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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

October 21, 2016

Big Company or Big Law – Which is Best?

Julie Q. Brush

The Question: Which job offer should I accept: a role with Big Law or Big Company? I’m a new grad and want to be a litigator, but I also have two young kids and don’t know which choice is best. Help!

As a newly minted lawyer, the direction you choose for your legal career at this very point will set the stage for the successes and challenges you will face in the future. So this choice is an important one. In order to determine the right path, you’ll need to examine your wants, needs and goals as well as what each opportunity offers.

You have two distinctly different offers in front of you. And while this situation may be the source of stress, give yourself a big pat on the back and celebrate the accomplishment of securing two great offers.

Now let’s review your options:

Big Law.

For a litigator, there is no better place to receive high quality litigation training than a law firm. Diverse clients, diverse work, diverse exposure. And Big Law can attract some pretty awesome cases. The brand will also provide career credibility that can pay dividends for years to come. You’ll work for a partner (or two or several) who will guide you and teach you the ropes…from the ground up. You’ll learn how to write, how to think and how to argue like Perry Mason. All under the watchful eye of the higher-ups. The money will be great as well. So if you are the breadwinner and/or have student loans, the (eye-popping) paycheck as a newbie lawyer can provide some serious financial relief.

But there is a price. Hours are long and can be unforgiving. If you are unlucky enough to work for bad partners and/or flexibility is non-existent, life in Big Law can become unbearable. And the job of yours dreams can quickly become the job of your nightmares while your personal life can, and usually does suffer. So the stakes are high…especially with two little kids. Questions for you to answer include:

  • What about this opportunity appeals/does not appeal to you and why?
  • How strong is this Big Law brand?
  • What do you know about the work you’d perform?
  • Do the partners with whom you will work seem supportive? Reasonable? Do you think they’ll be good mentors? Any red flags?
  • What about the hours? Are you gonna kill yourself or is there some give in the schedule?
  • Can you create a schedule that can work for your personal life if you take this job?

One addition variable to assess that I always recommend is to play out the Worst Case Scenario. By working through this hypothetical, you mitigate fear by understanding your options. So what happens if this choice does not work out? Your options include: (1) move to another big law firm; (2) move to a smaller law firm or litigation boutique; (3) move in house; (4) retool your practice at your current firm or a different firm.

Big Company.

Many Big Law lawyers envision the corporate legal department as a different land…with rainbows and a chorus gently singing in the background. Cushy hours, no billables, free thises and thats and other perks that make this world utterly and completely…Utopian. But the reality is that while the perks can be “cool” and appealing, expectations are high and you will work hard. Your work will be dedicated to one client and one client only: your employer. So you won’t receive the diversity of experience that Big Law offers and generally speaking, the trenches won’t be as deep. But depending on the company, the work can be exciting. As a newbie, you’ll receive a different kind of training experience with fewer like litigators by your side. Understanding the larger business picture and your place in it will be key to success with your corporate counterparts and within the department itself. Hours will be kinder than Big Law and you won’t have the pressure of billable hours occupying your mind. The lift you’ll get out of a Big Company brand will vary on the company – if it’s something sexy or tagged with a “unicorn” status it will provide some sparkle to your career. With this said, the lack of big firm training will place you at a competitive disadvantage when applying for future in house litigation roles – as many employers value the quality and quantity of experience gained as a big firm associate. This won’t be the case with every employer, but it will be a challenge you will likely encounter. Questions to ask yourself and answer with this option include:

  • What about this opportunity appeals/does not appeal to you and why?
  • Are your medium/long terms goals to work in house as a litigator?
  • Does this potential boss seem supportive? Reasonable? Do you think s/he will be a good mentor? Any red flags?
  • What type of work will you perform?
  • Do you think you will receive good training?
  • Do the hours in this role seem reasonable? What about when you factor in the commute?
  • Is the compensation offered one you can live on financially?
  • Can you create a schedule that can work for your personal life if you take this job?

Playing out the Worst Case Scenario: If things do not work out in this situation your options include (1) moving to another company; and (2) moving to a small to midsized law firm. You won’t be as marketable for the Big Law option unless you are junior when you leave the company (1- 3 years max), your academics and grades are off the charts…and you have a good explanation as to why you did not choose Big Law in the first place.

From a pure career perspective, accepting the offer with Big Law will preserve more options for you down the road. So as you begin your legal career, it is the more strategic choice. But this isn’t…and shouldn’t be the only consideration. To make the most informed and wisest decision, you must be self-aware and identify the relevant variables that are important for you to be fulfilled and happy. Then assess and weigh them accordingly. If you are thorough in your approach, your decision will become much more clear.

This is an exciting time as you begin your journey as a lawyer – and while your current situation may be stressful, you have two great opportunities in front of you. So follow my recommended approach above and you will make the best choice for You.

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to The LW career feed for priority access to premium content on topics like compensation and title trends, career development, foolproof salary negotiating, goal achievement…and much more. It’s quick and free. Click here: Sign Me Up Julie!

Like this

As I have already been in that situation (as an associate and not as a lawyer) I believe and know that choosing the big Law firm as a first experience will be of more benefit because of diverse work and exposure including the training experience you will receive form senior lawyers and meeting with different types of clients. This experience would open many doors in the future and I can tell you that you will find it easier to adapt in a "company environment" after having worked for a law firm than the other way round. Being someone well organised can in some way help in handling both professional and personal life successfully. Good luck.

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