What is BigLaw, and why is it in danger?

Dream or Nightmare?

Is BigLaw the best possible job in the legal profession? Not necessarily.

It's easy to find blogs and YouTube videos filled with complaints from law students and recent law graduates. The number of law schools in the U.S. has been on the rise, and so has the number of law graduates. Only a few ever have a chance at the six-figure starting salaries in BigLaw, and that number has shrunk since the recession that started around 2008.

But the allure of big salaries has helped fuel the increase in tuition costs at law schools, to the point that even third- and fourth-tier schools often charge as much as $40,000 a year. New graduates often find it difficult to get any job as a lawyer, much less a job in BigLaw. Most have enormous student loans to pay off.

Even the fortunate few who land a BigLaw job with a big paycheck may be disappointed. Associates in many BigLaw firms find themselves pushed to work very long hours with few vacations. They often spend their time on tedious detailed work, poring over stacks of documents. They endure abuse from partners and senior associates. They rarely, if ever, appear in court. They know little about the drama of legal thrillers or movies. Often, they have no sense of helping clients or making a difference.

But some people prefer BigLaw jobs, working with complicated issues and being part of a huge team effort to presenting arguments in court. And working up to a position of power in one of the nation's top firms can bring many rewards, financial and otherwise.

A BigLaw job may not be every law student's dream. It certainly won't become every law student's reality. But the possibility of prestige and top salaries obviously still has plenty of appeal for many aspiring lawyers. Otherwise, we wouldn't see nearly so many headlines about what's gone wrong with BigLaw.

Read on for lots more great information.

Related Articles


  • Becker, Amanda. "After Rapid Growth, Washington Law Firm Howrey Fights for Survival." The Washington Post. Feb. 27, 2011. (Accessed March 2, 2011) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/27/AR2011022700190.html
  • Curll, Joyce Putnam. The Best Law Schools Admissions Secrets. Sourcebooks, Inc. Naperville, Ill. 2008.
  • Falcon, Atticus. Planet Law School II. Revised, Updated and Expanded. The Themis Institute. Austin, Texas. 2003.
  • Harper, Steven J. "Commentary: Potential Lessons Big Law Can Learn from Howrey." Law.com. (Accessed Feb. 22, 2011) http://www.law.com/jsp/law/article.jsp?id=1202482691875&Commentary_Potential_Lessons_Big_Law_Can_Learn_From_Howrey
  • Jones, Leigh. "Top law schools placed fewer graduates at top firms in 2010." The National Law Journal. Feb. 28, 2011. (Accessed March 2, 2011) http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202483536206
  • Koppel, Nathan. "Lawyers Gear Up Brand New Fees." The Wall Street Journal. August 22, 2007. (Accessed March 20, 2011.) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118775188828405048.html
  • Koppel, Nathan and Vanessa O'Connell. "Pay Gap Widens at Big Law Firms as Partners Chase Star Attorneys." The Wall Street Journal. Feb. 8, 2011. (Accessed Feb. 2, 2011) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704570104576124232780067002.html
  • Miller, Robert H. Law School Confidential. Thomas Dunne Books. New York. 2004.
  • Montauk, Richard. How to Get Into the Top Law Schools, Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall Press. New York. 2008.
  • Neil, Martha. "Unable to Find Legal Job, Blogger Posts Bah Humbug Tale on YouTube." ABA Journal. (Accessed Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/unable_to_find_legal_job_blogger_posts_bah_humbug_tale_on_youtube/
  • Orey, Michael. "When Big Law Firms Crumble." Bloomberg Businessweek. January 15 2009. (Accessed March 1, 2011) http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_04/b4117080610278.htm
  • Segal, David. "Is Law School a Losing Game?" The New York Times. Jan. 8, 2011. (Accessed March 2, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/business/09law.html
  • Shih, Gerry. "Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools." The New York Times, August 26, 2009. (Accessed Feb. 27, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/business/26lawyers.html
  • Weiss, Debra Cassens. "17,500 BigLaw Jobs Are at Risk Due to Cost Pressures, Consultant Says." ABA Journal. September 27, 2010. (Accessed Feb. 22, 2011) http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/17500_biglaw_jobs_are_at_risk_due_to_cost_pressures_consultant_says/
  • Wesemann, H. Edward. "Multi-Tiered Partnerships." ALA Management Encyclopedia. (Accessed March 2, 2011) http://www.alaencyclopedia.org/samples/Free_Version_MULTI-TIERED_PARTNERSHIPS.htm