Many solicitors and aspiring practitioners are struck by the allure of “Big Law.” Generally comprised of the largest firms in the UK and US, Big Law can provide lawyers with an opportunity for high compensation and prestige.
But what exactly do we mean by the term Big Law? Which law firms earn this distinction?
Here, we delve into the meaning of the term “Big Law” and the criteria for inclusion in this category. After a review of some of the top Big Law firms, we explore the pros and cons of a career in Big Law.
What is Big Law?
Big Law, sometimes styled as BigLaw or biglaw, is a term for the largest and most prestigious law firms. These firms have multiple offices, generally with presences in major metropolitan areas such as New York, London, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago. Many Big Law firms even international offices.
The definition of Big Law is a bit amorphous and varies depending on whom you ask. The term can refer to the total number of lawyers, total revenue, prestige, or some combination of these and other factors. Regardless of the exact criteria considered, some big names consistently appear in Big Law listings.
Below, we review the big names in Big Law.
The top Big Law firms
The following are some of the top Big Law firms in the US & UK reflecting a range of practice areas and geographical bases.
|Number of Lawyers
|Commercial litigation and other corporate interests are primary areas of focus for this Chicago-based firm, founded in 1909, with nine major offices in the US.
|This New York-based firm boasts offices in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, a high-paying clientele, and a range of practice areas.
|Norton Rose Fulbright
|Formed by a 2013 merger between the UK-based Norton Rose and US-based Fulbright Jaworski, this international firm primarily represents major corporations, financial institutions, and innovative startups.
|Headquartered in Chicago, this general practice firm has 77 offices in 46 countries.
|White & Case
|New York-based with 44 offices in 30 countries, this international firm is a general practice specializing in “white-collar” law, such as antitrust and intellectual property.
|The product of a 2020 merger between US-based Hogan Hartson and UK-based Lovells, this general practice firm has twin headquarters in New York City and London.
|This firm covers a wide range of practice areas and maintains offices in 40 countries.
|Founded in 1893, this firm represents over half of the Fortune 500 companies in a range of practice areas while focusing on corporate management, regulation, finance, and other facets of corporate law.
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The benefits of working at a Big Law firm
Now that we have a working definition of the term, let’s examine the actual benefits of working in Big Law.
Many solicitors and solicitors-to-be are drawn to Big Law by the prestige and name recognition since many of these firms are household names. This prestige partly derives from the exclusivity of the firms, since they focus on recruiting new attorneys from among the best academic performers at the top law schools.
If you aspire to have a career in Big Law, think about:
- Attending the highest-ranked law school you can
- Performing well academically
- Specialising in the practice areas that Big Law firms focus on.
Another obvious draw of Big Law is the higher salaries commanded by associate attorneys, which can start over $200,000/£150,000 annually.
If you rise to the level of partner at a Big Law firm, your income potential is even greater, which means you should understand the partnership structure of the firm where you work.
Big Law firms often represent high-profile clients and work on exciting cases that garner headlines. Depending on your goals, this type of high-stakes work may align with what you seek from a legal career.
Networking opportunities and mentorship
Working in Big Law also allows you to rub shoulders with some of the top attorneys in the country, who often possess highly specialised expertise and a great deal of influence. This situation presents opportunities for networking and mentorship that are not easily replicated at smaller firms.
The downsides of working at a Big Law firm
It is important to look at the full picture and consider the downsides of working in Big Law. Even with excellent grades from a top law school, Big Law may not necessarily be for you.
Among the drawbacks of Big Law are high billable hour quotas and competitive work environments. Big Law is notorious for its “always on” culture, where attorneys are expected to work long hours, nights, and weekends regularly.
Even the allure of partnership is not a sure thing — it could take many years to make it to the partnership level, with numerous pitfalls along the way.
If Big Law is not for you, take heart that working at a smaller firm, or even starting your own firm, could lead to a very fulfilling career. And, with the right legal technology, such as Clio, it’s never been easier to manage your law practice seamlessly.
Final thoughts on the top Big Law firms
With a sense of what firms fall under the Big Law umbrella, you can judge for yourself whether a Big Law career is your best option. Keep these advantages and disadvantages in mind while choosing your career path.
If you’re still in law school, be sure to check out Clio’s Academic Access Program for a jump start on your legaltech education—it may just be the leg up you need for a successful career in Big Law (or elsewhere)!
We published this blog post in January 2024. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Business