I’m curious about the upside/downside of leaving a firm you love for more money/prestige. I’m in big law, but the firm doesn’t pay on the Cravath scale and, while as a young associate, this is fine because the firm isn’t all over you about meeting hours, this all changes around year 3. Then, you work about the same amount of hours and at the same intensity as at the top firms but for significantly less money (60-70K difference in base pay alone). Continued in comments.

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From experience, I recently made the move from a small firm (with a great culture) to a bigger firm, mainly because of more money, but one thing I regret is not getting enough of a feel for the culture before making the move, as I’m realizing I was happier at the other firm. I second the above response. Make sure you get a feel for the whole environment because sometimes more money won’t make things that much better.

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You are welcome! Good luck.

It’s rare to hear an associate talk about a firm in the glowing terms you use, OP. Unless you know you will stay in the better paying firm for a limited time before going in house, be very cautious about moving for money. Most of us are lucky to find one firm in our career that we can describe with such superlatives, I think it is very unlikely you will find those same positive traits twice. Read the other posts here for a taste of the other side.

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P1 has it right. I was slated for big law based on academic credentials but was starting practice at 30 after having worked for 10 years in real estate and mortgages. I did the OCIs and callbacks with the big names in my area, but I also took an interview with a well know mid-size regional firm with a healthy client base. I found the interview with the regional firm far more enjoyable and was sold on a promise of substantive litigation experience. Pay sacrifice was about $45k from big law offers when I was interviewing ($60k by the time I graduated). Prestige was definitely a point of hesitation at first, but faded quickly after I litigated a few major cases against big law firms and realized how talented some of the partners with me were. I observed the people who were a few years ahead of me, and that they all had a great work life balance. I noticed that most of the firm’s leadership had come through the summer associate program and that there were lawyers, paralegals, and admin staff that had spent basically their entire careers at the firm. I also observed my friends who went into the big law firms. Some loved it, but most have moved firms 2-3 times since law school in search of a better work life (often even taking a pay cut). I was just elevated to partner, and the pay gap gradually closed over the last few years to the point that I was probably making more per-hour, but simply working a less hours per year. Everyone will have their own experience and value matrix, but don’t underestimate how important a good firm environment is, and how rare it can be to find.

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Agree with others that prestige should be the least concern. Moving for money is always a tricky issue, I made a similar move and two years later I still wonder if it was the right decision. It sounds like you are still paid well even if 60k off the cravath scale so approx 150 range? It sounds really counter intuitive but when you are already making that kind of money an extra 60-70 grand isn’t as big of a difference as you would think. After increased taxes you are really looking 30k which works out to a couple grand extra a month. Unless you have tangible plans for that extra money (eg saving for home, paying down loans, etc) it’s easy just to sink it into a better car, nicer clothes, and more expensive meals and then you really haven’t gained anything except for a more expensive lifestyle. So just one really hard fact of life to consider, that is really hard to come to terms with before it happens.

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The pay difference at year 3 is around 60-70K in base pay alone. Is the money and prestige alone enough to make it worth leaving when you really like the partners and other associates? Has anyone lateraled up and been miserable and wished they hadn’t moved from a firm the love to go somewhere with better pay and more prestige? My firm is regionally recognized and nationally, but definitely not the same name drop as the big hitters. What difference would the prestige of the firm have on later in-house opportunities?

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A1 - I haven’t actually thought too seriously about moving yet, I was just curious if that rather large pay gap is worth the move. If I do leave my firm, I think it would be to go in-house or because I find somewhere I can specialize in the area that I really want to practice (I.e. VC and emerging growth companies). But, I recently had a recruiter reach out with a position that sounds like my dream and the pay is also on the Cravath scale. And I’ve been thinking about it more. Maybe I am thinking more seriously about it than I thought lol.

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I would consider it seriously. That is a serious difference in pay and the gap keeps growing and growing as you get more senior. You’ll also likely have better exit options down the line coming out the more prestigious firm. In terms of going in-house, the best bet is to go in-house with clients. If the companies you’d like to work for do a ton of work with potential new firm and don’t do a ton of work with your current firm, you can guess where they’d rather hire from. Not that it’s impossible to get those in-house jobs from your current firm, but of course the argument of “hey I’ve been working on your matters for years as outside counsel” is a very convincing one. Being able to say “my current base pay is this” is also going to help you in negotiating for your in-house salary. They probably won’t be able to pay biglaw scale anyway, but companies generally would your consider your current pay when offering you a comp package. There are top tier firms with good culture and lower tier firms with terrible culture. In general, making a switch from top tier to lower tier is always possible (if you want to go back more lifestyle in a few years) but vice versa is difficult and may not always be open to you. You have portability as a junior/midlevel. That does not last forever. And if your long term goal is partner, you want as much tenure at your partner firm as possible, i.e., if you think you want to switch, the sooner the better. (Not that you can’t do it later, it’s just that much harder). You mention good culture, but are you actually working less hours than Cravath scale firms?

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Thank you, this is also a helpful perspective. And the pay gap does grow exponentially- an A8 on the Cravath scale makes more than junior partners at my firm. Last year, I definitely worked less than those on Cravath, but that was mostly due to the pandemic and more senior levels hoarding work instead of passing it down. It didn’t affect my reviews whatsoever, but was also a complete anomaly. Going forward, however, I will most definitely be working comparable hours to those at Cravath scale firms. Our billable goal is 1900, but most 3rd years and above typically pull closer to 2100-2200 hours.

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