Monday, October 04, 2004

Law Firm Life: Part 1, BigLaw

So, you survived law school and anxiously await your bar exam results. In the meantime, you begin your career at a huge law firm with an equally huge salary.
About the same time you receive your bar exam results (don't worry, you passed), you suddenly realize you don't want to be a lawyer. What do you do?

First, do not tell anyone you passed. This will give you options, and make your exit strategy, should you choose such a path, easier: "Gee, Mom, I didn't pass. Guess I'll have to take that job at Target." However, bar results tend to arrive right about the same time that your student loan deferment ends. Therefore. . .

Second, take a stiff drink and get back to the office.

Lawyer life-styles vary widely. Some, like Peter Angelos, get to own the Baltimore Orioles. Others, like Tweed, get to work their butts off for a pretty nice living (i.e. can afford to go see an Orioles game if time would allow and if Angelos weren't such a big jerk for stopping baseball's return to DC for so long, the bum!). It is important for lawyer-wannabes to understand what they are signing up for. Part 1 of this article examines the most dramatic and thrilling (in their eyes) lawyer life-style - life at BigLaw.

Joining BigLaw is a Faustian bargain except that you don't actually get anything out of it. Some say it's because even young lawyers give up so little in the bargain. Others figure that lawyers discover the hidden loophole. Regardless, you actually do get something - somewhat of a pyrhic something: you get lots of money and the respect of actuarials all across the country, but not of super models or starlets. Also, you'll discover that prior to being a lawyer you had lots of free time - even in law school.

The money will come in handy. You'll need it because (a) you're living in an expensive area; and (b) you will be paying alimony (if you're a female, you'll have to pay those vet bills for your numerous cats).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's first note the great variety of BigLaw:

Tier 1. Really BigLaw (e.g. Skadden, Arps; Cravath Swaine & Moore; Latham & Watkins; Sullivan and Cromwell; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Crosby, Stills & Nash): Forget about a life; forget about seeing the outside world (although some larger firms now allow conjugal visits and many have designed offices with windows); just count your money, if you have the time. These firms know how to make money, legally, if not ethically - and it involves you billing lots of hours. Lots of hours* (2,200, 2,400, 13,200 per year). If you're really smart, really lucky or know lots of rich people, or really lucky and really smart, or really rich and really lucky or know lots of rich people and really smart, you can make it at one of these places, make tons of money, divorce your spouse, marry a trophy spouse and fear retirement. It's the bomb.

Never forget however, that you're still going to die. Therefore, make certain to spend as much time in the office as possible. Also, I hear God is impressed with BMWs.

Now for some perspective. The hours sound daunting. In the office at first light, home by 9:00P.M., no lunch. But there is a reason for all this hard work. BigLaw lawyers (BLL's) work for Big, demanding clients (BDC's).** These clients want top-notch lawyers and are willing to spare no expense. Also, the senior partners receive tax bills on their second and third homes. These bills come annually and can cause significant hardship. It is up to you to make their lives just a bit easier. Your Benefactor's summer home on Nantucket is not without its downside.

Tier 2. BigLaw (e.g. Really BigLaw Wannabes): See above, but reduce salary from between 5% and 20%.

With such great variety, it is often difficult for a young lawyer to choose the right BigLaw. That's why I've designed this easy to use tool to assist young lawyers in choosing the right BigLaw for them.

Tweed's Handy-Dandy Guide to Choosing The Right BigLaw For You (a/k/a Tweed's Tool)

1. List Really BigLaw in alphabetical order.

2. List BigLaw in alphabetical order.

3. Have secretary type list - oops - you don't have a secretary yet. Have a drink instead.

4. Cross out the name of any firm that contains an Italian, Czech, Hispanic or Polish surname.

5. List cities you are willing to not see while you work.

6. List practice areas that don't make you physically ill (note: if you find that the prospect of specializing in 34' Act compliance; utility easements or tax-free reorganizations does not make you physically ill, you'll go far).

7. Have another drink, what the hell - you're about to be rich!

8. Match Really BigLaw and BigLaw to cities and practice area lists - be sure to cut along the dotted lines.

8 .Examine compensation structure of each Really BigLaw and BigLaw.

9. Have still another drink, you need the practice.

10. Examine partnership track information on each Really BigLaw and BigLaw.

11. Go with the one that actually hires you. If more than one makes an offer, go with the one with the Anglo-Saxon name on the letterhead. If more than one, you stink, I hate you and so do your classmates, despite how they congratulate you.

Being a part of BigLaw

Joining BigLaw is not the same as becoming a part of BigLaw. To be a part of BigLaw and not just a white-collar galley slave, you'll have to become a partner. To reach this vaunted position, you'll need to bill a ton of time and bring in some business. You will also need an initial preceding your first name and a Roman Numeral following your surname (ie. H. James Southworth III). If you possess the talent and bring in enough business, the firm might just pay for the initial and the Roman Numeral.

It is also advisable to develop a quirk if you become expert in some specialized area of the law, such as, for example, avoiding excess benefit transaction characterization when adopting deferred compensation arrangements for hospital adminstrators. Start referring to people as "old boy," always wear a flower in your lapel, grow your hair really long or go with the tried and trusted method of just being rude to everybody - you'll get lots of respect.


Despite the above, life at BigLaw does have its downside. BigLaw caters to Big Business. Your morals may be on the line. You clients may manufacture cigarettes, semi-automatic weapons or TV sitcoms. The morality of what you do may weigh on you. At times, you'll consider doing something more respected, like dope peddling or producing snuff porn. Don't worry. These feelings are common among young men and women at BigLaw. Time and experience will cause thick callouses to form on your heart and you'll look back at your doubts, pause, and get back to work.

*Law firm time sheets fascinate astrophysicists. Top Gun lawyers have sometimes billed 17 or 18 hours a day for several months in a row. It is not unheard of for an ethically flexible attorney to bill 26 or even 27 hours a day, prompting scientists to speculate that the earth spins slower for attorneys .

** Hence, the well known legal formula BDC + BLL=$$$


Audacity said...

Hence, the well known legal formula BDC + BLL=$$$.

Didn't Learned Hand come up with that?

Stockton and Tweed said...

Ah, yes. Learned Hand. He didn't come up with the formula, but he would have approved. (Stockton)

Stockton and Tweed said...

I could never help but giggle any time I heard about Learned Hand. Keep in mind that this was back when Beavis and Butthead were all the rage.