Types of Employment: Private Practice

Last updated: July 7, 2013

Georgetown University Law Center Career Book
Edited By Abbie Willard, Ph.D.

If you think it is difficult to choose among law school courses, seminars, and clinics wait until you see what is available after law school. A variety of alternatives are open to an individual who seeks to practice law or to combine law with other areas of interest and expertise. Among the more traditional types of practice, the following are most common.

Law Firms

More than half of law graduates nationally, and about 60% of Georgetown graduates, have begun their careers as salaried associates in law firms. The large, structured firms recruit annually for law graduates. They have a visible and more predictable hiring pattern than do smaller firms, and they are likely to have a Hiring Committee. Any firm that devotes a substantial amount of partnership time and an extensive travel budget to recruiting is also likely to be very selective. In view of the large number of students in the job market, firms frequently use academic record and publication experience as criteria in selecting students for in house interviews.

These large firms begin interviewing in late summer or early fall and usually make initial offers around Thanksgiving. Most of these employers also have summer clerkship programs for students who have completed two years of law school. These programs enable the firm and the summer associate to assess each other. If the associate is well-received, he or she is likely to receive an offer of permanent employment at the end of summer. Many firms who hire primarily from among their summer clerks recruit only a very few third-year students for permanent positions.

Representatives of approximately seven hundred law firms conduct interviews through the Placement Office with second and third year students during the Fall of each year. Information about the firms who interview on campus or through the Regional Interview Programs is generally available in the form of a firm resume and/or a standardized National Association for Law Placement (NALP) form. Detailed information on the very largest firms is also contained in The American Lawyer's Guide To Leading Law Firms and The National Law Journal's Directory of Law Firms available in the Placement Office.

Medium-sized firms (described by NALP as those with 25-50 attorneys) may or may not have a formal recruitment program. Having such a program is more a matter of firm philosophy, type of practice and geographic location than it is of sheer size. Although there are firms of 10 attorneys that have a structured recruitment program, in general the medium and large firms are the most organized in this area.

Smaller firms and firms with no structured program often hire later in the academic year. They may interview at the school, through one of the off-campus programs or by advising the Placement Office of their interest in receiving resumes from students.

Larger firms have a greater presence on law school campuses, but they hire only a small percentage of law school graduates. Although small firms are generally invisible during the fall at most law schools, they hire the largest number of law school graduates each year.

Solo Practice

Although more than one third of the nation's attorneys are sole practitioners, few graduates begin their legal careers by hanging a shingle. Initial fee income is minimal and yet certain expenses (support staff, telephone, and rent) must be met. Any individual going to into solo practice may need savings or an independent source of income to provide support for a six to twenty-four month period. Several resources in the Placement Office library provide further information on this subject:  How To Start and Build A Law Practice, How to Go Directly Into Solo Law Practice (Without Missing A Meal) "I'd Rather Do It Myself':  How To Set Up Your Own Law Firm, and How to Start and Build a Law Practice in the District of Columbia.

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