What are the pros and cons to starting at a boutique? Basically, I'm unusually stressed right now and having a hard time, so I would appreciate anyone's thoughts or things they think I should consider. I have one offer in hand and expect the second when I finish my other program in the next couple of weeks.
If all goes according to plan, I'll be deciding between a V5-V15 BigLaw firm headquartered in my non-NYC, non-DC major market and one of the elite (in my opinion) tax/benefits boutiques (Caplin & Drysdale; Miller & Chevalier; Ivins, Phillips & Barker; Roberts & Holland; Groom Law Group). I'll do some general points and then firm-specific points.
- I'm interested in tax and ERISA/Employee Benefits and will do that work at either firm.
I value consistency/predictability (if possible).
Neither firm has cut salaries, laid off staff, or cut my summer money (the BigLaw firm shortened it but still paid for 10 weeks).
I will graduate with no debt (super fortunate).
Both firms pay market though I expect some compression at the boutique after year three.
Both firms are chambers-ranked
- Hours Requirement: 2,000-hour for bonus
- Bonus: Market
- Clients: Large public companies and some private equity
- Tax Group: Primarily deal support with some controversy and some counseling. Large enough to have specialties (though it only matters when you're more senior): M&A, Bankruptcy/Reorgs, SALT, Tax-Exempt Orgs, Real Estate
- EB Group: Roughly a 50-50 mix between counseling and transaction due diligence
- Partnership prospects: Standard BigLaw
- General takeaway: Associates in both groups seem relatively happy. People seemed busy all the time and their schedules were largely unpredictable. Meetings got moved a lot and associates/partners were consistently late or had to drop off early. Assignments didn't seem to be super complex (I don't know if this is indicative of the group or just me being a summer). Access to a lot of support staff/resources.
A lot of structure.
- Hours: 1,800 requirement (actual hours seem to not be far off)
- Bonus: No bonus, maybe profit sharing
- Clients: Large public companies, high net-worth individuals, large privately-held corporations
- Tax Group: Controversy, counseling, and some legislative and administrative lobbying. People are more generalized in some ways but also have carved out some impressive niches. Have a well-known international tax practice, tax-exempt orgs, corporate
- EB Group: Counseling with some legislative and administrative lobbying
- Partnership prospects: Strong chance of partnership and shorter path (6 years or so). It is small so people are hired to become partners in the future.
- General Takeaway: Associates seem genuinely happy. People seem to be busy but not overwhelmingly so -- meetings generally didn't get delayed or moved. Assignments seem more complex (same caveat as above). Less support staff/resources. Less structure.
I don't really know how exit opps work with the boutique. BigLaw has your standard exit opps. I think the boutique should probably let me go to BigLaw or in-house if I wanted to as it is a well-known name in tax, but I don't really know as people don't seem to leave that often. The boutique definitely provides some unique exit opps and is well-connected for IRS/Treasury positions and House/Senate tax policy positions, which would be cool. I know some people have left to these and then come back to the firm. I am worried that the boutique could be more limiting if I decide/need to leave in the future -- though I generally imagine myself working there long term.
In general, I think I am leaning towards the boutique but don't know if there are other things I haven't thought of.
I appreciate any advice, comments, corrections, or considerations. If the actual firm would change your answer, say which one and let me know why.