[Ed. Note: The following is a follow-up from “TexJudge,” the former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge who wrote the highly debated pieces “Are Law Schools Screwing Students?” and “Bitter Judge Strikes Again.”]
I have been reading the various posts on Bitter Lawyer for some time and have found some to be funny, some to be sad and some to be depressing. Apparently, Biglaw is not all it is cracked up to be and the life of a Biglaw associate, in my opinion, is not one to envy. When I was in law school I did interview on-campus with a few Biglaw firms but, because this was my career and life that were at stake, I decided to do a little research to see if Biglaw was for me. Keep in mind that I always have believed in balance in life and, while in college and in law school, I played football and soccer, worked, and chased a lot of women (and actually caught a few). I got good grades but will be the first one to admit that I would have done better if I had studied more. But, I had a life.
So what did my research concerning Biglaw reveal? First, I checked to see what percentage of associates became partners. The percentage was low, generally in the 20-35% range, lower in the Northeast and higher in the South. Not good.
Second, I checked to see how long it took to make partner. At the vast majority of firms it was between 7 to 10 years, meaning I would have to serve time (pun intended; being a Biglaw associate does have a lot in common with serving time in prison, though better paying and with a lower chance of anal rape) as an associate for a long time.
Third, as I have a pretty good internal BS Detector, I decided to call associates at a few Biglaw firms to find out what it was REALLY like to work there. Most were honest when it came to describing the endless 60-70 hour work weeks, the pressure to bill hours and the condescending and sometimes cruel treatment they received from some, though not all, partners. The work itself was described as constantly reviewing documents involving boring corporate transactions that, when looked at objectively, were of little benefit to anyone other than to investment bankers, CEOs and lawyers.
Clearly, Biglaw was not for me and I chose to go the in-house counsel route, a decision I have never regretted. Did I make less money? Yes, though if you figure in taxes and the amount per hour given the much longer work weeks at Biglaw, the gap is not that significant. I rarely worked more than 40 hours per week, I worked on interesting matters like investigating employee fraud and got to travel around the country giving presentations to our regional offices on various topics like ERISA and employment law issues. Above all, I had a life and continued to play sports and chase women (until I got married).
I was never treated with disrespect or yelled at for missing a typo on page 213 of an M and A document. I honestly believe that a lot of the associates at Biglaw could have avoided the misery they have suffered had they done their due diligence up front.
I do believe that there is a Biglaw type, which, tongue in cheek, I will call BLT. A BLT is formed at an early age, usually in grade school but certainly by high school. What are some of the traits of the BLT? The BLT spends most of his or her time studying, does not play sports and rarely dates. You will find BLTs winning the school science fair, on the debate team and never in detention for cutting up. The BLT gets great scores on the SAT and will go to a tier 1 university. In college, the BLT will continue his or her habits of studying all the time and avoiding the opposite sex (oops, don’t want to omit those who prefer the same sex). You will not see the BLT at a frat party getting wasted or otherwise letting loose. The BLT will graduate at least magna cum laude, will score above 172 on the LSAT and will then go on to a tier 1 law school. In law school, the BLT’s stellar studying skills, honed over years of doing little else but studying, will lead to a top 10% rank after the first year, law review (the perfect training ground for a Biglaw associate) and, finally, Biglaw. Life as a Biglaw associate, with its endless hours doing tedious detail work and little time for an outside life, is the promised land for the BLT; after all, it represents no change from what the BLT has been doing since he or she was 12 or 13, if you really think about it, except now he/she is getting paid for it. 12-hour days and billing 2400 hours are no problem for the BLT.
But then, reality hits the BLT in the face. Now 32 years old and after 9 years at The Firm, he is told the managing partner needs to see him and to bring his Firm ID. This is the Biglaw version of the NFL where, in camp, a player is told by an assistant called “The Turk” that the coach wants to see him and to bring his playbook, meaning he is about to be cut. The managing partner tells the BLT that his work has been good but that the Firm has only 2 partnership slots for his class of associates and he has not been picked. The BLT never saw this coming though, common sense should have told him at some point, he was competing against other BLTs at least as good as him and not everyone would make partner. For the first time in his life he has failed. Was it worth it to sacrifice his life for all those years and missing out on all the good times he never experienced because of his singular focus on academics and Biglaw? I urge, if not beg, anyone contemplating Biglaw to do your homework before choosing that path so at least you know, up front, what you are getting into.