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Pros and Cons to Becoming a Staff Attorney
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Should you work as a staff attorney in a law firm?

Summary: Staff attorneys often get the short end of the stick but there are instances where it is the better option for an attorney.

Harrison Barnes dives into a trend that has been appearing more within the legal industry. In his article, “Why Law Firms Are Hiring More and More Staff Attorneys: Should You Work as a Staff Attorney?” readers will learn if joining the trend is the best option.


Staff attorneys are often called associates, partners, or counsel on law firm websites because they do the same work but are not compensated the same. They also face a nearly impossible uphill battle of ever finding a position as anything but a staff attorney. It is as if there is a big “black mark” on their resume when they apply at other law firms. Barnes explains the firms thought process as such, “Why would we give an attorney a real title and so much more money if the attorney is willing to work without a title and so cheaply? Why would any attorney take such a job? There must be something wrong with the attorney’s work, the level of commitment, and more. We prefer to hire people who are currently working as real associates, partners, and counsels inside of law firms.”

So why has this trend of staff attorneys taken off? Law firms are always looking for ways to cut costs so if they can get away with having attorneys do the same work but for a fraction of the cost, they will jump at the opportunity. Law firms want to show that they are still able to produce top quality work by having highly qualified attorneys working for them but just as staff attorneys so they have cheaper billing rates.

For some practice areas, the only option is to become a staff attorney. The practice area may be seeing a shortage of demand so work is very limited. Those that do need work done by attorneys in that specific practice area may not be willing or able to pay big dollars so law firms keep staff attorneys to do the work for less cost. To know which areas you can expect to see a larger number of staff attorneys, just look at which areas are slow to dead in terms of activity and growth.

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Law firms want to provide the highest profits per partner so that they can attract the best partners to continue their growth. The best partners have big books of business that generate the greatest amounts of revenue for the law firm. These partners want to ensure they are getting back the biggest bang for their efforts so law firms seek ways to cut costs elsewhere. Law firms take advantage of staff attorneys because their billing rates are low, which is something that makes clients happy.

However, staff attorneys know that they are being used and are often looking for a way out. They are hard to keep around for long and have no commitment to the firm. This lack of loyalty can leave the firm in a tight spot for a bit when the staff attorney decides to leave suddenly. Staff attorneys are also very negative about their position the law firm that is keeping them there. This negativity brings down the morale of the rest of the law firm, affecting the quality of work.

With so many reasons against becoming a staff attorney, you may wonder why anyone would ever want to be one. There are positives to being a staff attorney for a law firm. There is a lot less pressure on staff attorneys to be the best, to deal with office politics, and more. They are able to keep better hours, maintaining a healthier work-life balance. And for attorneys that are more interested in the type of work they are doing with major law firms, being a staff attorney may be the only option to get into that firm.

Do you value the title of attorney over a flexible schedule? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about trends in the legal industry, read these articles:


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