The Definition of Biglaw: Is It Possible to Establish a Set Definition?
Over the past several weeks, I read numerous articles about a well-known law firm that was having some troubles with attorney defections and other issues. People kept describing the firm as a “Biglaw” shop, probably in order to increase the drama that was generated by describing the problems at this law firm. Although this law firm is big, it would never be considered comparable to some of the large, prestigious law firms that most people typically associate with Biglaw. This got me thinking about the definition of Biglaw and if it was possible to establish a set definition for this term.
The Characteristics of Biglaw
From my perspective, there are various characteristics that a law firm should have to be described as a “Biglaw” shop. As is illustrative in the term itself, Biglaw shops should be, well, big. Although most attorneys work at smaller shops, there are some shops that have large amounts of lawyers. These bigger law firms naturally make more of a splash in legal circles, and they are worthy of having a distinguished title be ascribed to them.
Of course, “big” is a relative term. Some larger shops might only crack a few hundred attorneys while the largest shops might have several thousand attorneys. In order to be distinguished in the legal industry, I feel that shops need to have at least several hundred attorneys in order to earn the prestige of being a “Biglaw” firm. This is important in order to distinguish Biglaw shops from boutiques that might be prestigious but in a different class from these firms and ensures that Biglaw firms have a substantial influence in the legal industry.
Another factor that distinguishes Biglaw shops from other firms is the amount of money that attorneys earn at a firm. We all know large law firms that pay associates lower salaries that might not even be paid to professionals with far less training than attorneys. Surely, these firms should not be in the same class of law firms as Biglaw shops who are paying associates at or near the Cravath scale, which if memories serves me well, includes a $215,000 starting salary right now.
Some law firms like to enjoy the benefits of being large without passing on the rewards of their size to associates. They should not be able to claim Biglaw status since these firms cannot compare with the prestige and influence of other law firms. As a result, a law firm should pay attorneys at or near the Cravath scale to be classified as a Biglaw shop. Some might think that this classification is too restrictive, but there are dozens of law firms that pay attorneys this amount so a sizable number of shops would still be considered Biglaw.
Biglaw shops should also have a wide geographic scope in order to earn the distinction of being a Biglaw firm. Some large law firms that pay high salaries only operate in one city or in one region of the country. As such, these law firms might not be known too well outside of the limited geographic scope in which they operate. However, more prestigious law firms have offices across the country and across the globe. This helps these shops serve all kinds of clients and leverage their connections in different regions to complete more tasks for clients.
It is difficult to determine how many offices a law firm should have, or how many regions in which a law firm should operate so that they are considered a Biglaw shop. From my perspective, a Biglaw shop should have at least a handful of offices that spread from coast to coast across the United States, and these shops should ideally also have at least a few international offices as well. This gives a Biglaw shop the national and possibly international reach that helps serve clients and gives them the prestige associated with the Biglaw title.
In order to avoid lumping in all large law firms with those bigger shops that meet the above requirements, perhaps commentators can use different terms when describing law firms. Maybe the term Biglaw can be associated with law firms that meet the requirements discussed above, and commentators can use the word Largelaw or another term to describe large law firms that do not satisfy the requirements discussed above. However, in order to be more precise when describing different law firms within the legal profession, legal news outlets and commentators on the legal industry should reserve the Biglaw term for only shops that meet certain requirements.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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News Source : Jordan Rothman
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