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October 26, 2008

Still Fantasizing About That Big Law Job? Snap Out Of It!



According to the ABA, 2009 will see nearly 44,000 fresh-faced law school grads carrying an average debt load of about $73,000 in loan debt.  "...... only a small fraction will land the big firm job, leaving the rest to wonder whether they’ll find “any kind of attorney work” post-graduation.

(H/T to Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice)

NEW The Layoff List

Mayer Brown Lays off 33

White & Case Layoff 70 Associates

New Law Grads Should Have a Back Up Plan

Is An LLM a Good Back Up Plan? (NOT!)

Hiring Freezes

Thelen Collapses

The Hiring Bubble

Clifford Chance Laying Off Associates

Sonnenschein Swinging The Ax

Summer Associates Positions Could Decline by Up to 35%

Big Wave of Layoffs Hits Heller   And They are Pissed?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

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While some may consider BIGLAW to be the top of the food chain, I wonder if even their supposed perch a notch above solo and small-firm lawyers isn't being grown out and around. The practice of law is driven fundamentally by human choices and high labor input. The product of our industry is demanded by people and is ultimately created through thoughtful work. These factors create a profession which is highly organic and sometimes evolves unpredictably. I also tend to believe they create an environment where the value contributed by economies of scale quickly reaches limits, bounded by human nature.

Because of these issues, I don't believe there is any sort of inherent advantage for BIGLAW from the market's perspective. I believe the advantage attributed to BIGLAW is driven mostly by fluid factors such as prestige, influence and the human practice of delineating "elite" from "average". These sorts of judgments tend to change greatly over time, especially given the quick turnover of information in today's data addicted world.

I wonder if the current industry downtrend is the market telling everyone BIGLAW isn't all it's cracked up to be? Pretty much everything that has ever cycled into the market's good graces has also gotten a solid lashing from it later. My intuition is that BIGLAW has seen its heyday and is settling into a more limited niche within the broad market.

Do downsizing BIGLAW firms indirectly provide interesting opportunities for enterprising solos? I believe the answer can very well be a resounding "YES", given the right conditions. Their smaller numbers means less competition for solos.

I'm glad that I've always considered the solo route a backup plan. If I had just come around to the idea after searching for months for a job, it would be more difficult. I'm also glad there are blogs like this to help the thought process. Looking forward to Solo Practice U. Thanks Susan!

Susan Cartier Liebel

@Wes, As always, your comments are indeed thoughtful and add a very rich and often unspoken perspective which brings much to the discussion :-)

I don't think I could agree with you more!


"I also tend to believe they create an environment where the value contributed by economies of scale quickly reaches limits, bounded by human nature."

Wes - I have no clue what 95% of your post is getting at, but am certain that the one premise I did understand is at least unsubstantiated, if not incorrect. We do not know whether there is a limit beyond which these single law firms can grow without diminishing returns.

Even if there is, that does not mean that big law firms are destined for some "niche" in the marketplace. I am sorry, but smaller and mid-sized firms simply cannot and will never be able to manage the deals and cases that big law firms can. Indeed, the trend right now is not toward "downsizing," but toward consolidation of business. In an effort to reduce costs, corporate clients have not really gone to smaller firms, but have simply given more work to fewer big law firms for bulk rates.

Now, that does not mean that a person can't go solo and do well. But to think that there is less "competition" is insane. Indeed, there is as much if not more competition for the solo practitioner. And the need to specialize can mean that you're doing family law or routine contract work day in and day out. Not the rosy picture you paint.



I have no doubt BIGLAW will retain at least a vast portion of its current supremacy. The massive legal mills can churn out certain legal work much more effectively than solo/small firms. My thoughts were pushing toward a new possible perspective on the marketplace, rather than hoping to analyze the past. Apologies for causing your confusion.

Not Rich

Big law is worthless. Not only are they partially at fault in this economic collapse and bailout, now they're traking redacted handouts from the Treasury to approve monoplies and mergers that wouldn't fly at any other time, setting us up for the next economic fail, six months from now.

Go government and regulate these monsters to death.


With all due respect, it is very easy to deride people that chose to work in law firms as cogs. However, I do not see anyone offering to pay my monthly $1400 loan payment! People who start their own practices usually have the following: 1) significant experience 2) a large cash cushion 3) are married and so can go on their spouse's insurance and get help with the bills 4) have significant contacts etc. It is simply NOT POSSIBLE for a law school grad with none of those advantages and significant debt to just "hang out a shingle." Fooberg's solo bible says should have at least a year of living and business expenses!! So where does that $60,000 come from? At least when I work at a firm I know how much I will make at the end of the month.

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

@JPM - I'm not sure who you comment is directed at. I've never derided anyone who chooses Big Law. I just don't believe it is the only route and it is solos who are derided for wanting to strike out on their own and being told it is impossible.

It's not only NOT impossible it is very doable. I did it without a spouse or contacts or significant accumulated dollars in the bank. I had $2500 as a budge, deferred my student loans and none of the advantages of today's technology.

It's all about what you want to do. Once you decide, you make it or break it yourself.

new lawyer no job

So how does one go about opening up their own practice without any money, very little experience and no client contacts? Just an honest question.


@ New Lawyer No Job.

If I were you, I would join some of the list serves for your local county bar associations (join more than just the county you live in, particularly if you are in a major metropolitan area).

Then post on the list serve that you'd like to find an attorney looking to take hire a successor attorney, who will show you the ropes than transfer their practice to you.

I am in the process of doing this, and have found several willing attorneys looking to retire. My husband and I (also an attorney) have little money, no contacts, and are fresh out of law school. What we make up for in experience, we bring excitement, tenacity and willingness to learn.

Just an idea, hope it helps!

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