10 Things to Remember When Choosing a BigLaw Firm

This is the final article in a four-part series on BigLaw jobs. Find the first installment describing BigLaw here, the second installment here on parsing through BigLaw firms, and the third installment on the BigLaw application process here.

The final step in the process once you’ve gotten your offers (congrats, BTW!) is to choose your firm. Fortunately– or perhaps, unfortunately–there’s no real science to it because it’s all about what you want; what’s good for you in BigLaw will be different than what’s good for another BigLaw candidate.

So while there aren’t any Black Letter rules on choosing a firm, these are 10 guiding principles that helped me weigh competing offers: 

1. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have multiple offers. Plenty of people don’t. Really. Be glad that you’ve dodged the heartache of trying to compare firms. And congratulations on being done with your BigLaw search! You’re awesome. I’m proud of you. 

2. Think long-term. Choosing a firm is an important decision because there is some expectation that the firm you choose for your 2L summer is the firm you choose to work at post-graduation, so choosing well now is always a boon. Weigh your options with an eye to the future.

3. But long-term with a grain of salt. This is not your only opportunity to make a decision; plenty of students may still choose a different firm post-graduation, and lots of attorneys laterally move to other firms later in their careers— which is all to say that if you don’t like your firm, you can always apply to other firms later in your career. So don’t be impulsive, but also don’t let the decision drive you to insanity.

4. Go back to basics. Reflect on why you chose to apply to those firms in the first place and which criteria you chose to put a premium on. My color-coded spreadsheet was infinitely useful in this regard because I was able to try to weight variables and numerically evaluate what was important to me in a firm with a literal depiction of those stats. Not everyone has to go absolutely bananas like I did, of course; but, whatever your method, it’s useful when comparing offers from firms to dig a little deeper into why you liked each of the firms.

5. Value a place that values you. If you’re interested in BigLaw long term, it’s really important to find a place that will value you. If you’re stuck between offers, consider which seems like it would support your growth more in the long-term.  Are there alums who can be your mentors and sponsors? Are there partners who are alums there that can make sure you’re getting the right work to advance your career? Did anyone from the firm independently reach out to you as if it really mattered to them that you in particular came to the firm? Are there people there who have risen up the ranks who have a background similar to yours? Was the environment there one of collegiality? You want to find a place that is going to give you long-term opportunities for advancement, that is going to forgive you even if you make a mistake, and that will want to keep you even if times get tough in the economy. And at the end of the day, that’s really a gut instinct you get from your interactions with the firm. 

6. Not all BigLaw offers are alike, and you don’t have to think they are. If there are any offers that you just know you don’t want, there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. Yes, BigLaw is BigLaw is BigLaw; but if there’s something about a firm that doesn’t measure up for you or that rubbed you the wrong way, don’t feel like you have to consider the offer more seriously just because it’s BigLaw. I interviewed with one firm that was not diverse and did not have diversity initiatives, so I immediately knew it wasn’t for me, and did not long consider their offer. Another firm made me an offer, and while I liked the firm, I knew that I had an offer from another firm that had a far greater international presence, so the domestic firm was, comparatively, out. Your rankings and how much consideration you give each firm is entirely a personal choice.

There is one true “rule” on offers you don’t want, though: once you’re sure you’re not interested, let the firm know. If you release the offer, someone else– who may like the offer significantly more– can have the spot. It’s just good manners.

7. Pay attention to the deadlines. Under NALP rules, firms will give you 28 days to contemplate an offer before they expect you to make a decision. (Many firms require that you confirm your interest at the 14 day mark as well.) Few firms will permit an extension beyond those 28 days except in the most exceptional circumstances, so keep track of your calendaring, especially when you’ve got an offer from one firm but may still be in the interview stage at another. Sometimes firms will try to expedite their decision process when they know that your 28 days at another firm are expiring soon so that they don’t miss out on offering for you altogether, but not everyone will. Ultimately, it’s really just up to you to stay on top of your deadlines.

8. You can play firms off one another (sorta). There was one firm that I was particularly interested in for which I was waiting in the limbo phase after my callback; but I had an offer expiring from another firm I liked really soon. So I was able to send a (politely-worded) email to the first inquiring about the “status of my application,” in light of the urgency requested by the other offer and my continued interest in the first firm. Sometimes that tactic works and firms will bite after hearing of the other offer, and sometimes they’ll stick with “we’ll tell you when we tell you.” There’s no harm in asking if you’re respectful about it, but know that it may or may not succeed. Career counselors have almost superhuman talent at advising you to perfect your communication strategy.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second look. Now that you have an offer in hand, you have the power to decide how the story goes. If you’re torn between a few firms, ask if you can come back to the firm and talk with other people that you didn’t get the chance to speak with during your interview. Ask if you can go to lunch with attorneys in a practice or affinity group that you’re particularly interested in. Ask if you can talk to more alum at the firm. Do whatever you need to do to get the information you need to make an informed decision that you will be happy with. The firm wants to find an associate who is a good fit as much as you want to find a firm that is a good fit; they not only expect you to have questions, but they also welcome the opportunity to get to know you better through those questions.

10. Don’t forget to celebrate! Once you’ve found your firm, rejoice! And take time to celebrate your achievement. Be happy that the BigLaw application process is over. Be happy that you found a firm to kick-start your career. Be happy that you just secured a pretty decent salary for the summer. Be happy that you probably got a lot of free food out of the application process.
Be happy that you are now one step closer to becoming a lawyer!

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