Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

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emkay625
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Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Fri Jan 26, 2018 2:53 pm

Subject says it all.

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mercy
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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by mercy » Mon Jan 29, 2018 5:55 am

Location, practice area, and pay?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 11:26 am

One of the major Texas markets, just litigation (we just have lit/appellate, no sections), and Cravath scale.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by gorillawarfare » Mon Jan 29, 2018 4:28 pm

Thanks for doing this. I have a few questions:

1) Why did you personally pick boutique over big law? Any regrets, or are there factors that you wish you would have considered?
2) Can you talk about the exit opportunities coming out of a boutique? I'm hoping to work in TX long-term, but am worried about what would happen if I wanted to switch to a different market.
3) How does the workload compare to big law lit? Are there similar billable hours? Why do boutique associates seem way busier?
4) How important is a clerkship for a boutique firm? I know some have it as a requirement.

Thanks

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 5:17 pm

gorillawarfare wrote:
Mon Jan 29, 2018 4:28 pm
Thanks for doing this. I have a few questions:

1) Why did you personally pick boutique over big law? Any regrets, or are there factors that you wish you would have considered?
2) Can you talk about the exit opportunities coming out of a boutique? I'm hoping to work in TX long-term, but am worried about what would happen if I wanted to switch to a different market.
3) How does the workload compare to big law lit? Are there similar billable hours? Why do boutique associates seem way busier?
4) How important is a clerkship for a boutique firm? I know some have it as a requirement.

Thanks
I split my 2L summer between big law and a boutique and just personally preferred the boutique much more. I did so mostly because associates in boutiques tend to be given more responsibility and opportunities for depositions/arguments/taking witnesses at trial simply because trial teams tend to be smaller. That was important to me. So far, that experience has held out. Been here approximately 16 months, already taken about ten depos, get to argue at a couple of hearings a month on average, and have been to trial twice.

Not sure about exit opportunities. My firm has a very low attrition rate. I don't personally know of anyone who's tried to move from a Texas boutique to another market.

I think hours vary pretty widely among the boutiques. Our target is 2000 billable hours, and as of right now (about four months into our fiscal year) I'm on track to hit about 2200. This seems pretty similar to friends in big law. But I know other boutiques have busier associates.

Finally, there are some that require a clerkship. My firm does not, but most associates did clerk. If you have the grades/school to work here, you have the grades/school to nab a clerkship, so it's just a personal preference thing. I did it and loved it. It's a great way to transition to practice and I'd highly recommend it. Also helpful if you ever look to lateral.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by BearCat » Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:31 pm

Plaintiff/defense work split? 10 depos, ~32 motion arguments, and 2 trials in 16 months sounds like plaintiff stuff. Any of that pro bono?

If plaintiff, how are the bonuses?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 11:31 pm

IPeeLaw wrote:
Mon Jan 29, 2018 8:31 pm
Plaintiff/defense work split? 10 depos, ~32 motion arguments, and 2 trials in 16 months sounds like plaintiff stuff. Any of that pro bono?

If plaintiff, how are the bonuses?
We do both plaintiff and defense work, but about 80 percent defense (maybe even higher, idk). None of the things I’m talking about are pro bono, but I did do about 200 hours of pro bono last year.

Bonus was market.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by lolwat » Tue Jan 30, 2018 4:09 pm

gorillawarfare wrote:
Mon Jan 29, 2018 4:28 pm
Thanks for doing this. I have a few questions:

1) Why did you personally pick boutique over big law? Any regrets, or are there factors that you wish you would have considered?
2) Can you talk about the exit opportunities coming out of a boutique? I'm hoping to work in TX long-term, but am worried about what would happen if I wanted to switch to a different market.
3) How does the workload compare to big law lit? Are there similar billable hours? Why do boutique associates seem way busier?
4) How important is a clerkship for a boutique firm? I know some have it as a requirement.

Thanks
Not to intrude on the OP's post, but perhaps I can also offer some perspectives since nearly my entire career has been spent at boutique(s)? :) SoCal area.

1) No regrets, really. Like emkay, I wanted more responsibility early on. At my firm, that was hit or miss because they essentially slotted people into whatever fits those peoples' existing skills. So I spent years there and haven't taken depos or argued at hearings much, or been to any trials--while others have done plenty of that. On the other hand, I've had significant responsibility doing other stuff like handling the firm's appeals.

2) No idea about Texas. Exit opportunities should be great in general, though. Basically, employers will value the experience you get as an associate that associates at other firms don't get. Beyond that, if your firm is a well-known boutique or has nationally-known partners, that helps a lot too.

3) I did 2100-2200 most years and haven't fallen under 2000 in any year. Not including business development and other soft non-billable hours that are basically "highly encouraged." Boutiques generally seem to offer the promise of early responsibility while not really requiring THAT many more hours than many biglaw firms will realistically work you. There are some exceptions like Susman and Greenberg Gross, etc., but I think many do the 2000-2300 range. I think they seem busier when times are busier because of the lean staffing, but they often tend to cut through the BS and not do unnecessary work too.

4) Extremely helpful but not required everywhere. I think boutique firms value the experience you get from a clerkship (especially a district court clerkship if it's a litigation/trial boutique, and an appellate clerkship if they have an appellate practice), and beyond that it's just the fact that if you had the stats you clerk you probably have the stats for the boutique too. It can also be a selling point for many boutiques: "All of our (6) associates have clerked for federal judges" blah blah.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by BearCat » Wed Jan 31, 2018 11:22 am

A lot of boutiques don't publish their salary info on Vault. Is salary compression common among boutiques that pay 180k starting?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:25 pm

IPeeLaw wrote:
Wed Jan 31, 2018 11:22 am
A lot of boutiques don't publish their salary info on Vault. Is salary compression common among boutiques that pay 180k starting?
We've matched Cravath all the way up. Not certain about other Texas boutiques.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by HenryHankPalmer » Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:52 pm

Does your boutique hire from OCI, do you primarily take laterals, or is it some combination of the two? The Texas lit boutiques seem all over the place in that regard.

How confident are you in your partnership prospects?

If you wouldn't mind sharing, what is your typical day like?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:34 pm

HenryHankPalmer wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:52 pm
Does your boutique hire from OCI, do you primarily take laterals, or is it some combination of the two? The Texas lit boutiques seem all over the place in that regard.

How confident are you in your partnership prospects?

If you wouldn't mind sharing, what is your typical day like?
We do hire from OCI, but only participate in a few. As a result, we also regularly interview people who send our recruiting staff resumes. We also hire people finishing up clerkships who didn't spend their summer with us, and do occasionally hire laterals as well.

It feels weird to say how confident I am in my partnership prospects, as it is really early in my career. But associates regularly make partner, and that is the general expectation. There is a much larger chance of making partner at a firm like ours than in big law.

Typical day is hard to really say. It's easy from a scheduling perspective. I get to the office sometime between 8 and 9, I'm there until between 6:30 and 7:15 or so. I generally work some on the weekends, but not a crazy amount. This changes of course if I'm more busy or less busy. As far as what I do during those hours, it's different every day. Some days I'm drafting a motion, others I'm taking a deposition, others I'm reviewing documents, others I'm in client meetings, others I'll have a hearing, etc. It really just depends on what's going on in my cases.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by BearCat » Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:35 am

What % of your work is discovery? How do boutiques handle discovery when biglaw usually has armies of juniors doing endless discovery work?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:56 am

IPeeLaw wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:35 am
What % of your work is discovery? How do boutiques handle discovery when biglaw usually has armies of juniors doing endless discovery work?
Do you mean document collection and document review? Or all of discovery? (Which would include deposition prep and taking depositions, which is a large percentage of what I do.)

Assuming you mean document collection and document review, it's hard to put a percentage on it. Generally speaking, we staff each trial team with one associate and one partner. Sometimes that will turn into one seniorish partner, one junior partner, and one associate, and other times there'll be another associate, as well. Normally, if we've got a big doc review project, we will see if any other associates are slow and add them in just to help with doc review. There have been times with large volumes of documents we've hired contract attorneys. If I had to say a percentage, maybe 20%? Probably less. 10-15%?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by intro-gamer » Mon Feb 05, 2018 1:04 am

So I see that the pros of working at a nationally renowned lit boutique are gaining much more substantive experience, developing more marketable skills, and gaining more responsibility than the average big law lit associate, but are there drawbacks with this difference? Like do you feel it much more when you make a mistake as a boutique associate vs. a big law associate? Is there much more pressure to be efficient and produce top quality work product at the boutique vs the big law firm? Is there more or less career stability in working at a boutique firm vs. a big law firm (think firing/phasing out/layoffs)? In general, assuming that the lit boutique pays Cravath scale/higher, is it more often than not going to be a more ideal environment to work in than a big law lit firm with a strong reputation?

Thanks for this!! :D

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by BearCat » Mon Feb 05, 2018 10:16 am

emkay625 wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:56 am
IPeeLaw wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:35 am
What % of your work is discovery? How do boutiques handle discovery when biglaw usually has armies of juniors doing endless discovery work?
Do you mean document collection and document review? Or all of discovery? (Which would include deposition prep and taking depositions, which is a large percentage of what I do.)

Assuming you mean document collection and document review, it's hard to put a percentage on it. Generally speaking, we staff each trial team with one associate and one partner. Sometimes that will turn into one seniorish partner, one junior partner, and one associate, and other times there'll be another associate, as well. Normally, if we've got a big doc review project, we will see if any other associates are slow and add them in just to help with doc review. There have been times with large volumes of documents we've hired contract attorneys. If I had to say a percentage, maybe 20%? Probably less. 10-15%?
yes my mistake, I was talking about doc review

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by lolwat » Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:52 pm

IPeeLaw wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 10:16 am
yes my mistake, I was talking about doc review
My firm handled it by hiring dedicated discovery lawyers (probably "staff attorneys" at some other firms) and law students throughout the year to take care of the first layer of doc review. Then the attorneys on the case will review the remaining docs.
So I see that the pros of working at a nationally renowned lit boutique are gaining much more substantive experience, developing more marketable skills, and gaining more responsibility than the average big law lit associate, but are there drawbacks with this difference? Like do you feel it much more when you make a mistake as a boutique associate vs. a big law associate? Is there much more pressure to be efficient and produce top quality work product at the boutique vs the big law firm? Is there more or less career stability in working at a boutique firm vs. a big law firm (think firing/phasing out/layoffs)? In general, assuming that the lit boutique pays Cravath scale/higher, is it more often than not going to be a more ideal environment to work in than a big law lit firm with a strong reputation?
I'm mostly responding to this one because boutiques can vary so much more than biglaw firms do.

The biggest drawback you'll feel on a daily basis is probably the hours at many boutiques. My hours have generally ranged anywhere from 2100 to 2400 most years and that doesn't count the business development everyone is expected to do because we don't have (many) institutional clients coming back over and over to give us volume cases to keep the lights on. It's great to get out there and become known anyway, but 200-300 hours of that on top of a 2400 year just gets exhausting.

Re mistakes, pressure, etc. Yes, I'd say you probably feel all of that, but it's not really a downside. The whole reason someone goes to a boutique litigation firm is they wanted to learn how to litigate and try cases, not just skate by for a few years while collecting a fat paycheck. So yes, there is more pressure to be efficient and produce top quality work. The 1-2 other attorneys working on your case will review your stuff to make sure it's fine, but they're busy with their stuff and don't have time to fix any significant mistakes. You have to own that work and it needs to be ready to file/send/whatever. And you have to be efficient because once you're done with that work there's probably 10 other things that need to be done, because you don't have an army of associates on the case.

Stability... my firm has fired a ton of attorneys (and support staff for that matter) for "work product" reasons and does it pretty freely without giving any time for transition. You could lateral there from across the country and if they don't like your work product you could be looking for a job in 2 months. And then we get in a few big cases and everyone's swamped to hell while the firm scrambles to interview and hire another few attorneys so not everyone is billing 2500+. I assume firms that have been around for many years have mostly figured out how to do it right, and don't have that kind of problem.

Also, my firm isn't one where associates are expected to make partner. On the contrary, no one is expected to make partner.

I would literally never choose a biglaw lit practice over a boutique (but again, this is true only if you really want to litigate & try cases). But there are questions you probably want to ask of any boutique. The biggest one is who is bringing in the business for that firm. Some high-end boutiques have tons of partners who all bring in business--and I suspect firms like Susman and Hueston are in this camp. Others have very few partners who bring in tons of business. This isn't universally bad, it's just something to consider if the firm will practically die if one partner decides to retire or something happens to them.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by intro-gamer » Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:38 am

lolwat wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 11:52 pm
IPeeLaw wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 10:16 am
yes my mistake, I was talking about doc review
My firm handled it by hiring dedicated discovery lawyers (probably "staff attorneys" at some other firms) and law students throughout the year to take care of the first layer of doc review. Then the attorneys on the case will review the remaining docs.
So I see that the pros of working at a nationally renowned lit boutique are gaining much more substantive experience, developing more marketable skills, and gaining more responsibility than the average big law lit associate, but are there drawbacks with this difference? Like do you feel it much more when you make a mistake as a boutique associate vs. a big law associate? Is there much more pressure to be efficient and produce top quality work product at the boutique vs the big law firm? Is there more or less career stability in working at a boutique firm vs. a big law firm (think firing/phasing out/layoffs)? In general, assuming that the lit boutique pays Cravath scale/higher, is it more often than not going to be a more ideal environment to work in than a big law lit firm with a strong reputation?
I'm mostly responding to this one because boutiques can vary so much more than biglaw firms do.

The biggest drawback you'll feel on a daily basis is probably the hours at many boutiques. My hours have generally ranged anywhere from 2100 to 2400 most years and that doesn't count the business development everyone is expected to do because we don't have (many) institutional clients coming back over and over to give us volume cases to keep the lights on. It's great to get out there and become known anyway, but 200-300 hours of that on top of a 2400 year just gets exhausting.

Re mistakes, pressure, etc. Yes, I'd say you probably feel all of that, but it's not really a downside. The whole reason someone goes to a boutique litigation firm is they wanted to learn how to litigate and try cases, not just skate by for a few years while collecting a fat paycheck. So yes, there is more pressure to be efficient and produce top quality work. The 1-2 other attorneys working on your case will review your stuff to make sure it's fine, but they're busy with their stuff and don't have time to fix any significant mistakes. You have to own that work and it needs to be ready to file/send/whatever. And you have to be efficient because once you're done with that work there's probably 10 other things that need to be done, because you don't have an army of associates on the case.

Stability... my firm has fired a ton of attorneys (and support staff for that matter) for "work product" reasons and does it pretty freely without giving any time for transition. You could lateral there from across the country and if they don't like your work product you could be looking for a job in 2 months. And then we get in a few big cases and everyone's swamped to hell while the firm scrambles to interview and hire another few attorneys so not everyone is billing 2500+. I assume firms that have been around for many years have mostly figured out how to do it right, and don't have that kind of problem.

Also, my firm isn't one where associates are expected to make partner. On the contrary, no one is expected to make partner.

I would literally never choose a biglaw lit practice over a boutique (but again, this is true only if you really want to litigate & try cases). But there are questions you probably want to ask of any boutique. The biggest one is who is bringing in the business for that firm. Some high-end boutiques have tons of partners who all bring in business--and I suspect firms like Susman and Hueston are in this camp. Others have very few partners who bring in tons of business. This isn't universally bad, it's just something to consider if the firm will practically die if one partner decides to retire or something happens to them.
Ahhh thank you for the very thorough response. It seems that working at a boutique can be a higher risk higher reward sort of situation. Definitely something to keep in mind!

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by lolwat » Tue Feb 06, 2018 7:22 pm

Ahhh thank you for the very thorough response. It seems that working at a boutique can be a higher risk higher reward sort of situation. Definitely something to keep in mind!
Yeah. I mean, if it's the kind of work you want to do, just vet the boutique. If you get in somewhere like Susman, Keker, Hueston, or most well-known boutiques with a fair number of partners, you probably have lower risk with the same high rewards. Otherwise, you just have to determine whether the risk is worth it. :)

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by BearCat » Sun Feb 25, 2018 4:03 pm

Bumping to ask-

Conventional wisdom is that, a few years out of law school, grades/honors/etc. don't really matter, and people mainly look for "experience." Aside from "I worked at BIGLAW for 3 years," what exactly does that mean? Does that mean "I took 5 depositions for a $100m matter case"? Are you looking for things like "I drafted a successful MSJ in ABC v DEF"? How specific should resumes be?

How would you differentiate between Associate A at DPW vs Associate B at STB? Whether they've 2nd chaired a case, etc.?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by lolwat » Sun Feb 25, 2018 5:28 pm

IPeeLaw wrote:
Sun Feb 25, 2018 4:03 pm
Bumping to ask-

Conventional wisdom is that, a few years out of law school, grades/honors/etc. don't really matter, and people mainly look for "experience." Aside from "I worked at BIGLAW for 3 years," what exactly does that mean? Does that mean "I took 5 depositions for a $100m matter case"? Are you looking for things like "I drafted a successful MSJ in ABC v DEF"? How specific should resumes be?

How would you differentiate between Associate A at DPW vs Associate B at STB? Whether they've 2nd chaired a case, etc.?
Your school and grades will still matter. If I'm looking at your hypothetical A and B, I'm looking at anything that distinguishes those two. The associate who graduated close to the top of their class at a T6 will still look better than the associate who graduated at median. Look at firm bios for the type of things that seem to still matter to people (school, major awards like Coif, clerkships, and so on).

For experience, I'd be looking for the type of things you just mentioned. Have you taken and defended depositions? Have you written (and even better, argued) dispositive motions? Have you second chaired a trial (which would be pretty rare at a biglaw firm)? I don't care so much whether it's a $100m case or a pro bono matter, but I'd be looking at whether a potential lateral hire has the kind of experience that would allow them to jump straight into what we're doing. We have plenty of amazing ex-biglaw hires, but we've also had plenty of ex-biglaw hires who come in and fail because, I guess, all they did was doc review and just couldn't get things done when asked to handle a motion by themselves or take a deposition or run a case, etc.

When lateraling, I'd say connections probably matter more than anything else, but that's just me. You can get into places that you otherwise might not be able to if you have someone there actively pushing for you...

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by Alpha » Thu Mar 01, 2018 9:40 am

lolwat wrote:
Sun Feb 25, 2018 5:28 pm
IPeeLaw wrote:
Sun Feb 25, 2018 4:03 pm
Bumping to ask-

Conventional wisdom is that, a few years out of law school, grades/honors/etc. don't really matter, and people mainly look for "experience." Aside from "I worked at BIGLAW for 3 years," what exactly does that mean? Does that mean "I took 5 depositions for a $100m matter case"? Are you looking for things like "I drafted a successful MSJ in ABC v DEF"? How specific should resumes be?

How would you differentiate between Associate A at DPW vs Associate B at STB? Whether they've 2nd chaired a case, etc.?
Your school and grades will still matter. If I'm looking at your hypothetical A and B, I'm looking at anything that distinguishes those two. The associate who graduated close to the top of their class at a T6 will still look better than the associate who graduated at median. Look at firm bios for the type of things that seem to still matter to people (school, major awards like Coif, clerkships, and so on).

For experience, I'd be looking for the type of things you just mentioned. Have you taken and defended depositions? Have you written (and even better, argued) dispositive motions? Have you second chaired a trial (which would be pretty rare at a biglaw firm)? I don't care so much whether it's a $100m case or a pro bono matter, but I'd be looking at whether a potential lateral hire has the kind of experience that would allow them to jump straight into what we're doing. We have plenty of amazing ex-biglaw hires, but we've also had plenty of ex-biglaw hires who come in and fail because, I guess, all they did was doc review and just couldn't get things done when asked to handle a motion by themselves or take a deposition or run a case, etc.

When lateraling, I'd say connections probably matter more than anything else, but that's just me. You can get into places that you otherwise might not be able to if you have someone there actively pushing for you...
This may be a market thing, as I am in a lit boutique in the same state as OP, and I can tell you the importance of grades drops off, and if I'm ultimately distinguishing between two candidates, I'm not doing it based on GPA and likely not doing it based on school. Part of being in a TX and being a specialized lit boutique, we don't see a lot of candidates all from the same school. So, there is some apples to oranges issues there. Also, surprisingly, we have a bit of a prejudice against the T3-T6 or so, based on some experience with the associates being too bookish or just otherwise ultimately not a great fit.

Really--and this held true in my experiences lateraling--boutiques cared less about grades beyond a threshold (and you weren't getting an interview if below the threshold) than biglaw lateraling did. Instead, lit boutiques cared much more about experience. What have you done? What don't we have to teach you to do from square 1?

To that end, on a question of how detailed to put your resume, if you are going into a lit boutique, absolutely have a description under your job that lists your relevant (1) deposition experience, (2) written work experience - i.e. on what work product were you principal drafter, and (3) courtroom experience. Tailor this to the firm, obviously; for example, if the firm does a lot of appellate work then include relevant appellate experience.

I agree with the poster above that connections are a huge advantage in lateraling as well. To me, it is because you are a known commodity at that point so someone vouching for you + proven work experience is huge. At the end of the day, boutiques do not have the same ability biglaw has in being able to deal with dead loss associates that either under-perform or do not carry their weight. There is no real weed out game. Everyone has to be clicking on all cylinders.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by Guest » Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:52 am

OP: Are you partner gunning? What can you tell us about partner gunning at a lit boutique vs biglaw? Is it about billing 2600 hrs each year or something?

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by emkay625 » Fri Mar 23, 2018 11:16 am

Guest wrote:
Fri Mar 23, 2018 1:52 am
OP: Are you partner gunning? What can you tell us about partner gunning at a lit boutique vs biglaw? Is it about billing 2600 hrs each year or something?
I am not partner gunning. That's not me saying I don't want to make partner. I do. I guess I just don't quite understand what partner gunning would even look like. Right now, I'm focused on two things: 1. Trying to do excellent work. 2. Working outside of work on causes I care about in the community. (I'm involved with a few non-profits). Our firm is big on community involvement as business development, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come here.

2600 hours would be insane here. We have probably only one associate here who hit that last year. Most people are in the 1900-2200 range.

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Re: Litigation Boutique Associate - AMA

Post by BearCat » Tue Apr 10, 2018 1:11 pm

Bumping to ask:

Do you get more client contact as a jr associate in a boutique, and if so, what's it like as an associate talking to clients that would normally expect to be on the phone with a partner (if they were working with a big firm)?

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