Biglaw, Job Searches, Law Schools, Small Law Firms

Size Matters: Forget You, Biglaw (oo, oo, ooo)

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Like many unhappy lawyers, I find Cee Lo Green’s F**k You — which has been picked up by radio stations in a more family-friendly version, Forget You — to be a personal theme song (a la Ally McBeal). Indeed, I often fantasize that I am dancing around my office in an inappropriately short skirt-suit, belting out the chorus to many of my co-workers.

And I am not alone in appreciating the cathartic properties of this special song. We all saw those crazy kids at GWU Law School, in their feather-boa-filled tirade against law school gunners.

Steven Harper, a retired Kirkland & Ellis partner who now teaches at Northwestern Law (and blogs), is the latest to invoke Mr. Lo Green. He seems to be giving the F**k You to Biglaw — and maybe a little bit to former NU Law Dean David Van Zandt, too….

In Law School Deception: Part 2, Harper challenges top law schools’ (specifically, Northwestern University School of Law’s) focus on Biglaw. According to Harper, law schools seeking to serve as feeders to Biglaw do not act in their students’ best interest. Harper gives two main reasons.

First, Biglaw’s high billing rates have led many clients to resist paying to train junior associates. In an effort to keep Biglaw interested in hiring Northwestern’s graduates, the former dean suggested that law schools should “pick up the slack.” According to Harper, this is bad for young lawyers:

Rather than challenge leaders to reconsider their own organizations, ones that produce staggering associate attrition rates and many dissatisfied attorneys, the dean [by tasking law schools with fulfilling the training role of Biglaw] embraced their short-term focus — maximizing current year profits per partner.

Second, although law school class sizes are increasing, Biglaw class size is decreasing:

Overall, the top 50 law schools graduated 14,000 new lawyers in 2010; only 27 percent went to NLJ 250 firms — a drop of three percentage points (400 lawyers) from 2009.

So if focusing on Biglaw placement for graduates is not the answer for Northwestern, what is?

A diversified portfolio of career outcomes less dependent on large firms is a more prudent plan for schools and their students.

And, even if students can get jobs at Biglaw, as Harper recognizes, most associates at Biglaw are miserable: “Recent surveys indicate that a majority of large-firm attorneys become dissatisfied with their careers anyway.”

The bottom line: Northwestern law students should think about Biglaw, and small firms, and everything in between.

Oh, and F**k You to those who think that the only worthwhile job for recent graduates is Biglaw. These are Harper’s words (sort of), not mine.

Extrapolating from this article, perhaps the economic downturn will have one positive consequence for recent graduates (including those graduating from top law schools): it will force them to seriously consider where they want to practice and what they want to do.

Of course, the obvious negative consequence of the downturn is that those enlightened graduates may not be able to find that job. Ha, now ain’t that some sh*t!

Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small law firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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