Twenty years ago, when I left law school, it seemed that everyone’s dream was to work for a big law firm. They call it the Am Law 100. Getting into a big law firm means you have “made it”, you will have fame, and of course, a lot of money! However, what they don’t always tell law students are the grilling billable hours, the cutthroat culture, and the often repetitive, boring work, especially when starting your career. So, what are some alternatives to a big law firm for today’s law school graduates?
1. Work for a boutique firm
Unlike big law firms where a large number of partners need to be sustained, thus the strict requirement for billable hours, boutique law firms tend to be more “lifestyle” friendly. Because they are smaller in size, they tend to be more interested in investing in your career in the long run, as opposed to the big law “up or out” structure. In boutique law firms, young lawyer is more likely to find the right mentors providing them the support and coaching they need, ultimately increasing their chances of becoming a partner one day.
2. Go in-house
After acquiring some basic knowledge and training, another popular career path is to go in-house and become legal counsel for a company. Since companies don’t have a billable hour requirement, the in-house counsels, along with the rest of the company, work typical “9-5” schedules, as opposed to getting calls and having to go to work at nights and on weekends (yes, this is what you sign up for if you work for big law firms). Although some companies may also have a heavy workload and sometimes intense work environment, overall the consensus is that being an in-house legal counsel is much less stressful than working at a big law firm.
3. Start your own practice
Lawyers who are a bit more experienced and entrepreneurial can also start their own practice. Some lawyers bring clients they meet at the law firm with them. There are also many ways to acquire clients through marketplaces and other channels, such as here with us at Trusli. In the beginning, it may seem scary to be on your own, and there are lots of logistical issues to deal with such as advertising and billing. However, once you are able to secure a book of clients, the freedom and the financial gains may hugely outweigh the risk. Some successful lawyers end up turning their solo practice into a small law firm. So now not only you don’t need to work for others as you do at big law, you can have others work for you instead!
4. Doing something legal-related but not as a lawyer
With the advancement of technology, there are many other career choices for lawyers who are more interested in business or technology. For example, many lawyers end up becoming CFOs or even procurement professionals at large or small companies. Large tech companies like Apple are known for allowing lawyers to pursue non-legal careers in procurement roles and alike. In addition, legal tech has become a thriving industry and these companies are recruiting those who are well-versed in the field of law but are yet open to doing something entirely different such as technology and operation-related roles.
If you are one of the lawyers who are not content with the golden handcuff at big law, any of these careers are worth thinking about. The key is to admit that you are not happy, and think about the pros and cons of these alternatives. Once you have a goal in mind, start acquiring experiences, make connections and make your alternative career a reality!