Law firm practice is extremely variable by size and specialty. Some students end up in large, national/international commercial law firms – these are the firms you typically see on campus during the OCI process. However you might consider a smaller firm, boutique or even a solo practice. Whether you are interested in a big firm or a smaller to mid-size firm, you should make an appointment with an OCS advisor we can help structure a job search strategy unique to you.
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Big firms offer a variety of specialties in a framework of general commercial law. You have the option of a practice that might include employment law, general corporate law, litigation, employee benefits, tax or real estate, just to name a few. You are typically hired into one practice area upon graduation. Big firms have "big" clients and "big" cases and deals. Often the work is cutting edge for well-known business or individuals. Associates may be considered for some type of partnership after 7-9 years of practice. You will work hard and typically the hours are long and unpredictable.
- You will get paid a lot
- Formalized training programs
- The ability to specialize in complex legal issues
- Good resources
- Ability to do pro bono work
- Possibility of moving to different office within the firm
- Long hours
- Pressure to develop business
- Prospects of partnership not so great
Big firms typically hire 2Ls for summer associate positions in the early fall of the 2L year and many go through the OCI process. At the end of the summer, they will typically give offers to join the firm post graduation. Some may have a few summer positions open for 1Ls students, but they are very hard to come by. Big firms may also hire 3Ls if they still have a need for an entry level position – most of this is also done in the early fall but may continue into the spring.
Many exciting and interesting opportunities exist for students interested in private practice on an international basis. Though most SLS students choose to launch their legal careers in the United States, a few start their practice abroad, typically in a foreign office of a large US firm where the firm has a significant US practice. If you are interested in working internationally please make an appointment with an OCS counselor to discuss your job search strategy.
International attorneys in the private sector typically work for firms with foreign clients or in legal departments within large international corporations. When practicing in a larger firm, attorneys often practice domestic law for foreign clients. These firms tend to be located in metropolitan cities or cities where federal regulatory agencies are located. The international law practice in a corporate legal department is similar to that in private firm practice where attorneys negotiate business transactions with foreign companies.
For big firms with international offices, the timeline generally follows that for OCI and primary takes place in the early fall of your 2L or 3L year.
At many small firms you can have a general practice; others specialize in certain areas, like trusts and estates, criminal law, immigration law or labor and employment law, just to name a few. Clients are typically individuals and small businesses. A smaller firm that has a complex specialty practice area for which it is well-know is called a "boutique" firm - some of these firms actually might pay as much as a big firm. A solo practice is always an option but is very tough for a new lawyer.
- More intimate working relationships
- More opportunities to develop client relationships
- Early responsibility
- More control over hours
- Typically less pay
- Typically no formalized training programs
- Lack of resources
- Generalists often feel that they are "spread too thin"
- Focus on client development tough for young lawyers
Typically in the spring for both 2Ls and 3Ls, although small firms can hire at any time as need arises. Some may hire 1ls for the summer. Many small firms may not give offers of permanent employment after a summer position.
Some SLS students have aspirations of working as in-house counsel for a company. As a general rule, most companies do not hire students right out of law school; rather they look for those attorneys that have been trained at a mid to large-sized law firm for at least several years. Some companies, however, may hire 1L and 2L students as summer interns. If you are interested in eventually taking the in-house counsel path, please make an appointment to meet with one of the OCS career counselors to come up with a long-term career strategy.
The areas of law handled by in-house counsel typically depend on the size of the company. Most legal departments focus on transactional work or intellectual property (for high-tech companies). Some larger companies also have attorneys that might specialize in labor and employment, real estate, tax, licensing, regulatory and administrative law, to name a few. There are a variety of positions, ranging from General Counsel, to Associate Counsel to Staff Attorney.
- No billable hours – but hours can still be long
- Ability to work with business side of company
- Potentially lucrative compensation if given equity on the company
- No need to focus on business development
- Possible need for technical background for some positions
- Typically less pay than big law firms
- Typically don't hire right out of law school
- May not have formal training programs
Practices vary, but some big corporate law departments may hire on same timeline as big firms (in early fall). Entry-level positions are limited; most jobs require 2-3 years law firm experience.
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Office of Career Services
Stanford Law School
559 Nathan Abbott Way, Room 145
tel: 650 723.3924
fax: 650 723.0212
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