Practice Settings

1. Why do many attorneys prefer working for law firms representing companies over those serving individuals, despite the potential drawbacks?

Many attorneys are drawn to working for law firms representing companies because of perceived prestige, higher salaries, and the promise of more opportunities. These firms are often seen as the pinnacle of the legal profession, leading many attorneys to aspire to work in such environments.

2.What are some of the risks and drawbacks associated with working in large law firms?

Large law firms can offer less job security, particularly for partners and associates, due to factors such as dependence on a single client, strict behavioral expectations, and the possibility of being let go if business declines. Attorneys in large firms may also struggle to develop a client base and can face intense competition within the firm, making their careers potentially less stable and fulfilling than those in smaller practices serving individuals.

3. Why do many attorneys who serve individuals and not companies tend to be more successful, secure, and satisfied in their legal careers?

Attorneys serving individuals and not companies often achieve more success and job security because they have the opportunity to build their own practices and businesses. These attorneys can market themselves effectively, have greater freedom to choose their practice areas and locations, and can generate clients through advertising and personal connections. They also have the advantage of not facing the strict limitations and competition prevalent in large law firms.

4. What are some of the qualifications and expectations that corporate law firms have for their attorneys?

Corporate law firms typically expect their attorneys to have graduated from top law schools, acquired prior experience in other large law firms (if they are lateral attorneys), and adhere to specific rules and behaviors. These firms often have "up or out" policies, set annual income for the first ten years of practice, and place a strong emphasis on image and reputation. Attorneys in corporate law firms are expected to be highly specialized and may be subject to termination for not meeting expectations.

5. What is the difference in career paths and opportunities between attorneys working in large law firms representing corporations and those working in smaller firms or solo practices representing individuals?

Attorneys working in large law firms representing corporations often face rigid expectations and a focus on adhering to company culture and client demands. In contrast, those working in smaller firms or solo practices representing individuals have more flexibility and the potential for greater career satisfaction. The article suggests that while working for corporations may be a desirable path for many attorneys, it's not the only option and may not always lead to the most successful or fulfilling careers.

When an attorney is searching for a position and choosing what type of law firm to work in, they have two options:
(1) they can work for a law firm serving primarily individuals, or
(2) they can work primarily for companies.

Law firms serving companies pay more because companies have more money to spend. Therefore, these law firms often work more on the same matters because clients will pay for it. Salaries are higher. Because companies expect their high billing rates to be matched with attorneys with certain backgrounds, class rank, law school, and similar qualifications are more important in law firms serving companies than in those serving individuals.

Distinction in Law Firms

When I was starting my career working as a clerk for a federal district judge, stationed above a post office in a small former lumber town that had been declining since the early 1900s, Bay City, Michigan, we had a class action filed by employees of banana pickers somewhere in Central America against Dow Chemical (located close to the courthouse). It was over some chemicals they sold to the companies operating banana plantations. There were probably 25 law firms involved. We were all in the judge's library, with standing room only, and one of the attorneys announced in front of the judge that another attorney who was co-counsel was from the law firm Sherman & Sterling in New York. The attorney from this firm looked completely unintimidating, bookish, and not someone I imagined lasted long at this firm. Nevertheless, with the exception of the judge, who could have cared less, a bunch of the attorneys in the room seemed to look at this young, first-year associate in awe, all at the same time.
“This is crazy,” I thought to myself. However, as soon as I became a legal recruiter, I saw this pattern repeat itself on a daily basis. Attorneys at less prestigious law firms serving individuals almost always would jump at the chance to work at law firms serving companies. Everyone seemingly wanted to work at these law firms. Among the law firms serving companies, of course, there are huge differences in the brands and how prestigious each sort of firm is. Attorneys at less prestigious firms serving companies wanted to move up. Attorneys at more prestigious law firms never wanted to move down. Attorneys at firms serving companies often preferred to go in-house or leave the practice of law completely if they could not stay employed there—preferably in the largest cities.