We weigh up the perks and the demands of life in BigLaw and assess which firms find the best balance.
Are a bumper pay packet and a good work-life balance mutually exclusive? Can jet-setting and flexible working policies compensate for long hours? We asked associates to rate their firms on the factors that impact their lifestyle.
MANY of the firms in our top ten are large global/international players, and they are attractive from a lifestyle point of view for the potential travel opportunities they provide. These outfits therefore performed well in this category, but the ones that shone the most were those that could combine international access with a more intimate feel. Take reigning champion Clifford Chance and its magic circle sister Allen & Overy (5th). These British firms offer their US associates plenty of opportunity to hop on a plane (for the likes of global university sessions and summer program sojourns to foreign offices) but also “smaller, more navigable offices” in the States, as one A&O source put it. White & Case (3rd) may not have compact domestic offices, but it does meld high travel scores with a reportedly cosy atmosphere: “Despite being so big and spread out we’re still able to feel like a family.”
Most of the top names on our list are known for their demanding hours (“I’d be lying if I said the hours weren’t long. On a crazy day I could be in the office until any time,” one Clifford Chance junior admitted), so why are they still rated so highly in this survey? Associates at Cahill (7th) may well have given the firm a lower work-life balance score than firms further down the list, but its success in the bonus category sweetened the deal: “We work harder than other firms, but we get paid more," said one junior at the firm. Aside from material benefits, feedback collected from Cahill also shows how cultural factors (like team spirit and widespread adoption of flexible working) help to determine the overall view on lifestyle, as this source's views indicated: “Flexibility is afforded to associates – there's no face-time requirement and you're not micromanaged. You're respected, and therefore expected to get your work done and handle your own things.”
All of the firms in our top ten offer either four weeks of vacation or an 'unlimited' amount, as well as flexible working policies and caregiver leave periods that fall within the upper end of the scale (nothing below 18 weeks for primary caregivers, and four weeks for secondary caregivers). On the subject of vacation, Patterson (4th) came out on top for making associates feel that they can take a break on their own terms: “It's easy to take vacation – you just have to write up an email and send it to who you're working with.” It's worth noting that firms with the 'unlimited' option came lower down the list in the vacation category. The issue with this option – as this source from Gibson (6th) explained – is that “younger associates might feel scared to take vacation” due to uncertainty over how much to take; figuring out what is culturally acceptable/normal can be more difficult in firms with this set-up.
Patterson is the outlier here in that it's a smaller, single-site firm with no physical presence overseas. It again took the crown in the work-life balance category: “I was worried about being a lawyer in New York. I didn't think I'd be able to find a place where I'd enjoy the work and also have a life outside work, but so far I've been able to accomplish both of those things at Patterson.” One possible reason for its high score is that the firm is litigation-heavy; this practice, in contrast to transactional areas like corporate and real estate, typically has more predictable deadlines that are set by the court. In addition, Patterson's scores for bonus received and work-life balance are similar – an alignment that wasn't so equal at other participating firms in the survey, where bonuses appeared to compensate for a balance that was tilted further in the direction of work.
We asked associates to rate the bonus they receive against the market, the whole benefits package, the travel opportunities available, the ability to take vacation on their own terms, and their work-life balance/scope for flexible working. The firms listed are those demonstrating strong performance.