In the legal industry, the term BIGLAW refers to the country's largest and most successful law firms, which are typically located in U.S. big cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As an associate or an early career lawyer, you need to grab hold of the job market quickly and secure a well-paying Biglaw job as soon as possible.
As an attorney, Biglaw firms are desirable since their starting salaries are usually around $205,000 and they offer long, demanding hours billed. Since Biglaw presents both opportunities and challenges, there are many conflicting viewpoints.
Definition of Biglaw
Biglaw law firms are the largest and most successful firms in the legal industry, and their attorneys are often referred to as Biglaw attorneys. The largest of these law firms have over a thousand partners and are located around the world.
Many boutique firms are counted as Biglaw firms due to their competitiveness, equity partners, or revenue, but not all Biglaw firms operate at such a high level. However, Biglaw firms usually employ more than 100 lawyers and pay the best legal wages.
In many law schools around the United States, law students compete for a summer associate position as they strive to eventually become a partner. The experience a summer associate gains with the firm may lead to a full-time, paid position as a new associate.
Biglaw firms typically offer comprehensive legal services in corporate law, rather than specializing in a specific area, such as personal injury or criminal law. Clients are typically large corporations, investment vehicles, family offices, or wealthy individuals. Major firms provide them with clout and a one-stop shopping experience.
It comes as no surprise that these firms espouse higher salaries since they place a great deal of responsibility and pressure on their associates. With great responsibility, however, comes a great deal of personal responsibility.
Biglaw Associate Salaries and Bonuses
A licensed attorney who is still in the early stages of their career is an associate attorney. Although they tend to lack hands-on experience, they tend to come from the most desirable educational backgrounds. Some in-house counsel criticizes the inexperience of a typical first-year associate, but they also perform tasks as grinders, which is another term for attorneys who do the research, writing, and other support work associated with the legal practice. Overall, they are well-positioned for success and prosperity in the legal field.
Biglaw associates earn an average salary of $205,000 plus bonuses, as stated previously in this article. Biglaw firms use this strategy to attract top legal talent from across the nation, regardless of whether it sounds encouraging or shocking.
Salaries of graduates of Biglaw firms are determined by their law school class year. Due to the intensive competition for the brightest and best students in the industry, new associate pay at Biglaw tends to be nearly identical.
Approximately thirty percent of first-year associates earn a starting salary of $205,000 and move up based on the year they graduated. Second-year associates, for example, can earn $215,000 per year.
Expected Workload of a Biglaw Associate
The above salaries indeed sound lucrative, but it does not come without a price to the Biglaw associate, and high turnover is well known in the legal profession. Partners task associates at all levels of Biglaw with meeting a minimum billable hour requirement of typically two thousand hours or more every year through long hours.
On average, they spend thirty-eight hours each week working on client accounts, not counting vacation or other work commitments. Young lawyers should spend at least sixty hours a week at their jobs.
Large firms issue or purchase a mobile phone for their junior and senior associates so that they can always contact them regularly. Therefore, they must be available during vacations, family dinners, and even routine grocery store trips.
Associate's lives can never really disconnect from the firm without prior arrangement. Despite this, you will never know when a Biglaw partner will contact you.
As a result of this demand, Biglaw firms make a promise to deliver above-and-beyond excellence to their clients and never compromise on their integrity to deliver legal services in a timely and lawful manner.
See Also: Unemployed Former BigLaw Attorney Seeking to Re-Enter Legal Market in California
Four Examples of Biglaw Firms
The ranking is a list of the most prestigious law firms in the United States. The list is one of the most respected measures of Biglaw firms based on revenue, employee size, and peer reviews.
Here are the top 4 Biglaw firms and a little more information about how they operate:
- Cravath, Swaine, & Moore LLP: Headquartered in New York City, Cravath has two offices. In addition to their NYC location, they also have an office located in London. They have more than 500 attorneys on their roster and focus their primary practice areas on industry-specific corporate law.
- Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz: Headquartered in New York City, Wachtell, they are the only firm on this list that has a single office. They focus on general corporate practice matters and employ more than 250 lawyers. Their website also boasts that they have a low associate-to-partner ratio.
- Sullivan & Cromwell LLP: Headquartered in New York City, Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP has four U.S.-based offices, four European offices, three in Asia, and two in Australia. They have more than 875 attorneys, who work in corporate business matters and complex transactions.
- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and Affiliates: A Biglaw firm headquartered in New York City, Skadden has ten offices in North and South America, six offices in Asia, and six located in Europe. They employ more than 1,700 attorneys across fifty practice areas, including corporate and international business matters.
Typical Culture of a Biglaw Firm
The culture of Biglaw firms differs from that of a small- or medium-sized law firm. Shortly put, attorneys tend to work long hours and bring their work home with them more than the average person.
Biglaw firms, like the ones listed above, are focused on providing a balance between work and home. However, the environment is so competitive that not all of them adhere to this policy.
The reality is that the type of cases and transactions they are involved in is largely out of their control. New associates are often the ones who handle the paperwork and perform the manual labor involved in managing and litigating cases. Lower-level players often feel overburdened by communication because it tends to feel inefficient.
Biglaw culture does sound stressful, and there is something to that assertion. Because of this, work-life balance-friendly firms make it easier for the employees to achieve work-life balance.
Expenses such as relocation and annual bonuses might be paid by them. Childcare and gyms are sometimes provided on-site. Those who work long hours sometimes receive meal allowances.
Why Law Firms Care Where You Go to Law School
Thomas J. Simeone, a managing partner at Simeone & Miller in the District of Columbia who spent many years working at large law firms, says these firms typically prefer to hire alumni of elite law schools that are ranked in the top fifteen in national law school rankings. Simeone says that some particularly elite big law firms hire students from the top five or best 10 J.D programs, and in general, more ranked J.D programs offer better chances of getting hired by big law firms.
Attorneys who graduate from lower-ranked law schools often need to earn extraordinary grades or gain several years of impressive legal experience before they can get hired by big firms. According to experts, graduates of top law schools are often hired by top Biglaw firms before they have even graduated from law school.
Despite that, someone who cannot gain admission to or afford to attend an elite law school should know that it is possible to work for a big law firm even if they are not hired as associates immediately after getting their J.D. Going to law school is important for the first job, but what you do afterward will determine the rest of your career.
A few years after law school talented business attorneys without prestigious J.D degrees often gain corporate litigation experience, which makes them more marketable for jobs at big law firms. In addition, big law firms that strongly prefer to hire graduates from selective law schools for entry-level associate positions will sometimes make exceptions for recent law graduates from less selective institutions who graduated at the top of their class year.
If you are not planning on attending a prestigious law school, but want to establish a significant legal career, you should focus on developing your trial advocacy skills. Candidates with substantial litigation experience are highly valued by big law firms.
See Also: 21 Reasons You Will Never Get a Job with a Major Law Firm Now (or Ever Again)
Which Top Law Schools Matter to Biglaw Firms
The odds of getting a job at a major law firm are generally better for aspiring lawyers who attend highly ranked law schools than those who attend lower-ranked schools.
Here Are the 10 Top Law Schools:
- Columbia Law: 65 percent
- Northwestern Law: 59 percent
- Cornell Law: 56 percent
- Penn Law: 55 percent
- NYU Law: 53 percent (253 graduates)
- Duke Law: 53 percent (113 graduates)
- U. Chicago Law: 53 percent (107 graduates)
- UVA Law: 52 percent
- UC Berkeley Law: 45 percent
- Harvard Law: 44 percent
It is a crowning achievement for a new and experienced lawyer to receive an offer to work at a Biglaw firm. Recruiters work hard to attract the best law students to certain firms due to the allure of financial wealth, popularity, and recognition.
There is also the need to pay off massive student loans, earn relevant experience, and build a sense of integrity and prestige. Big law firms tend to employ long-term attorneys who work long hours. However, they also have the opportunity to control the nature of the work they do, which directly affects their schedule.
Working in this field requires stress management, setting expectations, and self-care. Failure to do so may result in cognitive burnout. Those who are prone to chronic stress may not find it attractive.
The good news is that there are Biglaw firms that have a work-life balance policy and who offer support to those who are brave enough to work in this type of law practice. Likewise, pursuing Biglaw as a student is a serious commitment.
The most effective way to ensure that one is making the best choice for his or her legal career is to make an informed decision in conjunction with a thorough vetting process.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.
With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.
Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.
Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.
One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.
One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.
Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.
In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.
Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.
In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.