Private practice encompasses a broad range of employment possibilities, from the sole practitioner, to law firms with several hundred attorneys. There are many different types of working environments and areas of practice within each firm. For this reason, it is difficult to generalize, but the following offers some information about different types of law firms.
Traditionally only a small number of law students start their own practice directly after graduating from law school. To run a successful solo practice, you must be interested in running a business as well as your own legal practice. The Oregon State Bar has resources for Solo Practitioners and a Solo & Small Firm Section that frequently hosts events and welcomes student members. Joining an organization or bar section can be a great way to learn more about the different types of employers and practices.
Private law firms range in size from two to many hundreds of lawyers. These firms also range in practice areas and firm environment. Some firms specialize, while others have disciplines in many areas. It is important to reflect on types of practice and company environment when considering law firm positions.
Small Firms v. Large Firms
A large firm may engage in many types of practice while small firms are typically composed of general practitioners or attorneys that have developed only a few areas of specialization.
A small firm may be more relaxed and offer flexible work hours, where a large firm may have higher demands. Larger firms may offer the ability to specialize, have higher beginning salaries, excellent fringe benefits, training programs, and skills that are transferable to similar sized companies. Smaller firms may not have the resources to provide those benefits for new attorneys, but may have other benefits like more autonomy, independence, and direct client interaction.
The thing to keep in mind, is law firms can vary greatly depending on size, practice area, and culture. It is helpful to research firms and meet with attorneys to explore what type of environment is most suitable for you.
Resources for Researching Firms
Resources for researching larger firms include individual firm websites, The Martindale-Hubbell Directory (www.martindale.com), The NALP Directory of Legal Employers (www.nalpdirectory.com), and Westlaw or Lexis.
Smaller law firms are sometimes more difficult to locate and research. Career Services can help you tailor your search for smaller firms and help connect you with alumni.
Large firms, and some medium-sized firms, tend to have established hiring practices and often recruit annually in the late summer and early fall for summer clerks and associates who start the following year. These positions are extremely competitive and the employers are often very conscious of grades, law review membership, and other honors.
Applying for jobs in most medium and small firms requires a somewhat different strategy. These firms are less likely to have established recruiting programs; instead, they tend to hire on an individual, as- needed, basis. Many will hire in the spring for summer positions or after the bar for attorney positions.
Positions with Businesses
Many corporations have “in-house” legal departments, ranging from one person who works part-time on legal matters, to departments of 50 or more attorneys. Typically, few opportunities exist for new graduates to start as in-house counsel, but there are some corporations that hire law clerks, externs, and recent graduates. Within corporate legal departments, there are also JD preferred positions that may be open to recent graduates, e.g. Contract Managers and Compliance Specialists.
In addition to Corporate Counsel, other positions within business and industry may be ideal for recent graduates, especially those bringing prior experience, for example:
- Accounting and CPA Firms
- Banks / Finance
- Consulting Firms
- Insurance Companies
- Technology & Software Companies
- Legal publishing & Research Companies (e.g., Thompson Reuters)
- Marketing Companies
- Bar Associations
- Labor Unions & Associations,
- Hospitals and other Healthcare and Medical Centers