"Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

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nickelanddime
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"Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:12 pm

I used this forum a good amount back in the day, so i thought I should share what little insight I've acquired. (Mods - I made a new account so that I could provide some identifiable info - I apologize for "alting".)

I graduated from HYS in 2012. After a district court clerkship, I went to go work for a firm that calls itself (and law students believe it is as well) an "elite litigation boutique."

Great experience, but insane hours - all of the associates were consistently billing in excess of 220 hours per month, and were traveling a ton. After deciding that I wanted out in January/February, I was able to snag a COA clerkship spot that begins in a few weeks, so I left in June. I will almost certainly not be going back. I would love to try going into gov after this year, but I'm not sure I have the stomach for a public sector job search that drags on through the spring and summer since I have a good amount of debt.

It was a very interesting year. I'm still not sure if I would have been better off in biglaw. A couple of surprises that hastened my early departure:

-Exit options for older attorneys really are no better than they would be from a good biglaw firm in the city. Outside the city/state, they were in fact probably worse because fewer people had heard of us. Several associates who had clerked for feeder judges were having tons of difficulty moving to other firms because they waited too long (they were 6th/7th years).
-Salary compression - the firm is slightly above market for the first 3-4 years (so it can attract clerks), and then starts dipping below market. This probably outs me as non-Susman. In general, litigation practices are less profitable than corporate, so this probably should not have surprised me.
-Weird power dynamics. At small firms, there are a few partners that bring in a disproportionate amount of business and therefore wield disproportionate influence over the firm. This can influence associate's lives by, for example, a powerful partner telling you to disregard work from other partners.
-Extremely limited ability to take time off even though we had lots of vacation time. I was the only associate on several matters, and it was never "a good time" to take time off. I ended up billing at least 4 hours a day for about 5 months straight.
-Underdeveloped infrastructure (IT, litigation support, paralegals, etc.) which really made my job much harder.
-Other associates were very unhappy, and many were kicking around the idea of leaving law altogether.
-This probably isn't important to everyone, and probably also rings true in biglaw, but if you go into the job single, there's almost no chance of finding anyone that is willing to tolerate your schedule.
Last edited by nickelanddime on Mon Aug 18, 2014 8:29 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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sideroxylon
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby sideroxylon » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:16 pm

any interest in moving to a different type of boutique? Or do you think there's too much burn-and-churn in all of them?

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:25 pm

sideroxylon wrote:any interest in moving to a different type of boutique? Or do you think there's too much burn-and-churn in all of them?



Yes, definitely, although I don't quite know what I'm going to do yet. There are certainly advantages to good boutiques over biglaw. The main one is that there is very little hierarchy - even as a new associate, I had almost no supervision and was calling most of the shots on my matters. Because I was able to develop strategy, etc., myself, I was always engaged and never bored. I think my goal of trying to go into the DOJ has solidified after the past 2 years though, so I want to make sure whatever firm I go to - whether boutique or biglaw - is connected and has a good track record of placing associates in the USAO.

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sideroxylon
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby sideroxylon » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:26 pm

nickelanddime wrote:
sideroxylon wrote:any interest in moving to a different type of boutique? Or do you think there's too much burn-and-churn in all of them?



Yes, definitely, although I don't quite know what I'm going to do yet. There are certainly advantages to good boutiques over biglaw. The main one is that there is very little hierarchy - even as a new associate, I had almost no supervision and was calling most of the shots on my matters. Because I was able to develop strategy, etc., myself, I was always engaged and never bored. I think my goal of trying to go into the DOJ has solidified after the past 2 years though, so I want to make sure whatever firm I go to - whether boutique or biglaw - is connected and has a good track record of placing associates in the USAO.


Makes sense! Best of luck!

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FSK
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby FSK » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:33 pm

Why no biglaw, either then or now?

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bizzybone1313
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby bizzybone1313 » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:36 pm

Would you go to law school again knowing what you know now?? What would you have done differently if anything??

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:49 pm

flawschoolkid wrote:Why no biglaw, either then or now?



Frankly, i originally bought into the law school notion that selectivity/ prestige in employers would lead to job satisfaction. I also worked in investment banking/consulting prior to law school, and did not like the hierarchical nature of my company - and thought biglaw would be more of the same.

Following my clerkship, I may try to go to biglaw. However, even though my job was difficult in many respects, I'm not sure that biglaw is any better for my personality.

I'm not sure I'm cut out for private practice at all. I don't think I can consistently work those hours, and especially while being "on call," and retain my mental and physical health. Plus, I kind of want to do something useful for the world, and I'm not sure biglaw will get me there.

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:26 pm

bizzybone1313 wrote:Would you go to law school again knowing what you know now?? What would you have done differently if anything??


Yes, because I very much like being a lawyer. However, I would have taken a full ride at a CCN. I've certainly had opportunities because I went to my school, but I'm not sure they are worth the amount that I paid. I underestimated the extent to which the debt would limit both my professional and personal life.

Daily_Double
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby Daily_Double » Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:28 pm

edit, never mind.
Last edited by Daily_Double on Sun Jun 28, 2015 2:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:38 pm

Daily_Double wrote:In the article Odd Ducks, and in your post, it seems that at least some people, the sixth/seventh years at your firm for example, may not want to leave their positions, or at least didn't act upon it if they did want to leave, even though the factors you mentioned would cause most people to do just that. What makes these people different?---I don't mean to imply that they are better in any way, not at all, I'm just wondering how some people make it work.

Thanks for taking these questions, and good luck with the clerkship.


First, I think the people that are happy were all very invested and engaged in their jobs. But, I was too, and that wasn't enough. My impression is that they also had extremely high energy levels and great abilities to compartmentalize. They could work till 3 or 4 am for a week straight and still have the energy to go out on Friday instead of just collapsing (whereas I mostly just felt like killing myself after those weeks). In addition, they were relatively unhpased by the unpleasantness of partners or clients. This was probably partly due to circumstance - many of them did not need the money so it was probably easier for them to say "this is just a job" - and partly due to personality.

I don't think everyone that hung on for 6-7 years fit that mold though. Some were like me and clearly unhappy. I think they stuck around because of the money and prestige. They were never able to bring themselves to go "off track" and take a less prestigious job.

thelawyerguy
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby thelawyerguy » Sun Aug 17, 2014 6:37 pm

Is there anything a 1st year incoming litigation associate do to prepare for this work? Is there anything you learned during your year you wish you had known prior to starting?

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kalvano
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby kalvano » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:44 pm

Was it Bickel or McKool?

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:53 pm

thelawyerguy wrote:Is there anything a 1st year incoming litigation associate do to prepare for this work? Is there anything you learned during your year you wish you had known prior to starting?


Not really. None of it is rocket science. But the volume is overwhelming. I wish that I had been more organized and used our support staff better to help with that. I felt like I was constantly on the edge of really screwing something up, mostly because of very poor record keeping and filing.

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:55 pm

kalvano wrote:Was it Bickel or McKool?


no.

arklaw13
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby arklaw13 » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:02 pm

Any tips for people applying to boutiques, in terms of answering questions such as why we want to work at a boutique, rather than a large firm?

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:06 pm

arklaw13 wrote:Any tips for people applying to boutiques, in terms of answering questions such as why we want to work at a boutique, rather than a large firm?


I think the easy answer is that you think you'll get better experience - work directly with partners, more client contact, more ownership over an entire matter rather than doing one-off tasks, etc. I would also mention the social aspect, and that it's kind of cool to know everyone that you work with. My firm was founded by a couple of dudes who were friends and wanted to work together, and still thinks of itself as a "family" (even though the current associates would disagree).

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rpupkin
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby rpupkin » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:42 pm

nickelanddime wrote:-Exit options for older attorneys really are no better than they would be from a good biglaw firm in the city. Outside the city/state, they were in fact probably worse because fewer people had heard of us. Several associates who had clerked for feeder judges were having tons of difficulty moving to other firms because they waited too long (they were 6th/7th years).

A lot of these places have 1:1 associate-to-partner ratios, and many associates join with the expectation that partnership is a realistic possibility. Was that true in your case? Were the senior associates looking to jump ship because they had discovered relatively late in the game that partnership was not in the cards for them?

nickelanddime
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby nickelanddime » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:51 pm

rpupkin wrote:
nickelanddime wrote:-Exit options for older attorneys really are no better than they would be from a good biglaw firm in the city. Outside the city/state, they were in fact probably worse because fewer people had heard of us. Several associates who had clerked for feeder judges were having tons of difficulty moving to other firms because they waited too long (they were 6th/7th years).


A lot of these places have 1:1 associate-to-partner ratios, and many associates join with the expectation that partnership is a realistic possibility. Was that true in your case? Were the senior associates looking to jump ship because they had discovered relatively late in the game that partnership was not in the cards for them?



That's probably correct, even though we had a 1:1 ratio. In the last decade, the firm stopped making partners, or at least stopped making partners at a rate greater than an avg major market biglaw firm. The senior associates had probably joined with the idea that partnership was realistic, and did not make contingency plans as the firm's model changed during their tenure. This was compounded by the fact that the DOJ had a hiring freeze until very recently - I expect that many would have jumped to USAOs had the opportunity existed when they were 3rd or 4th years.

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alphasteve
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby alphasteve » Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:41 am

nickelanddime wrote:
kalvano wrote:Was it Bickel or McKool?


no.

I definitely thought it was the latter.

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Emma.
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby Emma. » Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:46 am

KVN?

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seespotrun
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby seespotrun » Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:39 am

Emma. wrote:KVN?

This was my guess.

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txdude45
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby txdude45 » Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:53 am

Are we playing guess the firm, or picking this person's brain for information about boutique life?

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FKASunny
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby FKASunny » Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:54 am

txdude45 wrote:Are we playing guess the firm, or picking this person's brain for information about boutique life?


If we guess the firm correctly, he'll definitely feel comfortable coming back and giving us more information!

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seespotrun
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby seespotrun » Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:56 am

txdude45 wrote:Are we playing guess the firm, or picking this person's brain for information about boutique life?

I thought we were asking passive-aggressive, rhetorical questions.

09042014
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Re: "Elite Litigation Boutique" burnout taking questions

Postby 09042014 » Mon Aug 18, 2014 11:58 am

Were you not allowed to take time off or did you personally think it wasn't a good time. Even slaves got sunday off.




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