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How do you decide between public or private work?

There are many different aspects of a legal career, and figuring out what specific niche you want to work in is one of the main challenges facing a young, aspiring attorney. Narrowing down specialties is difficult enough, but you also have to consider who you want to work for–yourself, or a public firm? There are many advantages and disadvantages to both, which is why we turned to our experienced attorneys to find out what kind of advice they have. Below, we’ve collected the main points our legal professionals think new attorneys should take into consideration, and listed the pros and cons of each type of work.

Public Attorneys

Advantages:

1. Reliable work – When you work for a large public firm, you have somebody else to manage your schedule for you. This means you can keep regular office hours, and you get to go home on weekends without taking your work with you all the time.
2. Reliable paycheck – Because you are being paid by the public instead of by your clients, you never have to worry about not being paid, or being unable to find enough work to pay your own bills. You will also have health benefits.
3. Experience – Going to work directly in a public firm means easy access to the wisdom of a wide network of more experienced attorneys, and lots of opportunities to learn. You can gain experience quickly in a public firm.

Disadvantages:

1. Inflexible working hours – If you like to set your own schedule, you’re out of luck in a public firm. Adjusting working hours, even just for a day, can mean hours of slogging through red tape, if you get it at all. You are very much restricted to regular working hours.
2. Less potential future earning – While paychecks are more reliable in the public sector, they’re also smaller. What you gain in steady income, you lose in pay rate.
3. Reluctant clients – Many of the people you work with as a public attorney do not see you as a “real” lawyer, due to misconceptions about public lawyers. This can mean frustrating clients who are difficult to work with.

Private Attorneys

Advantages:

1. Higher pay – When you work for a private firm or for yourself, your potential earnings are much higher. This is due to a number of factors, including the affluence of potential clients and not being restricted to a government-controlled budget.
2. Flexible working hours – Private firms also tend to be more flexible about working hours, and if you go into practice yourself, you set your own hours. This means it’s easier to make adjustments as your schedule requires it, and adapt your working hours to your lifestyle.
3. More challenging work – The cases that private firms see tend to be more complex than the ones handled by public firms. Most attorneys go into practice because they like a challenge, and private work has that in abundance.

Disadvantages:

1. Work follows you home – While work will follow you home no matter what kind of attorney you are, private attorneys must be more accessible, which can sometimes result in feeling like your phone is an extra appendage. It’s more difficult to disconnect from the job at a private firm.
2. You must self-promote – In order to get paid as a private attorney, you have to attract clients, which means self-promotion, especially if you go into solo practice. Advertising and carving out a place in the market is hard work that you may not be well suited for.
3. Work is unreliable – Private firms must be hired by clients, which means that they are reliant on client demand. Your market might dry up entirely while you’re looking the other way, which makes working privately far riskier.

These are just a few things to consider when deciding if you want to work publicly or privately. There are many other factors involved when you consider them within different specialties. Remember that you can make the switch between public and private–your decision doesn’t have to be final. There are pros and cons to both, and figuring out where you fit might be a life-long process.