BigLaw versus SmallLaw – The Associate Conundrum

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I welcomed a new neighbor this week who is moving in across the drive from me. I struck up a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” conversation and learned he is a relatively new lawyer working in a small defense firm. Of course the subject turned to the current market for legal services and lawyers in general.

He said something that finally registered with me. Associates in small firms have it hard. Basically, they feel lucky to have any kind of job. They are very likely making much less than associates in BigLaw positions. But here’s the real icing on the cake: They Bill A Lot More Hours.

As he told me his monthly hour requirement of 200 billable hours, it really hit home. Recent surveys show associate hours at BigLaw firms are down. He even noted a friend at a BigLaw firm whose annual billable hours were only 1500. Wow.

Add to this – his chance of becoming a partner are even lower than the poor chances of associates at a BigLaw firm.

Two thoughts:
  1. The constant bashing of associate life at BigLaw may be misdirected.
  2. A business model built on over-working people is a bad one whether it’s for a small or large enterprise.
My new neighbor is taking it all in stride. Of course his career goal is … going in-house. He said something about the hours being better there.

Go figure.

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