The majority of Georgetown students who work in the private sector find themselves in large law firms, but it is common for students to find other settings such as small and medium law firms, in-house counsel roles and international law firms.
Large Law Firms
What constitutes a large law firm may vary somewhat geographically – but if a firm has more than one office location, or over 100 attorneys, it is a fair assumption they could be considered a large law firm no matter where they are located. Large law firms tend to serve corporations, as opposed to individuals, and have a range of associated practice areas – such as mergers and acquisitions, transactional, patent, securities regulation, and of course corporate law. Large law firms tend to pay more than small or medium firms, but also require longer hours.
Most medium and large law firms have “summer associate” programs. These programs are designed to give students legal experience while providing firms an opportunity to evaluate students’ work before offering permanent employment following law school graduation. Large firms generally hire their entry-level associates from their summer associate pool. Therefore, it is important to think carefully about your position after your 2L or 3E summer. Some firms will recruit students in the fall of their final year, but these opportunities are scarce.
Many students secure their positions with large law firms through Georgetown-sponsored recruitment programs.
- Working in a Law Firm: What You Need to Know – Professor Mitt Regan, February 2016; slides & supplemental reading list
- The State of the Legal Market and its Implications for New Lawyers – Jim Jones, February 2016; slides
Small and Medium Law Firms
What constitutes a small or medium firm? The terms “small” and “medium/mid-size” are relative, depending on the market or region within the U.S. For example, the size of a small or medium firm in New York City or Washington, D.C. is different than that in Denver or Cleveland. Regardless of how they are categorized, smaller firms provide employment to a significant percentage of the private sector: the ABA reported in 2012 that approximately 70% of attorneys in the private sector practice in firms with 20 or fewer attorneys.
A small firm can have a diversified practice, in that its attorneys practice in various areas of the law. Such a firm is known as a general practice firm. A small firm can also specialize in particular areas of law, such as patent, tax, or civil rights, and is referred to as a boutique firm because of its specialty practice area. Either type of firm can have sophisticated, complex practices with a diverse client base ranging from Fortune 500 companies to middle market firms to “Mom and Pop” businesses to individuals. There is a tremendous opportunity to define your practice and take responsibility early in this sector; accordingly, small firms target attorneys who can demonstrate a commitment to a particular type of practice and who have hands-on experience that will allow them to make a contribution immediately.
Many smaller firms do not follow predictable hiring cycles for entry-level attorneys. Because these firms tend to hire only to fill a position when an employee leaves or when business demands, it is difficult to define a recruiting “season” for this sector. Many firms say that they prefer attorneys who have experience, as the firms may not have the time or resources to train junior lawyers. These hiring practices extend to summer employment: classes tend to be smaller, if they exist at all; and it is far less common for small and mid-size firms to make permanent offers to summer associates.
These firms typically rely on word of mouth and personal referrals in hiring interns (“clerks”), summer associates, and permanent attorneys – networking, therefore, is a key component of the job search process.
- OCS Small and Mid-Size Firms Resources
- Martindale-Hubbell Directory
- PSJD (in “Search Jobs & Employers” tab conduct advanced search for law firms)
An in-house lawyer is employed by a corporation. The corporation may have one attorney or a large legal department. Typically, very few opportunities exist for new graduates to start as in-house corporate counsel – these positions are generally filled through a lateral hire from a law firm or government agency. However, some corporations will hire students as law clerks to work throughout the school year or over the summers. In recent years, Georgetown Law students have spent their summers at a variety of corporations including ExxonMobil, Fox Sports, CitiSelect, Pepco Holdings, Liberty Mutual and many others.
International Law can involve almost all practice areas, and therefore no single practice area can be called “International Law.” For example, all of the following fields can and do overlap with international law: human rights, trade, environmental, securities, tax, litigation, arbitration, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property and project finance. International law is an extremely broad area, and can be practiced both in the United States and abroad, in both the public and private sectors.
For students interested in international law, field experience is critical. Though international hiring is decentralized and ad hoc, Georgetown Law offers opportunities for students to intern abroad through our International Internship Program. Each year, approximately 75 Georgetown students intern abroad with over 60 different organizations – law firms, government bodies, non-governmental organizations and corporate in-house legal departments located in over 35 countries covering six continents.