I graduated law school in 2006 at the same time as a close friend. We’ll call him Brian, since that’s his name. Brian went to a top five law school; I went to a… well, not a T-5. He took a Biglaw job in Manhattan; I moved home to Georgia, where I ended up in Small Law. Having used each other as sounding boards throughout law school, it only made sense that we’d continue to do so as we transitioned into our respective practices. We shared many of the same fears and growing pains. For example: Did I pass the bar exam? Am I handling this issue correctly? What work am I allowed to, or even supposed to, hand off to a paralegal/secretary?
Beyond those general issues, I was surprised at how different our worlds really were on both a macro and micro level. Most of you have heard or been a part of discussions on the general differences that Small Law is supposed to provide: better hours, less pay, more freedom, etc. I want to move past broad generalities and share some of my actual experiences as compared with Brian’s, as a means to jump start a discussion. There have been some very thoughtful comments attached to the first two posts, and I hope that trend continues here.
This will be the first of several posts dedicated to a deeper dive into the world of Small Law and how it measures up to its Biglaw counterpart. Let’s start with…
Hours: I generally arrived at work between 7 and 7:30 each morning. I fell into the habit of being the first one in the office so I could collect my thoughts before the day kicked into gear. I found that sitting quietly at my oversized mahogany desk and sifting through the cases du jour to be a necessary preparation for the inevitable brouhaha that followed. Beyond my affinity for mornings, clients would start wandering in the door, oftentimes as early as 8, so my early attendance was all but mandatory anyway. I rarely missed lunch, though I’m the type to stash food in my desk and eat every couple of hours anyway, so a missed meal doesn’t affect me as much as it might otherwise. Nonetheless, I always enjoyed an hour away from my desk. Days tended to find a natural end around 5 as the receptionist would scurry out, followed closely by the rest of the staff. The office was deserted by 5:15, and I was usually in my car headed home by 5:30 or 6. Occasionally I’d get behind on a case and stay late, but that was a rarity, and in my 3+ years there, I spent only a handful of weekend hours at the office.
Brian, on the other hand, always seemed to be at the office. He would get there as late in the morning as decorum would allow because (a) he’d been there after midnight the day before and (b) that was the only time he knew he’d have to himself each day. In speaking with other Biglaw types, I’ve found that getting in late seemed to be a common denominator of sorts (despite occasional objections from management). In any case, Brian would eventually take his place in the dorm-style office he shared with a fellow first-year associate, and settle into another long day of legal research.
He labored far away from the insatiable needs of the client that would eventually be the benefactor of his work. Days would end, but the work would not. We’d often talk late in the evening, me at home with a glass of scotch, Brian at work with a can of Monster. Not all his weekends were spent at the desk, but I remember rather early in our parallel tenures that I stopped asking if he was at the office and just started assuming he was until otherwise notified.
How do your stories compare, Small Law? And Biglaw, don’t be afraid to chime in here.
In future posts, we’ll delve into some or all of the following: perks, pay, commute, caseload, technology, partner expectations, career track, etc. I’d love to hear from you with specific examples and/or illustrations with regard to any of these. With the wide range of practices we’re including in “Small Law,” it’s likely that my experiences won’t always make for a true representation of the larger world.
Finally, I really want to bring some of the traditional Above the Law style sauciness to the column via a “Nuggets of Naughtiness” feature. Some of the craziest things happen in small law firms. What delicious stories do you have to share? You know where to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org.