Private Practice

The legal profession encompasses a broad range of employment possibilities, from the solo practitioner to the large law firm with 500+ attorneys. Small and mid-sized law firms are the largest legal employers of law school graduates.

  • Large Law Firms
  • Mid-Sized/Small Law Firms
  • Sole Practitioners

Large Law Firms
Large/very large law firm hiring characteristics (51+ attorneys):

There are several obvious advantages in choosing to associate with a large law firm directly out of law school. These include the following: more security and a higher beginning salary, assured raises and fringe benefits; good transferability of skills to other firms of different sizes; good training; and greater opportunity to specialize.

Negative aspects of signing on with a large firm include the following: considerable library work and research initially; not enough client contact; often very long hours; and anonymity.

  • Many large firms interview annually in the fall on campus and recruit nationally and regionally.
  • They usually have hiring partners and/or recruitment coordinators.
  • Large firms provide summer clerkship opportunities for second-year students, and hire almost exclusively from these programs.
  • Many of these firms are looking for an upper-class 10-20% ranking, Law Review, Moot Court or other demonstrations of speaking and writing ability.
If you are interested in working for a large firm but do not have the academic or other required qualifications to compete successfully, you should consider sending the firm a copy of your resume with references and a writing sample directly. A good time to apply is at the end of the fall recruiting season or the early spring after offers have been made. Firms frequently will not fill their slots and you may have a better chance. If you have personal contacts in a large law firm, it would be helpful to use them at that time.

If your goal is to work in a large firm and you do not go directly into a large firm after graduation, it is still possible to move to a large firm as a lateral. As you become an established attorney, your law school grades become less important, but your reputation and experience as an attorney and ability to generate new client business become the keys. Many people move into these large firms after having a few years experience.

Mid-Sized/Small Law Firms
Medium-size law firm hiring characteristics (26 - 50 attorneys):
Advantages of working with a small- or mid-sized firm might be more responsibility, more client contact, and more relaxed and personal relationships with the other attorneys. Disadvantages of a small firm might be lower starting salary, difficulty in specializing, fewer resources and library facilities in-house. Applying for jobs in these firms outside of the on-campus recruiting program requires different strategies. Keep the following points in mind when developing your strategy.
  • The hiring practices of mid-sized firms can vary greatly and can resemble those of either a large or a small firm.
  • Sometimes mid-sized firms recruit on campus in the fall or in the spring. Many will not recruit on campus.
  • The majority of these firms recruit as the need arises.
  • Clerking for one of these firms can be a successful means of securing a job.
Small law firm hiring characteristics (1 - 25 attorneys):
  • Most small firms cannot predict their hiring needs in advance and hire as the need arises.
  • Most small firms do not interview on campus.
  • Many small firms concentrate on finding the right person for the job instead of emphasizing the highest academic credential.

Sole Practitioner
Although very few law students start a sole practice directly out of law school, there are several resources to help those that do. If you are interested in starting your own firm, you should first do some self-assessment to determine if you are independent, self-disciplined, aggressive and persevering enough to cope with the day-to-day business of locating clients and handling the business aspects of lawyering, such as fee agreements, billing practices, time records, office equipment, secretarial services and malpractice insurance policies. Most recent graduates prefer to work for a larger law firm or a government agency to gain some experience before establishing their own practice.