Boutique Firm Associate Taking Qs

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Boutique Firm Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 15, 2014 9:13 pm

There is a lot of information on TLS about big firms but not so much about life in a boutique. I figured I would chime in and answer questions to the best of my ability. I'm really new on the job though so I only know so much. I'll try to check back and update if I gain some additional insight that might be helpful.

Me:
T14 law school
Pretty good grades

Firm:
Small (25-50 attorney range)
Major Market
Cravath scale pay
Litigation/trial practice with some niche focuses

Shoot.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Sun Dec 21, 2014 9:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:23 pm

1. How long have you been there? What has your experience been like so far in terms of the substantive work you've done? How do you think your experience has stacked up against your classmates?

2. Why did you choose the boutique? (I assume you had other options).

3. How do you envision the firm being in the future? A place like Quinn or Boies that started as a boutique and expanded super-fast? or trying to limit itself to boutique size?

4. Seems like most boutiques pay above Cravath scale. Thoughts on the pay? Something likely to change soon in the future?

5. What is the work-life balance like (how many hours)?

6. How do you handle hiring? Clerkship required like Susman or Bartlit Beck? What is the process like? Any specific traits you are looking for?

7. Tips on interviewing with a boutique compared to a big firm?

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 16, 2014 1:26 am

Anonymous User wrote:1. How long have you been there? What has your experience been like so far in terms of the substantive work you've done? How do you think your experience has stacked up against your classmates?

2. Why did you choose the boutique? (I assume you had other options).

3. How do you envision the firm being in the future? A place like Quinn or Boies that started as a boutique and expanded super-fast? or trying to limit itself to boutique size?

4. Seems like most boutiques pay above Cravath scale. Thoughts on the pay? Something likely to change soon in the future?

5. What is the work-life balance like (how many hours)?

6. How do you handle hiring? Clerkship required like Susman or Bartlit Beck? What is the process like? Any specific traits you are looking for?

7. Tips on interviewing with a boutique compared to a big firm?


1) I have been at the firm for less than a year, which is why I said my ability to answer some questions may be limited. My experience has been great so far, doing a lot of motion practice, depo work and having some involvement in the trial practice side (some jury exercises and help in trial prep). My own experience as a summer at biglaw firm and my friends anecdotes about work have made me pretty happy with my choice. Cases are more leanly staffed and things that would normally be reserved for "senior" associates in BL are regularly given to whoever is available and capable.

2) I had the luxury of doing an SA during my 1L in the boutique before doing an SA at a V10. I didn't like the BL culture, case types, and work style as much as life at the boutique. The BL firm I was at rarely litigated cases and the cases were massive. I preferred to be more hands on from the start rather than wait for several years to get real substantive work. Lastly, the way to get ahead in the firm seemed to be billing massive amounts rather than providing value. There were also personal differences and cultural differences which were idiosyncratic. In the end it was kind of hard to give up the certainty of a big name on the resume but it was still a relatively sure thing to take the boutique.

3) The partners have told me that they left BL for a reason and don't really want to expand super rapidly. Even though that is the case the firm has a lot more work than it has people. I guess it's kind of nice to know their are opportunities out there for people to grow and take on more work. If I had to bet I think the firm is likely to stay under 100 for the next 5 years at least.

4) Since it's been <1 year, I haven't gotten a bonus yet and I don't know how that component of pay stacks up. It's possible that pay could be greater than Cravath, but I'm not counting on it. We're a defense side firm that doesn't have the big contingency fees of a of Boies, Susman, or Quinn so I don't expect that kind of money.

5) Work life balance is pretty good. Office was pretty dead around the holidays. People take vacations. Obviously trials are intense, but the firm lets people get their work done in a way that suits their personal needs. There isn't a lot of face time and people don't stay late needlessly. I would say a typical week is between 40-50 hours in the office (not just billed) and 0-20 hours of work from home.

6) Most hires are laterals or clerks. The firm has a close connection to a particular BL firm where many of founding partners came from, but branching out has come from clerks and local BL associates. Hiring is very ad hoc when you have so few attorneys and positions. We do have a summer associate class every year though. That has been of mixed success as many of our SAs have gone on to clerk and don't always return (for a variety of reasons).

7) Personality and fit matter a lot more for a boutique. If you know something about our practice areas it helps, but really it's just about clicking with people. If we only have a single spot for an Associate or SA then we have to be picky (can't have a lot of open offers out there).

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby spookyt27 » Thu Jan 23, 2014 3:47 am

Anonymous User wrote:There is a lot of information on TLS about big firms but not so much about life in a boutique. I figured I would chime in and answer questions to the best of my ability. I'm really new on the job though so I only know so much. I'll try to check back and update if I gain some additional insight that might be helpful.

Me:
T14 law school
Pretty good grades

Firm:
Small (25-50 attorney range)
Major Market
Cravath scale pay
Litigation/trial practice with some niche focuses

Shoot.


Thanks so much! I'm considering a boutique law myself, but it's hard to find more info. What are the job prospects for associates who aren't on the partner track? How do you think they compare to job prospects of BigLaw?

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jan 23, 2014 2:12 pm

spookyt27 wrote:Thanks so much! I'm considering a boutique law myself, but it's hard to find more info. What are the job prospects for associates who aren't on the partner track? How do you think they compare to job prospects of BigLaw?


I think this probably varies a lot from boutique to boutique, but I think a common theme will probably be greater flexibility. If people like working with you and you do good work, they will find a way to make things amenable to you staying. There isn't as much pressure to have an "up or out" mentality, like there is in a big firm where every decision has to go through committee.

My firm has a "Counsel" type position where attorneys are off partner track. People in those roles either didn't develop the kind of client relationships and skills that a partner would need, or they didn't have the desire to be a partner (at least from my impressions).

I'm sure they have other options with out clients too, we had one person leave to go in house at a client recently at a Fortune 100 company. Lateral opportunities probably exist (both in BL and other boutiques) but I think most people don't see a reason to lateral.

I don't really know that much about big law job prospects further down the road (after years of practice). Clearly the client base is bigger, so there may be more opportunities to lateral out in house. It seems like more BL firms are developing "Counsel" type roles, but my impression was that these people still work crazy hours without the rewards of partnership.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:42 pm

I'm interested in boutique firms, though in a different practice area. A couple of questions:

1. Do you have any recommendations for how to get a boutique job? I know it varies by firm, but anything from places jobs are posted to what they look for that might be different would be helpful!

2. I saw from a prior answer that you summered at both a boutique (1L) and BigLaw (2L) (or so I understood). Can you explain some of the similarities and differences more?

TIA!

(Note: I'm anon since people at my school know me and I don't want them to know about my ongoing 2L job hunt.)

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I'm interested in boutique firms, though in a different practice area. A couple of questions:

1. Do you have any recommendations for how to get a boutique job? I know it varies by firm, but anything from places jobs are posted to what they look for that might be different would be helpful!

2. I saw from a prior answer that you summered at both a boutique (1L) and BigLaw (2L) (or so I understood). Can you explain some of the similarities and differences more?

TIA!

(Note: I'm anon since people at my school know me and I don't want them to know about my ongoing 2L job hunt.)


1) My firm mainly hires laterals and post-clerkship with a few people joining through the SA program. We don't usually have to conduct very active job searches to find qualified candidates. Sorry, probably not the answer you're hoping to hear.

This might vary quite a bit with the practice area that you're looking in. If you can network with some connected attorneys and tell them that you're interested in smaller firms, they can probably give you a short list of respectable boutiques in your market and practice area. Reaching out proactively, even if there isn't a posted position, may be the best way to get your foot in the door.

2) The differences were pretty extreme. My 2L SA at the BigLaw firm was mostly spent at fun events, trainings, lunches, etc.. It felt like summer camp, but I did get to see some of the junior associates in action and help out enough to know what they were doing. At that firm it seemed like all of the cases were deemed so "critical" that literally everything was run to ground, so the associates largely spent time making sure that we weren't missing something or screwing up. Although the work may have been of some benefit to a client who really wanted that extra peace of mind, I found it to be quite boring.

My summer at the boutique was spent writing and researching several motions and helping a client through a regulatory process. In part we did more substantive work because resources were more limited (in terms of people/time, not funds) but also because I think there was a recognition that a lot of the minutiae were really not important. I think our clients valued our contributions because we didn't only operate in scorched earth mode.

Funny enough my boutique firm just took over a case that was set to go to trial from the BigLaw firm that I worked at my 2L summer. I think a lot of clients are more skeptical of BigLaw and their large bills now and, thankfully, that makes more room for boutiques.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Jan 24, 2014 10:57 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I'm interested in boutique firms, though in a different practice area. A couple of questions:

1. Do you have any recommendations for how to get a boutique job? I know it varies by firm, but anything from places jobs are posted to what they look for that might be different would be helpful!

2. I saw from a prior answer that you summered at both a boutique (1L) and BigLaw (2L) (or so I understood). Can you explain some of the similarities and differences more?

TIA!

(Note: I'm anon since people at my school know me and I don't want them to know about my ongoing 2L job hunt.)


1) My firm mainly hires laterals and post-clerkship with a few people joining through the SA program. We don't usually have to conduct very active job searches to find qualified candidates. Sorry, probably not the answer you're hoping to hear.

This might vary quite a bit with the practice area that you're looking in. If you can network with some connected attorneys and tell them that you're interested in smaller firms, they can probably give you a short list of respectable boutiques in your market and practice area. Reaching out proactively, even if there isn't a posted position, may be the best way to get your foot in the door.

2) The differences were pretty extreme. My 2L SA at the BigLaw firm was mostly spent at fun events, trainings, lunches, etc.. It felt like summer camp, but I did get to see some of the junior associates in action and help out enough to know what they were doing. At that firm it seemed like all of the cases were deemed so "critical" that literally everything was run to ground, so the associates largely spent time making sure that we weren't missing something or screwing up. Although the work may have been of some benefit to a client who really wanted that extra peace of mind, I found it to be quite boring.

My summer at the boutique was spent writing and researching several motions and helping a client through a regulatory process. In part we did more substantive work because resources were more limited (in terms of people/time, not funds) but also because I think there was a recognition that a lot of the minutiae were really not important. I think our clients valued our contributions because we didn't only operate in scorched earth mode.

Funny enough my boutique firm just took over a case that was set to go to trial from the BigLaw firm that I worked at my 2L summer. I think a lot of clients are more skeptical of BigLaw and their large bills now and, thankfully, that makes more room for boutiques.


Thanks for responding. I've heard similar things to #1 before, but it is good to hear that post-clerkship is actually an option! I have had people tell me they think it will work, but I haven't met anyone who actually got a job that way. (However, most people tell me they came into this area of law through luck and timing, not from being interested in it from law school.)

Thanks also for the comparison of summering at the two. I think the core of what you said is why I'm really more interested in a boutique - so now I just have to get a job at one!

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:19 pm

Do you have/What are your concerns for starting out at a boutique vs. BigLaw? Maybe higher job security but less job mobility?

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:40 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Do you have/What are your concerns for starting out at a boutique vs. BigLaw? Maybe higher job security but less job mobility?


I have some concerns about mobility, but they are largely part of general lawyer neurosis and not based on any obvious risk. My bigger fear is actually about job stability and security. My firm, like many boutiques, has a few big name partners and mainstay clients. If the firm were to lose the one of the main partners then I'm not sure what would happen.

I think the experience, combined with having working relationships with a number of biglaw lawyers would make it fairly easy to transition into a new position at another firm. So there is a safety net out there in a way.

If my personal life required moving to another location, however, I think it might be harder for me to transition to a secondary market because my firm is not a recognizable biglaw name.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:43 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I think a lot of clients are more skeptical of BigLaw and their large bills now and, thankfully, that makes more room for boutiques.


I think it merits mentioning that corporate clients are still paying large biglaw bills for the important stuff (e.g. major M&As, etc), and the top firms are making a killing because of it. It's the more routine/less important stuff that the smaller boutiques firms are taking (obviously there are some exceptions to this). Going into a smaller firm gets you lot more substantive experience in the first few years, but it's at a cost: you won't get the level of work that you might in biglaw as a senior associate/junior partner. On the other hand, odds are you wouldn't have made it in biglaw for 6+ years, where you would have gotten a more substantive experience, so that part of it probably doesn't matter all that much.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:05 pm

XxSpyKEx wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I think a lot of clients are more skeptical of BigLaw and their large bills now and, thankfully, that makes more room for boutiques.


I think it merits mentioning that corporate clients are still paying large biglaw bills for the important stuff (e.g. major M&As, etc), and the top firms are making a killing because of it. It's the more routine/less important stuff that the smaller boutiques firms are taking (obviously there are some exceptions to this). Going into a smaller firm gets you lot more substantive experience in the first few years, but it's at a cost: you won't get the level of work that you might in biglaw as a senior associate/junior partner. On the other hand, odds are you wouldn't have made it in biglaw for 6+ years, where you would have gotten a more substantive experience, so that part of it probably doesn't matter all that much.



OP here: AFAIK, this is very true for corporate practice but less so for litigation. A boutique firm is usually capable of handling the same work as biglaw when it comes to major courtroom litigation. Also, it's not uncommon for a client to hire more than one firm for the same case and divide the work along some substantive lines (basically backing up the boutique lawyers with extra bodies from a larger firm).

There are a few areas where I think boutiques are generally shut out.

Big internal investigations and regulatory work is one subset that might fall under the litigation umbrella in biglaw, but in reality will never be won or lost in a courtroom (i.e. recent DOJ settlements with big banks over mortgages, GM internal investigation into product defects, etc..) Those tend to be cases where the need for bodies is large because timing is critical and stakes are high, both things that biglaw is great at.

Off the top of my head the other area where boutiques seem to lose out to biglaw is in securities litigation defense. I think this may have more to do with the relationship between the bank, the companies, and the firms on the corporate side than it has to do with the capability of a boutique to handle the work. There may be some institutional knowledge benefits of having the corporate lawyers from the deal in the same firm too. I guess another reason for this may just be that this is a last bastion of litigation clients who are relatively cost insensitive.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:36 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:I think a lot of clients are more skeptical of BigLaw and their large bills now and, thankfully, that makes more room for boutiques.


I think it merits mentioning that corporate clients are still paying large biglaw bills for the important stuff (e.g. major M&As, etc), and the top firms are making a killing because of it. It's the more routine/less important stuff that the smaller boutiques firms are taking (obviously there are some exceptions to this). Going into a smaller firm gets you lot more substantive experience in the first few years, but it's at a cost: you won't get the level of work that you might in biglaw as a senior associate/junior partner. On the other hand, odds are you wouldn't have made it in biglaw for 6+ years, where you would have gotten a more substantive experience, so that part of it probably doesn't matter all that much.



OP here: AFAIK, this is very true for corporate practice but less so for litigation. A boutique firm is usually capable of handling the same work as biglaw when it comes to major courtroom litigation.

There are a few areas where I think boutiques are generally shut out. Big internal investigations and regulatory work is one subset that might fall under the litigation umbrella in biglaw, but in reality will never be won or lost in a courtroom (i.e. recent DOJ settlements with big banks over mortgages, GM internal investigation into product defects, etc..) Those tend to be cases where the need for bodies is large because timing is critical and stakes are high, both things that biglaw is great at.

Off the top of my head the other area where boutiques seem to lose out to biglaw is in securities litigation defense. I think this may have more to do with the relationship between the bank, the companies, and the firms on the corporate side than it has to do with the capability of a boutique to handle the work. There may be some institutional knowledge benefits of having the corporate lawyers from the deal in the same firm too. I guess the final reason for this may just be that this is a last bastion of litigation clients who are relatively cost insensitive.


Frankly, I think a lot of these boutique firms are just as good, if not better than a lot of the biglaw firms. I think a large part of why corporate clients go with biglaw firms is because it's a lot easier to sell to their shareholders (rather than what boutiques are capable of). For example, if a X Corporation gives a major lawsuit or regulatory enforcement action to Y V10 law firm, and Y law firm loses, the shareholders will say, "Well, at least they gave it their all." Whereas, if they hire Uncle Bob's spinoff law firm for the major lawsuit, the shareholders will be thinking, "These idiots hired who, and why are they in charge? We need to get these morons out." After the financial crisis, this thinking has changed a lot in terms of cases with more routine/less important stuff, since shareholders want the company's management to control costs, including legal costs, more effectively. But I don't think that thinking has changed much with the really big and important cases/transactions.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Jul 17, 2014 5:53 pm

XxSpyKEx wrote:Frankly, I think a lot of these boutique firms are just as good, if not better than a lot of the biglaw firms. I think a large part of why corporate clients go with biglaw firms is because it's a lot easier to sell to their shareholders (rather than what boutiques are capable of). For example, if a X Corporation gives a major lawsuit or regulatory enforcement action to Y V10 law firm, and Y law firm loses, the shareholders will say, "Well, at least they gave it their all." Whereas, if they hire Uncle Bob's spinoff law firm for the major lawsuit, the shareholders will be thinking, "These idiots hired who, and why are they in charge? We need to get these morons out." After the financial crisis, this thinking has changed a lot in terms of cases with more routine/less important stuff, since shareholders want the company's management to control costs, including legal costs, more effectively. But I don't think that thinking has changed much with the really big and important cases/transactions.


I generally agree but I would add that the scope of what is considered "routine" is changing. A case that could be settled in the hundreds of millions of dollars is not always going to be on the boardroom agenda unless it comes out of the blue, way above existing litigation budgets.

Also, not all boutiques lack the heavy hitter status that can satisfy a board. Fred Bartlit handled some huge product liability cases for big pharma companies after he defected from Kirkland. Likewise Boies if you can still consider it a "boutique" gets a lot of big cases that are boardroom level after defecting from Cravath. Those guys have national names and huge egos, but I don't think it takes that kind of image/mentality to convince a board you can handle a big case.

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Re: Boutique Firm Law Clerk/Associate Taking Qs

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:Frankly, I think a lot of these boutique firms are just as good, if not better than a lot of the biglaw firms. I think a large part of why corporate clients go with biglaw firms is because it's a lot easier to sell to their shareholders (rather than what boutiques are capable of). For example, if a X Corporation gives a major lawsuit or regulatory enforcement action to Y V10 law firm, and Y law firm loses, the shareholders will say, "Well, at least they gave it their all." Whereas, if they hire Uncle Bob's spinoff law firm for the major lawsuit, the shareholders will be thinking, "These idiots hired who, and why are they in charge? We need to get these morons out." After the financial crisis, this thinking has changed a lot in terms of cases with more routine/less important stuff, since shareholders want the company's management to control costs, including legal costs, more effectively. But I don't think that thinking has changed much with the really big and important cases/transactions.


Also, not all boutiques lack the heavy hitter status that can satisfy a board. Fred Bartlit handled some huge product liability cases for big pharma companies after he defected from Kirkland. Likewise Boies if you can still consider it a "boutique" gets a lot of big cases that are boardroom level after defecting from Cravath. Those guys have national names and huge egos, but I don't think it takes that kind of image/mentality to convince a board you can handle a big case.


Yeah, there's definitely some notable exceptions (I was thinking about Bartlitt when mentioning that in my first post). I think pretty much any attorney in his/her right mind would work for those firms over biglaw given the opportunity. The average boutique biglaw spinoff doesn't typically get those big cases, though, and there seems to be an increasing number of spinoffs popping up.




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