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What Biglaw Is Really Like

Updated on October 23, 2017

First we need to define Biglaw for the uninformed

Some of you have probably heard of the term "Biglaw," but for others it might be foreign. Typically, Biglaw is defined as any attorney position working for a very large law firm, or at least compensation leaders. These jobs typically go to the graduates from the top law schools, or the graduates at the very top of their classes at solid law schools. "Biglaw" jobs typically exist in the largest cities (read: DC, LA, NYC, SF, London, etc.) and command the highest salaries. Some 25-year-old law school graduates that land these jobs (actually most of them) are being paid $195,000 in their first year, with almost no skillset. By 8 years in, if you can make it that far, typical associates are making over $400k. But a tiny percentage of people ever reach this level, and those that do still have an even smaller shot at ever making partner...and the long hours never get any better.

My journey to Biglaw

For obvious reasons, my anonymity is important for my career prospects, so some of my background will seem vague, to say the least. I went to a large state school for undergrad, and had almost no job prospects, mostly because I realized that all of the jobs that graduates of my major program landed paid next to nothing. So I had always been a good standardized test taker, and decided I'd go to law school if I could get an LSAT score high enough to all-but-ensure I would land one of these coveted, high-paying Biglaw positions (which I've now come to realize was necessary with all of the student debt I took on). I ended up at a top 10 law school, and did incredibly poorly. I was in the bottom 5% of my class from day 1 until graduation. But I crushed it in interviews, a large firm took a chance on me as a Summer Associate, and here I am 2 years later, now in my first year at a law firm.

The Summer Associate gig is great. It gives you a bit of insight into the type of work you might be doing, or at least gives you an opportunity to see which work is most interesting to you. You also get to work with many different people from different practice groups in your office, and I must say that the people you work with is probably a bit more important than the type of work you do. Some partners care a lot about "facetime" and seeing you in the office whenever they're there.

Other partners could care less about the hours you keep, as long as you're getting your work done efficiently and they can reach you when they need to (that's just part of the Biglaw gig--you're always on call). The latter situation will take its toll on you eventually, because I can tell you that having to come in on a Saturday with absolutely no deadlines or work on your plate will crush your soul if it's just so that you're constantly seen by a hard-working older partner.

What the first couple of weeks are all about

As a corporate associate, the first couple of weeks are very weird. You have almost no work to do. All. Day. Long. You don't want to annoy the partners and constantly bug them for more work, but you also don't want a week to pass and have partners realize the firm has been paying you an ungodly salary for jut sitting at your desk. So you wait, and wait, and wait some more, and wait late into the evening, even though you have no work to do because you want to make sure you're there to build a great first impression when a partner has something he needs your help on at 10pm because he is still in the office and no one else is there except you.

That moment is likely not coming. Because if a partner needs something immediately late at night, it will likely be much faster for him to do it himself than to train you and have to review your work. But you'll wait anyway, and that's ok, because that's the game.

Slowly you'll get a few tasks here and there, but by and large, the first few weeks are very slow, and filled with different firm wide trainings on all of the different resources available to you and how to use them, trainings on how to fill out your health insurance forms, trainings on how to work with paralegals, trainings on how to stay on the partners' good side, trainings on who to eat lunch with and what color socks to wear with different shoes...(hopefully you're still paying attention, because the last two were a joke).

The first few weeks of Biglaw are nothing like I expected. People say you get thrown into work, immediately pulling all nighters and working well into the evenings and almost every Saturday. I have not found that to be the case yet (though I am continually assured it is coming and told to enjoy this time while I have it), so I will try to write here to share my experiences and answer any questions that any of you may have about the industry, job specifics, law school, the LSAT, etc.

I will especially try to discuss relationships and the strain that Biglaw and other demanding careers can put on your relationships with significant others and even friends and family, too. Sound off in the questions if you'd like me to write about anything specific in future posts!


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