How important is it to work for a big-name firm?

For many lawyers, the possibility of working in a large and prestigious firm is a career milestone. If you told a group of lawyers that a major firm, much bigger than theirs, was interested in hiring them, most would jump at the chance. However, one of the most common complaints of Big Law associates is chasing the billable hours tail while working themselves crazy. A 50 to 80-hour week isn’t uncommon for Big Law players, and yet law students around the world compete vigorously to land a Big Law position.

It’s obvious that one of the key benefits is the salary factor. Major law firms have access to waterfalls of money, while only a few small firms are willing to incentivise new hires before they become profitable. However, more recently firm leaders have sighted a falling demand for their services. Corporate counsel are also changing how they value the services of Big Law, with 85% citing cost savings.

According to ALM Intelligence’s New Partners Survey, many recently promoted partners have professional ambitions beyond serving their current firms. Big Law exiles are going on to launch their own boutiques, allowing them a more sufficient work/life balance with greater input to the firm processes and management.

But while the billable hours snare is a downwards trend for some partners, the Big Law draw is still enticing for young lawyers who cite benefits such as networking opportunities, instant credibility and dexterous skills such as the ability to become a skilled writer and an insanely fast reader, as some of the major attractions of Big Law.

But one of the largest benefits often cited by young lawyers is career growth through well-developed training programmes and mentoring. The ability to provide a significant depth of training to lawyers across many different practice areas and geographies, gives clients the ability to access lawyers with a high skillset within their region. As a result, there are certain types of cases that will only go to big firms and certain practice areas that only make sense within a large firm. Thus giving young lawyers more far-reaching experience.

The reputation for Big Law still has significant pulling power and it is clear that Big Law careers have more enviable prospects than smaller firms on paper. However, as lawyers move up the ranks, more attention should be paid to the quality of the firm and the impact it has on career and personal satisfaction.

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