Now that I am recruiting, lawyers have asked whether they should be in a big firm or a small firm. I suppose the typical lawyer-like answer might be, “that depends on…”
During my career in the United States Air Force I was most fortunate to have the best job available for preparation to join a law firm or company. I was a government contract litigator. During my tenure, I handled cases against the top government contract lawyers in the United States.
It was somewhat comical. I remember one hearing. At one table sat a 25 year old Air Force Captain. At the other table sat perhaps the top government contract lawyer in his 50s, a more junior partner in his early 40s. Seated behind them was a 25 year old associate whose sole job that day was to carry their briefcases to the hearing and sit, listen and learn.
Because of my great experience, when I left the Air Force in 1976 I was offered in-house jobs at top government contractors and associate jobs at large law firms with a government contracts practice. I could have been that young lawyer carrying the senior lawyers’ briefcases to the trial.
At this point, I’m not sure I analyzed my choices as well as I can now looking back. In any event, I turned down the in-house jobs and the associate jobs with large firms. Instead, I chose a small law firm in Roanoke, Virginia.
Assume for the moment I was thinking ahead and made the choice on my future. Starting in a small firm gave me the opportunity to development my own practice and clients. Years later, I was generating over $1 million in fees annually (when highest hourly rate was $195). At that point I was offered partner positions by several national law firms.
So, the answer to my question depends on you want to practice as a partner in a law firm or go in-house. In 2020, law firms hire partners with clients and a substantial book of business. If you are a go-getter, you can attract business in a large firm, but it will be more challenging for a variety of reasons.