You don’t need to be big to pack a punch in BigLaw. Associates at Adam Leitman Bailey tell us what it’s like to work at a boutique law firm.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” You might be thinking about Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But we’re thinking about boutique law firms. These compact organizations specialize in just one or two areas of law, housing no more than around 100 attorneys. As such, being an associate at one is naturally very different to being at a mega firm, whether it’s the type of work on offer or the cultural feel of the office.
At Adam Leitman Bailey, the goal is simple. “Adam Leitman Bailey is dedicated to being the best real estate law firm in New York,” says Carly Clinton Davidoff, an associate general counsel at the firm. “As a boutique firm that practices only real estate law, each member of the firm adds a different skill set,” she says. “So each hire includes an extensive search for the right candidate as the hiring pool is always extremely limited.”
“I admired that a firm of approximately 30 attorneys, considerably smaller than its large firm adversaries, was able to obtain such impressive results.”
Many associates have concerns understandably about moving firms at the moment, which Clinton Davidoff is keen to assuage. “The firm still gave out bonuses in March and no one was furloughed or had their salary reduced because of Covid-19,” she says. “I personally got a raise. Full disclosure—the firm is doing well financially.” Along with Carly Clinton Davidoff, we spoke with three associates who joined the firm as laterals to find out more about life in a boutique law firm…
What appealed to you about Adam Leitman Bailey initially? Why was it ultimately the right choice for you?
Danny Rattaman: Adam Leitman Bailey appealed to me because of its history of working on and prevailing in some of the most important real estate cases in New York history. I admired that a firm of approximately 30 attorneys, considerably smaller than its large firm adversaries, was able to obtain such impressive results.
“A boutique firm offered me the unparalleled ability to obtain invaluable and hands on experience, not otherwise afforded to more junior associates at larger law firms.”
Marianne Sanchez: The firm has been the right choice for me because it offers autonomy in my practice and has expanded my experience in real estate law. Additionally, I truly enjoy working with the other attorneys here – they are some of the most hard-working, creative, friendly, and helpful people I have ever had the privilege of working with. The more experienced attorneys, even the partners, treat us younger associates as their equals – they ask for our opinions on case strategies and ask us to collaborate with them in ways I haven’t experienced in prior jobs. The work/life balance is also ideal. I am surrounded by hard-working, intelligent women who have flourished in their legal careers while also starting and raising families.
What are the biggest differences between life in a boutique law firm and a larger firm?
Israel Katz: I believe that a boutique firm offered me the unparalleled ability to obtain invaluable and hands on experience, not otherwise afforded to more junior associates at larger law firms. I am regularly given significant responsibility in drafting and motions, interacting with clients, and planning case strategy, in a manner that has really honed my legal skills.
DR: A boutique law firm allows for a much better work/life balance. Larger firms have extremely high hour requirements which we don’t have here. Additionally, with the Covid crisis, there was a larger number of layoffs at large firms as well as salary reductions, and at our own firm no one was laid off or had their salaries reduced.
MS: What varies, perhaps, is the differences between boutique law firms. A boutique law firm of five lawyers is very different from a boutique law firm of 20 lawyers. I think Adam Leitman Bailey is a great balance in that our size incorporates a varying pool of attorneys with different kinds of and years of experiences.
How does Adam Leitman Bailey’s status as a boutique law firm influence its culture?
IK: Given the boutique nature of the firm, there is little or no hierarchy and partners and more senior associates are very generous with their time and make a strong effort to mentor younger associates. Associates and partners regularly confer about cases and associate input is highly respected and sought after by partners.
MS: The firm size also allows for a great, healthy level of socialization. Because we are so busy, we have enough work to keep us communicative with respect to only work, but we do take moments every now and then to discuss how we are doing, generally. It is a healthy balance that never feels completely out of whack – never too stuffy but also not too personal.
Carly Clinton Davidoff: As a work family we celebrate life milestones together. The firm hosts parties for events such as engagements, weddings, baby showers, partnership to the firm and admission to the bar. Adam Leitman Bailey organizes quarterly happy hour events for employees to get to know each other and enjoy time away from the work setting.
Adam Leitman Bailey also promotes healthy lifestyle and wellbeing and the firm reimburses 80% of a gym membership for all employees. The existing attorneys are very friendly and teach our lateral hires how we use good eating habits and exercise to perform better in the courtroom and the closing table.
What kind of person do you think is best suited to working at a boutique law firm like Adam Leitman Bailey?
MS: I think the kind of person that is best suited to work at a boutique law firm Adam Leitman Bailey is someone who can produce high quality work, but who doesn’t always take him or herself too seriously. While work comes first, we thrive because we work well together and because we take time to check in with each other.
“We want a candidate that wants to be a part of our family and it should shine through during an interview.”
CCD: Adam Leitman Bailey looks for candidates that are motivated to succeed with our firm and grow with us. We want a candidate that wants to be a part of our family and it should shine through during an interview. We are focused on candidates that derive meaning of life both from their hobbies and families but also their work as an attorney. We believe that our work is exciting and provides a deeper meaning of life than most other facets of a person’s day. We want to know the candidate is fully committed to our clients and that they are interested in making Adam Leitman Bailey their home away from home.
What kind of professional and career development opportunities do associates get in a boutique law firm?
MS: At a boutique law firm, there are definitely opportunities to jump into the deep end of whatever aspect of law I might be interested in. For example, I was able to sit as the second chair for two bench trials within two years of being at the firm. I helped prepare for trial and drafted the Post-Trial Briefs.
CCD: Our revenue sharing plan program allows every attorney at our firm, partners and associates alike, to have the opportunity to be placed among the highest earning attorneys in New York. This means that hard work ethic and diligence can determine an associate’s pay.
“There is definitely an open-door mentality within a boutique law firm that helps me to not feel suffocated or “locked in” to a certain realm of assignments.”
MS: Additionally, I know that I can reach out to other attorneys for advice on a case I might be working on. There is definitely an open-door mentality within a boutique law firm that helps me to not feel suffocated or “locked in” to a certain realm of assignments, tasks or responsibilities.
CCD: One of the greatest things about working for Adam Leitman Bailey is our senior mentorship and open-door policy. Associates are welcomed into our senior partner’s office to brainstorm case strategy together. Every case is assigned to an associate and partner and we work as a team throughout the case. Mentorship is huge at Adam Leitman Bailey and our senior partners serve as learning mentors to our associates throughout their careers.
What does your practice at Adam Leitman Bailey involve?
MS: I work primarily in mortgage foreclosure litigation, however, I also jump into other real estate litigation cases concerning contracts of sale, landlord-tenant disputes, and bankruptcy matters. My responsibilities vary from case to case, but I primarily draft pleadings and motions. Occasionally, I will handle discovery and other miscellaneous tasks that come up in litigation. My responsibilities vary primarily because I have the opportunity to work with different partners. In a boutique firm atmosphere, we know each other well enough that if, for some reason a partner or associate cannot handle a task because they are too busy to take it on or because there is a scheduling conflict, there are other attorneys around who are able to step in and help out.
“Due to the size of the firm and the willingness of the partners to share, associates at this firm can really take advantage of learning from the partners.”
DR: I am a litigation attorney focusing primarily on foreclosure and title cases. Working at a boutique firm allows an associate to participate in all aspects of a case. At a larger firm many associates might just do document review. Here, we are able to see a case from conception to end. Associates are empowered to participate in discovery, take and defend depositions, and conduct trials. Throughout these tasks, partners carefully monitor and mentor the associates. Due to the size of the firm and the willingness of the partners to share, associates at this firm can really take advantage of learning from the partners.
IK: My practice involves a wide range of real estate matters, including disputes in connection with complex joint venture agreements, title issues such as ownership priority and boundary disputes, construction and construction related financing, commercial leasing disputes and condo and cooperative management and construction related issues.
What advice do you have for associates who’re interested in moving into a boutique?
CCD: My advice is to be confident and show that you really want to work for Adam Leitman Bailey. Most of our attorneys come from middle to lower class backgrounds and we do not hire new attorneys from Ivy League schools. I would suggest letting your personality shine through in an interview opportunity and allowing Adam Leitman Bailey to see your true self. We pride ourselves on a low turnover rate and take our recruitment process seriously to make sure it is a good fit for both. This is a place where you can be yourself and you are cultivated to be exceptional. I feel like I am the best attorney at my age—this may or may not be true but the firm culture breeds this attitude which has improved every facet of my life.
IK: Demonstrate that you are a team player, and gain experience in the areas that the boutique firm typically works on. Demonstrating to a potential employer (particularly a boutique law firm) that your experiences match that which they are seeking to fill is the perhaps the single most important criteria in the hiring decision-making.
“… start with networking. Start with your immediate circle and ask for informational meetings with attorneys who work in a boutique law firm atmosphere.”
MS: If you are not quite sure what area of law you want to practice long term, then start with networking. Start with your immediate circle and ask for informational meetings with attorneys who work in a boutique law firm atmosphere. It might also be a good idea to Google search boutique law firms in your area, look up attorneys at these law firms, and look them up on LinkedIn to potentially send them a message to introduce yourself as a young attorney, who is interested in their area of law and/or career trajectory. My experience is that attorneys are generally very open to helping and guiding younger attorneys who are deciding what next steps to take in their legal careers.
“I think my personal career journey may have otherwise been overlooked or undervalued, were I in any other law firm environment.”
Anything to add?
MS: While in law school, I never had the desire to work in BigLaw. For the most part, I focused on the type of law I wanted to practice, which was initially family law and criminal law. While I never purposefully pursued a practice in real estate law (and simply fell into it), I knew – early on – that, in whatever area of law I practice in, I wanted to work with attorneys who have very high standards for themselves and for their work. I always envisioned my perfect job to be one where I would be constantly challenged and pushed to grow – professionally and individually. I find that at a boutique law firm like Adam Leitman Bailey, there is an ideal balance of work and socialization. Here, my own personal story and journey in my legal career is appreciated and considered in terms of what I can bring to the table. I think my personal career journey may have otherwise been overlooked or undervalued, were I in any other law firm environment.
CCD: Adam Leitman Bailey is a great place to work and the career opportunity is endless. I strongly advise any lateral hires interested in becoming a member of our team to reach out and apply.