The Pros and Cons of Big Law

If you’re a law student, you’ve likely heard the term “big law” bandied about. You’ve heard it talked about in glowing terms and in soul-sucking terms. But what does big law mean? Read on to discover the pros and cons of this ubiquitous subset of American law firm.

The Basics

As their name implies, “big law” (usually stylized as “biglaw”) firms are, well, big. Many practice corporate law and have multiple offices across the country, if not around the globe. A single location is usually home to at least 100 attorneys or more. Because of their size, biglaw fims are some of the United States’ highest grossing firms, and they enjoy widespread name recognition.

Attorneys in biglaw firms are salaried, which means the number of hours worked doesn’t figure into one’ pay, and in most major markets, new hires start off at $160,00 a year. Raises are typically awarded in lock-step for years spent with the firm instead of being based on accomplishments.

The Cons

While the number of hours worked doesn’t figure into an associate’s pay, at most biglaw firms, he or she can expect to work up to 2,300 hours per year — hence the high starting salary. Hours worked per week can vary greatly. In slower periods, attorneys can enjoy more of a typical nine-to-five schedule; when demand is higher, attorneys may be expected to work well into the night to hit deadlines.

Firms of this nature tend to staff more young associates and new hires than they do senior partners. This lengthy chain of command frequently contributes to attorney attrition, as do the demanding workload, the inability to choose which cases one works on, and the desire to achieve a healthier balance between work life and home life.

The Pros

You did catch that the starting salary is $160,000, right? Biglaw firms are often an attractive first career for new associates who are fresh out of law school and eager to earn big for a few, intense, high-paid years so they can pay off student loans before seeking out a better work-life balance.

There are other perks with working non-stop, as well. Many biglaw firms feature on-site gym facilities, for example. Additionally, these firms are often willing to pay a variety of work-related expenses for their young associates, such as a covering moving costs and footing the bills for late-night take-out and rides home from the office.

There’s a lot to consider before taking a position with a biglaw firm. They’re certainly not for everyone. They are here to stay, however; it’s a model that works for well for a certain subcategory of the legal profession. Whether or not that’s your tribe is worthy of careful consideration.