bread and roses

I'm a 2L at a good-but-not-top-10 school, and on a journal-but-not-Law-Review, and it's very hard not to feel like I'm doomed to mediocrity for the rest of my career. I don't even want to do Biglaw - I'm more interested in government or public interest work - but I hate the feeling that people will make judgments about my intelligence or seriousness from that. I know ultimately I just need to get over it, but it's good to read a reminder like this.


Having worked as a paralegal in a BigCity prior to law school, I saw first hand some of the absurdity of BigLaw practice. As a result, I looked primarily at smaller firms (called "lifestyle" firms) where I would have better odds at seeing a court room and it worked for the most part (I worked at a firm with fewer than 20 attorneys - considered a "boutique law firm" in the City). My spouse worked at 2 biglaw firms and many of my friends worked at biglaw. Based on their experiences the first year or two is definitely a slog, but smart young associates quickly learn that taking on pro bono projects gives them the best early access to courtrooms/negotiations, etc. Then as mid-level associates, the more challenging opportunities start to open up.

I'm now in a government job in a small city and have not worked a weekend in almost two years (woohoo!). While the pace is far less intense, I find my clients far more appreciative and the work more challenging than I expected. Many of my colleagues, and my bosses, went to 'less prestigious' law schools than I did, mostly local. But so what - while they may not ever have the salary that a current BigLaw first-year associate has, I can assure you they (and now me!) have a LOT more balance in their lives. As the famous line from someone's graduation speech once said, "you'll never look back & wish you'd spent more time at the office."


You raise some interesting points about biglaw. I've never been there (though I had the kind of credentials associated with those who went). From seeing friends who went, I think early on you get pegged as to whether you'll be moving up or out at the firm, and the type of assignments you get will be based on it. Most move on. Those who last it out (the 7 - 10 year people you were associating with) are the minority. I'd be curious to know what other credentials they had (clerkships, fellowships, etc.).

One thing that I have seen. If you want to litigate, the best place to start is in a prosecutor's or public defender's office. It is in one of those places that you will get to court right away and earn your bones. There can be opportunities for the money later. nylawyer.com regularly reports about prosecutors moving over to the big firms. I doubt they're doing document review. I've also seen a number of people from the white shoe firms leaving for a few years to get experience in a US Atty's office. It's clear why this is happening.

It's easy for me to be critical of the big firms. But, like I said, it's not an experience I had. Interestingly, most of my law school friends who started off that way have left. Some are now in-house counsel. Other's have taken government jobs with the hope of never returning to biglaw.


I'm also a paralegal in BigCity and worked both for BigLaw and now for a 'boutique' firm. I tend to think of BigLaw as like the Armed Services. If you're enlisted (paralegal staff), you can get only so high and no higher; and the officer corps operates on an 'up-or-out' model of promotion. The way I saw it, the happiest attorneys were the staff attorneys. They had carved out a niche for themselves, did not have to worry about being fired OR jockeying for a promotion and tended to have specialized enough knowledge that they never got stuck on one case long enough to drain your soul from your body.

As someone in the process of both running her first case solo, preparing for trial for the first time and applying to law school, I am doubly grateful that I got out of BigLaw long enough to find out what other options there were.

Also Bread and Roses, when you graduate? Be nice to your paralegals! (everybody knows to be nice the secretaries :)) We know what we're doing, we swear!

The Happy Feminist

Yes -- be nice to the paralegals is a major, major practice point.

Chipmunk says:

nylawyer.com regularly reports about prosecutors moving over to the big firms. I doubt they're doing document review.

That was my career path (except in little-state terms). And yes, as a lateral hire, I have never in my life had to do the real hum-drum type of document review assignments. I was able to move right into having a substantive role and doing a lot of stuff on my own without much supervision.

The Happy Feminist

Chipmunk says:

Those who last it out (the 7 - 10 year people you were associating with) are the minority. I'd be curious to know what other credentials they had (clerkships, fellowships, etc.).

I looked up the bios of the three attorneys I was working with. The person I was most impressed with was the associate (based on just the way he conducted himself during our meeting) and the other two were young partners.

-- The associate went to a mid-level ranked undergrad college and graduated "cum laude," and then went to a top 15 law school and graduated "magna cum laude." No clerkships.

-- One of the partners went to a top 5 college and top 5 law school and graduated "cum laude" from both places. He had a clerkship at a mid-level state appellate court.

-- The other partner (the one I was least impressed with!) went to a mid-level udnergraduate school and top 25 law school, graduating "cum laude" from both. She had a U.S. court of appeals clerkship.

Actually, I am surprised upon reviewing these, because these credentials don't seem totally different from people at provincial big law. But I think Metropolitan Biglaw has a larger percentage of people from big name schools with "magna" and "summa," whereas Provincial Biglaw has those people, but fewer of them.

And, of course, the whole idea of ranking schools a la U.S. News and World Report is problematic too but that's a post for another time and lots of other people have already said it.


7-10 years and they haven't done trials?! That's whacked unless you're in a law or firm that really does very few trials and little trial prep.

I worked as a para for a very well-known BigLaw firm before I got my bar card. What amazed me is how few new associates did the math. They seemed to think that their six-figure salaries were sort of a natural prize for having 'made it'. It truly didn't occur to them that the firm expected to make a profit on them--if you get pay/benefits work $X, you are going to have to produce billable hours that brings more than $X of profit to the firm.


Once again, you`re making me glad I didn`t go to law school! :)

Ironically, my parents (who`ve never quite gotten over the fact that my life "went off track and never got back on") still like to think that a BigLaw job was my "path not taken."

But I am absolutely sure that had I decided to go to law school, I would have steered as far away from the BigLaw path as I possibly could.

The Happy Feminist

Oddly enough, I had no Biglaw aspirations while I was at law school. Yet here I am at Provincial Biglaw.

At some point, I should post about opting out of the Law Review competition (not that I necessarily would have made Law Review, but I didn't even try). I just couldn't figure out the point of doing Law Review, so I blew it off and threw myself into Moot Court instead. I remember feeling great angst about that decision at the time, but now I am convinced I did the right thing and had more fun doing it. Sherry over at Stay of Execution has posted extensively and critically about Law Review.


Me too. Looking back, I probably would have done fine on Law Review, but at the time I couldn't see the point when I had Moot Court and STAP to do.

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