15 Challenges to Working in a Large Law Firm

Life in a large law firm may mean higher salaries and challenging work but it is not without its disadvantages. Below are fifteen challenges to working in a large law firm.

1
Long Hours

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Martin Dimitrov

Long hours are the norm in most large law firms. 50 to 80 work weeks are not uncommon among lawyers and paralegals.

2
Competitive Environment

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Large law firms attract a wealth of high-caliber legal talent, all competing for the best assignments, promotions, limited partnership spots and a slice of the profits.

3
High Billing Quotas

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Large law firms are notorious for imposing high billable hour quotas. Typical quotas range from 2,000 to 2,200 hours a year which equates to around 42 hours of billed time a week. Since administrative tasks (such as billing time) and non-billable tasks (such as marketing) are inevitable, billing 42 hours means working 60 or more hours a week.

4
Long Partnership Track

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The road to partnership in a large law firm may be longer than that of small firms, with many tiers and stricter requirements for advancement.

5
High Expectations

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Due to selective hiring processes and above-market earnings, lawyers, paralegals and other professionals in a large law firm are held to a high standard of competence.

6
Irregular Hours

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Weekend work and late nights are not uncommon for those employed in a large law firm where the motto is "work until the task is done". High-end work such as M&A (mergers and acquisitions), commercial real estate and complex civil litigation lends itself to long workdays and irregular hours.

7
Mundane Tasks

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New associates in large law firms may operate with little autonomy and complete routine, mundane tasks such as document review, cite-checking and multi-jurisdictional research, leaving the juicier assignments for more experienced attorneys. Paralegals might be stuck with low-end work so that more complex tasks can be billed by attorneys at a higher rate.

8
Overnight Travel

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Since large law firms often serve national and international clients, travel to remote parts of the country and the globe may be expected.

9
Steep Learning Curve

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The complex, high-end legal work accomplished in large law firms often carries a steeper learning curve than less sophisticated transactions.

10
Strict Academic and Experiential Requirements

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Large law firms may be harder to break into for those lacking experience or top academic credentials. Lawyers in the top firms generally have superior academic credentials and first-tier law school training. Paralegals in large law firms often have a four-year degree, a paralegal certificate and several years of experience within their specialty.

11
High Degree of Specialization

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Large law firms tend to be more compartmentalized and lawyers and paralegals within the firm are highly specialized.

12
Large Law Firm Bureaucracy

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Large law firms often have many tiers of management as well as complex, well-established procedures and formal divisions of responsibility. Employees may have little input into firm processes and management and little control over their work or their economic and professional futures.

13
Formal Atmosphere

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Large law firms generally have a more formal atmosphere, stricter dress codes and a conservative culture.

14
Limited Client Contact

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New associates in large law firms often have little interaction with the firm’s clients, instead tackling mind-numbing tasks such as document review and routine research.

15
Over-Specialization

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Since large law firms tend to be more specialized, associates may be in danger of being pigeonholed or forced into a niche practice area that is not of his or her choosing.