Working in a law firm is a good start for young lawyers to gain experience and work their way up to a partnership. However, this track is not always the best solution for every lawyer. Some lawyers will do better on their own as independent practitioners and others will be better served in small or large firms. Several paths are available to lawyers and it is important to understand them to make the best decision for their career.
What is working in a law firm like?
There is no simple answer to this question. Experience depends on company size and reputation, practice area and other factors. Regardless of firm size, the legal industry is known to be stressful and often includes long hours that seep into a lawyer’s personal time.
Benefits of working in a law firm include training more experienced lawyers, guaranteed salary, and experts in different departments to handle specific areas of the law firm’s business, such as invoicing and invoicing . Law firm attorneys can simply practice law without worrying about running a business, handling their own marketing or accounting, or other hassles. That said, the experience attorneys will have in a small law firm can vary greatly, as can the experience in larger firms. Some companies may research every possible case, while others may focus only on class action lawsuits followed by layoffs until the next case occurs.
Mid-sized companies are a good middleman that offers less competition and more stability overall, but they can have their downsides. In the right firm, a young lawyer can learn and grow, eventually becoming an essential part of the team.
Large, established law firms offer career opportunities, but they can be the most stressful of all. Big Law tends to be competitive and glorify the culture of hustle, which can harm work-life balance.
Lawyers should also keep in mind that practice area and location can impact the overall experience. For example, criminal law and personal injury law can be stressful, while corporate law has more stable schedules.
How much do lawyers earn?
Again, the salary in a law firm is not universal. Most law firms offer salary stability, but the amount can vary by location, legal market, practice area, and firm size. Often the highest salaries come from large, established law firms, but there are structured compensation models that any size company can use to assess market-rate salaries. Now more than ever, the legal industry has become increasingly competitive on salary with frequent reports of raises and “pay wars” to stand out in the job market.
What are the advantages of working in a law firm?
The biggest advantage of working in a law firm is the structure. Law firms offer training, development and mentoring from experienced lawyers, as well as specialist support staff who can offer advice and catch mistakes. In addition, lawyers in law firms receive a guaranteed salary, unlike lawyers who venture alone.
Many lawyers enter the practice of law to make a difference in other lives, to fight for justice, or to effect change in public policy. Being in a law firm (large, small, or solo) ultimately allows attorneys to do just that. The only difference is the resources you have to do it. In a large law firm, you may have plenty of resources, but too much structure limits how you practice law and help others. In a small or solo law firm, you may have fewer resources, but you may have the opportunity to create your own structure and define your own path in the practice of law.
Work in a big company
Most people understand what it’s like to work at a big company – long hours, a buttoned-up culture, and years of hard work before you “succeed”. Some of that is a reality, especially having a substantial salary that can pay off law school debt quickly. All things considered, working at a large law firm is a great resume builder and can be a great starting point for lawyers.
It should be noted that since the COVID-19 pandemic, major law firms have changed the way they operate and manage lawyers. There has been more attention than ever to mental health awareness, diversity and inclusion, AND work-life balance. While the legal industry has made great strides in these areas, more work needs to be done to make large law firms more inclusive and look after the overall well-being of their lawyers.
Work in a small or medium business
For some, small to medium-sized firms are where many young lawyers hang out and the firms they value the most. These firms are more informal, they work on more substantial files and they have a more flexible culture. Young lawyers begin practicing law earlier and have a greater stake in the business than they would at a large law firm.
The disadvantages of working in a small business usually include lower pay and, of course, long hours. Small firms have smaller budgets, which means they cannot afford to have specialist departments to support lawyers. In many cases, lawyers will have to manage their own billing, invoices, or even marketing. The silver here is that these lawyers are exposed to all aspects of running a law firm and can branch out to own their own firm.
Working in a sole proprietorship
Some lawyers leave law school wanting to get out on their own right away. This can work well for many lawyers, especially if they have an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to be in control. However, by making the decision to own your own law firm, lawyers assume all risk and responsibility for running the firm. This can be very stressful, especially for new lawyers.
All hope is not lost however and being a solo practitioner has become more common with the introduction of technology. Law practice management software has expanded the way lawyers practice, manage their businesses, and support their clients. On a single platform, lawyers can track and invoice time, prepare invoices, manage cases, process payments online, and even send documents for electronic signature. For lawyers with an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to own their own practice, there’s never been a better time to start a solo practice.
Key points to remember
Lawyers have a lot of options after law school, it just depends on what they are looking for. Large law firms, small law firms, and sole proprietorships all have their pros and cons. It is important, however, that the pros outweigh the cons and that lawyers really enjoy what they do every day.