I just wrote a post about whether the solo-small realm is better than working at a big firm. Another crossroads that many lawyers encounter is working for a big firm or doing public interest work.
According to a recent article, more attorneys are choosing public interest work over a gig at a big firm.
Helping those in need
Look, I know giant business corporation needs help merging with other giant business corporation. If you do that kind of work, more power to you. For me, I like helping people.
In law school, I clerked at the Public Defender’s Office and I loved it. If there was any chance of getting a job there, I would have leapt at the opportunity. Helping people in need, in my humble opinion, is the essence of being a lawyer. I know some people have experienced that at a big firm, but for the most part, if you have a bleeding heart, public interest work can be very rewarding.
All about the benjamins?
As the article notes, public interest attorneys, on average, get paid between 1/4 and 1/3 what big firm attorneys make starting out. Instead of starting at $125,000 your first year, you might come in closer to $35,000. That is a big gap, but not as big as you think.
Many big firm associates end up working close to 80 hours a week. With many public interest jobs, you might end up working closer to 40. In essence, big firms are paying a double salary for double work. Still, that extra money can be used to payback your student loans.
Pro bono alternative?
One way to have the best of both worlds is to do meaningful pro bono work on the side. Many of my friends who work at big firms do tons of pro bono work on the side, many times in an area of law that they do not normally practice. I know that they have found the experience to be, well, awesome.
In addition, I believe many big firms have pro bono requirements, or at least strongly suggest a certain amount of pro bono work.