BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

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BigLaw or BigFed Honors Spot

BigLaw - V50 firm in desired practice group, sucky life, but $$$$$
4
8%
BigFed Honors Attorney - ideal work-life balance, $$$
46
92%
 
Total votes: 50

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BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 12:58 am

So here's my situation: I am a 3L at a T30 who summered at a V50 firm in a major market (different location than my law school). After the summer, but before my firm let us know about offers, I decided to apply for a couple Honors programs (you know, just in case). Interviewed with a couple of agencies, but just this last week I got an offer for an Honors attorney position with BigFed agency that I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy working for. It was definitely unexpected, because I know just how competitive these positions are.

I'm weighing now what I want to do, and I know I'm definitely fortunate to be in this position to be able to choose between two "ideal" outcomes. With the firm, I got an offer for the practice group I wanted, I liked the people in the office, and I had a really good time this summer. But I know the fun won't last as an associate.

Conversely, I know relatively little about the agency (meaning I know what they do generally and I've talked with people about the agency, but since I haven't worked there I don't know what type of work I'd actually be doing initially and down the road, or which of the divisions within the agency will have space/needs for me); the pay is substantially less (around 55-60K annually), but compared to BigLaw, it's 60-70% of the time commitment every week. I've heard from the people I've talked with that the agency is pretty comfortable in terms of work-life balance, and the benefits are great, but I've also heard that the HQ can be fairly cutthroat there in terms of advancement/work expectations.

Now without getting too specific, but to provide some context, I'm engaged, and my fiancee is likely able to either transfer for work, or find job somewhere new in either city (since my school isn't in the same market as my SA job she'd have to change either way). Kids likely won't be in the picture for at least a couple years after I start working, so work-life balance isn't as big of a concern right now as it will be then.

So the question is: worth it to do BigFed Honors spot or take BigLaw? I just don't know if this is a unicorn that I'll never see again, or if anyone has insights about this choice (or has had to make it themselves)? Any input is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

(Intentionally vague b/c don't want to out myself - if you do have insight that you would rather share privately, post and I can PM you)

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 1:30 am

I've worked in a "BigFed" agency for the last 3-ish years. We use biglaw firms as outside counsel and most of my classmates/friends from law school are in biglaw so I'm very familiar with it. I don't regret going to a federal agency for a second and would do so again.

Hours are great, the pay has gotten higher very rapidly and is now well over 100k, and benefits are fantastic. Most importantly, the work is really interesting and I run my own cases, get to do substantive work on regs due to expertise I've developed from cases, and really feel like I have a big role in my agency's work. On the other hand, my friends in biglaw are almost universally (with one major exception) miserable, most have left or are about to leave their firms and go either in-house or leave law all together because they can't take it anymore. The junior biglaw associates that work at our outside counsel firms do much less substantive work than I do. Also, if I want to do biglaw down the road exit options are great.

I will say that I work at an awesome agency that is self-funded, so I don't have to deal with some of the frustrations that other federal employees do. My agency is also in a very in demand area so exit options are probably better than from most agencies. And my law school had a great LRAP (and my agency also has its own loan repayment program now that I'm no longer LRAP eligible) so I haven't really had to worry about loans. But based on what I've seen from biglaw, I don't regret my choice and have no desire to leave to the private sector, even if I didn't have any of these extras (although there's definitely agencies out there that I wouldn't want to work at).

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Feb 05, 2015 2:44 pm

BigFed honors is the better decision for the long-term. I mean the likelihood you're going to remain at the firm more than 3-5 years is pretty slim, and then you'll be lucky to get BigFed. Why not just go to the BigFed to begin with and avoid the misery of biglaw? Also, if you're going to be on the GS payscale, and are going into a position that caps out at GS-15, you'll be making around $125k /year around your 4th year out, which isn't bad. If your going to to a banking agency (e.g. FDIC, FRB, etc.), you'll be making a shitload more. Moreover, depending on the practice area you'll be in at the fed govt, you might even have a shot at lateraling back to a firm in 10 years at the federal government as a partner. Your odds of making partner at a v50 firm if you start there as an associate are really, really low. Biglaw really was the backup plan for people who couldn't get federal government or fed clerkships at my school before the great recession. Even today, I think the vast majority of people who starts as first year associates at big firms would have taken federal government instead if it had been an option for them.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby hiima3L » Thu Feb 05, 2015 2:59 pm

You didn't mention your debt or financial situation. That's a major concern. I know firsthand that getting by for a couple years on a GS-11/12 salary in a major city is difficult, and I didn't even have significant debt. So, I'm guessing finances aren't a big issue to you?

I ask because every single person I know who has gone into biglaw has said it's horrible and the only reason it's remotely bearable is the paycheck. If you are in significant debt, doing biglaw may be a requirement if you want to not live like a pauper for the foreseeable future.

I would do the fed honors program. Like you said, they are unicorn opportunities and you most likely won't be able to do it again. Biglaw will always be there. If you got an offer already, you almost certainly will be able to find one after the honors program.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby fats provolone » Thu Feb 05, 2015 2:59 pm

paye tho

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Feb 05, 2015 3:06 pm

fats provolone wrote:paye tho


This. Between PAYE, PSLF, your law school's LRAP, and the federal government's loan forgiveness program (which some agencies give up to $10k per year, up to $60k total), your student loans really shouldn't be an issue. Realistically, you probably won't wind up paying a dime out of pocket towards your student loans (assuming you went to a t14) and they'll disappear tax-free in 10 years. This is a much better outcome than working like a slave in biglaw for 4-5 years to repay your student loans and basically be out of biglaw with $0 net worth by year 5. And this is the best case scenario, since it assumes you're actually going to be able to handle 4-5 years of biglaw (a LOT of people can't handle being miserable that long).

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby hakeemthedream » Thu Feb 05, 2015 3:09 pm

Interested in DOJ honors, can someone give some examples of exit-options for people in DOJ Honors (obviously this is probs contingent on what department etc. but would like some general information)

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby seizmaar » Thu Feb 05, 2015 3:26 pm

I've heard of good outcomes in Biglaw from the following DOJ components: Consumer Fraud, Criminal Fraud, FCPA, ENRD, Civil Commerical Litigation, and Tax.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Feb 05, 2015 3:28 pm

hakeemthedream wrote:Interested in DOJ honors, can someone give some examples of exit-options for people in DOJ Honors (obviously this is probs contingent on what department etc. but would like some general information)


It's almost entirely dependent on what area of law you practice in.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 4:25 pm

One caveat would be that there are some agencies that are just terrible places to work (DHS is a well known example) and others are fantastic. I'd take a look at the "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" survey and see where the agency you have an offer from is on the list. There's some agencies low on the list where the terrible work environment doesn't extend to lawyers, but in general that survey is pretty accurate.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby hakeemthedream » Thu Feb 05, 2015 4:37 pm

Fair enough; what type of exit options are you looking at for DOJ Honors civil rights division? And antitrust?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 4:51 pm

seizmaar wrote:I've heard of good outcomes in Biglaw from the following DOJ components: Consumer Fraud, Criminal Fraud, FCPA, ENRD, Civil Commerical Litigation, and Tax.


My firm hires people from DOJ in certain fields as "of counsel" to see if they can get enough clients to justify being partner. So in those practice groups you essentially don't make partner unless you come from gov.

I doubt they'll just take anyone from DOJ, but I don't really understand what sets them apart.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby MCFC » Thu Feb 05, 2015 8:01 pm

Is there a place I can look to get a rough idea of which offices (in the sense of locations, not agencies) are hiring?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Feb 05, 2015 8:06 pm

usajobs.gov

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby MCFC » Thu Feb 05, 2015 8:35 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:usajobs.gov

Thanks. I should have elaborated more I think.

For example, in looking at some these honors positions, their brochures generally have maps showing their various locations across the US. Is there some sort of guide (I guess I'm thinking NALP style or something) that shows the number of positions in each office, etc.?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:07 pm

The thing is that it frequently varies, so there isn't really a centralized source on this. The closest is the Arizona Honors Handbook (though I think mostly it lists the different honors programs and you will have to go to the individual agency pages to see where they have offices) - your CSO will have the login/password for this.

Not all offices necessarily hire every year, though I think in some agencies it's more standardized than others. For instance, if you look at the DOJ honors program webpage, it shows you the participating components and their locations, which are overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) in DC; of those, Antitrust always seems to hire for at least NYC and Chicago (and San Francisco? something like that) as well as DC (although most are in DC). Conversely, DOL and the IRS have honors programs and regional offices, but there's no guarantee each of the regional offices will hire in any given year; there are more offices than Honors positions.

But most of the positions are in DC.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Worker and Parasite » Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:08 pm

Arizona Honors Book indicate some regions that hire, but not all. Generally the agency website themselves will advertise which Honors positions are in DC and which are in their district/division/regional offices.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:35 pm

XxSpyKEx wrote:BigFed honors is the better decision for the long-term. I mean the likelihood you're going to remain at the firm more than 3-5 years is pretty slim, and then you'll be lucky to get BigFed. Why not just go to the BigFed to begin with and avoid the misery of biglaw? Also, if you're going to be on the GS payscale, and are going into a position that caps out at GS-15, you'll be making around $125k /year around your 4th year out, which isn't bad. If your going to to a banking agency (e.g. FDIC, FRB, etc.), you'll be making a shitload more. Moreover, depending on the practice area you'll be in at the fed govt, you might even have a shot at lateraling back to a firm in 10 years at the federal government as a partner. Your odds of making partner at a v50 firm if you start there as an associate are really, really low. Biglaw really was the backup plan for people who couldn't get federal government or fed clerkships at my school before the great recession. Even today, I think the vast majority of people who starts as first year associates at big firms would have taken federal government instead if it had been an option for them.



hahahah this could not be more incorrect. Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup (I'm a 2L top 25% of class at HYSCCN) for the vast majority of students with options in both. Everyone is ignoring the fact that the pay is not only MASSIVELY lower but that the majority, yes majority, of honors program spots do NOT CONVERT TO FULL TIME positions after the 1 or 2 years is up.

Sure, some do, but it's not something you bank on. And if you then start at mid-law after or go to a shittier agency, DA, whatever, you are behind your peers in a number of ways.

I also would not put too much stock in the work life balance aspect. Yes, it is certainly much better. however, it my summer experience at a high-prestige federal agency (SEC, CFTC, etc.) the top dogs worked very hard and long hours pretty often. If you end up doing that anyways, you will be pissed when your pay is 1/3 of what it could be after a few years. And yes the workplace politics are as bad or probably worse than in biglaw. As for benefits, biglaw benefits are just as good as government or better at most legit firms (V50- V100 included).

The most important aspect by far is the degree to which you enjoy the work. Working 10 hours a day in big-fed honors but hating it is FAR worse than 12 hours a day in biglaw and loving it, and vice versa of course. That should be the primary driving factor, with exit options and pay being close seconds, IMO.

But to the guy above, bigfed honors are a first choice to a select few who self-select. Don't try to self-justify your choice on here bro.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:37 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:BigFed honors is the better decision for the long-term. I mean the likelihood you're going to remain at the firm more than 3-5 years is pretty slim, and then you'll be lucky to get BigFed. Why not just go to the BigFed to begin with and avoid the misery of biglaw? Also, if you're going to be on the GS payscale, and are going into a position that caps out at GS-15, you'll be making around $125k /year around your 4th year out, which isn't bad. If your going to to a banking agency (e.g. FDIC, FRB, etc.), you'll be making a shitload more. Moreover, depending on the practice area you'll be in at the fed govt, you might even have a shot at lateraling back to a firm in 10 years at the federal government as a partner. Your odds of making partner at a v50 firm if you start there as an associate are really, really low. Biglaw really was the backup plan for people who couldn't get federal government or fed clerkships at my school before the great recession. Even today, I think the vast majority of people who starts as first year associates at big firms would have taken federal government instead if it had been an option for them.



hahahah this could not be more incorrect. Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup (I'm a 2L top 25% of class at HYSCCN) for the vast majority of students with options in both. Everyone is ignoring the fact that the pay is not only MASSIVELY lower but that the majority, yes majority, of honors program spots do NOT CONVERT TO FULL TIME positions after the 1 or 2 years is up.

Sure, some do, but it's not something you bank on. And if you then start at mid-law after or go to a shittier agency, DA, whatever, you are behind your peers in a number of ways.

I also would not put too much stock in the work life balance aspect. Yes, it is certainly much better. however, it my summer experience at a high-prestige federal agency (SEC, CFTC, etc.) the top dogs worked very hard and long hours pretty often. If you end up doing that anyways, you will be pissed when your pay is 1/3 of what it could be after a few years. And yes the workplace politics are as bad or probably worse than in biglaw. As for benefits, biglaw benefits are just as good as government or better at most legit firms (V50- V100 included).

The most important aspect by far is the degree to which you enjoy the work. Working 10 hours a day in big-fed honors but hating it is FAR worse than 12 hours a day in biglaw and loving it, and vice versa of course. That should be the primary driving factor, with exit options and pay being close seconds, IMO.

But to the guy above, bigfed honors are a first choice to a select few who self-select. Don't try to self-justify your choice on here bro.


+1 to this, but also to the fact that the very best and highest prestige positions, at US Attorneys offices and also SEC, CFTC, are for the most part transfers in from big law. Maybe 1 and 5 skip that step by doing honors programs, but when I interviewed at one it was just that: 1 guy out of 5 I spoke with who did not have biglaw experience. just something to consider. I agree though that LRAP is key.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:43 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Everyone is ignoring the fact that the pay is not only MASSIVELY lower but that the majority, yes majority, of honors program spots do NOT CONVERT TO FULL TIME positions after the 1 or 2 years is up.

I don't think this is true. EOIR (DOJ), DEA, and things specifically labeled "fellowship" don't convert, but pretty much every other honors program I've looked at either places people in permanent positions, or intends for people to convert to permanent positions once the honors period is up.

I'm also not sure why the fact that there are fewer people who start out as honors attorneys in SEC etc. (rather than lateraling) means that honors is a backup, rather than just that there are fewer honors positions?

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby wolfie_m. » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:22 pm

.
Last edited by wolfie_m. on Tue Dec 22, 2015 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby UnicornHunter » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:31 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
XxSpyKEx wrote:BigFed honors is the better decision for the long-term. I mean the likelihood you're going to remain at the firm more than 3-5 years is pretty slim, and then you'll be lucky to get BigFed. Why not just go to the BigFed to begin with and avoid the misery of biglaw? Also, if you're going to be on the GS payscale, and are going into a position that caps out at GS-15, you'll be making around $125k /year around your 4th year out, which isn't bad. If your going to to a banking agency (e.g. FDIC, FRB, etc.), you'll be making a shitload more. Moreover, depending on the practice area you'll be in at the fed govt, you might even have a shot at lateraling back to a firm in 10 years at the federal government as a partner. Your odds of making partner at a v50 firm if you start there as an associate are really, really low. Biglaw really was the backup plan for people who couldn't get federal government or fed clerkships at my school before the great recession. Even today, I think the vast majority of people who starts as first year associates at big firms would have taken federal government instead if it had been an option for them.



hahahah this could not be more incorrect. Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup (I'm a 2L top 25% of class at HYSCCN) for the vast majority of students with options in both. Everyone is ignoring the fact that the pay is not only MASSIVELY lower but that the majority, yes majority, of honors program spots do NOT CONVERT TO FULL TIME positions after the 1 or 2 years is up.

Sure, some do, but it's not something you bank on. And if you then start at mid-law after or go to a shittier agency, DA, whatever, you are behind your peers in a number of ways.

I also would not put too much stock in the work life balance aspect. Yes, it is certainly much better. however, it my summer experience at a high-prestige federal agency (SEC, CFTC, etc.) the top dogs worked very hard and long hours pretty often. If you end up doing that anyways, you will be pissed when your pay is 1/3 of what it could be after a few years. And yes the workplace politics are as bad or probably worse than in biglaw. As for benefits, biglaw benefits are just as good as government or better at most legit firms (V50- V100 included).

The most important aspect by far is the degree to which you enjoy the work. Working 10 hours a day in big-fed honors but hating it is FAR worse than 12 hours a day in biglaw and loving it, and vice versa of course. That should be the primary driving factor, with exit options and pay being close seconds, IMO.

But to the guy above, bigfed honors are a first choice to a select few who self-select. Don't try to self-justify your choice on here bro.


weekends bro, weekends

also: federal holidays.
Last edited by UnicornHunter on Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:33 pm

A. Nony Mouse wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Everyone is ignoring the fact that the pay is not only MASSIVELY lower but that the majority, yes majority, of honors program spots do NOT CONVERT TO FULL TIME positions after the 1 or 2 years is up.

I don't think this is true. EOIR (DOJ), DEA, and things specifically labeled "fellowship" don't convert, but pretty much every other honors program I've looked at either places people in permanent positions, or intends for people to convert to permanent positions once the honors period is up.

I'm also not sure why the fact that there are fewer people who start out as honors attorneys in SEC etc. (rather than lateraling) means that honors is a backup, rather than just that there are fewer honors positions?


+1.

Anonymous User wrote: I also would not put too much stock in the work life balance aspect. Yes, it is certainly much better. however, it my summer experience at a high-prestige federal agency (SEC, CFTC, etc.) the top dogs worked very hard and long hours pretty often.


There's people who work hard everywhere. The point is that you probably aren't going to need to work 12 hour days, and many agencies will outright tell you not to do that (if they're able to do more with less money, then they won't get more appropriations the following year). Generally there's a lot more people frequently working terrible hours in biglaw than there are in fed govt.

Anonymous User wrote:As for benefits, biglaw benefits are just as good as government or better at most legit firms (V50- V100 included).


You pretty much pay for everything in biglaw with respect to the benefits. And there's no pension (not that it matters, since you'll be out within 3-5 years anyways). And there's no PSLF. And there's no additional student loan repayment money. And your law school isn't going to provide you with loan repayment assistance in biglaw, like it will with fed govt (at least until your salary in fed govt is too high).

Anonymous User wrote: The most important aspect by far is the degree to which you enjoy the work. Working 10 hours a day in big-fed honors but hating it is FAR worse than 12 hours a day in biglaw and loving it, and vice versa of course. That should be the primary driving factor, with exit options and pay being close seconds, IMO.


If this is true, then I don't understand why "Fed honors programs are absolutely a backup for the vast majority of students with options in both." There's a LOT more people who hate the law firm lifestyle than who hate the federal govt lifestyle. You get way more responsibility earlier in your career at most federal agencies than you do in biglaw. I feel like it really takes a certain type of person to really enjoy the bullshit you do as a 1st year associate more than the type of work most people who went to fed agencies do. I dunno, maybe transactional is different, but litigation really doesn't develop actual skills for quite some time in biglaw.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:39 pm

wolfie_m. wrote:I find it funny that someone always goes nuts on BigFed threads about how BigFed is sooooo not better than BigLaw. I'd like to meet this fabled person who spends 12 hours a day (assuming it's only 12) in BigLaw and truly "loves" it.


It'd probably take some restraint not to punch that fabled person in the face :lol: I clerked with one of these fucks, and I'm surprised none of the co-clerks punched him in the face. It's basically takes the type of person who is a massive fucking douchebag with no life who enjoys working his life away (because he has nothing better to look forward to in life). The co-clerk made a pretty great fit for his law firm, as far I know, since he's basically every big firm's wet dream.

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Re: BigLaw vs. BigFed Honors

Postby rpupkin » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:42 pm

wolfie_m. wrote:I find it funny that someone always goes nuts on BigFed threads about how BigFed is sooooo not better than BigLaw. I'd like to meet this fabled person who spends 12 hours a day (assuming it's only 12) in BigLaw and truly "loves" it.

After a clerkship, I turned down a federal gov't job in favor of a private firm job. The pay difference is substantial. Also, you can go big law ---> big fed but, with a few exceptions, it's generally not possible to do the reverse.

No, I don't "truly love" private practice. And I totally get why some folks want to go straight into government work if they have the opportunity to do so. But it's not crazy to decide that you want to make some money for 3-5 years at a firm first.




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