Law School Discussion

Nine Years of Discussion
;

Author Topic: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...  (Read 9358 times)

BikePilot

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 488
    • AOL Instant Messenger - joshthebikepilot
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #10 on: March 20, 2010, 12:15:10 PM »
Just FYI smaller firms won't always be less work - really high end small firms tend to be even more.  I interviewed at a couple where 3k+ hours was the norm and everyone had sleeping arrangements in their offices.  They also made a lot more than market and did really cool, high end work.

Something I know relatively little about, but am interested in learning more about is plaintiff side class action litigation.  There mostly are not billable hours (loadstar work is quasi-billable hour I guess) and more about how much you can get done and how much you want to make.  I know of a very successful trial lawyer at a high end plaintiff firm who often works 10am-4pm, but is astounding efficient and does well with it.  This is definitely not the norm, but from my limited insight into that world, there seems to be much more variation than in billable-hour/defense side work.

Anyway, I think if the question that really bothers you is how little you can work and get by with it, law isn't the right profession.  Rather  think about just how hard you can push yourself and how much you can achieve.  It seems to be a profession that rewards driven people who like to work hard.

I don't have great insight into non-billable to billable hour ratios.  For starters, coffee breaks, lunch etc are all non-billable of course (unless you eat with a client or something I suppose).  Beyond that there's administrative stuff, development work, recruiting etc that will take up maybe 50hrs-100hrs a year (really a guess as I've only summered at a firm so far) and then there'll be times when you just aren't very productive and won't want to bill for very little work done.  So I'd guess if you manage to get 75% of your office time billable you are doing really well. I've read online that its common practice for associates to become particularly efficient and bill more hours for tasks than they actually take.  I've seen zero evidence of this so far (quite the opposite - associates seem to bill for less time than it takes to make themselves look more efficient/capable to the partners).

I've looked at the vault guides (most all law schools make them available for free I think).  They are pretty fluffy and seem to lack much serious information.  They might give you some basic insights into the culture at various firms, but just take what they say with a bit of salt.

Also, firms have changed a lot since 2006 - in '06 they couldn't find enough people to hire, were paying $35k starting bonuses on top of market salary etc.  Now virtually none are paying bonuses, many aren't paying market, many aren't hiring at all and I think over 10,000 associates have been laid off. Many of my friends reported that morale at firms where they summered was very low and that there was no work to do, at least not for the summers.  Thankfully this wasn't my experience at all.  Everyone at my firm last summer was very busy doing real work, including the summers.  I even had a couple of 70hr weeks.  ;D
HLS 2010

Thane Messinger

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 533
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #11 on: March 21, 2010, 12:09:07 AM »
Just FYI smaller firms won't always be less work - really high end small firms tend to be even more.  I interviewed at a couple where 3k+ hours was the norm and everyone had sleeping arrangements in their offices.  They also made a lot more than market and did really cool, high end work.

Something I know relatively little about, but am interested in learning more about is plaintiff side class action litigation.  There mostly are not billable hours (loadstar work is quasi-billable hour I guess) and more about how much you can get done and how much you want to make.  I know of a very successful trial lawyer at a high end plaintiff firm who often works 10am-4pm, but is astounding efficient and does well with it.  This is definitely not the norm, but from my limited insight into that world, there seems to be much more variation than in billable-hour/defense side work.

Anyway, I think if the question that really bothers you is how little you can work and get by with it, law isn't the right profession.  Rather  think about just how hard you can push yourself and how much you can achieve.  It seems to be a profession that rewards driven people who like to work hard.

I don't have great insight into non-billable to billable hour ratios.  For starters, coffee breaks, lunch etc are all non-billable of course (unless you eat with a client or something I suppose).  Beyond that there's administrative stuff, development work, recruiting etc that will take up maybe 50hrs-100hrs a year (really a guess as I've only summered at a firm so far) and then there'll be times when you just aren't very productive and won't want to bill for very little work done.  So I'd guess if you manage to get 75% of your office time billable you are doing really well. I've read online that its common practice for associates to become particularly efficient and bill more hours for tasks than they actually take.  I've seen zero evidence of this so far (quite the opposite - associates seem to bill for less time than it takes to make themselves look more efficient/capable to the partners).

I've looked at the vault guides (most all law schools make them available for free I think).  They are pretty fluffy and seem to lack much serious information.  They might give you some basic insights into the culture at various firms, but just take what they say with a bit of salt.

Also, firms have changed a lot since 2006 - in '06 they couldn't find enough people to hire, were paying $35k starting bonuses on top of market salary etc.  Now virtually none are paying bonuses, many aren't paying market, many aren't hiring at all and I think over 10,000 associates have been laid off. Many of my friends reported that morale at firms where they summered was very low and that there was no work to do, at least not for the summers.  Thankfully this wasn't my experience at all.  Everyone at my firm last summer was very busy doing real work, including the summers.  I even had a couple of 70hr weeks.  ;D


As always, BikePilot has excellent points.  The world of law has continued to change, and economic stresses operate just as much on firms (and agencies) as they do on the lawyers within.  Unfortunately, those pressures are felt first and hardest at the new-hire level.

The point about work is apt: While many are focused on "balance" or, let's be blunt, on faking our way through with as little work as possible, this will not, er, work in a firm.  The expectations range from high to outrageous, and the right outlook is absolutely essential going in.  That's one reason I recommend Morten Lund's (and my own) books so much: they provide a window into the senior partner's mind.  And that window can be absolutely crucial in avoiding *very* embarrassing mistakes.

BikePilot is also correct about the billable beast.  Beware.  Either inflating or understating billable hours are unethical and extremely injurious to your career.  Know that senior partners know they will discount your hours; let them.  Don't play with this.

And hang in there.  With the right mindset, law practice really IS a blast.

CJScalia

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 195
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2010, 09:29:32 PM »
Nothing wrong in the above answers, so I'll just add to it, the general trend is that out of 10 associates, 1 reach partnership. That's not necessarily because the other 9 fail or get fired though, it's more often (ignoring the current recession) a matter of people finding out that it just isn't worth it, and wanting other things in life.

Most law firms (again, pre-recession) do not require you to stay on partnership track. If you'd prefer doing 1700 billable hours in a year and understanding that means you won't reach partnership, that's fine.

More commonly, we see lawyers branching off from BigLaw to in-house counsel at corporations, taking up positions at smaller firm with a less rigorous requirements etc, going into solo practice etc.

Personally, I spent both 1L and 2L summers at a NYC BigLaw firm, and ended up making the decision not to go there when I graduate this summer. I'd rather put in slightly less hours, be slightly less of my boss's biatch, and be able to do slightly more of my non-professional interests. Thus, I'm going to a smaller firm.

Do understand that slightly less actually means slightly less. You can pretty much forget about a 40 hour week even at a smaller firm if you have ambitions of making partnership. On the other hand, this varies a lot from firm to firm.

At the end of the day, if your priority is on having a manageable work week, lots of time for other activities etc, solo practice is really the place to go. Obviously, at a solo practice you have the caveat of "what you kill is what you eat". So sure, nobody is stopping you from going home at 4, it just cuts into your pay check.

Best of luck wherever you go.

Antonin -

Congratulations, as to the job and as to the decision to choose the firm that's better for you. 

Quite right.  A few additional points:  It's about mindset more than hours.  Mindset, however, to a large degree dictates hours.  So, an associate who is consistently toward the bottom of the hourly pacer is almost certainly going to be eased out within the first year or two.  Thereafter, it's usually a lifestyle choice, or burnout, or conflict.  And, as to the last, there is no conflict with a partner (or senior associate); for reasons why, the books mentioned will explain.

As to solo practice, there I would be very, very, very wary, for a number of reasons.  That's a different thread, but, in short, many solos starve, and nearly all do less well than they hope, at first.  Law practice is FAR too involved for a solo practice out of law school.

For anyone with a serious preference for the balance-of-life style, consider a government position.  Many require more than 40 hours a week too, but it's (usually) not 60-80, and you can usually actually take your vacation time. 



Thanks! And yes, I agree with the solo route, I did not necessarily mean to do that directly out of law school. In fact, I would almost go as far as saying it's a bit irresponsible to do that. Yes, some people manage to make it work, but at least in my experience, you're far from a "complete" lawyer just because you graduated law school and passed the bar. A year or two at any form of law firm is very valuable even if your main goal is to go solo.
3L
Law school completed.
Bar exams next.

IPFreely

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 100
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2010, 12:47:36 PM »
Is it typical to become partner after 7-10 years of dedicated work?
What do you mean "typical to become partner"?  Most large law firms are "leveraged".  This means that 90% of the people who start as associates get thrown to the wolves within the first seven years.  They can either go in-house somewhere or start their own firm.

The ones who make partner are the ones whose brother-in-law is an executive at a Fortune 100 company, and who therefore bring in business.

randombetch

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 14
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2010, 11:13:25 PM »
Is it typical to become partner after 7-10 years of dedicated work?
What do you mean "typical to become partner"?  Most large law firms are "leveraged".  This means that 90% of the people who start as associates get thrown to the wolves within the first seven years.  They can either go in-house somewhere or start their own firm.

The ones who make partner are the ones whose brother-in-law is an executive at a Fortune 100 company, and who therefore bring in business.

Okay, I'm calling bs on this. If you're the best lawyer that they hired, you will become partner.

RedShift

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 5
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #15 on: April 07, 2010, 01:20:40 AM »
Is it typical to become partner after 7-10 years of dedicated work?
What do you mean "typical to become partner"?  Most large law firms are "leveraged".  This means that 90% of the people who start as associates get thrown to the wolves within the first seven years.  They can either go in-house somewhere or start their own firm.

The ones who make partner are the ones whose brother-in-law is an executive at a Fortune 100 company, and who therefore bring in business.

Okay, I'm calling bs on this. If you're the best lawyer that they hired, you will become partner.

Don't underestimate the power of money when it comes to making hiring decisions.

CJScalia

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 195
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #16 on: April 07, 2010, 03:30:44 PM »
Is it typical to become partner after 7-10 years of dedicated work?
What do you mean "typical to become partner"?  Most large law firms are "leveraged".  This means that 90% of the people who start as associates get thrown to the wolves within the first seven years.  They can either go in-house somewhere or start their own firm.

The ones who make partner are the ones whose brother-in-law is an executive at a Fortune 100 company, and who therefore bring in business.

Okay, I'm calling bs on this. If you're the best lawyer that they hired, you will become partner.

Don't underestimate the power of money when it comes to making hiring decisions.

Being the best lawyer brings in money.

Having a brother on the board of a Fortune company does not. At least not as frequently as people are lead to believe. Corporations want their lawyers to win cases, that's all that matters.

But yes, having "rain maker" talents is of course paramount to making partner. No reason to make you a partner if they don't have to.
3L
Law school completed.
Bar exams next.

Thane Messinger

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 533
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #17 on: April 08, 2010, 04:36:10 AM »
Is it typical to become partner after 7-10 years of dedicated work?
What do you mean "typical to become partner"?  Most large law firms are "leveraged".  This means that 90% of the people who start as associates get thrown to the wolves within the first seven years.  They can either go in-house somewhere or start their own firm.

The ones who make partner are the ones whose brother-in-law is an executive at a Fortune 100 company, and who therefore bring in business.

Okay, I'm calling bs on this. If you're the best lawyer that they hired, you will become partner.

Don't underestimate the power of money when it comes to making hiring decisions.

Being the best lawyer brings in money.

Having a brother on the board of a Fortune company does not. At least not as frequently as people are lead to believe. Corporations want their lawyers to win cases, that's all that matters.

But yes, having "rain maker" talents is of course paramount to making partner. No reason to make you a partner if they don't have to.


There's a bit of "all of the above" to the answer.  There are many, many factors in terms of who survives in a law firm environment.  (Believe it or not, survival in a smaller firm can be just as treacherous, if not moreso; there are fewer places to hide.)

As to making partner, it's important to know that this is no longer the goalpost it was.  It is now, in many cases, a different employment status, bringing with it higher and more and better kinds of stress.  But stress nonetheless.

Quality is clearly a factor, but not in the way most would assume.  Few attorneys will make it past the first two years without quality.  Thus, one doesn't even get to the warm-up to partner unless a fairly serious showing of quality is present.  Rainmaking?  Possible, and clearly a growing concern.  But not all new partners have mastered this--and that's a major (additional) task for partnership.  Grooming, deportment, smile?  All important.  But again, not dispositive.  The firm's health?  Clearly a factor, especially now.  The practice area?  Big time . . . and darned hard to predict, ten years before.

In short, the lifestyle for a lawyer is intense, demanding, fatiguing, and exhilarating.  At least half of the answer to the original question is a simple one:  Do you want to be there?

Big4ToLaw

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 4
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #18 on: June 08, 2010, 11:40:19 PM »
Billing 3,000 hours in a year!? That almost seems absurd! At face value, that is only 58 hours a week. That's pretty easy in the billable world. However, taking into account:

- 4 weeks vacation (Seems like a lot, but necessary in a high volume billing environment)
- 100 hours of contining education (not sure if that translates that same to the legal field)
- 40 hours of recruiting
- 40 hours of facilitating trainings younger associates
- 40 hours of local city membership activities for networking
- 240 hours of eating (5 day weeks) (leaves half an hour for lunch a dinner...quick ones...and non-billable)
- 40 hours of firm activities (happy hours, small groups, etc)
- 240 hours commuting (5 day weeks) (assuming an half hour commute)

That puts you at an average of 78 hour weeks devoted to working, being at work, doing work related things, and getting to work. That translates to working 8 to 7 for 7 days a week or 8 to 10 during the week and 8 hours on Saturday. Working Friday nights won't happen too many times because you'd go crazy, so you'd tack those hours on to Sunday for a light day. I don't know anyone that can work non-stop, so you will end up adding a few hours to that week for staring off into the distance to clear your head because you have done nothing but work all year. In the end, you could go ahead and say 80-85 hours a week to bill 3,000 hours in a year.

That all being said, billing around 2,300 is pretty smooth sailing. Sure you'd have some 70 maybe even 80 hour weeks, but definitely not bad at all! Just for reference, you could take 5 weeks vacation, bill 40s in th summer, have 5-6 months of various 60 - 80 hour billing weeks, and hit some good numbers for the year. I tip my hat to anyone that can bill above 2,500. I couldn't keep up with that.

Happy Billing!

the white rabbit

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 362
    • View Profile
Re: Lawyer lifestyle? For a lawyer working at a large law firm...
« Reply #19 on: June 09, 2010, 12:23:26 AM »
That all being said, billing around 2,300 is pretty smooth sailing. Sure you'd have some 70 maybe even 80 hour weeks, but definitely not bad at all! Just for reference, you could take 5 weeks vacation, bill 40s in th summer, have 5-6 months of various 60 - 80 hour billing weeks, and hit some good numbers for the year. I tip my hat to anyone that can bill above 2,500. I couldn't keep up with that.

That assumes a lot more control over one's work flow than may be realistic. 
Mood: Tired but cheerful.  :)