What defines a “Big Law” firm? Is it Am law 200? How many attorneys? Cravath scale pay? Or is it “you know it when you see it?”

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In my mind, it is a smaller subset than the AmLaw 200. When I think of BigLaw, I think of: Cravath scale (at least in the largest offices), multiple offices, above some indeterminate threshold number of attorneys (in the 500+ range), generally sophisticated work, and, most importantly, with a certain culture. That culture involves long partnership tracks with equity and non-equity partners, a low expectation of making partner when you join (but with an expectation that you’ll get enough experience and your firm will have enough brand cache to give you good exit options), and a fairly structured environment with partners managing senior associates who manage junior associates. That’s not to denigrate firms outside of the AmLaw 50 (or their Vault equivalents). I worked at a well regarded regional firm, as often as not was dealing with BigLaw representing the counter parties in my deals, and was well compensated given the COL of my area. But that did not give me the same set of cultural experiences as those who were in BigLaw.

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A2, please read my response. It was one of several factors. I’m not hard set that you aren’t in BigLaw if your firm has 250 attorneys working on sophisticated deals and are in an “up or out” environment that has the prestige to allow you to land comfortably elsewhere. Generally speaking, your point that 500 lawyers isn’t a perfect bright line test for BigLaw is fair. It really wasn’t meant o be though, although I can see why you could read my post that way. But that singular focus on the issue is very interesting. With what sized firm do you practice?

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All of the above? Personally if your not AM75 and don’t pay at or (very) near Cravath scale, I don’t consider you biglaw. Opinions varies though. I have family in off-market cities who say they’re in biglaw but their firm is not in the AM150 and pay 50% Cravath, but for that city it’s as big as it gets. There is no hard cut rule, it’s just a term used to describe firms.

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Amlaw 200 is a list of the highest grossing firms which seems to be a good indication of how “big” a firm is.

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But big does not directly correlate with big law

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Comp at (or at least very near Cravath scale) is a critical factor for "BigLaw" as is brand recognition and the likelihood of acting on complex transactions. BigLaw to me just represents the firms that the largest companies go to for a broad range of legal services.

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Many firms that anyone would consider biglaw only have equity partners and wachtell has well below 500 lawyers. I believe you know biglaw when you see it, and there’s different groupings within biglaw.

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Any firm paying Cravath scale/ market

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Agreed. Paying cravath scale (or above).

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There is no one right answer to this question since there is no all inclusive list of objective criteria. I would call any firm on the AmLaw 100 part of Big Law. Given that topic is about prestige and exclusivity I am sure some may narrow it to the top 50 or otherwise.

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Pay scale is a popular answer. However, I never thought Big Law was just a pseudonym for “we pay more”

Context-dependent for whatever the subject is. I think one can be in biglaw in a regional office in Milwaukee and not on the Cravath scale, for instance. Still not that easy to make partner, work at least resembles what someone on the Cravath scale at a V10 is doing, etc. Not like that person is working on $500k cheese manufacturing agreements or something (I think). But if that person then tries to say she is in “biglaw” and turns off her phone at 7pm every night, some context is in order. I am at a V30ish firm based in Silicon Valley — I live elsewhere by choice but could live there if I wanted to be a Valley lawyer, I suppose — and this definitely is biglaw.

Among other factors, it’s the clients. They drive most other things (workload and expectations, which then drive comp, culture, and size). If a majority of your clients are big, demanding, “name brand” corporations, you can call yourself a big law lawyer.

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