Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post Reply
Lateral

Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Lateral » Thu Oct 31, 2019 1:06 am

This post will have some details changed for the sake of anonymity.

I’ve worked for about 7 years in state and county government around CA. Worked for about 3 years as a big-city ADA after doing a non-CA SSC clerkship, then 3 years doing state work representing state agencies who are defendants in employment litigation. I’m a T14 grad who graduated top 25%.

Would I be competitive for any of the well-known lit boutiques in CA, such as HH, MTO, SG, Bird Marella? I’d like to think I have some good trial and lit experience as an ADA and state attorney to make up for OK school and grades.

I am willing to litigate in any area. I just want to do actual litigation and trial work for some $$.

Thoughts?

User avatar
Nony
Posts: 5689
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:34 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Nony » Thu Oct 31, 2019 7:11 am

Caveat: I have no personal experience with those firms. (is MTO really a boutique?) But do any of them have attorneys with similar backgrounds? It seems to me that would give you some sense of your chances. I looked quickly at Bird Marella, for instance, and their associates all either went straight to the firm or (more commonly) worked in an elite biglaw firm first, many with clerkships. One was a deputy city attorney first, but they were a double Stanford grad with a 9th Cir clerkship and also had biglaw experience.

The other question I’d have is what level you’d be hired at, though maybe boutiques are more flexible about this. You’re kind of senior for an associate.

I completely defer to people with more experience with those specific firms, those are just the things that would concern me off the bat.

Lateral

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Lateral » Thu Oct 31, 2019 9:56 am

That’s a good point, Nony. I have looked at the bios of attorneys, and, as I expected, their resumes don’t often look like mine. Most spent time in big law and other private practice.

I guess what I was looking for was some sliver of hope. Or suggestions on how to get into a good law firm despite my different government-centric resume.

I am willing to go in as a more relatively junior associate. Because of my family’s financial situation, I’m looking to make more money.

Also, would it be helpful to do an Art III clerkship as a way to transition into a law firm?

User avatar
Nony
Posts: 5689
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:34 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Nony » Thu Oct 31, 2019 12:29 pm

So again, I don’t have a lot of expertise in this, but I don’t see any reason not to apply. Can you leverage connections in any way? Do you know people who know people you can talk to at any of these places?

I’d think that you might be able to leverage your employment lit experience into a job at a firm paying more/market. Just not sure the sample of firms you’ve listed gives you the best shot, but again, others should weigh in.

lolwat
Posts: 689
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 am

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by lolwat » Thu Oct 31, 2019 2:05 pm

Any reason why you're ruling out biglaw? You might have some luck if you focus on selling your lit/trial experience and experience in employment defense if you find a firm looking for employment litigation associates. You can also see if the labor/employment focused law firms (Littler, Ogletree, Fisher Philips) pay enough for you to consider applying to them. You might also have some luck with boutiques that really value trial experience ... ones I can think of are maybe like LTL Attorneys, Larson O'Brien? Keller/Anderle in Orange County also look like they're populated with a lot of ex-DA/PD types. I don't know how much these places pay so that's some research to do, but I think your biggest challenge is probably finding a firm that wants your background to begin with.

I can't imagine you'll have tons of luck at places like Hueston, Susman, Munger as a general matter with your background and I don't even know if they actively hire lateral associates that often. This is a lot of research you'll probably need to do on your own.

Along with the various questions Nony has above about leveraging connections and such, have you talked to recruiters at all?

User avatar
beep
Posts: 2411
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:05 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by beep » Thu Oct 31, 2019 8:03 pm

My understanding is that MTO/HH/etc do hire laterals more than you'd think, but generally for filling major areas of need (i.e.: L&E associate leaves; department is on fire; lateral is going to get smoked for a few months). But I agree with those ITT that suggest it's not a likely fit. In my ~3 years at a similar quasi-boutique, I don't think I saw any lateral come in from state government of any type, though some left for the Cal AG's offices or city attorney's offices. We did hire some off AUSA stints, but that is a litigation gold star in a way that state gov tends not to be (not that your actual experience/skill is any worse -- just the nature of lawl prestige), and ultimately most laterals came from other big firms with specialized civil lit experience.

Agree with lolwat's suggestions. K/A is a good suggestion. There are a couple others that I think of as being purely trial-focused boutiques in socal but I am totally blanking on the names right now; will edit if I can remember/find them. But I suspect even many of those are going to be mostly biglaw expats (eg W+W, AB, etc). Maybe Glaser Weil? (but, like, lol)

Also agree with considering selling your employment defense experience, but think long and hard about whether that's what you want to do in a firm setting, as I suspect the day to day is quite different from your gov experience. (i.e.: I suspect you actually litigated cases.)

howell
Posts: 57
Joined: Sat Apr 21, 2018 4:58 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by howell » Fri Nov 01, 2019 4:59 pm

lolwat wrote:
Thu Oct 31, 2019 2:05 pm
You can also see if the labor/employment focused law firms (Littler, Ogletree, Fisher Philips) pay enough for you to consider applying to them.
OP, if this interests you, I made the switch from government to one of these firms. I'd be willing to answer questions. One reason I'm at the firm I am is their system allows for laterals to assimilate more easily than other firms that approach things as lock-step with your graduation year.

Lateral

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Lateral » Sat Nov 02, 2019 10:02 pm

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I will check out the firms you mentioned. I’m very unfamiliar with the private firms, so any recommendations would be and were welcome.

My main goals are:
1. Maximize doing what I love: trials and standing up in the courtroom. I like working with and against other good trial lawyers. Doesn’t matter what the area of law is. It could be a slip-and-fall or a capital case.

2. Minimize the amount of BS and overhead I have to deal with. Such as politics, glad handing, etc. Hence why I didn’t think big law would be a good option. Please correct me if I am wrong.

3. Make significantly more money than what I would have in the public sector.

Howell, I’m interested in your path to your firm. What helped you seem appealing to your firm when you were applying? Anything in your background you emphasized?

THANKS!

lolwat
Posts: 689
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 am

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by lolwat » Sun Nov 03, 2019 11:39 am

Lateral wrote:
Sat Nov 02, 2019 10:02 pm
My main goals are:
1. Maximize doing what I love: trials and standing up in the courtroom. I like working with and against other good trial lawyers. Doesn’t matter what the area of law is. It could be a slip-and-fall or a capital case.

2. Minimize the amount of BS and overhead I have to deal with. Such as politics, glad handing, etc. Hence why I didn’t think big law would be a good option. Please correct me if I am wrong.

3. Make significantly more money than what I would have in the public sector.
This gives us some good guidance, although I think it's going to be somewhat tough to find a firm that will give you all 3. The biggest thing is that #1 doesn't seem to mesh well with #3 most of the time. IME at most boutiques you'd be doing a lot more litigation than trial work because most business cases settle after going through grueling discovery, so while it's profitable for the firm you don't get trial experience. The cases that go to trial are often ones where an insurance company or public entity is calling the shots and there's just a big enough gap between what the plaintiffs' attorney wants and what the insurer/public entity is willing to pay...but they also lowball the firms they hire, so people at firms who serve those types of clients don't get paid all that much. (That, and many plaintiffs' attorneys you'd be dealing with in the personal injury world are just not good people to work against.)

All that being said, there's no reason you shouldn't just shoot your application over to a lot of the high-end boutiques that we either know or we think might pay well, and go from there. For the "defense firms" I mentioned, you could look into compensation at places like Tyson & Mendes, Wesierski & Zurek, Yoka & Smith, and so on. Just in case I'm wrong and you could be making a lot more money there than at your current government job.

Biglaw might have a lot of BS to deal with, but you might be able to get #1 and #3 out of them in the right firm and practice group, so that's a matter of deciding whether you're willing to do that. There are some groups like product liability that often do try cases. Those are the ones that go around the country trying to defend (and often failing) stuff like the J&J talc cases or Monsanto roundup cases and so on...

User avatar
beep
Posts: 2411
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:05 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by beep » Sun Nov 03, 2019 12:35 pm

As usual, lolwat totally nails it. Agreed on the general problem and all other points and defer to his greater experience at boutiques. The one thing I'll say is that
(That, and many plaintiffs' attorneys you'd be dealing with in the personal injury world are just not good people to work against.)
is very often true in the L&E context, IME (and specifically wrongful term/FEHA/etc; my experience was better in wage/hour, though I'm not sure that's typical). Both in terms of being unpleasant litigators on even the most routine shit, and not being very good. There are certainly exceptions, but that was the worst part of the practice for me. Also, in ~3-4 years as a mostly-fulltime L&E associate, I had exactly zero cases go to trial or even make it past summary judgment. The economics just aren't there for a consistent trial practice.

There were definitely people at my quasi-boutique who were seemingly just in trial all the time. They would bill like 2800-3000 hours a year, but in spurts of like 4 months on/2 months off. My perception was that some partners gain a reputation as being excellent mercenaries: client is unhappy with how current firm litigated the case, and wants to exert maximum pressure in the leadup to trial, so they hire someone with a glittering reputation to come in 2-4 weeks before trial starts, crunch like mad to learn the case, and try it aggressively if need be. It did not seem like you could be very picky about where those trials were because there just aren't a lot of them, so people who worked with those partners would suddenly find themselves living in louisiana or pennsylvania for 2-3 months sort of out of nowhere. And getting to do that work seemed to turn on whether you made it "in" with those particular partners and consistently nailed it. That seems difficult to pull off as a senior-ish lateral, but maybe not impossible. I have a maybe-inaccurate perception that if it happened, it would be someone we had pulled from a US Attorney's Office or similar (SEC, DOJ, FTC trial attorney). That was not my path, so take those observations with a grain of salt.

Thought of another place you might throw a flyer at -- Dovel & Luner. A friend who spent some time there gave some indication they were in trial/hearings frequently and stressed oral advocacy skills. But the resumes of everyone on their website are pretty glittering, and it's very small, so probably no better than a long shot. And it is plaintiff-side.

User avatar
Nony
Posts: 5689
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:34 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Nony » Sun Nov 03, 2019 12:47 pm

I didn't know anything about Dovel & Luner so I looked at their website. There's all this stuff about joining them for the high quality work, meaningful associate development, and unparalleled summer program. But they appear to have only one associate? Looks like a tough nut to crack (but a cool firm).

User avatar
beep
Posts: 2411
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:05 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by beep » Sun Nov 03, 2019 12:50 pm

I'm not totally sure of their model, but I believe 2-3 of their current partners were associates the last time I looked at their website (maybe a year ago?), so it's possible they're looking to replenish the ranks. Could be misremembering; I hadn't heard of it before my friend mentioned them. And it is not like OP is super junior.

lolwat
Posts: 689
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 am

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by lolwat » Sun Nov 03, 2019 1:11 pm

Dovel & Luner always kind of mystified me for the same reasons Nony mentioned, but they certainly sound interesting. Speaking of that, and plaintiff-side work in general, I wonder if OP should also check out the high-end plaintiff-side firms and see if those make any sense to pursue. I don't know enough about those firms to provide any meaningful insight.

Lateral

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Lateral » Mon Nov 04, 2019 1:21 am

Thanks, everyone. Some great stuff. Just simply throwing out names to me would help a lot. I’m probably going to shoot my application out pretty liberally, so the more firms you give me, the better chance I have of “making” a shot.

I also had never heard of Dovel & Luner until you guys mentioned it. On that note, how do you find out about these firms? Unless the firm is in Chambers, I probably won’t known of it.

lolwat
Posts: 689
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 am

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by lolwat » Mon Nov 04, 2019 10:12 am

Lateral wrote:
Mon Nov 04, 2019 1:21 am
Thanks, everyone. Some great stuff. Just simply throwing out names to me would help a lot. I’m probably going to shoot my application out pretty liberally, so the more firms you give me, the better chance I have of “making” a shot.

I also had never heard of Dovel & Luner until you guys mentioned it. On that note, how do you find out about these firms? Unless the firm is in Chambers, I probably won’t known of it.
I'd also check out Vault. Their rankings are whatever you make of them, but but they do list like top boutiques and top mid-sized firms.

Other that, I just Googled really hard back in the day and applied to any firm that formed by ex-Biglaw types or looked like they were doing high-end work.

Oh yeah, a few more names I don't remember seeing mentioned--Wilkinson Walsh, Greenberg Gross, Willenken LLP.

User avatar
Jubo
Posts: 786
Joined: Sun May 20, 2018 7:43 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Jubo » Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:15 pm

FWIW state trial practice is quite different from practice in federal courts, as I'm sure you're aware, so your trial work experience isn't going to pull as much weight as you think, especially at boutiques that are 95% former fed clerks.

Lateral

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Lateral » Thu Nov 07, 2019 2:59 am

Jubo wrote:
Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:15 pm
FWIW state trial practice is quite different from practice in federal courts, as I'm sure you're aware, so your trial work experience isn't going to pull as much weight as you think, especially at boutiques that are 95% former fed clerks.
My current state attorney position allows me to try cases in federal court if an agency is sued under a federal employment law. Would that experience be helpful?

I’ve tried criminal and civil cases in state court, and only civil in federal court.

lolwat
Posts: 689
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 am

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by lolwat » Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:02 am

I think it's definitely helpful to try cases in both state and federal courts, and you can certainly sell yourself as having experience in both regardless of whether it's criminal or civil. I don't know enough about this, but is there anything besides procedure that's different? When I hear people talk about wanting trial experience, it's more the experience of questioning witnesses and presenting your case to a jury (and all the little BS stuff you have to do like rephrasing questions or laying foundation on the fly if an objection is sustained), not as much the procedural experience of motions in limine, proposed jury instructions and special verdict forms, and that type of stuff. And I would guess you get the trial experience regardless of what court you're in.

BTW, hunting around a little bit, a lot of firms seem to be looking for people for their employment practices lately. Not sure why, just seeing a lot of openings for that. Munger is actually one of them.

Lateral

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by Lateral » Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:15 pm

lolwat wrote:
Thu Nov 07, 2019 11:02 am
I think it's definitely helpful to try cases in both state and federal courts, and you can certainly sell yourself as having experience in both regardless of whether it's criminal or civil. I don't know enough about this, but is there anything besides procedure that's different? When I hear people talk about wanting trial experience, it's more the experience of questioning witnesses and presenting your case to a jury (and all the little BS stuff you have to do like rephrasing questions or laying foundation on the fly if an objection is sustained), not as much the procedural experience of motions in limine, proposed jury instructions and special verdict forms, and that type of stuff. And I would guess you get the trial experience regardless of what court you're in.

BTW, hunting around a little bit, a lot of firms seem to be looking for people for their employment practices lately. Not sure why, just seeing a lot of openings for that. Munger is actually one of them.
Thanks, lolwat!

Some Rules of evidence differ and the case law is different.

Juries in state and federal can differ depending on the state and city. An LA state jury tends to be more “liberal.” But a federal jury in LA tends to be more conservative because CD Cal covers some conservative areas.

howell
Posts: 57
Joined: Sat Apr 21, 2018 4:58 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by howell » Fri Nov 08, 2019 11:19 am

Lateral wrote:
Sat Nov 02, 2019 10:02 pm
Howell, I’m interested in your path to your firm. What helped you seem appealing to your firm when you were applying? Anything in your background you emphasized?
My last couple years in the Air Force, I did labor & employment work. EEOC, MSPB, and union stuff, mostly. There was enough of a carryover there to make it look like I wouldn't have to learn everything new. I also had been in nearly 30 courts-martial, with a good bit of first (and only) chair work.

A buddy of mine leveraged his Air Force courtroom experience (more than mine) to move to Boies Schiller directly out of the Air Force. He put a LOT of work into making it happen, but it paid off.

lolwat
Posts: 689
Joined: Mon Jan 29, 2018 2:06 am

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by lolwat » Fri Nov 08, 2019 1:24 pm

Some Rules of evidence differ and the case law is different.

Juries in state and federal can differ depending on the state and city. An LA state jury tends to be more “liberal.” But a federal jury in LA tends to be more conservative because CD Cal covers some conservative areas.
The skills are very well transferable but this definitely makes sense. Thanks. I've mainly been in state trial courts just because of the way things happened, so I've gotten used to too many state-level things. Even following the damn California Style Manual for so long has made me forget half of the Bluebook.

User avatar
beep
Posts: 2411
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:05 pm

Re: Government to a boutique litigation firm in CA?

Post by beep » Fri Nov 08, 2019 4:37 pm

It's terrible. I had to relearn the Bluebook recently. All my instincts changed over to Cal style.

Not much more to add, OP, but please keep us updated -- curious how this ends up shaking out.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 5 guests