are pretty confident that if/when their start-ups fail, they will have a good resume of skills to market to future employers. The legal market seems a lot tighter than the developer/biz dev market, so I would really explore whether the skills you develop at a start-up will be valued by your next employer. I have no useful advice or insight to offer on this point.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:36 pm

OP here, the start-up is relatively estalished as far as start-ups go based in SF and I would be working in a non-bar required role to help the company with licensing matters and expanding the client base. I’m fine with not ever practicing law as long as I have good options down the road. My concern with big law is that it seems many female single attorneys who enter big law single find it difficult to find relationships. At my age, I think this should be a real concern.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Subban_Fan » Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:57 pm

delusional wrote:To play devil's advocate, successful startups involve as much if not more work than biglaw.


This is a great post.

Successful tech startups have people working 80+ hour weeks, people sleeping at the office (sleep pods, stand-up desks, on-site dry cleaning, on-site gyms, free cafeterias were all big within tech startups because you're expected to not leave). There's a great scene in Pirates of Silicone Valley where Jobs distributes t-shirts with how many hours their employees worked. People I know who were successful at tech companies, that ended up in startups shit, eat, and code. Their life is the company they work for -- they're like a cult.

A lot of the work force is single and male, and will live at the office. Talk to lawyers who were members of successful startups, they probably had to wear many hats outside of what a lawyer was expected to do. If it's a good startup, you'll meet tons of smart people, some of the most brilliant people.

A few things you want to find out is what the startups funding is and who it's from. Are they part of Y-Combinator? 500 Startups? Are they trying for an aqui-hire? If the startup really works out, you can retire before you're 40 richer than any law partner -- the Silicone Valley mints many millennial millionaires, so many that you won't feel that special as a millionaire.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=39398

https://www.elitedaily.com/money/silico ... e-nobodies

If the startup fails, life can get rough. Your own belief in the startup matters the most out of these factors. You'll have to live with its consequences of success and failure. If you don't enjoy entrepreneurial endeavors, gambling, betting big and winning (losing) big, then you're better off away from a startup. You won't fit the culture.

Some good books to consider reading about the tech industry and startups: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio García Martinez, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby 1styearlateral » Fri Dec 15, 2017 7:06 pm

SFSpartan wrote:
1styearlateral wrote:
RedGiant wrote:I would caution that not all startups are created equal. Do you believe in the management team? Have they successfully exited before? Does the company have good funding and a long cash runway? What "round" of financing are they at--early stage, mid-stage or later-stage? Lots of startups require crazy-long hours....Are they offering you equity? What percentage? Are they planning on bringing in an attorney above you or will you be winging it on your own? Do you have access to the databases you need, or will you have to "bootstrap?" Are you comfortable with ambiguity?

This is not just a question about lifestyle at all.

To address one of these points I highly doubt any startup would bring in a law grad as their sole attorney. OP will very likely be supervised.


Very early stage startups (like pre Series A) take on new grads sometimes...

Ok yeah, but that’s also because they probably are offering a $0 salary. It’s essentially a volunteer’s position. I wouldn’t give up a biglaw offer to do that, but it might be an option for someone with no offer at all.

New lawyers have to be careful because the rules of ethics don’t care if you’re 6 months or 30 years out. There are TONS of things you don’t even get told about in law school that apply to practicing law.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Dec 16, 2017 8:18 pm

1styearlateral wrote:
SFSpartan wrote:
1styearlateral wrote:
RedGiant wrote:I would caution that not all startups are created equal. Do you believe in the management team? Have they successfully exited before? Does the company have good funding and a long cash runway? What "round" of financing are they at--early stage, mid-stage or later-stage? Lots of startups require crazy-long hours....Are they offering you equity? What percentage? Are they planning on bringing in an attorney above you or will you be winging it on your own? Do you have access to the databases you need, or will you have to "bootstrap?" Are you comfortable with ambiguity?

This is not just a question about lifestyle at all.

To address one of these points I highly doubt any startup would bring in a law grad as their sole attorney. OP will very likely be supervised.


Very early stage startups (like pre Series A) take on new grads sometimes...

Ok yeah, but that’s also because they probably are offering a $0 salary. It’s essentially a volunteer’s position. I wouldn’t give up a biglaw offer to do that, but it might be an option for someone with no offer at all.



Actual rich people (the tech elites) don’t care much about salary. As my friend would say rich off an IPO, talk about “salaries are for peasants.” It’s the stock that matters.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Dec 20, 2017 11:36 am

Subban_Fan wrote:
delusional wrote:To play devil's advocate, successful startups involve as much if not more work than biglaw.


This is a great post. ...
If the startup really works out, you can retire before you're 40 richer than any law partner -- the Silicone Valley mints many millennial millionaires, so many that you won't feel that special as a millionaire.


I promise you that no non-lawyer who is just out of law school is going to hit and retire richer than a law partner. Equity is not handed out like candy. You get what you're worth. A junior non-lawyer is not going to get a ton of equity. Sorry. This is pure fantasy and completely out of touch with how SV really works.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby totesTheGoat » Wed Dec 20, 2017 12:08 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OP here, the start-up is relatively estalished as far as start-ups go based in SF and I would be working in a non-bar required role to help the company with licensing matters and expanding the client base. I’m fine with not ever practicing law as long as I have good options down the road. My concern with big law is that it seems many female single attorneys who enter big law single find it difficult to find relationships. At my age, I think this should be a real concern.


IMO, you're thinking about the correct things. The non-bar required portion would scare me a little bit. It's going to be very hard to transition out of that role if it's not a good fit for you or the company goes in an unexpected direction (e.g. out of business or acquired by a bigger company). It also seems to have a bit of sales built into it which would scare me off, but it may be a good fit for you. Make sure you know what you're getting yourself into by signing up for a law-related role with a sales component like this.

I think you're right to be concerned about the relationship aspect in big law. There are certainly opportunities for you to have a social life, but a lot of biglaw associates seem to either date their coworkers (which is less than ideal unless you're into the uber-Type A lawyerly type) or use Tinder as their primary vehicle for "relationships." How much of that is based on the types of people being attracted to those jobs versus the stresses of the job? I don't really know. In my experience, by the time biglaw associates got around to their 6th or 7th year, most were in a serious relationship of some sort, if not already having kids.

If I were in your shoes, I'd probably do biglaw knowing full well that the plan was to get 3 or 4 years of experience and then get out. The career limiting aspects of that startup position scare me a bit too much to choose it.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Dec 20, 2017 12:51 pm

So for some reason, I missed the fact that you were going into a non-practicing role, and are okay going that direction. I have heard a lot of people say that their experience in a start-up was highly valued by employers because they got so much hands-on experience.

The reason why I was doubtful that lawyers would experience this bump in experience was because any legal experience only seems to be valued if you have a respected lawyer above you critiquing your work. The proxy for this, of course, is whether you were working in a respectable firm or in-house department. You can say that you drafted privacy statements, researched X areas of product liability, put together an employee handbook, etc. but unless your next employer knows that a more experienced lawyer reviewed critiqued your work, they won't necessarily know if your work product is any good. If you were the only lawyer, fresh out of law school, working with no oversight, for all they know, you could have just googled a standard privacy statement and slapped the company name on it, read some articles on the NYT, and called it a day. Or, you could have been missing big issues in your drafting, with nobody senior to correct you. At least, as somebody thinking of going this route, this is the impression I get from informally asking more senior attorneys.

On the flipside, the above does not apply to developers. I know plenty of developers who leave their tech jobs for a few years to build a product. They get some funding and gain a shitton of programming skills working around the clock as their own bosses learning how to build things. When their start-up fails, (and yes, it's usually a "when", not "if"), they have moved their programming abilities by leaps and bounds after a year of constant self-learning, and unlike law, they can prove their new skills in coding interviews, AND they have a product/code that works. They can usually pick up their careers where they left off, if not come in at a higher salary.

I don't know where a business development/sales/non-legal but non technical role falls on this spectrum. If you're already doubtful about biglaw, I'd talk to people in sales, or whatever jobs you think this role will make you marketable for, and see if they value/respect start-up experience.

Tl'dr, most start-ups fail. This is not a bad thing IF you're developing a skillset that future employers will value, and you think the start-up will be around long enough to develop that skillset.

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby notDINGBAT » Wed Dec 20, 2017 2:42 pm

serious question: what happens if the startup goes belly-up?

If you don't have a good answer to that, go biglaw. Startups can and do fail all the time, and you're too early in your career to land safely

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Re: Big law or start-up?

Postby Subban_Fan » Thu Dec 21, 2017 11:34 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Subban_Fan wrote:
delusional wrote:To play devil's advocate, successful startups involve as much if not more work than biglaw.


This is a great post. ...
If the startup really works out, you can retire before you're 40 richer than any law partner -- the Silicone Valley mints many millennial millionaires, so many that you won't feel that special as a millionaire.


I promise you that no non-lawyer who is just out of law school is going to hit and retire richer than a law partner. Equity is not handed out like candy. You get what you're worth. A junior non-lawyer is not going to get a ton of equity. Sorry. This is pure fantasy and completely out of touch with how SV really works.


Billion dollar startups are largely founded on fantasy, ridiculous belief, and hope. Typically, people who think the way you do, aren't the types to think about how they're going to revolutionize the music industry, ping someone across multiple phone platforms, or make billions of dollars off operating system software licensing when other established, multi-billion dollar companies in the computer industry were telling them the money was in hardware.



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