As super-big law firms suffer through the recession, many midsize and small firms are thriving. Back in June, we discussed these firms as a viable alternative to Biglaw. (A number of smaller firms — e.g., Stone & Magnanini, Silver Golub & Teitell, and McKool Smith — are even hiring, with the help of job postings on Above the Law.)
But are smaller firms all they’re cracked up to be? We try to present both sides of the story. Check out this letter, from the ATL mailbag:
I’m an Ivy League law grad with a couple of years in big law. I got laid off and eventually found a job at a smaller firm. Like, way smaller. Unsurprisingly, I know a couple of people to whom this has happened (and a couple who haven’t found jobs as well, of course).
The commonly held wisdom is that the trade off in big law is money for your time and soul, while smaller firms pay less, but ask less. I’m not finding this to be really true, and neither are my friends.
So what exactly are we talking about, in terms of hours and compensation at small firms?
According to our correspondent, who left a large firm for a small one:
On average, our hours are about 60 a week, while our pay has dropped by half or more. Seriously, I know a 6th year now pulling in a whopping… $95,000.
Has it always been this way? Have the small firm lawyers always been getting the shaft? Or is it that employers now know they can milk us for everything and give us just enough to keep us afloat (so that we can keep coming in to work)?
While we feel for this reader, our perspective on this is a bit 2009: a job is a job. If you have one, and if it pays above minimum wage, count your lucky stars. A law degree, even from a good school, does not entitle you to a six-figure income. [FN1]
Readers: any opinions or info to share on lifestyle and compensation at smaller firms? If you’re at a non-Biglaw firm, can you provide some data points, in the comments, about your hours and your salary?
[FN1] We don’t remember the exact number, but when we joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2003, four years out of law school, our salary was around (or perhaps even under) $60K. And that was federal government — lawyers in state government often earn even less.
Of course, public sector employment generally pays less than private practice. But the point remains: contrary to popular belief, many talented attorneys earn incomes well below $100K a year.
Earlier: Casting a Wider Net: Small to Mid-Sized Law Firms