Helping You Decide Where to Practice Law: Frequently Asked Questions |

Helping You Decide Where to Practice Law: Frequently Asked Questions


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Are you a legal professional looking for a new legal practice setting? This article is for you. It will answer some of the most common questions that attorneys and law students have about legal practice settings so that you can make an informed decision on where to work. For example, would you instead work in a big law firm or in-house at a corporation? Or do you want to start your private practice and be your boss? You will find out what those options mean and many others with this helpful guide!


What is the difference between a practice area and a practice setting?

As a law student, navigating legal practice areas and practice settings can be a challenge. You may take a class or intern in one area while conversing with an attorney in another. It is hard to narrow down your interests, and there is not enough time to try them all.

What are the common legal practice settings for lawyers?

There are many legal practice settings in which an attorney can work. Some standard legal practice settings include Biglaw firms, corporation in-house legal departments, government (local, state, federal), civil rights organizations (for example: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)), legal aid clinics, small or solo private practices, and more. When attorneys are deciding where they want to work, legal practice settings are an essential consideration.

What is Biglaw firm? What do I need to get in?

Biglaw firm refers to legal practices in large law firms that have many attorneys. Typically these legal practices require a J.D law degree and previous legal experience in another legal setting for entry-level positions. Still, increasingly they are hiring law students right out of law schools. It is usual for attorneys in big law firms to make more money, work longer hours, and have more stress on the job than attorneys in smaller law firms.

See Also: Why Law Firms Do Not Like to Hire Attorneys From Most Practice Settings Other Than Law Firms

What is the difference between working at a law firm and working for a corporation? What are the differences?

The following are the difference between working at a law firm and a corporation in-house: Corporation in-house legal departments are generally staffed with corporate lawyers who focus on specific legal areas. An example of this is if a company sells products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there may be an attorney or attorneys whose job is to follow FDA regulations to continue selling its product. These attorneys will often consult outside counsel when necessary. On the other hand, a lawyer at a law firm will usually be in charge of a team of associates who work directly under them. Corporate lawyers sometimes hire law school graduates straight out of law schools, while others require prior legal experience in another setting.

What are legal aid clinics? Are their jobs for attorneys?

Legal aid clinics provide free legal services to low-income people who cannot afford a private attorney. They are staffed with lawyers, paralegals, law clerks, and other support staff members who help clients file lawsuits or give informed legal advice on complicated matters. This can be an excellent way to gain experience working directly with clients while giving back to the community. Clients may range from senior citizens trying to obtain government benefits they are entitled to, veterans seeking disability benefits they are owed, refugees fleeing persecution in their home country, etc. Legal aid clinics often hire experienced attorneys and graduate students studying for the bar exam or new law school graduates.

What is small or solo private practice? Is it different than working at a big law firm?

The main difference between working in a small practice and working in a Biglaw firm is that attorneys at small practices typically handle more cases and work on all aspects of those cases themselves (working directly with clients, doing legal research and writing, etc.). Attorneys at large law firms generally do not touch as many cases. They often spend most of their time on client matters instead of balancing them with other responsibilities like legal research and writing.

What sorts of legal career opportunities are available to lawyers in the government sector?

Attorneys can find many different types of opportunities with the government. For example, attorneys may get hired to work at government agencies like the Department of Justice (DOJ). Or they might take jobs with local or state governments to represent constituents in criminal law matters or handle lawsuits involving government agencies. Attorneys can also become judges, which typically requires many years of practicing law and passing several exams. There are also public interest attorney positions available at non-profit organizations dedicated to helping the public.

What are Federal Court Clerkships? Is it a good option for young lawyers and students interested in federal agencies and the federal government?

Federal court clerkship is an internship-like position with federal judges (typically federal appellate court justices). For judicial clerkships, you typically must study federal law in law school. Federal court clerkships are highly competitive once you pass the federal bar exam and receive federal licensure because they provide excellent training to become an appellate court judge.

Why work at a federal agency? Can these jobs be excellent stepping stones for judgeships or even Supreme Court justiceships?

Working as an attorney at federal agencies can be an excellent stepping stone for federal clerkships (appellate court clerk position) or federal judgeships. Supreme Court justices often come from federal appellate courts, so federal agency work may also be an excellent way to get on the Supreme Court's radar.

Which federal agencies are best for young attorneys interested in doing public interest work?

The federal agencies that hire the most attorneys are typically federal appellate courts because federal judges often hire clerks to help them research and write opinions. Federal agency work may be an excellent way for attorneys interested in public interest law to get on the federal government's radar as a potential Supreme Court justice someday.

What federal agencies' legal practice areas might interest me?

You may be interested in federal agencies that handle federal civil rights claims (like the federal agency for administrative review and the federal agency for immigration review). You may also be interested in federal agencies that handle federal appellate litigation (like the federal agency for the judiciary and the federal judicial council).

What kinds of federal agencies hire attorneys?

At every governmental level, lawyers work in all three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Government lawyers in the executive branches operate in the White House, state governors’ offices, city mayors’ offices; the US Department of Justice (the federal government’s legal office in Washington, including both criminal and civil litigators), U.S. Attorney’s Offices (U.S. Department of Justice criminal and civil litigators based throughout the country), state Attorney General’s Offices (each state’s legal office, including both criminal and civil work), District or State’s Attorney’s Offices (local criminal prosecutors), City Attorney’s Offices (representing cities in a variety of matters); public defenders’ offices; and in executive agencies of all kinds (for example, the U.S. Department of Treasury, the CIA, a state’s Department of Public Health, or a city’s Department of Urban Planning.) Government lawyers in the legislative branches work on Capitol Hill, state legislatures, and city councils. Of course, lawyers, as appointed or elected judges and as law clerks, work throughout the judicial branches.

What do you need to consider when choosing a legal practice setting?

When choosing a legal practice setting, you should consider what work environment makes you the most comfortable. You should also consider which type of law interests you the most and where your expertise lies. For example, if you are interested in federal civil rights litigation, working as an attorney for federal government entities may be a good option because a federal agency frequently handles federal civil rights claims. On the other hand, if you want to exclusively represent corporations in complex litigation matters, it may be better to opt for a law firm where you will have more opportunities to work directly with corporate clients.

See Also: How to Get an Attorney Position During and After Your Judicial Clerkship

What are the pros and cons of working in a law firm?

  • Flexible schedule; work hours are more negotiable based on your personal preference (how many billable hours you want to work).
  • Benefits like paid time off and health insurance.
  • Opportunity to network with other attorneys, clients, etc.
  • Opportunity to go in-house (leave law firm) if you want to, especially later in your career when you know what kind of attorney you would like to be.
  • Ability to be promoted sooner than working in government agencies or corporations.

  • You must compete for cases since everyone is sharing the same pool of clients.
  • You must adjust to more competition since there are so many other attorneys in the same firm.
  • Referrals may be hard to come by because your clients will likely go with their friends who work for different firms than you.
  • The constant need to look good on paper (the number of hours billed, cases won, etc.) can cause stress and take away from the time you spend with your family.
  • You may feel that you cannot bring any of your "non-legal" interests to work or socialize with your co-workers, such as hobbies or interests outside the law.
  • The culture at a law firm is typically more competitive than other practice settings.

What are the three major categories of legal practice?

The three major categories of legal practice are federal agencies, law firms, and corporate legal departments.

Lawyers in federal agencies advise the federal government on legal issues or negotiate with other federal lawyers to solve most federal agencies' problems. Law firm practice involves representing clients in cases in courtrooms, while corporate law departments perform the same function for their company.

What is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EECO)?

The EEOC is a government agency that enforces federal laws against discrimination. The EEOC was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was initially charged with enforcing Title VII of the landmark legislation, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. In addition to these five protected categories also protect individuals from discrimination based on disability or age (40 or older). It is important to note that while the law does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation-based discrimination in public sector employment as private sector employers can be exempt under certain circumstances - such as religious organizations - there are no such exemptions for federal employees.

The federal agency enforces federal laws that outlaw discrimination in the workplace, education, and housing. It investigates claims of illegal discrimination and issues federal standards to other federal agencies for enforcing their own rules against discrimination. The EEOC also works closely with federal sector labor unions in labor-management matters involving claims brought under federal anti-discrimination laws. This is an example of one type of legal practice setting you could work in as a federal attorney - employment law for employee benefits.

I am worried that practicing at a federal agency will prevent me from working in public interest law. Is this true?

The federal government hires attorneys to work for it and federal agencies, such as federal prosecutors and federal regulatory agencies like the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), rather than individual federal court judges, so you could potentially work at a federal agency and still find ways to do public interest work. For example, the federal government hires attorneys to represent federal defendants in federal criminal cases [or federal civil cases] when required by federal law or when federal funds are appropriated for such purposes.

You can also work on federal legislation and federal cases in federal agencies, specifically federal appellate cases. The Solicitor General's office hires attorneys to represent federal defendants in federal criminal appeals.

For more information, see also: Law Practice Settings


If you are considering a legal practice setting, it is important to think about the pros and cons of each. Big law firms have high levels of stress due to long hours and heavy workloads, but they also offer opportunities for career advancement. Solo practices give attorneys more control over their schedule but may require them to do many different jobs, including client contact, research, writing briefs, or trial work. Corporations provide in-house lawyers with stability and exposure to new areas of law that they might not otherwise be exposed to. In this article, we have gone over some frequently asked questions from practicing attorneys so you can decide what will work best for your needs!

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