Home Finance & Investing Attorney Cohen Ziffer’s Managing Partner On Why Choosing A Boutique Firm May Be The Best Career Move You Make – Above the Law

Cohen Ziffer’s Managing Partner On Why Choosing A Boutique Firm May Be The Best Career Move You Make – Above the Law

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Cohen Ziffer’s Managing Partner On Why Choosing A Boutique Firm May Be The Best Career Move You Make – Above the Law

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GittingsLegal – NE74865

Ken Frenchman

When it comes to the legal profession, Biglaw firms have always seemed to rule the roost, controlling even compensation and bonus structures. But if you take a closer look, you’ll realize that boutique firms are staking their claim on the legal market, offering up everything that Biglaw firms have, and more. What is it about boutique firms that should give attorneys pause when making career choices?

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Ken Frenchman, managing partner of Cohen Ziffer Frenchman & McKenna, a well-regarded boutique firm, to get his thoughts on the matter. Here is a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our lively conversation on building his boutique firm from the ground up, and how boutique firms like his are competing with Biglaw on everything ranging from compensation to culture to gaining hands-on experience.

Staci Zaretsky (SZ): Cohen Ziffer Frenchman & McKenna is just a few years old, but the firm is already rivaling the bonus structure of Biglaw firms. Tell me a little bit about how the structure of your boutique firm enables you to make major financial moves like this.

Ken Frenchman (KF): Actually, in our very first year, in our very first associate offer letter, we were offering a bonus structure consistent with the top firms in the Am Law 100. And the reason for that is simple: we have always believed recruiting top-level associates is the only way to compete against top-level firms and get the results that our clients are looking for, and frankly, paying for. In terms of how we are able to pay for it, we consider it an investment in our future. But we also make sure that we are rewarded for our success in the courtroom. We handle some of the biggest insurance recovery cases out there, and we often partner with our clients such that when our clients do well, we do well. Thus, from a recruitment side of things, we believe the more talented our younger lawyers are, the more success we have in the courtroom, and the more profitable we are as a firm.

SZ: You’ve helped build your firm from the ground up. What steps have you taken that have had the biggest impact on the firm and its culture?

KF: Hiring was not only the first step, but it continues to have the most significant impact on the firm and its culture. The firm at its core is the people who work here. We are in a service business, in a very competitive field of high-achieving people. Who we hire undoubtedly is crucial to who we become as a firm. And we have hired energetic, enthusiastic, intelligent, and hard-working lawyers from the very beginning. It started with the partners who we invited to start the firm with us. We hired people we know and have worked with before. From there, as we expand, we focus on people who we truly feel can be valuable members of the team, who can add to our culture, who can present diverse perspectives, and who are fun to be around. We spend a lot of time with our colleagues, so we look for people who we like. But creating a diverse and positive work environment has always been of the utmost importance to us. It is critical for our clients, the quality of our work, and our business as a whole.

SZ: What are some of the biggest benefits an associate can expect at a boutique firm over a Biglaw firm?

KF: This is where I am supposed to talk about lifestyle, but that is certainly not where I would begin. As I mentioned, we battle every day in the big leagues against firms that are multiples of us in terms of number of lawyers. Most of our cases tend to be worth in the tens of millions of dollars, often in the hundreds of millions, and sometimes in the billions – we are paid well, and we are expected to win. We did not start this firm to practice a less sophisticated or intense form of the law. So I can’t really answer this question on behalf of “boutiques” as a whole; rather, I can speak to our boutique. In terms of what associates can expect that may be different from a Biglaw firm, I would say hands-on, higher-level work at a younger age. This includes depositions early on, courtroom experience, trial experience, client contact, and working side-by-side with the partners at the firm. Unlike Biglaw, you will know everybody here in no time, you will work with everybody in no time, and you will not get lost in the shuffle. I also think it’s a place where it will be less about the billable hour and more about the quality of your work; it is a place where we respect vacation and personal time, and where we are very focused on how associates develop.

SZ: How can an associate figure out what their legal specialty should be? Is it easier to develop a niche at a boutique firm?

KF: Associates find their legal specialty in all kinds of ways. For me, I started at a small firm that merged very early on in my career into a fairly large firm. Once there, I started working with Robin Cohen and Adam Ziffer who practiced insurance recovery, and more than 20 years later we started our own firm specializing in insurance recovery. I was not on a path to find a specialty; in fact, like many out there, I liked the idea of being a generalist. But it didn’t take long before I liked having a genuine expertise, I liked the people I was working with, I liked working for large corporations as a plaintiff who could help bring revenue in as opposed to being a drain, and I liked the “us against them” mentality of being up against sometimes dozens of insurers in our large and intellectually challenging cases. My point is, a boutique like ours can quickly turn you into a specialist, or you can find your niche in Biglaw. Either way, to me, it was most important to find the right people who have the team you want to join, make sure you enjoy the work, and go from there.

On behalf of everyone here at Above the Law, we’d like to thank Ken Frenchman of Cohen Ziffer Frenchman & McKenna for taking the time to help answer some pressing questions on boutique life and why younger lawyers should consider making a move to a boutique firm.


Staci ZaretskyStaci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter and Threads or connect with her on LinkedIn.



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