Big Law vs. Big Gov

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North
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Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby North » Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:39 pm

Big Gov seems like Big Law's little brother. Does it actually exist? We know a lot about Big Law, but how does it compare and contrast (in pay, hours, prestige, exit opportunities, and everything else that's important) with Big Gov? It is getting in just as competitive?

Educate me.

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NoleinNY
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby NoleinNY » Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:41 pm

North wrote:Big Gov seems like Big Law's little brother. Does it actually exist? We know a lot about Big Law, but how does it compare and contrast (in pay, hours, prestige, exit opportunities, and everything else that's important) with Big Gov? It is getting in just as competitive?

Educate me.


Yes. There is such a thing as the federal government (for now), which tends to be more prestigious and pays better than state government (for now).

Hours are marginally better from what I've heard, YMMV and you still work hard as hell. Good exit opportunities if you work at the DOJ. YMMV for the others. Ridiculously competitive.

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johansantana21
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby johansantana21 » Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:42 pm

I hear hiring is frozen for most fed programs....Good luck finding one.

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North
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby North » Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:47 pm

johansantana21 wrote:I hear hiring is frozen for most fed programs....Good luck finding one.
Oh, I'm not actually hunting for a position just yet -- 0L. I'm trying to get a better idea of what a career in Big Gov might look like relative to a career in Big Law. I thought that Big Gov sounded appealing, but then I realized how little I knew about how it worked in all the areas mentioned in my OP. I'm trying to correct that.

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kalvano
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby kalvano » Thu Dec 15, 2011 1:05 am

Don't plan on working for the USAO, which seems to be the favorite place to shoot for. They don't hire straight from law school.

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mi-chan17
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby mi-chan17 » Thu Dec 15, 2011 9:26 am

Pay
BigLaw Pay: Market rate for first year associates (in major markets) is $160,000(ish), can go up to around $200k without making partner (depending on the firm and the market)

BigGov Pay: GS-11 (for most entry-level attorneys) + locality pay, can go up to GS-14 or so without becoming a supervisor; government benefits

Difference: BigLaw pays around twice as much as BigGov for an entry-level lawyer, and that gap is relatively stable. However, by the time you're at GS-14 you're still making around $100k/year (locality pay could move you either into/out of six figures). So BigGov certainly isn't BAD pay, but it's not BigLaw pay. IBR/PSLF can help bridge that gap and make BigGov doable even with law school debt, but as the budget continues to get slashed it is unknown whether or not those programs will continue.

Hours
BigLaw Hours: Depends on the firm, but 60 to 80 (depending on what cases/work is going on at the time) seems to be the norm. The lowest number of required billable hours I saw at OCI was 1900, the higher end was around 2200. And that was billable hours, not total hours (because most first-year associates aren't getting all billable work). I'll let you do that math.

BigGov Hours: Also depends on what's going on, and depends on the agency, but typically 40 hours a week (unless something major is going on); federal holidays off.

Difference: BigGov attorneys work fewer hours than BigLaw ones, and that tends to be why people choose to go this route despite the lesser pay (and yes, it is a choice; if you have the grades for BigGov at this point, you probably could've had BigLaw). This can also explain why BigGov doesn't see the same rate of attrition that firms do.

Prestige
Which of these options is more prestigious probably has more to do with the people you hang out with than anything else. Lawyers will be impressed by either BigLaw or certain types of BigGov (DOJ, DOD, State Dept., etc).

Difference: minimal, unless you work in very specific types of law.

Exit Opportunities

BigLaw Exit Opportunities: In-house (if you're in a practice area that translates), BigGov (ditto), small/medium firms

BigGov Exit Opportunities: In-house (if you're in a practice area that translates), BigLaw (ditto), various boutiques (that specialize in things like patent law, government contracts, etc), Public Interest stuff, State gov't

Difference: generally minimal. Both are prestigious enough that they have good exit options, and there is a decent amount of back-and-forth trading between BigLaw and BigGov in certain fields (securities, tax, gov't contracts, IP).

Competition
BigLaw Offer: Tough to get, especially since the economy tanked; firms have reduced their class sizes. T14 at median no longer guarantees these spots, and it gets tougher as you go on down. Generally speaking (this varies market to market) you'd need to be at least top-third at T20s, top-10% (or better) at a T1, and somewhere between top-5% and top 1 or 2 people in your class most other places.

BigGov Offer: Also tough to get; the government has reduced hiring and the baby-boomers everyone thought would retire are clinging to their jobs like life rafts. Pretty much nothing guarantees these spots, because there are just so few of them. You need a combination of great grades (equivalent to BigLaw), prior experience or knowledge, and the ability to convince them that this is actually what you want to do.

Difference: I personally feel that BigGov is actually harder to get right now than BigLaw, because of the scarcity. Both require a top school with excellent grades/ranking. Both look for things like law review/moot court. But BigGov is looking for passion (and proof of that passion) for government work on top of all those things; BigLaw is willing to gamble more on people who've never worked in a law firm.

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North
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby North » Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:22 am

That was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to write that out. Big Gov sounds pretty nice, actually. I sure hope the economy picks back up before I graduate.

NJcollegestudent
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby NJcollegestudent » Sat Dec 17, 2011 1:31 am

AUSA.

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kalvano
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby kalvano » Sat Dec 17, 2011 1:51 am

NJcollegestudent wrote:AUSA.


The one job that is flat-out impossible straight out of school.

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Veyron
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby Veyron » Sat Dec 17, 2011 2:01 am

Big gov is definately harder to get. You also have to choose one or the other before you do OCI because if you work for a firm 2L summer its going to be MIGHTY hard to convince BIGGOV that its anything but a backup option. Ditto for firms (or they'll just think you struck out at OCI, still not good).

NJcollegestudent
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Re: Big Law vs. Big Gov

Postby NJcollegestudent » Sun Dec 18, 2011 3:43 am

kalvano wrote:
NJcollegestudent wrote:AUSA.


The one job that is flat-out impossible straight out of school.



I know. I believe the OP was asking for a prestigious governmental position. It generally takes over five years to be an AUSA.




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