PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

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twenty
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PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby twenty » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:57 pm

After some serious soul-searching, I've decided I very much want to be an attorney, and equally really don't want the lifestyle associated with biglaw. The majority of TLS/law school applicants, it seems, have biglaw as a significant career goal. Thus, how should you approach a law career knowing that you can't count on a biglaw salary/experience?

1) What are the "top" PI/Government/Misc. law spots? What do they lead to in the long-run? Why are they more competitive than not-top spots?
2) Should you go to a significantly lower-ranked school that offers you a more money (i.e, GULC w/ 90k over UChi w/ 15k)? Conventional TLS wisdom says no, but conventional TLS wisdom is counting on an extra year of biglaw to make up this difference.
3) Are PI/Govt jobs "ask and you shall receive" coming out of HYS?
4) Where can you expect to top out in terms of salary in most major markets?
5) Can you transition to biglaw later (i.e, 7+ years) in your career without starting off as a first year associate?
6) Aside from NYU's stellar LRAP program, are there any other T14 schools that stand out significantly as far as LRAP goes?
7) Why don't more people do PI/Govt?

Swimp
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby Swimp » Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:39 pm

Unfortunately I don't have time to go in-depth, here, but I'm sure other posters will have more to say. First of all--congrats! I hope you stick to your guns. Maybe this will be of interest to you, in a reassuring-pat-on-the-back kind of way: --LinkRemoved--

Now then:
1) Big NGOs hire lawyers. Greenpeace, ACLU, etc. There are lots of lawyer jobs in government, but government isn't doing much hiring right now. One prestigious way into that path is the DOJ Honors program. A lot of litigators aim to become Assistant US Attorneys, which is considered by many to be one of the best jobs a litigator can get.

2) Probably, yeah. This is a tough pill to swallow and it may depend on your personal circumstances.

3) No, but grads from HYS will get the first crack.

4) I think AUSAs make just over $100K max in SDNY. That's all I got.

5) Yes, sometimes. Big law firms tend to like government lawyers with a lot of experience. Sometimes they bring them on as partners.

6) I know Harvard is pretty good about loan forgiveness. I would imagine other highly ranked schools compare favorably too, but I don't know any specifics.

7) Fewer jobs, less money.

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IAFG
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby IAFG » Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:35 pm

twentypercentmore wrote:
1) What are the "top" PI/Government/Misc. law spots? What do they lead to in the long-run? Why are they more competitive than not-top spots?

"Top" would be anywhere that is hiring straight out of law school. Right now, that is almost nowhere.

2) Should you go to a significantly lower-ranked school that offers you a more money (i.e, GULC w/ 90k over UChi w/ 15k)? Conventional TLS wisdom says no, but conventional TLS wisdom is counting on an extra year of biglaw to make up this difference.


Nope. TLS conventional wisdom for PI focused folks is still to go to a "big name" school that will help you get those rare entry-level PI jobs and then give you LRAP to accommodate your debt. Furthermore, when you realize it's incredibly hard to get PI right out of school and only hard to get PI after a stint in prestigious biglaw, the better school will serve your goals.

3) Are PI/Govt jobs "ask and you shall receive" coming out of HYS?

No.
4) Where can you expect to top out in terms of salary in most major markets?

I've heard ~$50k.
5) Can you transition to biglaw later (i.e, 7+ years) in your career without starting off as a first year associate?

Depends on where you were and who you know. Is it possible? Absolutely.
6) Aside from NYU's stellar LRAP program, are there any other T14 schools that stand out significantly as far as LRAP goes?

HYS all have great LRAP. Chicago does now too.
7) Why don't more people do PI/Govt?

Because there aren't more openings.

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worldtraveler
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby worldtraveler » Fri Sep 21, 2012 7:01 pm

What don't you like about big law lifestyle? If it's the hours, PI can have long hours as well, plus it can be emotionally difficult on a lot of people, depending on the type of cases you can handle.

You're also asking about a huge segment of the legal industry here. PI and gov't really aren't all that similar. Ar you talking about direct services legal clinics? Policy advocacy organizations? Big time stuff like ACLU and Human Rights Watch or small scale state stuff?

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twenty
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby twenty » Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:28 am

It's a combination of instability, hours, and lifestyle. I really don't like the idea of being "forced out" of a job after so many years, I don't like the idea of working 14 hours a day in a skyscraper, and frankly, I don't really want to get married/have kids under those conditions, either. I don't like the idea of practicing law for the sole purpose of making money. There has to be some deeper goal than just yearly billables. I don't mind long days in the office, but I need my weekends. :D

On TLS, it seems like both PI and govt are fairly under-represented. I absolutely appreciate all the insight this thread has provided so far, and I'm sure future posters/stalkers do, too.

I'm cool with anything from ACLU to local housing law non-profits to FTC Honors. Pros and cons. Fire away.

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worldtraveler
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby worldtraveler » Sat Sep 22, 2012 4:03 am

twentypercentmore wrote:It's a combination of instability, hours, and lifestyle. I really don't like the idea of being "forced out" of a job after so many years, I don't like the idea of working 14 hours a day in a skyscraper, and frankly, I don't really want to get married/have kids under those conditions, either. I don't like the idea of practicing law for the sole purpose of making money. There has to be some deeper goal than just yearly billables. I don't mind long days in the office, but I need my weekends. :D

On TLS, it seems like both PI and govt are fairly under-represented. I absolutely appreciate all the insight this thread has provided so far, and I'm sure future posters/stalkers do, too.

I'm cool with anything from ACLU to local housing law non-profits to FTC Honors. Pros and cons. Fire away.


A lot of your problems will exist in any legal job. PI jobs are anything but stable, as non-profit budgets, legal aid and other stuff is rarely secure. Government is going that way too.

Hours really vary depending upon where you work and what you do, but do not expect 40 hour work weeks. Do not expect to have weekends all the time.

Really, this is just going to be stuff you'll have to put up with. Sucks, but that's the way it is.

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Excellence = a Habit
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby Excellence = a Habit » Wed Oct 03, 2012 11:24 am

OP, I agree -- TLS underdiscusses the public interest career path. I'm not an expert on the topic, but I am a 2L at Michigan and I am very strongly planning on pursuing a PI path - here are my thoughts on your questions:

1. I would say the top PI jobs are in impact litigation (like ACLU), DOJ Honors and other federal government jobs. Traditionally and broadly speaking, the PI jobs that have been viewed as most prestigious (and that are best-paid) are those that involve the least hands-on contact with clients. There is definitely a push-back against this within the PI community though.

2. I agree with those who have said it's better to go to a top school when planning for a PI career than to go to a lower-ranked school that will give you more money. This is in part because the top schools will tend to have better LRAPs; in part because the lower-ranked schools will tend to have loopholes in their scholarships, so you might lose it after your first year anyway; in part because the federal Income-Based-Repayment program means your large student debt will be forgiven after ten years in public service (note this works only if your debt is all public, and that there are some restrictions on what jobs qualify); and in part because you'll have a better shot at the best PI jobs from a higher-ranked school. However, I think there are limits to this. If you're talking T3 v. T14 with a difference in financial aid of $15k/yr, I would go T3, but if you're talking T35 v. T50 with a difference in (guaranteed, no loopholes) financial aid of $45k/yr, I might go T50.

3. I have no information on this one. I can say that at Michigan, I don't know of any students who graduated in May 2012 who were on the PI track who still don't have a (permanent, for real) PI job (and I knew a fair number of PI 3Ls). I know one who did really have to hustle and who didn't get an offer until, I think, June. This is someone who was looking for a legal aid job, which I understand are harder to get (but not in a prestigious sense) because they rarely hire.

4. Top salary: I strongly dispute that salaries max out at $50k in most major markets. Of course this varies extremely widely based on your field. Among PI jobs, I believe federal gov't jobs will tend to pay the best. Then probably comes impact litigation. In those fields, once you've been around for a decade or more, you can make over $100K. You also have the chance to make a fair amount of money in private civil rights practice, I believe, if you consider that a public interest job, which I often would. Otherwise, I'm not sure what the top salaries in other PI fields are. But as someone who is looking into (non-federal) public defender jobs after graduation, I believe the starting salaries in that field will vary based on market from a little under $40k to over $50k. For legal aid, I'm not sure.

5. I have no idea about transitioning to big law.

6. I'm also not too sure here. I am familiar enough with Michigan's LRAP to say that I like it. I don't believe it's as good as many of those in the T6. Michigan's LRAP might not be ideal for everybody, but it works for me because I'm not super concerned about maintaining more than a middle-class standard of living. Under Michigan's LRAP, coupled with the federal IBR program, I'll repay none of of my debt if I make less than $50k or so for the ten years after graduation. If I make more than $50k or so, I'll repay some amount of the debt, but never so much that I would be better off making a lower salary. If I got to the point where I was making $80k or so a year, Michigan would stop covering my IBR payments, which means that I would pay the whole $8,000 in annual IBR payments (10% of $80k) myself. I can afford $8k in loan payments on an $80k salary. If the federal IBR program collapses, Michigan will revert to their previous LRAP program, which was also pretty good for my purposes, although I don' know as much about it.

7. Why don't more people do PI/gov't? I disagree that it is because there are not more openings. That may be the case, but I don't think most people are motivated by a dearth of jobs. I do think there's a lot of temptation to take the job that is certainly more guaranteed, almost two years in advance, through OCI. I also think a lot of people are not well-educated on the federal IBR program, or are concerned that it will disappear down the road. That may be a valid concern in schools without a good back-up LRAP in case that happens. (Although I've also heard that if IBR ends, those who borrowed in reliance on its existence will be grandfathered in... no one seems to know for sure.) And of course a lot of people legitimately want to be extremely secure financially, which I admit it's hard to be when you're making $50k. And I think the sense that big law jobs are more prestigious than most PI jobs gets to a lot of people. We've all gotten to law school because we're high achievers, in ways that are clearly recognized by society. When all of our peers, come 2L year, are judging success by which firms are offering you jobs, it can feel really crappy to not even be participating in that system. Even if I end up at the most prestigious public defender office in the country, most of my classmates have no idea that that is a prestigious job. The temptation to take a job that will be easily recognized as impressive by one's peers is strong.

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princessofpower
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby princessofpower » Thu Oct 11, 2012 9:54 am

Excellence thank you for your post. This was VERY helpful and informative.

alex.feuerman
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby alex.feuerman » Thu Oct 11, 2012 11:41 am

This is for all TLS users...(although idk which of them would even go into this thread) before you go all misty eyed over your dream of working in Biglaw...have you worked at a Biglaw firm? In a big city? If not, please do yourself and society a favor and before starting law school (or as a summer) work at a firm with 1500+ associates. If the first time you are working Biglaw is right out of law school you are making a BIG MISTAKE.
Last edited by alex.feuerman on Wed Jan 09, 2013 3:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chickensoup
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Re: PI/Anything-but-BigLaw

Postby Chickensoup » Thu Oct 11, 2012 5:33 pm

alex.feuerman wrote:This is for all TLS users...(although idk which of them would even go into this thread) before you go all misty eyed over your dream of working in Biglaw...have you worked at a Biglaw firm? In a big city? If not, please do yourself and society a favor and before starting law school (or as a summer) work at a firm with 1500+ associates. If the first time you are working Biglaw is right out of law school you are making a BIG MISTAKE.

I worked in Biglaw as a paralegal for a year, NEVER, ever again. No amount of money, NO AMOUNT of money, is worth it. (Plus, if you live in a big city, NYC, L.A., etc, 200-300k is NOTHING, you will be the "poorest" among all your hedge fund, trust fund baby friends)



What kind of friends do you have? You are joking with that statement.




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