After graduating from law school, many lawyers will get jobs at small law firms. New attorneys will usually be supervised by a partner at the law firm and will spend most of their time doing legal research and writing and may have to appear in court regularly. Most new attorneys who get jobs at small law firms will have a great deal of client contact from the first day that they start working. The new attorney at a small law firm must, from the start, show the ability to handle a client’s work, be able offer legal advice, and be able to zealously represent a client’s interests. New attorneys who get jobs at small law firms are not generally paid as much as new attorneys who get jobs at large law firms in major cities. However, small law firms are attractive to new lawyers for several reasons. A new lawyer at a small law firm has the opportunity to have significant client contact early in their career, the chance to be promoted to partner at the law firm early in their career, and the chance to take on significant responsibilities early in their career.
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Many new attorneys will seek jobs at large law firms in major cities because these firms are very prestigious and offer large salaries for entry-level attorneys. Large law firms are usually employed by corporate clients that have complex legal issues that cannot be dealt with by a single attorney. These businesses hire large law firms because the firms have a variety of practice groups that can easily provide a wide range of legal services. In general, large law firms in major cities focus their hiring on the top graduates of the most prestigious law schools, such as Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School. To get a job with a large law firm, a law student must go through a rigorous recruitment program that involves on-campus interviews, a summer clerkship program at the firm, and a formal hiring procedure that involves deadlines for job offers and acceptances. Jobs at large law firms offer new attorneys excellent experience and are an avenue for prominent future jobs in corporate legal departments and government agencies.
Judicial clerkships are positions in which new attorneys work directly under the supervision of a judge. These positions generally are offered only to law students with very high grades and who were members of the law review at their school. Judicial clerkships are highly sought after jobs because they offer new attorneys the chance to gain valuable experience working directly in the judicial system and also offer new attorneys the chance to create a long-lasting professional relationship with a well-respected judge. As a judicial clerk, a new attorney is usually required to be in the courtroom along with the judge they work for and is also required to do legal research and write draft opinions for the judge they work for. Judicial clerkship jobs give new attorneys the chance to develop their legal research and writing skills and also offer the opportunity to have a judge serve as a supervisor and mentor. The most highly coveted judicial clerkship jobs are on the United States Supreme Court. Each associate justice of the Supreme Court hires four judicial clerks each year and the chief justice of the Court hires five judicial clerks each year. Judicial clerk positions on the Supreme Court are usually awarded to only the top graduates of the most prestigious law schools in the country. Most judicial clerks that are hired to work for Supreme Court judges are usually new attorneys who have held positions while in law school as law clerks at the U.S. Court of Appeals.
New attorneys who have a special interest and commitment to social justice and ensuring the rights of the disadvantaged often get jobs at public interest organizations. Many public interest organizations have the mission of providing services to poor persons. These organizations hire new attorneys to assist low-income people with issues such as landlord-tenant law and employment law. Jobs with public interest organizations may also be focused on helping disabled clients. Most jobs at public interest organizations offer salaries that are about half of what a new attorney would make if they were working at a law firm. For this reason, most new attorneys who choose careers at public interest organizations want to do something good for society and are not motivated by money or fame. Since many people who are disadvantaged are minorities, there are many new attorneys with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds who choose to take jobs at public interest organizations. New attorneys who are bilingual are especially sought after for jobs at public interest organizations that help Spanish-speaking immigrants. New attorneys who choose jobs at public interest organizations are sometimes able to obtain partial forgiveness of their student loans based on their employment status.
Many new attorneys will choose to take a job in the legal department of a large corporation instead of practicing law at a law firm. Large corporations have “in-house counsel” or attorneys who work for the corporation’s legal department and provide services to the corporation in many areas. New attorneys who choose to work in corporate legal departments will usually have work involving corporate secretary duties, advising senior managers about legal issues, handling corporate compliance issues, handling contracting work, and government relations work.
Some corporations hire new attorneys to work on legal issues in certain departments such as tax departments, intellectual property departments, and research and development departments. The salaries paid to new attorneys at corporations are less than the salaries paid to entry-level attorneys at large law firms but more than the salaries paid to entry-level attorneys at small law firms. While the typical new attorney at a large law firm in a major city is usually required to work up to eighty hours per week, a new attorney in a corporate legal department will usually only work for forty hours per week.