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Law Career Mistakes That Can Prevent You From Getting a Job in a Major Law Firm

published May 29, 2023

By Author - LawCrossing
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Many lawyers go into the legal industry with the picture that they will eventually work in a major law firm. And it is not surprising as there are many advantages of working in large, well-established firms. Some of the most important benefits include gaining prestige, earning more money, having bigger clients and more high-profile cases, having better training, and having the opportunity to work with experts with great credentials.

However, getting such an opportunity is not an easy thing to accomplish. There are several things you might have on your resume that might stand in your way of getting into a major company and progressing your career.

If you have any of these mistakes on your resume, it is going to make the path to working in a major firm more difficult. There are ways around this, though and almost anything is possible!

The 19 Common Mistakes in Your Career That Might Stand in Your Way of Getting Into a Large Law Firm

Not Doing Good In a Low-Ranking Law School

While law schools are not the most important thing in determining your career plan, if you went into a poorly ranking school and were not in the top positions, it will stain your resume for your whole career. The better your law school was, the better chance you have at getting an offer from a major firm. Suppose you did not attend the top schools—your academic results matter. If you were not among the best ones, you would have a problem finding a big law firm placement.

To get into major national firms, you typically need to be at a national law school. If you want to get into major law firms with mid-level schools or strong regional schools, you need to be in the top 5 or 10% of your class, but it will probably be a factor with local big law companies.

Of course, the skills that make someone good at practicing law have to do with your negotiation skills, your spirit, how hard you try, or your willingness to learn are much more important for your long-term success than the school you attended. However, it is often an important screening criterion for recruiting in large legal firms.

Not Working as a Summer Associate in a Large Law Firm as a Law Student

It is sometimes tough to get into a large law firm early in your legal career if you were not a summer associate in such a firm. If you could not get such a position during your studies, firms would often assume that you are not dedicated enough to work in big law or that your grades and academic results were not good enough.

It might sometimes mean that you are a late bloomer, went through some personal things when you would have normally try to get a summer associate's position, did not know how to interview well, had problems adapting to campus, etc. It does not have to be career-ending. However, it will make your legal career path a little more difficult. Almost everyone in a large law company has been a summer associate when they were beginning, so firms often expect it from attorneys they hire.

To avoid making hiring mistakes, large employers generally want to hire associates who have a proven track record of handling the pace of a large law firm. And that can only be obtained by starting from the summer associate positions in another large law firm.

Not Being Offered a Position After Being a Summer Associate

 Another thing that can hurt you is not getting an offer as a summer associate. When a company can look at you and your work, but they are not making you an offer, they are basically saying that you are not major law firm material.

That is usually the main task of a law firm during a summer associate program - they try to determine whether the law students are suitable for working in a large firm. They look closely at your social skills, behavior, how well you get along with others, how you approached your work and office life, how enthusiastic you were, whether you will fit into the team, etc.

But it generally is not hard to get an offer after being a summer associate. Most law students do, and you have to avoid coming out of such a position without getting an offer.

Wrong Timing When Getting Out of Law School

You have to graduate at the right time. Or at least not at a bad one. Recessions in the legal industry are reoccurring events, and when you are "lucky" and graduate during or right before a recession, it can really screw up your career even if you are coming from the best school. You might be able to get a job at a great firm but be let go after a few months because of the recession, have your summer associate offer revoked, or not find a job in a large legal firm at all. It can be very discouraging, and many legal professionals coming out of law school at such a time give up on their careers too early.

Not Having the Right Job After Graduating

This has been touched on a bit in the previous points, but if your first job after graduating is not with a major firm and it is not a federal clerkship (after being a summer associate), it can harm you to some extent if you want to work in a large law firm.

Getting a job in a big law firm or as an appellate clerk or in a federal district court will usually secure you a position in such a company afterward. If your job after graduation is not one of these, you might not be as lucrative for a major employer because they want their attorneys to be trained in a certain way of thinking and in a certain environment that cannot be found in different positions. If you lack this training, it means more work for them in the new firm as they will have to teach you many things you would know already if you came in from a similar setting.

Not Specializing

In smaller firms, it is common for attorneys not to specialize and be in various practice areas to ensure that they can help their clients with every problem. This is not prevalent in large legal firms as they are generally comprised only of specialists. They need experts in their own practice area and can dive deep into the clients' issues, not someone who can sufficiently but not expertly do many different things. The number of employees in large firms guarantees that they can cover every area the firm wants to have in its services, so there is no need for attorneys with general law skills. If you are a generalist, your chances of getting hired in a major name company are not that good.

No Business After Years of Working

Having over a decade behind your belt and no business you can take with you to a new firm will pose problems when trying to find a position in a major firm. The more senior positions you would want to get with so much experience almost always require the attorney to bring some business. The only instance you could get a placement with a large firm without transferable business is if you are specialized and your practice area is currently in demand, such as patent prosecution, real estate, or tax. It will be challenging for litigators who have worked for over a decade without business to find a new placement, so they should stay in their current firm or try their luck in a smaller firm.

Making Issues out of Diversity Topics

Diversity is an important topic that firms take seriously, especially in the last few years. Firms try to consistently hire more diverse attorneys to make up for the lack of diversity that has been seen in the law industry for decades. However, when an attorney starts making issues out of their race, religion, sexuality, or other diversity aspects, it can cause problems in the firm or with clients.

Fitting in within the firm and present a consistent look in front of clients with how attorneys dress, talk, and act. Firms do not like it when their attorneys make issues out of diversity and pick a fight with everyone around them. You want people around you to feel good and not make them feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Being an In-House Counsel

Going in-house can really destroy your chances of getting hired in a major firm. If you have worked as an in-house counsel for more than a year, large employers will generally assume that you have given up on practicing big law. When they see that you have left the world of legal firms, they think you will do it again (and it is often the case). They do not want to risk hiring a person like that over other candidates who are extremely dedicated to law practice and have never strayed from the path. They only want to put the most committed attorneys in front of their big clients, and that is not someone who has given up on this world before.

Leaving a Job Before Securing Another Position

If you have left a job in a law firm before having a new one lined up, it usually means that you had some problems in the firm that you were not willing to overlook.

Your potential employers get from this because you are not tolerant of conditions that might not be acceptable to you and do not want to keep going when things are not as you want them to be. They know that if they hire you and there is something you do not like in the firm, the chances of you leaving the job are pretty high. They do not want to put themselves at such a risk. They have other candidates without this on their record.

Being Fired

Although many lawyers get fired or laid off from their job at some point in their careers, big law firms do not like to hire currently unemployed attorneys or have been fired from their previous job. It happens sometimes, but it is not very common.

The larger the market is, the more choice firms have on who to hire and the more competitive the recruitment process is. Someone who has been fired or is unemployed poses a risk to the company as they often do not know what was behind this loss of job, so they logically choose other candidates.

Working as a Contract Attorney

Big law firms might not want to hire you if you have ever worked or are currently working as a contract or a staff lawyer. Why? Because in such a position, you are telling firms that you need flexibility and not a lot of accountability which is not something a big law firm can offer you. If you are really committed to the practice of law, you are expected to work a lot and try really hard, which is not something that can be easily demonstrated while working as a contract attorney. As a result, big law employers rarely hire their contract attorneys for full-time positions.

Taking a Previous Employer to Court

If you have taken your previous employer to court, chances are you will never be able to get a position in a big law firm again. You may have had valid reasons to sue the firm, but your potential employers will not care. They will try to keep their firms safe and not take on someone who has proven to take already legal action against someone they have worked for. So why would they hire anyone who could be a problem for them?

Switching to a Smaller Firm

When young attorney switches from a large firm to a smaller one, it is usually because he cannot handle the pressure of working in such a firm, want more free time, or could not find a job in a bigger company. Whatever the case is, large firms do not want lawyers like that as part of their team. It can show a lack of commitment to the practice of law. It also does not allow potential employers to determine the quality of attorney's training as small firms can be very good and bad in training their employees.

With so many candidates to choose from, big law firms always hire attorneys from a similar environment over someone from a smaller legal firm.

Switching Firms Too Often

When you are moving firms to further your career, it is great, and it can help you with other potential employers. However, when you switch firms too often, it usually means only problems for the employer. If you have moved more than three times in a short amount of time, you will probably leave your next employer as well. And because hiring law firms always think of ways to avoid risks, they will not want to hire someone like that. They will not trust your dedication, training, ability to get on with associates in the firm, nor how you will handle difficult clients, so they will choose another candidate who could stick with their previous employer for much longer.

Slandering Previous Employers

One of the most stupid things you can do during an interview is slander your previous (or current) employer. Whatever your reasoning for that might be, it is never a good idea to talk badly about people you have worked with, even if you were wronged. It tells your potential new firm that you will turn your back and talk badly about them the first chance you get.

If an attorney has been making problems in a firm and then gets fired, they may attempt to talk badly about the employer to make themselves look better in the situation. Unfortunately, the chances are that the next employer might experience the same thing.

Slandering anyone in a professional setting is never a good idea, and you should avoid it at all costs.

Being an Insurance Defense Lawyer

The insurance defense practice area is not regarded as highly as other areas within large firms. The rates are generally lower, budgets too, so not every large law firm offers this service. For this reason, many large firms might not want to hire you with this specialization.

With lower rates and a lower salary, this practice area also attracts attorneys of "lower quality" - those who did not go to top law schools, did not rank at the top of their class, or did not have the best training and experience. Firms, therefore, sometimes automatically assume bad things about lawyers who have worked in insurance defense without giving them a chance.

Working as a Consumer-Facing Attorney or Representing Small Companies

Doing consumer-related work can also pose a risk when getting into large law firms - criminal law, family law, consumer bankruptcy, tax resolution, personal injury, immigration law, or small company representation. This type of work and large law companies' work are two completely different worlds, so the gained experience will not be useful for large companies. While large firms charge for every possible thing and want to increase the bill as much as possible, consumer-facing attorneys are taught to cut corners and cut costs where possible. That is not something large firms are looking for.

Having Issues With the Law or Having Negative Information Spread About You Online

As representatives of law firms, lawyers have to uphold a certain image and look. They will not want to hire you to keep up their image with negative information known about you. It does not matter whether someone is spreading a rumor about you online, you have posted something unprofessional bad reviews online yourself, or you have a police record for a bar fight. If your record is not spotless, you are a liability to employers.

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