Private practice is VERY hard to make a lot of money in. How do you get clients? One has to be a great rainmaker (sales person) to get clients. Plus you have a ton of expenses, like malpractice insurance, office, secretary, etc. And clients don't necessarily pay when they are supposed to.
Biglaw first years make $160,000 + about $20,000 bonus. (A ridiculous amount, salaries went way up in the dot.com boom so the best attorneys wouldn't leave to work for internet companies, and they never went down when the bubble burst.) Salary may have gone down in this economy with some biglaw for first years to $145,000 and bonuses are tougher to get, but many are still paying $160,000 and the others need to match to get the good law students. By the 7th or 8th year, biglaw pays around $250,000+, and about $40,000 bonus if you have enough billing hours, usually 2000+. Then you become a partner and you make about the same net for awhile, you really make more by getting clients, because then you get a percentage. Partnership isn't like it used to be, new partners don't make what they used to and have very small percentages of the firm. Unless one has a book of a million $$ or so. (How much your clients pay you a year for your services.)
You'll be expected to work your butt off, over 2000 billing hours a year and in your first years, you'll be doing quite a bit of non-billing hours because you won't be efficient. An experienced attorney can legitimately have most of their time in the office as billing hours, but you can expect at least a couple of hours a day not be billable, usually 3+. Many brand new ambitious attorneys bill about 2300 a year, trying to get ahead, the first 3 years matter as to whether they keep you longer.
Figure this 2000 billing hours / 50 weeks (if you feel you can take 2 weeks off for vacation) = 40 hours a week billing, plus an additional 3 hours a day = 15 more hours, so 55 hours a week in the office. At least. You really want to at least do 2100, or more, to stand out. (Because all those extra hours over the base and covering your expenses like salary, secretary, office, go to the big partners. They like that.)
Biglaw firms have attorneys in all kinds of practices, contract, itigation, IP, etc. Biglaw may stop the lockstep salary (a set amount of raise every year) but many will keep it for their top performers. One must be in the top of the class at a great law school to be hired by biglaw.
As far as the type of attorney for other than biglaw, it really depends on where you are and what is needed at that time. It goes through phases, like IP (Intellectual Property) was hot during the dot.com boom. Finance and real estate right now. Bankruptcy awhile back. Probably Health Care (the insurance companies fighting the doctors groups, states, etc, huge cases) will be hot for the next few years. Whatever businesses need.
Answered By: maliboo_girl - 11/30/2009