If you’re a law student, you’ve probably heard about BigLaw – large law firms that offer high salaries and prestige (along with some other not-so-great things we’ll talk more about). While you may have heard about BigLaw, before jumping on the OCI bandwagon, it’s best to consider if BigLaw really is right for you.
First, let’s talk a little bit about what BigLaw is. BigLaw firms are often headquartered in major cities and handle complex legal matters for large corporations and financial institutions. As a BigLaw associate, you will work long hours and be expected to bill a certain number of hours each year (usually about 2,000).
BigLaw is not for everyone. Like most jobs, there are highs and lows. It really is a unique job that some people thrive in and others burnout from. So, how do you know if BigLaw is the right fit for you? Here are five factors to consider:
1. Your personality
Do you thrive in high-pressure situations? Do you enjoy working on complex, intellectually challenging tasks? BigLaw can be a good fit for you if you are driven, detail-oriented, and able to handle stress.
However, if you prefer a more laid-back work environment or tend to get overwhelmed easily, you might find BigLaw to be too demanding. You know yourself best, so consider your own working style and personality.
2. Your work style
Do you prefer working independently or collaborating with others? In BigLaw, you usually work on teams, receiving assignments from multiple partners and senior associates and working with paralegals and support staff. It’s definitely not the environment for those who prefer to work alone or with their door always shut.
Something else to consider is whether you are comfortable speaking up in meetings and presenting your ideas to clients. Even as a junior associate, you’ll need to communicate complex legal concepts to clients. I remember the first time I received a call from a banking client as a new first-year associate and couldn’t believe he was asking me a legal question! Make sure you understand the responsibility that comes with being a BigLaw associate before you decide if it’s something you’re up for.
3. Your career goals
It’s super important to consider your long-term career goals before signing up for a BigLaw job. BigLaw can be a great stepping stone for lawyers who want to gain experience working on high-profile cases and build a strong network. Spending a few years in BigLaw is a great addition to your resume no matter what legal job you decide to pursue next.
However, if you already know that your ultimate goal is to work in pro bono or a totally different area of law, BigLaw may not be the best fit for you. While you don’t have to know your career path just yet, it does help to think about what type of career you’re interested in and what types of experiences and skills will be valuable for that path. Will BigLaw give you that?
4. Your lifestyle preferences
How important is work-life balance to you? Do you have other commitments, such as family or hobbies, that you want to prioritize? BigLaw can be demanding and will require you to work long hours, including on weekends and holidays (sometimes).
While some firms are more flexible than others and may offer alternative work arrangements, such as fully remote work or reduced hours, it’s a demanding career no matter which firm you choose. That’s why it’s important to consider your priorities and make sure they align with the demands of BigLaw. Be wary of BigLaw firms that market themselves as a “lifestyle” firm, because this is unlikely to be true, and is probably more of a marketing term.
5. Your financial goals
BigLaw is known for offering high salaries to associates, but there are some trade-offs. It can be difficult to pass up the salary, especially when faced with high student loan debt. The prospect of paying off that debt in a few years as opposed to a lifetime can be very tempting.
Before deciding if BigLaw is right for you, make sure you have a clear understanding of your financial goals to determine if it’s worth it, and for how long. Most former BigLaw attorneys make less money at their next jobs, and need to budget carefully when they may be starting at a salary that is more than what they will ever make again.
You Won’t really know if BIGLAW IS right for you until you give it a try
You can read a hundred posts about BigLaw and still not know if it’s right for you. That’s because you won’t know what it truly feels like to work as an associate until you try it. While you can definitely get a sense of what working in BigLaw is like ahead of time (especially if you spend the summer as a summer associate), it’s one of those things you have to do to really understand if it’s right for you.
If you’re intrigued by BigLaw, I say go for it – give it a try. The worst that can happen is you leave shortly after you arrive and move on to something that’s a better fit.
So, Is BigLaw right for you?
Only you can answer that! Consider your personality, work style, career goals, lifestyle preferences, and financial goals. Weigh these factors to come up with your decision. Ultimately, the key to a successful career in law is finding a job that allows you to thrive and achieve your goals – whether that’s in BigLaw or not, it’s up to you.
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