5 Things You Should Know About BigLaw (That You Might Not)

By Betty Wang, JD on June 27, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Got a BigLaw gig lined up, soon-to-be-employed-one? Or, maybe you’re working on securing that offer soon enough. Regardless of whether or not you’ve actually managed to secure what is a pipe dream for many, these days, it’s best to always be prepared for what you’re getting yourself into.

For those of you who are currently studying for the bar (Godspeed) who may have a nice gig lined up after this, here are some things you should know about working in BigLaw, that you may not:

1. Prepare to be flexible and open.

A lot is going to be expected of you, and this will span several different arenas. First of all, sleep will often be a foreign concept -- you could get an assignment just as you're ready to wrap up for the day, or even get called back into work on a pressing matter after you've already put your facemask on for the night.

Not only will your schedule be at their beck and call, but there will be incredibly high expectations of you. It's highly likely that you'll have to hit the ground running, dive right in from the deep end, and a whole slew of other metaphors indicating that you're going to need to go from zero to hero in two seconds flat. It won't matter to the partner giving you the assignment that you didn't even know antitrust was a type of law -- it will be expected that you to master it, if only to teach him or her about it.

2. Billables are more fleeting than you'd think.

It may not occur to you that there might often be moments where you have absolutely no work to do. For days. This will happen more often than not, and can pose a problem especially if you have a billing quota to meet. Remember that even though it may seem discouraged -- ask questions and communicate. Sometimes, you're not going to get assignments unless you ask. Also, because they are often inconsistent (like your sleep schedule and quality of life), be ready to roll with the punches.

3. Client interaction is sparse.

Looking forward to being an advocate for real, live clients? Think carefully about this now. Because, as a first-year or junior associate, you should be prepared for very little to no interaction with your clients. What little communication that there may be is likely going to be over emails. You're mostly going to ask them questions you need answers on before you can proceed on something, rather than digging into the meat of the substantive nature about their case. Other than that, client interaction will come from whatever orders the partner or senior associate will be giving you.

4. You're going to need really, really tough skin.

Despite you being a baby in the world of BigLaw, nobody's going to hold your hand. In fact, it's quite the opposite. You're likely to run into situations where senior associates, and of course partners, will just take out their frustrations on you, or blatantly insult your work, making you feel stupid, unnecessary, and of no value to the firm. Part of this may seem like an abuse of power, but, really, the way they see it, it might be to test you and ensure that you are tough enough to handle the work. Stand your ground, respectfully, and try to learn as much as you can with follow-up questions.

5. Self-care is crucial.

It's now more important now than ever that you take care of yourself, physically and emotionally. You are going to be overwhelmed with balancing your personal life and your work life (the former may be nonexistent, even), and managing all the daunting new tasks expected of you. Remember that breaks are necessary, and don't lose sight of your support system and things that you know make you happy. Curl up into the fetal position and cry if necessary, or eat a well-deserved meal at your favorite restaurant after an especially rough work day.

And if all else fails, call your mom. Ask her to reaffirm that you're still the best lawyer she knows (because you really, really are).

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