Just in time for OCI, we’re thrilled to welcome back Angela Kopolovich, Managing Director of the boutique attorney recruiting firm Alegna International to share her thoughts on a controversial topic: Whether you really should take that BigLaw job you’re not sure about. (And, no, your concerned parents did not pay her to write this piece.)
I’m going to share a piece of advice with you that I got when I was in law school.
It came from my wise old owl of a mentor, right before OCI turned our lovely, quiet law school into a scene from Paranormal Activity. (If you haven’t lived through it, just wait till September…)
“If your grades and class rank make you competitive for a spot in BigLaw,” he told me, “you should probably take it.”
As you may recall, I went to law school because I wanted to be a prosecutor, so I was a little surprised by his suggestion.
“Surely BigLaw is not an appropriate career step for me. They don’t even handle the type of criminal work that I want to do. What would be the point?”
In keeping with my naïve TV-informed view of the legal profession, I was simultaneously intimidated by a Boston Legal-type environment, and bored by the idea of civil litigation. (If you’re too young to get that reference, I can’t help you).
“Trust me,” said The Owl. “Go with the BigLaw job first. I personally don’t think you’ll be happy at the prosecutor’s office, but you can always take a step down later. If you forego the chance now, you’ll likely never be able to get back up to BigLaw later in your career. If nothing else, you will benefit greatly from having a big firm name on your resume.”
He delivered this news to me in hushed tones behind closed doors, because even then, it was controversial advice. But you know what, looking back now, he wasn’t wrong.
Easy for Me to Say!
Now I know what you’re going to say — the near-hypocrisy is not lost on me.
I didn’t become a prosecutor (a series of externships proved The Owl was right; I wouldn’t be happy), and I ran screaming from BigLaw (which was nothing like Boston Legal), but here I am — telling you — that you should give it a shot.
I know how it looks, but hear me out.
I’m not disparaging solos, public interest, inhouse, or government lawyers — they make up a large majority of the legal profession, and a lot of their work is certainly more noble and honorable than what you’ll see in BigLaw. But since the firms are uber-selective and attract the crème de la crème of lawyers, we consider them the top of the legal pyramid.
Personally, if I had to do it all over again, I would. I don’t regret any of the decisions I made.
More generally though, from my recruiting perch, I will tell you that if you forego the BigLaw option in law school — it will be almost impossible to get back “up there” later in your career. That reasoning alone is not enough though.
Four Reasons You Should Probably Take That BigLaw Offer
Here is a more solid set of reasons why I think you should take the BigLaw offer, if you’re lucky enough to make the cut:
- You might like it. Everyone is different. Just because most people struggle with the hours or the environment, doesn’t mean you will.
- You will learn A LOT. And fast. I don’t mean legal theory; you got plenty of that in law school, but about the business of law and how it’s actually practiced, at the institutional level.
- You will find great friends and mentors. Believe it or not, your tight knit clique of law school besties will not stay together long after graduation. But BigLaw friends — they are for life! Large firms are a great place to meet a lot of really smart, really interesting (albeit socially awkward) people, whom you’re sure to keep in your life long after BigLaw.
- You can use the money. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, or a reclusive off-the-grid survivalist, money is important. If you do it right, you can pay down loans or save up to finance that bakery you’ve always dreamt about. Whichever way you go — it’ll be helpful to have a financial cushion.
I know that inevitably, I’m going to get a nasty comment from someone to the effect of “Of course you say that…you’re a recruiter and you only care about making placements.” I assure you — this advice is not meant to steer you into BigLaw for my benefit.*
Anyone who’s spent time working for a large firm will tell you that they appreciate the experience and lessons they learned.
Some people continue to practice law, others become fashion designers, food/travel bloggers, start-up consultants, or teachers of the Alexander Technique. I bet any one of them will give you the same advice.
BigLaw, warts and all, is great training ground and a terrific springboard for whatever you go on to do later in life.
So if you have the chance, I say go for it — you can always take a “step down” later.
* I’ve written a lot of blog posts breathlessly trying to defend my honor and explaining how my advice isn’t meant to convince people to stay in BigLaw. If you’re not happy, nothing I do or say is going to sway you or change your mind. And if you don’t want to be there, that makes you a poor choice for my clients anyway. But alas, the criticism persist.
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Thanks, Angela! Fascinating topic, and one I have mixed feelings about.
Readers, what do you think? Share your experiences and feedback in the comments!
Angela Kopolovich is the Managing Director of Alegna International, a boutique attorney recruiting firm. A former practicing litigator with a large global law firm, Angela now specializes in placing attorneys with law firms and corporate legal departments, around the country and abroad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @Recruiter_Law.
Want more thoughts on BigLaw? Here you go:
- Do I Need a Recruiter? What Do They Do, Anyway?
- Law School Job Hunting 101
- The Inside Scoop on Law Firm Summer Associate Programs
- The Key to OCI Success
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