Avoid making these major career mistakes that will prevent you from getting a job at a major law firm.

In this article, you will learn about the mistakes to avoid if you want to have a career with a big law firm and how to build a resume that grabs the attention of such employers.

In the course of my work, I encounter attorneys who have fatal flaws on their resumes that will almost always prevent them from ever getting a job in a large law firm, whether at the start of their careers or later on. Attorneys are generally completely unaware of these flaws and many mistakenly believe that “the right experience” is enough.

It is not.

Each day I review the resumes of scores of potential candidates and the majority of these poor souls (or lucky souls, depending on how you look at it) will never be able to secure a position inside of a large law firm. There are so many roadblocks to getting such a job that it is a wonder anyone gets these jobs at all.

A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes
At the outset, it is important to understand that there are legitimate and strong reasons for attorneys to want to get positions at the largest and most prestigious law firms. While much is said that is negative, there is a lot that is extremely positive about them and there are good reasons for wanting to work in them. While by no means an exhaustive list, some of the reasons are: (1) more prestige, (2) more sophisticated work for larger clients, (3) clients who pay their bills, (3) higher salaries and better benefits, (4) more stability, (5) better training, (6) better lateral career opportunities, (7) the ability to attract better clients, (8) better-credentialed attorneys to work with, (9) nicer offices, and (10) better support (secretaries, paralegals, word processing departments and more).

One could argue that the pluses of working in large firms are so strong that your career trajectory is likely to be far, far different if you are in a large law firm than a small one. Let’s face it: People want to work in these big firms and try very hard to do so. It is for this reason that if you truly want to work in a major law firm and stay in one (with its corresponding advantages), you better know what mistakes you better not make because they will disqualify you from working in them.


1. Going to a Poorly Ranked Law School and Not Doing Extraordinarily Well There.


This is almost always a nearly insurmountable roadblock for those seeking positions in large law firms. While there are some firms that may hire you if you have a rare skill or knowledge (such as having an electrical engineering degree, preferably a Ph.D.), not doing very well at a poorly ranked law school will most often be the end of it. If you go to one of the lower-ranked law schools, you generally need to be first in your class or very close to it. If it is a midlevel school or a strong regional school, you may be able to get a job in a large law firm in the city where the school is located by being in the top 5 or 10% of your class, but this is rare. A law student in this position is unlikely to get a summer associate position in a large law firm and due to this will likely never work in a large law firm.


Even if an attorney from a poorly ranked school manages to get a position in a large law firm, he will still have a difficult time moving to a similar one at a major prestigious law firm—but it is not impossible. The bottom line is that going to a poorly ranked school is likely to haunt an attorney for his or her entire career and make it very difficult for that person to get a position in the largest and most prestigious law firms.


2. Going to a Law School Not in the Top 10 and Doing Average to Poorly There.


It is generally very difficult for a law student to get a job in a large law firm if he performed poorly in law school. Large law firms have few ways to distinguish the potential of attorneys except by the quality of their law schools and their grades. As such, if a candidate is at the bottom of his or her class, law firms will assume that he or she does not have the drive or the smarts of other people and they will hire other candidates. A law student in this position is unlikely to get a summer associate job in a large law firm and due to this will likely never work in a large law firm.

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