I was a litigation associate at a Big Law firm in New York City. I stayed for about two-and-a-half years before deciding to create my own startup. Many people wonder about life in Big Law and whether it is better (or worse) than what they typically hear. I plan on writing a longer post on this subject, but here are some of my initial thoughts so far.
Big Law Life
Big Law life can undoubtedly be tough, but I was lucky in that my firm was known to be less of a sweatshop compared to other Big Law firms in New York City. That said, I still worked long hours and weekend work was common. If you’re thinking about pursuing Big Law, you need to acknowledge that you will work late into the evenings, miss social events, and be generally stressed throughout the day. You work for demanding partners who work for demanding clients. The stress rolls downhill, and it is not the easiest life. It’s well-known now, but life as a young associate is unlike the life that you experience as a summer associate.
While there was some variation in my daily tasks, a good part of my day would be responding to emails, working on ongoing research projects, and drafting research memos or contributing to briefs. In general, I’d be working on the same five to ten matters, but the work for those specific matters would vary based on things like the procedural posture of the litigation or court schedules. I found litigation work to be slightly more predictable than the work for my transactional colleagues. However, as is characteristic of legal practice, you’re looking at facts in the past. Often, the work will be very similar to when you leave at night and when you arrive the next morning. This may or may not interest you, as Lloyd Blankfein—who is a former litigator—speaks about in this video (start at 3:36).
Interspaced between these tasks would be meetings with partners and associates on my current matters. Occasionally, we would have associate training sessions (where we would learn a discrete skill or topic within our specific practice areas) and practice group lunch meetings.
Still, most of the time, you’re alone working in your office on various tasks for more senior attorneys. The solitary nature of the role is something I hadn’t initially expected. Sure, you’re communicating with others through email and (at times) instant messaging. But face time seemed to be harder to come by, especially because your colleagues appear to be super busy and you don’t want to interrupt them. It seems like those that enjoy working alone in a defined space may be more comfortable than those who prefer to constantly be working alongside others.
Right For You?
Having said all of this, you will be working with extremely intelligent attorneys and will be gaining solid experience, regardless of whether you stay in Big Law. The compensation is obviously great and bonuses can be especially attractive. As long as you understand that working in Big Law will be difficult, it may be right for you.