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Lawyer, Law School, BigLaw FAQ - Page 2

post #16 of 207
I clerk for a judge right now but worked at a big firm, small firm, and even government. I'll just say that you can't bunch every big firm together, small firm together, or government job together. People upon hiring you will tell you what kind of commitment they are looking for. That said, you have to make sure you think hard about whether you want to make the sacrifices that are required for any job you choose. The legal industry can be lucrative for those with the right advocacy, writing, and social skills. However, the legal industry is a service industry. Lawyers cater to what others want us to do. So expect that the amount of money you make is directly related to how much work you get done. Rarely, in the legal field will you be able to get rich off a single case.

Work/Life balance? That all depends on how much money you want to make. You can work at a big firm and leave at 5pm. Just don't expect a bonus or ever to make partner. The legal profession requires you to constantly show that you are improving your skills and network so that you become a valuable asset.
post #17 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by Swag22 View Post
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.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ziggysnorkel View Post
...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.
post #18 of 207
Here is an article from the ABA Journal:
___________________________________

Home » News » Divorcing Law Grads, Stressed Over $190K in Debt, Victims of "˜Education Hoax'
Law Schools
Divorcing Law Grads, Stressed Over $190K in Debt, Victims of "˜Education Hoax'
Posted Jan 20, 2009, 06:09 am CST

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Some time after he graduated from California Western law school in 1995, Joel Kellum married his law school sweetheart. The couple had $190,000 in student debt.

Kellum and his wife made $145,000 in loan payments, but they paid off only $21,000 in principal, Forbes magazine reports. The variable-interest rate debt, which leapt as high as 12 percent, was a major source of stress in their marriage, according to the couple, and they divorced last year. "Two people with this much debt just shouldn't be together," Kellum told Forbes.

The magazine uses the couple to support the thesis of its article. It calls the lawyers "victims of an unfolding education hoax on the middle class""”the myth that college and advanced degrees translate to a life of economic privilege.

The average law grad has $100,000 in student debt, according to the magazine. UCLA law professor Richard Sander says the problem can be compounded for African-American students, who are lured in to improve law school diversity rankings without being told that less than half will pass the bar. Schools also "goose employment statistics by temporarily hiring new grads and spotlighting kids who land top-paying jobs, while glossing over far-lower average incomes," the story says.

"There are a lot of aspects of selling education that are tinged with consumer fraud," Sander told the magazine. "There is a definite conspiracy to lead students down a primrose path."

Private loans can be more onerous than those funded by the government, the story says. Many lenders charge 10 percent loan origination fees and 18 percent variable interest rates that start to accrue as soon as the loan is funded. And student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Many educators tout the statistic that college graduates will earn $1 million more than high school grads. The magazine examines the claim and says the statistic doesn't account for some facts.

First, the higher salary figure may reflect the fact that college graduates are smarter and work harder"”characteristics that could boost salaries for such people even if they don't attend college. Second, the cost of a college degree has risen at twice the rate of inflation, coming to nearly $100,000 for a private school. Third, college students give up about $125,000 in pay for the four years they are in school.

The story cites a College Board study that found one in four college grads earns considerably less than the top quartile of high school grads.

One law school dean, Richard Matasar of New York Law School, says law schools are "exploiting" students who don't succeed in life, according to an account of his remarks at a recent program by TaxProf Blog.

Matasar said registrations for the law school admissions test are flat or below the norm for this year. "That's never happened in a downturn in the economy before," he said. "They're catching on. Maybe this thing they are doing is not so valuable. Maybe the chance at being in the top 10 percent [helpful in landing a good job] is not a good enough lottery shot in order to effectively spend $120,000 and see it blow up at the end of three years of law school."

Updated at 9:35 a.m. CT to include Matasar's remarks.

________________________________________

Law school, for many kids, is a terrible investment. Affirmative Action at law schools should be outlawed.
post #19 of 207
I've nothing to ad here. There is some good info above.

Also, I would agree with mafoo that I think the 'improved work-life balance' of smaller firms is arguable. In many cases you'll work 80+% of the hours for much less than 80% of the pay.
post #20 of 207
Thread Starter 
Well being in this thread and hearing multiple opinions about the rigorous hours that come with being a BigLaw lawyer has swayed my goals a bit. When one thinks about BigLaw and only sees the 160K starting salary their ears stick up, but when the 12 hour minimum days show up I get quite put off by it . Now my focus is kind of altered. I still have aspirations of attending a good law school so my job prospects are not limited, but was thinking more about a field in law that requires less hours.(9-5?, 8-5) I do want to be successful at my job, but right now I don't see my future being 8am-9pm 340 days a year lol...

Since I know that BigLaw lawyers make such a good amount of money, how much money does a successful in-house lawyer or government lawyer make, and what kind of hours does that field involve. I kind of hate the thought of being consistently late getting off work(8-10pm).

What fields of law can still provide for a 6 digit salary yet not end up making you hate your job?
post #21 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by Swag22 View Post

Since I know that BigLaw lawyers make such a good amount of money, how much money does a successful in-house lawyer or government lawyer make, and what kind of hours does that field involve. I kind of hate the thought of being consistently late getting off work(8-10pm).

What fields of law can still provide for a 6 digit salary yet not end up making you hate your job?

I am pretty much shooting from the hip here, but I think entry level federal government lawyers start off low (maybe with a cost-of-living adjustment) but the pay scale quickly ramps up.

If I can read the damn government pay scale correctly, a first-year SEC or Dept of Justice attorney is a GS11, so $50-65k. At 2.5 years you could be two paygrades higher, so like $85-108k. Plus there is a Cost of Living adjustment if you're working in Washington DC compared to middle America. You also have a more relaxed work schedule and federal benefits. This is pulled from the US DOJ's website for assistant US Attorneys, but I believe SEC analysts are also GS11s to begin with. http://www.usdoj.gov/oarm/arm/hp/hpsalary.htm We can speculate (or use our google-fu) to find out of its the same with all those other goofy alphabet soup agencies and various commissions to regulate atomic energy and the price of milk.
post #22 of 207
Thread Starter 
So to my understanding a government lawyer only has jobs in the national government aka washington DC? Or do people work for local governments as well (for I assume a considerable smaller salary).

Now, if one was to graduate from a -14 law school at an impressive place in his class, but did not want all the hustle and bustle/slave labor of BigLaw, what are their options to still be successful with a nice salary?

Thanks for the imput everyone, btw.
post #23 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by Swag22 View Post
So to my understanding a government lawyer only has jobs in the national government aka washington DC? Or do people work for local governments as well (for I assume a considerable smaller salary).

Now, if one was to graduate from a -14 law school at an impressive place in his class, but did not want all the hustle and bustle/slave labor of BigLaw, what are their options to still be successful with a nice salary?

Thanks for the imput everyone, btw.

There are federal government lawyers in every state. The IRS likes to call itself 'the nation's largest tax law firm' and has something like 50 field offices (but big states get several and small states have to share them). The SEC has maybe 10 offices? I think there are 91 federal judicial districts, which means 91 branches of the Department of Justice. A family-friend works for the Dept of Labor in Houston (and I think before that he worked for the Dept of Labor's office in either Nashville or Memphis). There are also plenty of federal agencies, boards, and commissions that no one on this board has ever heard of, and many of them have lawyers.

I'm don't know as much about state, but my state has over 24 divisions of it's Dept of Justice, each with lawyers who regulate insurance, banking, health care, tax collection, administer the state's property, oversee the public schools and public universities, and investigate various types of crime.
post #24 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by Swag22 View Post
So to my understanding a government lawyer only has jobs in the national government aka washington DC? Or do people work for local governments as well (for I assume a considerable smaller salary). Now, if one was to graduate from a -14 law school at an impressive place in his class, but did not want all the hustle and bustle/slave labor of BigLaw, what are their options to still be successful with a nice salary? Thanks for the imput everyone, btw.
If you're at a T14 law school, your options to make a decent salary are federal government, BigLaw firm and small law firm, and the government jobs really don't pay much if you're living in D.C. (even with COL adjustment). Law degrees really don't offer that much flexibility out of the gate, and almost all T14 law students head into BigLaw firms because that's where we're pushed by career services. It's a herd mentality thing. Also, if you don't want to work the hours of a large firm, I would strongly advise against paying for your education with loans. If you're not making $200k a year, it's damn hard to pay back $180k in school loans. I'd recommend going to a lesser-ranked school where you get scholarship money. It's fairly easy to get full tuition at schools like Vanderbilt, GW or BU if you're T14 caliber applicant. And those are excellent law schools, in my opinion. If, however, you or your parents can afford to pay tuition, it's a different ball game entirely. Then, a $60k salary doesn't sound too bad to me. Honestly, I look at my upcoming years of BigLaw work as just a hoop I need to jump through. Corporations don't look to law students for in-house work, so it's important to gain some experience at a firm, do good work and hope to find a way out through a good opportunity. I interviewed at a lot of V20 NYC firms, and many associates told me that they get 2-3 calls per day from recruiters offering them job opportunities (this was in September).
post #25 of 207
We seem to have many BIGLAW associates but no BIGLAW partners on this site (though we do have executives from other industries on here).
post #26 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by bluemagic View Post
We seem to have many BIGLAW associates but no BIGLAW partners on this site (though we do have executives from other industries on here).

- Partners are too busy to post on SF.
- There are (or, were) probably 3-4 associates for every partner in BigLaw (which is characterized in part by it's highly leveraged business model).
- Age and self-selection in internet forums.
post #27 of 207
Thread Starter 
So most people that go to good law schools try to endure the couple years of suffering at a BigLaw firm with aspirations of leaving for something better after a couple years of experience under their belts?

What does it take for one to open their own firm? Does someone need BigLaw/Government experience under their belts? Can one become successful in their own business straight out of law school?


Does working for yourself mean more feasable hours?
post #28 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pelikan2 View Post
Corporations don't look to law students for in-house work, so it's important to gain some experience at a firm, do good work and hope to find a way out through a good opportunity.

I don't believe that's accurate. It's harder to find those jobs, but they exist.
post #29 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by mr. magoo View Post
I don't believe that's accurate. It's harder to find those jobs, but they exist.

Proctor & Gamble hire law students with no experience. One of those biotech seed companies (maybe Monsanto, or one of their competitors) also does. Companies who's business is to own land (oil companies, natural gas companies, perhaps some mining & mineral companies, and maybe the major home-builders) directly hire law students to be Landsmen, who check property titles to make sure they are correct and figure out how to quiet the title if needed. These are the exceptions, not the rule. Most major corporations prefer 3-5 years of law firm work.
post #30 of 207
Quote:
Originally Posted by crazyquik View Post
a first-year SEC or Dept of Justice attorney is a GS11, so $50-65k. At 2.5 years you could be two paygrades higher, so like $85-108k. Plus there is a Cost of Living adjustment if you're working in Washington DC compared to middle America. You also have a more relaxed work schedule and federal benefits. This is pulled from the US DOJ's website for assistant US Attorneys, but I believe SEC analysts are also GS11s to begin with. http://www.usdoj.gov/oarm/arm/hp/hpsalary.htm We can speculate (or use our google-fu) to find out of its the same with all those other goofy alphabet soup agencies and various commissions to regulate atomic energy and the price of milk.
The SEC is actually on a slightly higher pay scale than most of the rest of the federal gov (at least for attorneys), they aren't on the GS scale. I think they start at 75K. The FDIC starts attys off at about 80K (also not on the GS scale). You are right that most other federal agencies start attorneys off at GS-11, so like 55K in middle America but add on like 23% for DC/LA/Chicago and a little more, like 26% or something for NYC and SF. The armed forces have a slightly different pay scale for civilian attorneys as well, but it's comparable to starting out at GS-11.
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