Lawyers landing in the job market these days are blessed with exquisite timing. Corporations are flush with stock market gains and eager to strike deals, expand or launch new products, which means they need lawyers. With the right credentials -- and the legal profession is nothing if not obsessed with credentials -- graduates will find scores of firms as eager as ever to make them an offer.
In the Washington area, few practice areas are hotter than antitrust, which has enjoyed a five-year renaissance courtesy of merger mania and the Clinton administration's activist trust-busting squad. But nothing quite beats the bull market for technology lawyers of every stripe now underway in Northern Virginia, where firms are flocking in the hopes of snaring the countless billable hours being generated by the region's ever-expanding list of high-tech companies.
In the past two years, California firms have begun parachuting into places such as Tysons Corner and McLean, while D.C. firms have been opening satellite offices or sending reinforcements to the ones they've already established. To compete, some firms are swooping in and stealing lawyers, five at a time, from their rivals.
So what's the work like? "Pretty exciting," says Erik Velapoldi, a 28-year-old associate at Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, a Washington firm with an expanding Northern Virginia presence. "Working in this field, the constant change and motion can be stimulating."
Velapoldi focuses on mergers and acquisitions and venture capital deals. The bulk of his time is spent drafting contract language that will allow a deal to go through without a hitch, then endure without any unexpected snafus years down the road. That means plenty of time on the phone, in the legal library and at his computer, boning up on details. The firm is toiling over a handful of deals at any one time, each with its own unique set of players, parameters and deadlines.
The hours can be grueling, too. Associates in firms such as Shaw, Pittman typically bill about 2,000 hours a year, which translates into 9 a.m.-to-7:30 p.m. days that occasionally stretch far longer. Weekends can turn into work marathons.
The compensation, however, is more than ample. Starting salaries range from $90,000 to $100,000. After eight years in the vineyards, each lawyer is considered for partnership. Those who make the cut wind up with an annual income of $250,000 or more.
ON THE JOB: Technology contract lawyer
Salary: $90,000 starting
Skills/education required: Law degree
Experience necessary: Learn while you earn