sebastian0622 wrote:I guess I assumed that readers would accept and assume the fact that there are, of course, some folks who tolerate big firm life. But if OP is trying to maximize his chances of taking a job at a firm that is great to work for (which I understand to be his goal), people with a lot more experience than me suggest he'd be better off looking to small firms than biglaw firms.
There are some people who really, really enjoy it. Not just "some
folks who tolerate big firm life." So these nameless people with a lot more experience than you suggested that you would be better off saying no
to the Cravaths of this world (who I'm sure came crawling given your school and class rank) in favor of a small firm? Look, I've seen the best and the worst of working in a small firm. I worked in one for years.
At a small firm, you're much more likely to have a lot of free time to spend doing things other than work. Different people get different levels of satisfaction out of their career. If you're somebody who absolutely needs a hobby that is going to suck up a lot of time, then maybe you should look some place else other than biglaw.
The work is typically not stellar, to say the least, at a small firm. You pretty much take whatever comes in your door, and it's often really difficult to specialize in something since a lot of people have to spread out over numerous practice areas. Does the thought of doing high-powered, high-intensity M&A work make you happy? You can forget about that if you work for a small firm. New lawyers at small firms often get the shittiest practice areas to work in. It's not like biglaw, where at least you can decide on firm X and then select to work in area Y. (The point is that you may still get shitty work, but it might be shitty work related to a practice area you find interesting.)
At a lot of big firms, you have the chance to work with and by mentored by lawyers who are the absolute cream of the crop. In a small law firm, you'll certainly meet some competent, helpful lawyers. But there's probably not going to be anybody there who is destined for a spot on SDNY or the Second Circuit. Or who is on a first-name basis with some bulge-bracket-bank CEOs. Those may be extremes, but you get my point. The training and mentoring in a big law firm can often not be beat. Some people get happiness out of that.
And the money. It's not horrible
in a small town. Usually the COL is better, but not nearly enough to compensate for the lower salary. You simply make more (usually a lot
more) in biglaw. I didn't have much help in paying for college or getting a terrific pre-college education. I would love to be able at some point to make sure that my children can attend the best school possible and not have to worry about the bills from it, or maybe get into a school like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or MIT, and have to turn it down due to the cost. That brings me happiness.
Depression: It even happens to attorneys in small firms. In my opinion, definitely more than to the population at large. It might be less than biglaw, but that's just speculation. Looking forward to somebody arriving with numbers and hard data.
TL;DR—It depends a lot on how you define your own happiness, what motivates you, and how you see your career fitting into your life in general.