Originally Posted by Swag22
Personally, I was wondering about the balance between work and a social life when you're a lawyer for a big firm or small. I was also wondering about the education it takes to be successful in this field as well as salaries one might get. Another main concern is daily hours a successful lawyer must work(Time you must be at work vs. Time you get to go home). Also: the average work day for an associate at a BigLaw firm, and the activities one might see.
People are sort of responding to the question from the perspective of law students or associates eyeing law firm life and paying jobs. Of course, that's not the only path nor is it anything other than often a transitory period in the life of a lawyer.
To get a job at BigLaw firm (i.e., a big, well-paying firm in the city of your choice), as others have said, you either need to do very well at just about any law school (top 10% or 20%, depending on caliber) or go to a top-tier school. The bigger the city, the bigger the firm, the higher your credentials need to be. Top in NYC, I'd suggest law review at an Ivy level school; top in Omaha, I'd suggest either top 10% of U of Nebraska or else doing decently at Ivy level school.
The conditions may really suck or may not be too bad. I started at a big NYC firm, and was doing all-nighters the first week and working most weekends. I like to travel and have always taken vacations, but expect 11 p.m. dinner meetings or to be expected to start work at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. You have as much chance to bargain your way out of these obligations as you would in the army -- "my parents are in town" is not an excuse, although you may get lucky to leave for an hour or two for a wedding. I work at a non-NYC big firm now, and people tend to work 10-12 hour days although at times work late at night or all weekend. If you want to advance, you'll work harder, often for no-credit (e.g., marketing, networking, publishing, etc.)
All that being said, out of my entering class of 40, after 2 years there were about 25 left, and after 10 years there were a remarkable 3-4 left (a very low rate of attrition). Point being, most leave for other opportunities or get fired rather quickly, so life at that kind of firm is short-lived and sort of irrelevent. It's like thinking about being a dr. and focusing only on life during residency.
If we get past the BigLaw focus and being "successful in the field", then the horizons are much, much broader, but you'll likely not get a big, regular pay check for a long time. You could do government work, non-profit work, small firm work, go in-house immediately, etc. All of these have their benefits and the truly successful lawyers I have seen tended to move between these worlds (go to any old law school, start as a DA, then become US attorney, then work in a firm doing defense work, then going in-house, then move back to government at policy level, return to firm as senior partner, etc.)
To be successful in the long term, it's not the school you go to, but personality and native smarts that count. (Law school, generally, is a lousy education -- it's a ticket to a job.) Being a good lawyer is what you learn by taking a lot of responsibility early, which is typically not something granted to young lawyers in BigLaw because there's too much money at stake and too many careers on the line. Of course, that path has lots of failure along the way, isn't too secure, and starts you at a salary about the same as a grade school teacher.
Originally Posted by ziggysnorkel
...However, the legal industry is a service industry. Lawyers cater to what others want us to do....The legal profession requires you to constantly show that you are improving your skills and network so that you become a valuable asset.
As you get older, the real benefit is learning how to get paying clients. That's what separates wheat (those who are well rewarded) from simple salary slaves. If you learn how to bring in clients, you can probably leave whenever you like, but you won't because you're providing a service and they'll want you there at beck and call.