Washington DC biglaw or boutiques

Would like to read comments about the experience of practicing law in major Wash DC firms.

Any Wash DC practitioners or parents of attorneys in Wash DC please feel free to post any thoughts or experiences.

BigLaw is BigLaw. No real difference, particularly as DC is considered a major city for BigLaw rather than a regional one. Regional BigLaw offices offer more work-life balance (with some notable exceptions).

Thank you for your response.

There are significant differences in several practice areas in DC biglaw versus NYC or Chicago or LA or Dallas & Houston. This is one reason why I asked specifically about Wash DC offices.

Hoping someone with a family member currently practicing in DC will respond.

Especially interested in hearing from juniors or mid-levels who lateralled into DC biglaw or to a boutique from another city.

There is not. I’m speaking from experience. But discount that if you like.

Do not want to argue, but there are significant differences in certain practice areas & overall difference in fluctuations in work. Nevertheless, I respect your experience and do understand that certain firms may be similar to practice in other cities.

If you believe you know the answer to your question, then what’s the purpose of this thread? It’s also very vague and why you aren’t getting other responses.

I’ll bite.

Typically poor work/life balance, but great exposure and the work can be a lot more interesting than doing real estate deals at a big NY or LA firm.

Every firm will have its own pecking order. Some prefer to hire clerks who have completed one or two years (district, then appellate); others will hire right out of law school but will encourage their 2nd years to clerk. Hard to get a foothold at a top DC firm without clerking. (not impossible of course, but hard). Prestige is important at these firms. Good law school, top of the class.

Every DC firm will be thrilled if a mid-level associate leaves for the US Attorney’s office (anywhere in the country). The firms are great at maintaining professional networks.

Re: the work- hard to generalize without knowing which practice areas you are referring to.

Re: the money- living modestly for the first few years if you’re working at a firm is important, since taking a government role (clerk, US Attorney, legal counsel at the FBI or another agency) is a great way to accelerate a legal career in DC but will almost always involve a pay cut. You’ll make it back when you go back into a firm- but you can’t live on your partnership share ten years out…

There are several websites and blogs devoted to the legal industry which can give you really specific information- they include salary, bonus, etc. for the top firms (boutiques and big firms).

It is really important if you are moving to a boutique firm to find out exactly who the firm represents and in what matters. I know several lawyers in DC who ended up turning down really plum roles in the government because earlier in their career they represented some dicey clients. Yes, everyone deserves representation yada yada yada. But not everyone wants to sit through a Senate hearing having their past probed on some touchy matters. At a big firm you are more insulated from the shady characters (and can recuse yourself). At a small boutique there are fewer places to hide, and memories in the legal profession are very, very long. Especially in human rights violations.

Pay your household help “on the books” including payroll taxes, with a paper trail and check the I-9. Nobody wants to give up being Solicitor General or AG because they saved a few dollars on their cleaning help.

Have read & been told that the work flows in DC in good times & bad. Fewer layoffs for associates due to lack of work. One source was a long time DC attorney, other owns a top placement firm (worked in biglaw for about 6 years before starting his recruitment/placement firm about 15 years ago).

Positions are in complex tax transactional work, tax controversy, or advising professional practices & foreign interests about government relations.

One firm is considered the most prestigious in DC currently, but consistently among the top 5. Other is a boutique firm with NYC & DC offices. Not interested in NYC. Compensation is fine to outstanding at both firms.

Desire is for constant, steady, intellectually challenging work. Prefer long hours/lots of work in an active practice with litigation/court appearances/appearances before regulatory authorities. Hoping that promise of frequent court appearances / trials is accurate. Both offer substantial client contact which is a big plus. Both firms considered to be among the very best at what they do.

Inquiry as would be sacrificing great lifestyle & consistent work in a highly desirable location.

@blossom: Salary & bonus at both are fine. Curious as to the websites / blogs.

Thank you both for responding.

Other consideration: In line for dream career with most sophisticated cutting edge practice in the world. Would remain in current location. Highest pay among three options, but no firm offer yet.

Also, have relatives who are quite familiar with DC, government, and politics, but neither in law. So wouldn’t be without available counsel as to some matters.

I can’t tell if you are asking this question for a newly-graduated lawyer or an associate with some prior experience. I spent time as a partner in one of the leading DC firms as well as with two national firms with large DC presences. Although I was based overseas, I worked closely with the DC lawyers at all three firms. For a newly-graduated lawyer with the interests you describe, I think the BigLaw firm based in DC would offer a better platform. Many, if not most, DC litigation practices have a regulatory focus and the lawyers tend to become highly-specialized over time. As a young lawyer, I think a larger firm would provide a better opportunity to try out different things - antitrust, tax, FDA, energy, whatever - , and a top-5 firm should have many exciting opportunities for someone like you describe, willing to put in hard work and long hours for a rewarding practice. I also think there’s a big difference between a “true” DC firm and a firm based elsewhere that has a DC office. It’s a small town, and the pecking order is clear. Some firms are more strongly associated with one political party or the other and that can make a difference when that party is out of office, although I think that may be less of an issue for the “true” DC firms. The firms that are getting raked over the coals today for the work they are doing for Trump, for example, are all based outside DC.

Thank you for your response.

This is not for a newly graduated lawyer.

Both DC firms have been around for a long time and are very highly respected. Both are HQ in DC.

Frequent litigation/regulatory practice hearings is only available at the boutique firm. Includes a practice advising law firms & accounting firms on litigation matters & strategies.

P.S. Most interested in the assertion by others that law practice in DC is essentially recession proof.

I agree that a litigation/regulatory practice in DC would be relatively recession proof - the next four years certainly shouldn’t be a problem for this kind of practice whether there is a recession or not. Instead, the issue to watch out for would be the political affiliation risk I mentioned. A top-flight DC litigation/regulatory practice should have partners with high-level government experience. Looking at who those individuals are should be helpful in judging whether the firm would be regarded as partisan or not. Edited to add: This would be more of an issue if the law firm is involved in lobbying, as many DC firms are.

Well, one you mention appears to be C&D. I’ve known people in and out of there for more than 30 years - since the days Mortimer (likened to Mr. Magoo) roamed the hallways and took genuine interest in literally any associate. Wonderful firm. Much challenging work. Difficult path to partnership but well worth the experience. The job they did in that recent high profile foreign account/ tax shelter is astounding.

That firm will satisfy all desires articulated. Difficult to enjoy a well rounded family life. Not many there seek that.

Thank you for your response & thank you for tactfully not identifying any firm with particularity as I have no authority whatsoever to do so.

And thank you to posters for pointing out politically related concerns as this is one consideration dominant in the DC market that is not as much of a concern in other markets.

So far, two areas–recession proof & political concerns–seem to make the Wash DC market different from other major markets in the US.

Nothing in the legal profession is recession proof- lots of pre-partner associates were let go in 2009, in DC firms, and it would be crazy to think that some other “black swan” type event couldn’t happen again. However- the folks who got let go were- by and large- focused on the vulnerable parts of the economy- structured finance/CDO’s in particular, but anyone adjacent to the mortgage-backed or securitization business became vulnerable. A second year associate? Fungible skills. A 5th year? At risk. A 5th year willing to transfer to the Houston office and start over in oil and gas? It happened. Not many- but a few.

So I would not describe DC firms as recession proof, but differently diversified from the big Chicago/NY/LA firms.

Any reputable biglaw firms in DC should be well diversified and not locked into a particular political party. Any lawyer worth his/her salt can make him/herself recession proof by doing excellent work, ambitious and not worry too much about work/life balance.
My DD has a close friend in DC who has been asked to leave her biglaw firm after 10 years(as a counsel) because she is too worried about work/life balance (not enough billable hours) and deemed not enough of a go-getter deserving of her $350K+ salary. However, my cousin’s daughter and her fiance both work in DC law firms and are very busy as are lawyers I know in NYC.