sangr wrote:what about small local firms? that may do anything from immigration, small business, family law, etc.
do they not hire fresh grads?
Small local firms sometimes do hire new grads, but they often want students from top law schools (like most employers do...). Some don't, but you definitely have to do your research on the firm before you go. Small firms don't train you so you really have to learn it on the spot - some people take depositions or draft motions as early as their first day of work.
I know quite a few that want to do public interest work as well - no matter where you go, the job market isn't great, so you really have to stand out and be different and ready to take on whatever work they have for you.
The best thing to do is to get experience while you're in law school so you learn some of the basics of how a firm or office works - firms often hire legal interns, companies often have internships, and externships are also an option.
Ultimately there are alternatives to big law - big law is just attractive because of the pay, and because big firms have the resources to train you so it's a great place to launch your career right out of law school.