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Law Firms

Law firms come in all shapes and sizes, but have many characteristics in common. They are for-profit associations of lawyers in the business of servicing the needs of their clients. They are typically organized as partnerships, with the partners receiving a share of the profits at the end of each fiscal year, and the associates receiving a salary.

Firms are often described as large, mid- or medium-sized, or small. The way a firm is characterized depends on its location. For example, many law firms in New York City have more than 500 attorneys and sometimes more than 2,000 attorneys in their combined offices. In that type of market, a 200-attorney firm is considered “mid-size” and a 75-attorney firm is “small.” In contrast, in a smaller city, the largest firm may have around 250 lawyers. A 100-attorney firm in that city is considered large, a 40-attorney firm is mid-size and a 10-attorney firm is small.

Large firms tend to represent large corporations, many of which have an international presence. Mid-size firms typically represent regional clients and their business includes corporations and individuals. Small firm practitioners sometimes maintain a general practice, handling a broad array of matters for individuals, and other times, focus on a particular area of practice. Firms that are especially known for concentrating on one area of practice, such as intellectual property or entertainment, are called “boutique firms.”

Large law firms in major metropolitan areas have organized summer programs for which they will hire second-year students and a handful of first-year students as “summer associates.” These firms typically make permanent job offers to their second-year summer associates in the hopes of having them return upon their graduation or upon completion of a judicial clerkship. For those firms that hire first-years they will often give an offer to return for part of the following summer. Smaller firms hire fewer, if any, summer associates and are more likely to hire those students permanently only if their workload demands it.

Upperclass students interview with large firms during Yale’s Fall Interview Program (FIP) in August when employers interview for summer and permanent positions. That hiring is typically completed by mid-November. Smaller law firms tend to hire students on a later time frame, and often only when they have a particular need. Students are encouraged to meet with a CDO counselor to discuss their law firm job search strategy and the relevant timing.

Selected Resources (Visit Resources for a complete list of CDO Resources): 
Law Firm Practice Guide  
Assessing Law Firms: Culture, Clients, Compensation and Beyond  
Critically Evaluating Pro Bono Policies and Programs 
Firms Sponsoring Split Public Interest Summers 
Going to NYC? Students and New Associate Pro Bono Information
The Law Firm Summer Associate Dance
Public Interest Law Firms
The Truth about the Billable Hour
What are Firm Sponsored Split Public Interest Summers
What To Do When You Don't Get An Offer From Your Summer Employer
Recruiting Policies
Vault Online Library (including the Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms) 
NALP Directory of Legal Employers 
Chambers and Partners
ALM Legal Intelligence Surveys, Lists, and Rankings