Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Big Law Firms Treat Employees

I am currently working 2 jobs to make ends meet and every evening I head over to 24 hour fitness to get a good work out. Over the years I have always seen various different characters at the gym: The desperate housewife, the anorexic teenage girls and the juice monkeys on steroids.

After I finish the treadmill or do cardio, I usually head over straight to the free weights. I am a pretty big guy, and I bench over 345 lbs. Sometimes, I ask others for help as a spotter or someone will ask me to spot them doing chest presses. There is one guy at the gym who has asked me to help him and spot him while he is on the bench press. I've seen him a couple times before at the gym, and last night I saw his duffle bag with a "name tag" attached. He had just come back from a trade show in Las Vegas, and I told him that I would always go to trade shows at the Bellagio or The Rio at my old job.  Many people think that Las Vegas makes all its money from gambling, shows and clubs, but the reality is that the real money comes from trade shows. Many trade shows in manufacturing, IT, solar energy, fashion, merchandising, and sports competitions are held in Las Vegas.

As we started conversing, he told me more about his occupation and education. He was an executive VP for a solar energy company and a former attorney. His name was Mike* the mergers and acquisitions attorney. He went to UCLA for undergraduate and went to a top 50 law school in the Washington DC area. He worked in a big law firm for 5 years and then in house for a finance company. He eventually left and joined a solar energy company. I asked him why he left the legal profession, and we talked for a good 20-30 minutes at the gym.  He gave me an insiders look at how big law firms work. This is how the Question and Answer session went with Mike...

Q.   Tell me a little bit about your background, where did you go to college, law school?

A.    I went to UCLA and majored in History and Political Science. After graduating, I got a partial scholarship and so I went to (Law school ranked 30-50 in US News in the Washington DC area)

Q.   Where did you go when you graduated? How did you end up in Solar Energy?

A.    I went to work for Howe, Dewey, Blowe, Dixon, Cox LLP* in NYC .  They have offices all around the country and I went to work in the mergers and acquisitions department. I started off an as associate in corporate finance in my summer internships, but switched when I started as an associate. I left the law practice and it was the best decision of my life.

Q.   How long were you at your first job? Did you like it there?

A.   I lasted 5 years and once my student loans were paid off, I got the hell out. It was demoralizing, working like a dog doing mundane work and my vitality was slipping day by day. The hours and stress were killing me.

Q.   How many hours a week did you work? What was so stressful?

A.   I got in the office at 8:00 am and left at 10:00 pm every day, plus I would also work one day on the weekends. I would work about 70-80 hours a week. The stress was unbelievable, especially coming from the senior associates and partners in the firm. Everyone was biting eachothers heads off to get ahead. The senior associates viewed you as their competition to become partner and they would treat new associates like slave labor.

Q. Thats interesting, weren't  you aware of any of this before you started? Were you surprised by anything?

A.  No, my law firm showed us brochures with smiling associates, promised us interesting work, and the infamous "work life balance" bullshit. It was shocking, because you are basically their slave and then they send you back to your old law school to recruit new people.

Q. What happend when you left? Did your co workers feel the same or did they leave?

A.  I ended up working for a small private equity firm as an in house attorney.  Everyone I know who works in biglaw is miserable. They are only doing it for the money. I was smart enough to live frugally and save some money. There is a fairly high attrition in big law firms between the 2-5 years. Many take jobs in house or smaller firms for a better lifestyle. The partnership track is virtually non existent in many of these big corporate law firms. Out of all 30 of the associates who started at my firm when I graduated, only 2 are remaining. 

Q. I am actually a graduate of a Paralegal program. What was life like for the Paralegals?

A.   The paralegals worked insane hours, too. I knew one paralegal making over $100,000 a year. She was with the firm for over 14 years but worked even longer hours than me. From what I understand she would pull all nighters so often, she had dry cleaning delivered to the office. That's how bad it was.

Q.  So how did you end up in Solar Energy?

A.  One of the clients at the finance firm had a start up that had many investors. I knew that solar energy was a rapidly growing industry, and so I left my job as an attorney so I could see what else is out there.

Q.  I see, would you recommend someone like me to get into a field like solar energy? I am frustrated that I can't find a Paralegal job anywhere.

A.  Stay as far away from the legal profession as possible and be thankful that you found out sooner than later that the legal profession isn't as glamourous as it seems. I graduated during the tech boom and a lot has changed since then. We are now outsourcing legal jobs to India and those big firm jobs are vanishing. The future of the legal profession is very uncertain. Don't waste your time looking for paralegal jobs, go back to business. In the long term, the money in the legal profession really isn't there, since most people never make partner. Even I wish I got an MBA instead of a JD, but what's done is done. Live and Learn.

I have had many random conversations at the gym, but I feel so blessed to have met this guy. He gave me a real honest view of what life is like in a big law firm and he even told me about a professional solar energy association trade show that I should visit, and inquire about employment opportunities. This was such an amazing and interesting conversation that I had with him, so I decided to post the highlights of my conversation on my blog. If you want to know how big law employees feel inside their firms, just watch the video above!

- The Poor Paralegal

* name has been changed to protect privacy


  1. I love the law firm name! How do we blow dicks and cocks!?!? ROTFL!! FUCKING HILARIOUS!

  2. This is absolutely brilliant. I work for an Amlaw 100 firm and this solar energy executive perfectly describes how hellish my life is working inside biglaw. It's Saturday night and I am still at the office. Ahhhhhhhhhh

  3. Gosh, you mean BigLaw expects people to work extremely hard for $160k plus per year? My that is news. Thank you so much for exposing this amazing scam. Now I'm sure that no one will want those jobs anymore. Thank goodness for you and your wonderful blog.

  4. To 6:59

    The reality is that biglaw jobs aren't as great as they seem and the deliberately try to weed you out. Many people dream of getting these jobs in law school when only a select few will ever get these jobs. They may make good money, but they won't last long enough to enjoy it.

    It actually is a scam, because even big law firms promise you the "work /life balance" and all of that interesting work jargon.

    Most biglaw associates will get kicked out and take a pay cut when they leave.

  5. To the troll mentioning the 160k a year job is an idiot.

    Have you ever fucking worked 80-100 hours a week? Those are a lot of mother fucking hours and you definitely feel it. Do you have any idea of what that is like? If you have a wife, kids, or a social life, then you can kiss it all goodbye!

  6. I feel sorry for kids that go to law school while dreaming of working in Biglaw. I did a few years at Biglaw, got out, started my own boutique firm and within a couple of years developed a sizeable book of business. I was approached by a law firm that wanted to absorb my firm and bring me in as a non-equity partner. I told them to go fuck themselves as I have seen too many biglaw firms acquire smaller practice groups only to poach the clients and then spit out the partners down the road. This is a brutal business. Why on God's green earth would anyone think this is a dreamy profession? Money doesn't buy happiness kids.

  7. Hey PP

    Will you let us know about the solar energy employment opportunities?

  8. February 20, 2011 6:59 AM

    Well, we'll see how you do out there, 6:59, especially since you already possess a pissed-off attitude. Wait until you add some real stress to that mix. Should be lots of fun for you and those around you. Good luck.

  9. This post is spot on.

    Going back seven years ago, I was interviewed at Boies, Schiller, and Flexner for a paralegal position. At the time, I had two years experience under my belt working for a mid size law firm in White Plains which handled some pretty high profile cases. Being 24 y/o and scoring an interview with the firm that represented Al Gore and had a serious score card in litigating fair trade and intellectual property suits, I was honored just to get an interview.

    My first interview went very well. I was interviewed by the office manager and the litigation manager (who was a senior paralegal). They seemed very nice and happy to be working at firm. When I was called back for my follow-up interview, I met with some of the attorneys. There was one attorney in particular, a recent law grad from Colombia, who was up front about working there. He told me that it was not rare for associates and staff to work three days straight without going home. Average work week was 65-80 hours. Yes, as a paralegal you would make overtime. But get this...the starting salary was $30K (this was in 2001). There were some legal staff who earned close to $80K-$90K per year with the overtime, but at what cost? When I asked the attorney if he liked working there, he looked right at me and said "No". His plan was just spend 2-3 years there, make a dent in his loan and get out. He was even contemplating returning to school to obtain an MBA in Finance.

    Not many people are forthright when they interview people. The office manager and litigation manager said my average work week would be between 45-55 hours (not much difference than my work week at the time). However, I was more inclined to believe the attorney who interviewed me. He had nothing to really gain if I accepted the position, or not, so he had no reason to lie to me about the position and life at the firm. I received an offer, but I declined it. Ironically, I ended up accepting a position in a financial company which I ended up working on average 70 hours per week as an assistant manager (but at least the company offered me better benefits, and I had a corner office and my own admin).

    You *will* get burned out working 60-90 hours a week all the time. Trust me. By the end of 5.5 years being a manager, I got out just before the company ended up imploding due to the economy. The $85K salary I earned ended up having the same value as $8.50 with the amount of stress and demands placed on me. Some of these Big Law firms and high profile positions at companies take a serious toll on your physical and mental well being. My high paying job meant nothing when I would have daily panic attacks and I would have to cancel plans because of work, or I was just too exhausted from working. My vacations were spent sleeping.

    Some can handle the stress, but in the long run it's not worth it. I have yet to meet anyone who lives a long, productive life, who endured stress and trauma for many years.

    My advice: if you are in the position to say "no", do it. If you have debt, pay it off and save some money and find something else you can do, either in a smaller firm, or in insurance. Big Law and high profile In-House jobs are just not worth it.

  10. To those who say you feel the hours, you're right! I routinely work 45-50 hours, occasionally more; for me, that's quite enough. Working anything more than 50 hours will impact your quality of life. While I like the extra money, money is no good if you cannot ENJOY it...

  11. Stop everyone! It's OK to drool over the $100K salary. You're human. But, if you already graduated and have been passed over for BIGLAW; it's over. No need to dwell on the unattainable.

    Get to the heart of the story. Everyone in Biglaw and Shitlaw agree the legal field is collapsing. My plan. Get whatever legal experience I can then transition out in five years. I don't know what the next profitable bubble will be. But it won't be the legal field for years to come.

    k.i.s.s.: plan 5 years then out!

  12. See how you can get into a fun career that pays.

    By Yahoo! Education Staff

    "Job #1 - Paralegal

    If the idea of being an important part of a team sounds like something you would love, consider becoming a paralegal. The U.S. Department of Labor expects employment of paralegals to grow 28 percent from 2008-2018.

    What's to love: As a paralegal, attorneys will rely on you for everything from interviewing witnesses to investigating facts. You'll be a vital part of the legal team - and in a position to really make a difference in the lives of people in need of legal help. What's not to love about that?
    [Start training for this rewarding job. Find Paralegal schools near you.]

    What it takes: Prepare for this rewarding career by earning your associate's degree in paralegal studies. If you already have a bachelor's degree, a paralegal certificate program can give you the edge you need to get started in this career.

    What it pays: The average annual salary for paralegals is $50,080. "

  13. If anyone wants to know what life in Biglaw is like, read Proceed with Caution, by William R. Keates. Mr. Keates, who worked in Biglaw, kept a diary of his life therein; he turned this diary into a book about his experience.

    Another good book about life in the Amlaw 100 is Double Billing, by Cameron Stratcher. Rather than keeping a diary a la William Keates, Stratcher writes a short novel based heavily on his experience at the fictional, NYC firm Crowley & Cavanaugh. Though the details are fictional, the underlying reality is not.

    I purchased both books, and I read each of them in a matter of days. I couldn't put either of them down. I contemplated going to law school. Before I made such a commitment though, I wanted to look before I leapt. These books deterred me from going to law school; after reading them, I decided that, even if I were successful in my endeavor, I wouldn't like what law firm life entails. I'd heartily encourage ANY 0L to read these books! Even if one has to buy them (as I did), it's cheap compared to having $120K of NON-DISCHARGEABLE student loan debt. Think of them as cheap due diligence. Later...

  14. Please stop your complaining. ANY job where you make 6 figures will require long hours and hard work. That's the trade-off: time vs. money, it's extremely rare to find a job where you get both. this isn't just an issue in BIGLAW.

    1. I get that many ppl are disillusioned by BigLaw life, but the amount of complaints I see on blogs and comments seems disproportionate to the number of attorneys that exist. I mean if we're talking drudgery, I think data entry or telemarketing. Lots of people have crappy jobs, some more than one. Lots of people work more than 40hours a week, a lot more! The only thing is that a lot of ppl arent getting 160k entry level. This is a democracy, you choose what you study, you choose the firm you work for, you choose everything. Money ñor the firm is the problem. I think not knowing enough about business or ever having coroorate work experience, perhaps having only ever having studied since high school, or work-study, or some externshio at best. Those people in movies staring into a monitor, sitting at their assigned cubicle is not dramatized. And those people usually make 50-60k at the highs.

      I just think perspective is needed. It seems like a lot of spoiled kids from the upper-middle class whining about having to work hard. Unlike people like me who grew up near the poverty line and having folks who worked crazy hours & shifts, and myself having worked enough jobs to know that billable hours doesnt sound so scary, can rationalize how that when someone working 50hrs on avg makes 50-75k, someone making 160k just might require more than that.

  15. RUN! Like your A is on fire! The attraction to the BLF is the $$$, but when you break it down based on hours worked, you'll be slave labor. The smile on your face when you saw your first pay-check will quickly disappear when you are loaded up to the eyebrows with massive piles of work that you have to slave through endlessly. You'll be so stressed out that you'll turn into a completely different person: nasty. The management pit employees against each other; it's cut-throat. You'll witness constant firings, constant hirings, and a revolving door. The law grads who are are passed over for these job are the lucky escapees. Like I said, RUN!!!!

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  17. I have been working in BL for 10 years now, I never practiced though I passed the bar...I LOATHED law school and the ass&holes in it, I should have known, I work as a paralegal and I make 70k which is more than 70% of my grad law school class that was not Ivy league. Bottom line, if you are not Ivy league forget it, I will put in a few more years and then get out in fact I am always scheming to get out but bc my resume is littered with other BK names I am very desirable to hire. I go to my office at 8 and work 5 hours a week no pay to get there before everyone else. I take 1 lunch a week, if that..during a deal (m&a's mostly) I am there 70 hours, sometimes ALL NIGHT.

    1. I don't get it. You say you make well more as a paralegal than lawyers from your class, this is proof that BL is evil or just a pat on the back? Its inconsistent to use your pay as a bragging point but then complain about working 70hrs after you just admitted you're making more than your counterparts. So you have never practiced law, choosing instead paralegal in BL vs law in BL. You're ten years in and still not out. I don't get people who take quiet time from their work to comment how much they hate their job and to turn away, then log off & get back to work for another 10yrs

  18. Love the guy who says he is still at work on Saturday night. May I point out that surfing the internet and reading blogs is not exactly working. Go home!

    This blog would be a lot more interesting if people who were actually successful in Biglaw added their thoughts. I billed 2350 hours last year. Yes, my whole life was about work. But I had some great experiences at the office, challenged myself in ways I didn't think possible, developed crazy skills, and also managed to take 4 vacations during my down times. And don't even get me started on the insane bonuses. I'm not planning to do this forever, but I am definitely good at it and my firm treats me like a prince. So it's not all bad.

  19. I am a recent law school grad who passed the VA Bar. For those wondering, I graduated from a top school. I work for a very small firm in the Northern Virginia area. Why? Well, I have my own office, I started seeing my own clients the moment I found out I passed the bar, I have been admitted to the VA Western and Eastern District US Bankruptcy courts, I argue before federal judges routinely, I argue before state court judges routinely, I have never had to do doc review, cite checks or any of that mundane crap, I oversee the marketing department to expend our business, you get the point.

    I make half of what big law associates makes but guess what, I am learning and getting experience at an exponential rate. I get to go to the gym every day, make it back on time for dinner at my house. Would I do big law? Absolutely freaking not. Let's do some math real quick (this is basic don't be scared) - these stats are based on a true individual that I know:
    salary: 120k
    hours per week: 80
    Vacation: 2 weeks per year
    Bonus: 2k flat for 1st year associate
    Experience: doc review, cite checking, online filing = worthless
    Quality of life: highest suicidal rate among all professions

    80 * 4.3 = 344 hours worked per month
    344 * 12 = 4128 hours worked per year
    122000 / 4128 = 29.55 dollars per hour


    60k salary
    40 hours per week
    172 hours per month
    2064 hours per year
    60000/2064 = $29.06 per hour
    Experience: argue before federal and state court judges, develop client skills, develop reputation among local attorneys, develop reputation among local judges, mediation, contract drafting, etc etc etc

    Quality of life: weekends off, holidays off, I can take any day off of the week as long as I give one day notice, co-workers are like family, one week vacation.

    Yes there may be certain factors I did not take into account when doing the math but you see the main point here.

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  22. I studied law but instead of going to work for somebody I acquired law firms for sale and started my own business. I think it is the best decision I ever made even though we are not so profitable yet.

  23. I lost my marriage in part due to the 2000 billable requirement at my NY-Metro law firm. I work all the time. Even if I am at home, or out of the office, I am reading emails, following up, it never ends. Sundays I always work at the office without fail. Not an easy life.

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