Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

How do big law attorneys do it?

I get paid half a biglaw salary and just finished up a month shikes03/30/18
Most people don't survive biglaw very long. bucwild03/31/18
Yikes! trickydick03/30/18
Maybe it was just sour grapes because I never made it to Big actionbronson03/31/18
I know quite a few lawyers who bill .25 for every two minute fettywap03/31/18
Most biglaw attorneys bill 160-190 hours a month. 240 is a h midlaw03/31/18
True. To be frank, the people I knew who went into Biglaw ce actionbronson03/31/18
Yup. 240 translates into 80-90 hour weeks (basically a trial midlaw03/31/18
160 hours in biglaw consistently sounds like a unicorn job. shikes03/31/18
It’s quite common. It’s also hard to do consistently, wh midlaw04/03/18
I've also never envied biglaw associates or from the same ve thirdtierlaw03/31/18
Cocaine and adderall to work. Then alcohol/pot to mellow out isthisit03/31/18
Yikes. I don't know how y'all bill like that. 130 hours a hous03/31/18
My wife is a big law attorney and only bills about 170 per m tcpaul03/31/18
"I get the money is great" This is your answer. Big-law f ternarydaemon04/01/18
Yeah, my wife doesn't fall into any of those categories. May tcpaul04/01/18
Lot of delusions here about big law life. I did 8 years at lionelhutz04/01/18
This is pretty accurate. I'm in IP litigation in SF/SV/LA an interveningrights04/02/18
This is correct. midlaw04/03/18
I did biglaw for a few years, and still work regularly with sillydood04/02/18
For most folks, biglaw is akin to a doctor's residency. You onehell04/02/18
This is also correct. midlaw04/03/18
I imagine that when biglaw attorneys do it, they do it in th 3lol04/02/18
I had a friend who was a spectroscopist. She did it with fr napoleone04/03/18

shikes (Mar 30, 2018 - 10:30 pm)

I get paid half a biglaw salary and just finished up a month billing 240 hours due to multiple cases going to trial and fires blowing up left and right. This isn't typical for my firm, an average billing month is more like 175-180. My question is, how in the world do big law attorneys do this EVERY month?! I worked every single saturday and one sunday this month, I've never left work before 8, and I feel like I truly don't remember doing anything else this month except working. My head was pounding every single day.

Health and mental issues aside (if thats possible), I get the money is great, but how do biglaw lawyers keep themselves going? I at least knew that when I left at 8 it was over for the day. Biglaw lawyers get emails at 11 with stuff due the next morning. How can anyone survive even one year of this insanity?

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bucwild (Mar 31, 2018 - 10:50 am)

Most people don't survive biglaw very long.

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trickydick (Mar 30, 2018 - 11:49 pm)

Yikes!

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actionbronson (Mar 31, 2018 - 12:50 am)

Maybe it was just sour grapes because I never made it to Biglaw, but I've never felt much envy for Biglaw lawyers. I like working, but I certainly don't like working THAT much. I like money, but what in the blue hell is the point of having money if you have zero time to enjoy life? You can always make money; you can't ever get more time. I have student loans to pay off, but I'm not so desperate to pay them off that I'd sacrifice living life to get rid of them.

To answer your question, Biglaw lawyers do what they do because they're the rare creatures that just LOVE working that much (a mentality I can't understand, at least not in the legal field), or they engage in ethically acceptable padding of bills. If you can put down .1 for each email you open and another .1 for even the most cursory of responses to said emails, you can certainly get to over 2300 per annum in billables without really working nearly as many hours. The other possibility is that these folks are excessively materialistic and/or statusmongers and can't help themselves.

That's just how a brotha feel. Or maybe I'm just lazy. I don't know.

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fettywap (Mar 31, 2018 - 1:17 am)

I know quite a few lawyers who bill .25 for every two minute phone call or email.

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midlaw (Mar 31, 2018 - 2:50 am)

Most biglaw attorneys bill 160-190 hours a month. 240 is a huge month even in biglaw.

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actionbronson (Mar 31, 2018 - 10:49 am)

True. To be frank, the people I knew who went into Biglaw certainly work long hours, but they also seem to have some semblance of a normal life outside of work. I don't think the latter is possible if you're consistently billing 240 every month.

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midlaw (Mar 31, 2018 - 8:07 pm)

Yup. 240 translates into 80-90 hour weeks (basically a trial schedule). Consistent biglaw performers work 55-65 hours a week which translates into 160-190 billables a month.

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shikes (Mar 31, 2018 - 8:51 pm)

160 hours in biglaw consistently sounds like a unicorn job. Thats under 2000 yearly. Never heard of a biglaw firm that had that, or at least may have had that officially but in reality wanted a lot more.

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midlaw (Apr 3, 2018 - 6:59 pm)

It’s quite common. It’s also hard to do consistently, which they DO demand.

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thirdtierlaw (Mar 31, 2018 - 7:58 am)

I've also never envied biglaw associates or from the same vein high finance guys.

I'd hate my life. I'm on a first name basis with all my kid's teachers. I'm home almost every night in time for dinner. I've gone into the office on a Saturday once since thanksgiving. The trade off is that I'll be paying off my student loans until I'm in my 50s and my wife also needs to work to have the standard of living we currently have.

I only have one friend still remaining in biglaw at this point. She is a workaholic through and through. She also loves what she does and is proud that she is working on cases in the international spot light. So I think it's one of those things where you're either born with it or not.

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isthisit (Mar 31, 2018 - 9:31 am)

Cocaine and adderall to work. Then alcohol/pot to mellow out.

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hous (Mar 31, 2018 - 10:04 pm)

Yikes. I don't know how y'all bill like that. 130 hours a month billed is all that I'm up to.

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tcpaul (Mar 31, 2018 - 11:35 pm)

My wife is a big law attorney and only bills about 170 per month. Very rarely works past 6:30 or weekends. We're in a mid major midwestern market but her DC and Chicago colleagues don't have to work any more (but do make more due to cost of living adjustments).

Some ID firms work way more than big law firms. They have to because of such terrible rates if they want to make really good money, i.e., $200k+.

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ternarydaemon (Apr 1, 2018 - 12:32 am)

"I get the money is great"

This is your answer. Big-law firms serve the largest corporations so you cannot really talk of any social value or contribution to the goodwill of mankind. As other posters have mentioned, people who made it in big-law tend to fall in four tiers:

(i) psychopaths that enjoy the constant stress, office politics and corporate talk. These guys are partner material, though lacking the necessary skills to make it in big-finance, but more social acumen that big-accounting partners.

(ii) overachievers averse to risk that satisfy their neuroses via full-work, not full-time work, but full-work every day of every week, and being a person 1-3 days per month. They may be tend to be frustrated artists or may have no discernible personality at all, at a clinical level. Their social life consists of only business dinners and going out for drinks with colleagues from similar firms. Their sexual life varies from years of celibacy to recurrent escort hiring to opprobrious office romances.

(iii) semi-normal persons that will burn out before the fourth year. They tend to develop addiction to various prescribed and also illegal drugs. Heavy alcohol and other manias are used to cope out with the pain. Persons from group (ii) also engage in hardcore alcohol and pill consumption. After being canned in a bad review or suffering a complete nervous collapse, the lucky ones will go in-house, others will work on a family business installing pools or something, and many will of solo, usually working the same amount of hours at half or less the big-law pay.

(iv) the rare person whose father/uncle is a big-law partner on other firm or ceo of the client of a big-law firm, and who wants to be a partner in lieu of any ambitious life goal or even because the complete absence of personal life goals. Their situation will depend on their connection securing their billables, and can easily fall to category (iii). They may be somewhat allowed human hours and other job privileges, but if their daddy/uncle looses the job or is forced to change legal provider by the company board, they will be canned asap.

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tcpaul (Apr 1, 2018 - 1:00 am)

Yeah, my wife doesn't fall into any of those categories. Maybe she's at a unicorn firm.

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lionelhutz (Apr 1, 2018 - 12:41 am)

Lot of delusions here about big law life. I did 8 years at 3 firms in major markets. Had a few terrible months of 300 hours but was usually between 160-200 hours. if you have a short commute it is not bad at all. Also junior and mid level big law types are usually on only a few active deals at a time, so it is often easy to bill all your day to one client so there isn't much time loss in the day. Never did litigation but I think it may be similar. Can't say I saw many psychos, but there are a lot of overachievers and some who just love the law too much.

Also the reality of big law is that the partners work harder than the associates. making partner is like winning a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie.

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interveningrights (Apr 2, 2018 - 12:50 am)

This is pretty accurate. I'm in IP litigation in SF/SV/LA and usually end up around 2200-2400 in any given year. The partners are expected to bill similar numbers, with the addition of non-creditable business development.

I have met a few associates who enjoy the stress/excessive hours. For example, I'm working with one who takes on one pro bono case through trial every year in addition to his regular job responsibilities.

In big law, you can have as much responsibility as you can handle (or more if you'd like). Some people like the grind, but its definitely not like that for everyone.

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midlaw (Apr 3, 2018 - 7:02 pm)

This is correct.

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sillydood (Apr 2, 2018 - 12:12 am)

I did biglaw for a few years, and still work regularly with biglaw attorneys as part of my job. Here’s my two cents based on my own experience and what I see in other biglaw attorneys:

(1) Many biglawyers are K-JD. When they signed up for law school, they were lured by the promise of a high salary and prestige. And because they’re 25 years old, they don’t know any different. They don’t realize that biglaw is (to people with normal psychological profiles) a very unusual, miserable work environment. So at least for the first two years they’ll plow through it before really questioning things.

(2) A lot of lawyers suffer from a high degree of status anxiety. Because biglaw is basically the top of the legal profession (excepting prestigious clerkships or prestigious academia), the lawyers who make it there are willing to sacrifice personal dignity to hold on to it. The thought of settling for a more normal, 9-5 type job in exchange for less prestige and money is unthinkable. A huge part of their identity is tied up in making it in biglaw, and for that they’ll sacrifice other parts of themselves.

(3) I’d guess (1) and (2) capture 80% or so of people in biglaw, and there’s a ton of overlap between them (e.g. the naive 25 year old can develop into an insecure guy desperate to hold onto the status). But there’s another 20% that seems to enjoy biglaw, or at least thrives in that environment. Unfortunately a fair number of this 20% has psychological traits that most people would view as negative: disagreebleness, no desire for a meaningful life outside career, and sometimes a machiavellian streak. Aside from the dark triad psycho types there’s also a handful of lawyers who seem to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, and for them it’s probably a great life with the obsessive attention to detail and low emphasis on normal human interaction.

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onehell (Apr 2, 2018 - 1:16 pm)

For most folks, biglaw is akin to a doctor's residency. You get the best training that exists in exchange for having no life for 3-5 years, and then you get out. Except that doctors make a pittance during residency and a killing after it, whereas the biglaw lawyers, if they behave responsibly, got paid handsomely during their "residency" and come out with their loans paid off. They can afford to take a pay cut to go in-house, to the government, or move to a smaller firm.

Or a smaller number of them can stay and gun for partner and there are ways to manage that. For example, some firms may have high billable hour expectations, but not necessarily high "face time" expectations, allowing you to bill a significant portion of your hours from home or while on vacation with the family. Sucks that you go on vacation and are still on your laptop half the time, but still better than being chained to the desk. Or you generally come in at 10 or 11 rather than 8. If the firm culture allows, it could be that all that matters is how much you bill, not where you are physically located when billing so long as you're in the building as much as is actually needed.

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midlaw (Apr 3, 2018 - 7:05 pm)

This is also correct.

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3lol (Apr 2, 2018 - 1:37 pm)

I imagine that when biglaw attorneys do it, they do it in the office because they're there so frequently.

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napoleone (Apr 3, 2018 - 10:42 am)

I had a friend who was a spectroscopist. She did it with frequency and intensity.

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