Are You Cut Out for Big Firm Practice?

How suited are you to the practice of law in a large law firm? Big firms are the focus of many law students' ambitions but it isn't the right working environment for everyone. Some lawyers will be happier in small firms where they have more autonomy or in the public sector where their work is more likely to help the disadvantaged. The following material can help you determine whether big firm practice is right for you.

Consider the three short statements below, and circle your answer true or false. The answer will be in the description that follows.

1. You are more drawn to issues involving people and human behavior than to data, theory and numbers. True or False?

In 1980, corporations first surpassed individuals as the primary consumers of legal services. Those entities overwhelming turn to large law firms for their legal help. As a result, most work handled by large law firms today involves the transfer of money, not the personal concerns of people. (There are, of course, some exceptions, especially in adoption, immigration, criminal, elder, marital, professional licensing and employment law matters.) Those who'd feel most comfortable in a big firm environment would have circled False in the statement above.

2. You prefer to work on concrete, relatively short-term projects, rather than to analyze complicated issues that can take years to understand fully and resolve. True or False?

The democratization of information caused by advances in technology has lessened the public's need to pay lawyers for advice on routine matters. Competition from non-lawyers -- escrow companies, independent paralegals, accounting firms, even funeral homes -- has further eroded dependence on lawyers for help in matters that require interpretation of the law. Lawyers in big firms now earn most of their fees by analyzing complex fact situations or those without black-and-white legal conclusions. This type of problem solving requires a foundation of in-depth analysis, accumulated through many hours of review and research. Those who'd feel most comfortable in a big firm environment would have circled False in the statement above.

3. You would rather gather information and communicate with others orally than use written methods. True or False?

Oral communication in large law firm practice is limited to depositions, telephone calls, client conferences, negotiation, mediation and court appearances, rare assignments for new lawyers in all but a few practice areas. Even for experienced lawyers, the need to keep records of conversations and to report to clients, opposing counsel, the court and colleagues make writing a big part of every day. Those who'd feel most comfortable in a big firm environment would have circled False in the statement above.

If you answered 'True' to the foregoing statements the big firm environment may not be right for you. Continuing the process of self-assessment can help you find the right environment and area of practice for your personality. If, on the other hand, you have answered 'False' to the above statements you may have the right attitudes and goals to work at a big firm. However, in this case a continued analysis can still be helpful since not all big firms are the same.