Big Law or BigLaw is an industry nickname for the biggest law firms in the United States. BigLaw firms are usually full-service firms that employ a large number of attorneys and in-house support staff. Some of these firms employ hundreds of attorneys with the largest ones employing upwards of 1,000 partners. BigLaw firms usually have a national presence with offices in major cities in the United States such as New York, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, and some of them have international offices in large cities outside of the US.
It is common for BigLaw firms to give attorneys higher starting rates and salaries than smaller firms do. Some partners in BigLaw firms have salaries as high as $5 million or more and may qualify for bonuses of $1 million or more for bringing in a high volume of new cases. This is partially due to the fact that BigLaw firm fees tend to be higher than other law firms with some charging clients upwards of $1,000 an hour.
Working at BigLaw Firms
When nearing graduation, many law students are confronted with decisions about the kinds of law firms they want to apply to work at. For some, money is a deciding factor, whereas others look at different aspects of their upcoming careers and make decisions based on things such as the kind of law they want to practice, the reputation of the law firm, the location of the firms, the size of the firm, etc.
Many BigLaw firms require their attorneys to bill a minimum of 2,300 hours a year. If an attorney works 52 weeks a year and doesn’t take any sick days, time off on federal or other holidays, and vacation time, they will need to bill a minimum of 44 hours a week. This though doesn’t fully describe the actual number of hours a week an attorney will need to put in to sufficiently handle this case load. Billable hours do not include the amount of time an attorney is working on a case in their office, at home, and while in court. While different attorneys work at different speeds and paces, it is estimated that three billable hours works out to an attorney working an additional four hours outside of their billable hours. Unless an attorney truly does not take any time off and works 52 weeks a year, they will likely be working well over 60 hours a week.
Even though the hours that are expected at BigLaw firms is daunting, many new graduates find the allure of money and prestige outweighs the prospect of long work hours. BigLaw lawyers typically enjoy some of the best salaries in the industry. The average starting salary for BigLaw firms is usually more than $160,000 a year. Working for a BigLaw firm usually looks good on a lawyer’s resume. For many beginning lawyers, doing this creates significantly more options for the kinds of jobs they can get in the future if they decide to move on to a different firm or different kind of job.
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