To BigLaw or Not to BigLaw? (Part I)

October 15, 2018 Legal Advice

In the past couple of months, the pay scale for BigLaw associates have climbed to a dizzying $190,000 in NYC. Of course, that paycheck comes at a price: billable hours, demanding clients, and high costs of living. It leaves many wondering whether BigLaw is a career track that lives up to its hype—or whether they are temporary “golden handcuffs.” Is being an associate at a large firm just part of the dues to be paid before moving on towards a “real life?”

Associates working in the BigLaw behemoth go through these considerations to determine whether they have a “future” in BigLaw:

How many years have you been practicing?

  • Years 1-2: Junior Associate—low billable rates. Not yet marketable. Your task is to stand out from the pack by doing exceptional work.
  • Years 3-5: Mid-Level. Your marketability is at its peak, and you will come into the “sweet spot” to explore lateral moves.
  • Years 6-9: Senior Associate. You are either advancing or not. Various tracks (e.g., non-track attorney, counsel, non-equity partner, equity-partner, etc.) should be considered. Opportunities to lateral are reduced.

Are you busy?

Alarm bells should ring if you are not busy for a period of time. You are either slow because the entire group/firm is slow (a drought), or because you cost more than you are able to produce.  You might have heard that great attorneys are rewarded with more work. Law firms do not want to lose strong associates who they have trained and with whom they have good relationships simply because of a “drought,” but you should do some serious self evaluation if your colleagues are busy but you are not. This is often a sign that your team has lost confidence in your work product. If you become complacent and remain slow for too long you will be at a significant disadvantage when competing for the few lateral opportunities that exist in your practice area.

Do you really have a shot at making partner?

You should at least understand what your partnership prospects are to stay ahead of managing your career. Take time to understand your firm’s policy and experience with lateral hires, both associates and partners, to have a sense of your organic advancement opportunities.

How is morale?

What is the number of associates? How many recently left—and why? Where did they end up?Understanding what is going on and when and why your colleagues are leaving the firm will help you assess morale, and whether and when you should consider your own exit strategy.

Is there anyone in your department or firm that you look up to?

If there isn’t anyone at your firm or department that makes you think “gee, I hope to be doing that type of work once I’m at that level” then think very carefully about whether your current firm can and should be a home for you long-term.

If your honest answer to these questions do not give you a reason to leave, you might find that a career in BigLaw is a viable path. Tune in next week to Part II to continue the discussion.

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/personal-group-shaking-hands-791363/

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