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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 in their specialty.

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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.

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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.

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Formal Atmosphere

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

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Limited Client Contact

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

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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.