The United States Law Week

Eschewing Big Law Roots for Boutique in Chicago

April 24, 2019, 5:33 PM

Cara Hendrickson’s choice to move to Massey & Gail LLP illustrates a cyclical swing in the Chicago legal market toward litigation boutiques and away from Big Law.

Hendrickson listed several factors that led to her decision to join the firm, which was announced April 24.

“At a firm this size in Chicago, I get the same really challenging work with very sophisticated clients. This firm litigates cases around the country,” she said in an interview.

In the 1980s many top lawyers abandoned Big Law to launch or join smaller litigation boutique firms, a trend that reversed itself about a decade later, legal recruiter Kay Hoppe said in an interview.

But things are beginning to swing back. Clients like the boutique feel as well, Hoppe said. She also noted that it reduces client conflicts and permits more flexibility and efficiencies in billing structures, which clients prefer.

And clients also enjoy the closer contact with name partners and a smaller, curated coterie of highly qualified talented lawyers offered by top boutiques, Hoppe said.

After graduating from Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, Hendrickson worked for a year at Kirkland and Ellis LLP in Chicago. She then clerked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for Ann Claire Williams.

Hendrickson followed that with a year as a Skadden Fellow, working on housing issues at Chicago-based Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a nonprofit public interest law and policy group.

After more than eight years as an associate and partner at litigation firm Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Hendrickson devoted a little over five years working for the Illinois attorney general’s office. When she left, she was supervising 60 lawyers and staff across seven bureaus in the office’s Public Interest division. She departed that job in March.

Hendrickson said she hopes to build her practice in ways that don’t fit any conventional molds, but also said it will likely include complex commercial matters, government relations, and regulatory work.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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