is being a big law partner worth it
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Is Being a Big Law Partner Worth It in the US? 

| February 20, 2024

If you are remotely connected with the legal industry, you must have heard of Big Law once. Big Law is a term used in the legal industry to describe the largest and most successful law firms in the US. Moreover, the main question regarding these hotshots is whether being a Big Law partner is worth it. The desire to be a partner in Big Law is its starting salary of $225,00 despite its long hours. This article will discuss what Big Law is and whether being a significant law partner is worth it in the United States.  

What is a Big Law?

What is a Big Law

Before we go into answering whether being a significant law partner is worth it, let’s first get to know the definition of big law. Big Law is the term used within the legal industry for the most successful and most prominent law firms operating in the United States.  

Attorneys employed in Big Law are called Big Law attorneys in the US. Moreover, some big law firms are known to have thousands of partners and span the nation and the world.  

You will be thrilled to know that there are Big Law firms that do not operate on such a large scale. This is because many boutique law firms have earned the title due to their prestige, equity, or the revenue they tend to generate. Moreover, regardless of their size, big law firms are known to employ more than a hundred lawyers and tend to offer the industry’s best salary structure.  

Big Law’s Popularity

If you are a law student, you must have considered becoming a partner at Big Law. Law students with alumni in the best law schools across the US tend to demand an interview to become a summer associate in the Big Law. Eventually, this sets them on a path to become a partner in Big Law firms across the US.  

Generally, a summer associate in a Big Law can lead to a full-time associate in these hot-shot firms, which comes with a larger paycheck.  

Services within Big Law Firms

Services within Big Law Firms

Now, let’s talk about the kind of services that Big Law firms provide. Unlike other law firms, Big Laws tends to offer comprehensive services related to corporate laws. Rather than focusing on specific niches like personal injury or criminal laws.  

One of the main reasons for this is that Big Law firms tend to have clients who are big corporations, investment vehicles, or wealthy individuals. These clients usually value the one-stop-shop approach that Big Law firms provide.  

Big Law Workload  

The amount of responsibility and pressure that big law firms adopt tends to give rise to the understanding of why partners and associates make such high salaries. Moreover, with greater responsibility comes a high demand for the services catered to.  

How Much Do Big Law Associates & Partners Make?

How Much Do Big Law Associates & Partners Make?

Now, the big question arises: how much do associates make in Big Law? An associate attorney in a Big Law firm is generally an early-career licensed legal professional.  

Moreover, they are lawyers who tend to lack hands-on experience but have a desirable educational background. In-house counsels tend to have a critical approach toward inexperienced first-year associates; they are generally known to take on tasks in Big Law firms as “grinders.” 

The term grinder is used in the legal industry to describe lawyers who are mainly employed for researching, writing, and other legal supports associated with the practice of law.  

Despite their inexperience in the early years, associates in Big Law firms have a great path ahead for a successful and lucrative career as lawyers in the legal industry.  

Now, let’s talk about the money associates in Big Law make. As discussed earlier, they are known to earn a whopping amount of $225,000 plus bonus. The strategy works if the number encourages you to join a Big Law. Big Law firms tend to use this strategy to attract the US’s top talents in the legal field to their arena.  

Determination of salary at a Big Law Firm

Big Law firms tend to determine the salary of their associate based on the level of education they have achieved. This means that if you graduate from the top law schools in the nation, you’re assured of earning a whopping salary.  

However, associates in Big Law firms tend to have identical salaries, as such firms tend to compete to gain the best legal professionals the nation offers. Moreover, the National Association of Law Placement shows that nearly 30% of first-year associates earn $225,000, which increases based on the year they graduated. For instance, a second-year associate might make $235,000, and so on.  

Workload of Being an Associate & Partner in a Big Law Firm

Now, you must wonder about the workload associated with a Big Law firm. If the salary of an associate in a Big Law firm sounds agreeable to you, then it must have a price against it. It is just that Big Laws do not just pay a high salary without having any repercussions associated with it.  

However, you must be aware of the high turnover rates of the legal profession. This is associated with the long working hours lawyers generally tend to have. Similarly, associates in Big Law tend to have excessively long hours. Additionally, partners tend to task them based on meeting a minimum billable hour requirement, generally at least 2000 hours or more every hour.  

The working hours typically mean that you need to work on spending 38 hours per week to service the clients. This includes managing their accounts, not getting enough vacations, or having a personal life apart from work, and similarly, making sense that a young, ambitious lawyer has to spend 60 hours a week at work.  

Other responsibilities at a Big Law  

Apart from long hours at work, expect to handle phone calls from clients 24/7. Generally, junior and senior associates must handle phone calls and queries from clients even after their working shift is over. Due to this, you’ll see that the firm provides associates with a cell phone to handle calls and queries on behalf of their seniors.  

Moreover, it also means that if you are an associate at a Big Law firm, your seniors will expect you to be available for field inquiries while taking a holiday, at family dinners, or even while on a stroll in your local grocery store. Due to this, if you want to disconnect from the firm, you must make prior arrangements with your seniors.  

Even this is not guaranteed, as excessive workload in the firm can make you work on holidays, evenings, and weekends. This is all a part of becoming a partner in a Big Law firm.  

The primary reason for this work pressure in Big Law firms is their promise to deliver excellence to their clients and not negotiate on their integrity for providing legal services in a timely and organized manner.  

The world of Big Law firms seems like a set for “The Suites,” where sharply dressed lawyers and paralegals hustle daily to represent their hot-shot corporate clients. But the reality is a bit different.  

Becoming a partner in a big law firm is a bit different from becoming a partner in a medium- or small law firm. In short, partners in a Big Law firm tend to work longer hours and bring more work at home than average.  

Although the top Big Law firms tend to focus on giving work-life balance to their partners and associates, not all tend to adopt this culture as it is a competitive environment.  

Generally, a Big Law will never want to have any associate or partners quit their establishment, given the high replacement cost of finding another one from the talent pool.  

More on Big Law Firms

Another reality of being a Big Law partner is a lack of control in choosing the case you want to work in. Lawyers in Big Law have no say in the case they are assigned to work on. In most cases, new associates are often individuals who need to shuffle loads of paperwork and perform manual tasks required for managing and litigating cases. Moreover, communication also decreases and feels inefficient, which overburdens low-level employees in such law firms.  

Does such a work culture make you doubt your choice of whether being a significant law partner is worth it? Worry not; there are plenty of other assertions that will encourage you to stick to your decisions.  

Many Big Law firms have been recognized for their capacity to provide a better work-life balance to their partners and associates. This allows the lawyers to have a de-stressed environment to thrive in their profession despite having long hours.  

For instance, some Big Law firms pay relocation expenses and annual bonuses to their partners and associates. Some even manage to offer on-site gyms and childcare services. Furthermore, some big law firms also provide dinner allowances while working extra hours.  

Examples of Big Law firms in the United States

Vault releases a list called the “Vault Law 100” every year. It ranks the most prestigious law firms located within the United States. This is based on the revenues, employee strength, and peer ratings. Vault is recognized to be a well-renowned measurement for Big Law firms. Here are the top 4 Big Law firms situated in the United States: 

Cravath, Swaine, & Moore LLP 

This law firm is headquartered in New York City, New York. Cravath has the presence of two offices. Apart from its New York office, it operates in London, UK. Moreover, it has more than 500 lawyers on their roster and focuses primarily on industry-specific corporate laws. 

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Kratz 

Wachtell is headquartered in New York City and is the only big law firm with one operating office. This law firm is known to focus on general corporate practice and has 250 attorneys. Moreover, they also pride themselves on having a low associate-to-partner ratio. 

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP 

This law firm is headquartered in New York City. Moreover, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP has four US-based offices, four in Europe, three in Asia, and two in Australia. The law firm has over 875 lawyers and focuses on corporate business matters and intricate transactions. 

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and Affiliates 

This Big Law firm has its headquarters in New York City and 10 offices in North and South America. Along with this, there are six offices in Asia and six in Europe. They employ more than 1700 lawyers across fifty practice areas, including corporate and internal business matters. 

Final Thoughts 

Is being a Big Law partner worth it? Getting an offer letter to work in a Big Law firm is a matter of achievement and pride for any law student or an experienced lawyer. The dream of wealth, popularity, and recognition are the most significant criteria that draw us to becoming a partner in a Big Law firm. 

Moreover, another reason we dream of becoming a partner or associate for a Big Law firm is to pay off our massive student loans, gather experience, and develop a sense of prestige and integrity. Lawyers who tend to stay within Big Law firms are known to work for long hours but also acquire the opportunity to have control over the cases they work on. This, at times, tends to hamper the schedule of their personal lives. 

Similarly, working for a Big Law firm that values work-life balance and offers support to those dedicated to the job through their skills and talent is enough to face the hurdles of the legal industry. Like law school, Big Law is committed to building you into a seasoned and experienced attorney. 

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nilanjana basu
nilanjana basu

Nilanjana is a lawyer with a flair for writing. She has a certification in American Laws from Penn Law (Pennsylvania University). Along with this, she has been known to write legal articles that allow the audience to know about American laws and regulations at ease.

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