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Numerical Proof that BigLaw, OCIs are Dead (What's Your Plan B?)

By William Peacock, Esq. on September 03, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In 2006, as a wee lad in undergrad, I went to a law school information fair. Schools from across the nation had tables trumpeting their successes and excesses, including a handful that had massive signs proclaiming, "Average Starting Salary -- $160,000!"

Wait, $160,000? That'd cover the loan bills and my mother's retirement home in Barstow. Score!

Needless to say, it didn't happen. Not for me, and not for, well, pretty much anyone. BigLaw is dead for most law students, and though the economy seems to be trending upward, Above the Law has a depressing infograph that shows that, unfortunately, BigLaw hiring is still trending downward.

The chart compares firms' summer associate class sizes from 2007 (right before the collapse) to either 2012 or 2013. At 84 percent of firms, class sizes are down by an average of 46 percent. A mere eight firms have increased class sizes, and only by an average of 13 percent.

In short, the BigLaw path is now even more unrealistic for most of us. If you are in law school, or headed there, you'll need a backup plan. Here are four options:

Public Interest

Perhaps the most underrated legal career path, a public interest position will not only give you warm, happy feelings (sometimes), but you also qualify for public interest student loan forgiveness after a mere ten years of indentured servitude.

Put in your time, clear your debt, then translate that experience into mediocre bucks in the private sector.

Start Your Own Firm

Have an entrepreneurial spirit and an unwavering overconfidence in your abilities? For the bold, fearless types that won't be freaked out by minor annoyances, like learning local rules all by your little self, and for those with nothing to lose (just in case your firm flops like The Firm), you can be your own boss, and learn on the job.

Take simple cases. Charge subsistence rates for the first few months while you learn on the job. If you get sued, or your firm goes bankrupt, you have nothing but a student-loan laden asset sheet. Meanwhile, you get practical experience and with low rates, you might just provide a service to those who otherwise couldn't afford a lawyer.

Small Firm Servitude

Is this your worst-case scenario? Probably. For practical experience, you may choose to work in a small firm for a few years. Unfortunately, due to the surplus of recent grads, and your lack of experience, you'll probably be making less than a Starbucks barista.

We like to call this choice the the indentured servitude/I'm smarter than my boss/I'm paying my dues/why the heck did I go to law school path.

Leave the Law

Maybe you have dreams of becoming the next Taylor Swift? Or perhaps you have the pioneering spirit and skill set to make it big amongst thousands of other startups in Silicon Valley? Don't forget about blogging and reporting.

At a certain point, if the legal field isn't making you rich and/or happy, it may become time to step back, avoid the sunk cost fallacy, and head in a different direction. 

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