An Open Letter to Law Students
Ivins, Phillips & Barker (“IPB”) is one of the premier tax and employee benefits law firms in the United States. If you have looked at the firm’s website at ipbtax.com, you may be asking yourself how a relatively small firm that few law students have heard of and that works in such a specialized area of the law could possibly attract so stellar a group of attorneys and have such a distinguished group of Fortune 500 companies as clients. The answer to this question is that IPB is not like any other law firm in the United States.
The distinction between IPB and other law firms starts with the hiring process. At IPB, every associate is hired with the goal that the associate will stay with the firm for the rest of his or her career. Associates are not treated like second-class citizens; they are given focused attention and training, exposure to clients from their earliest days at the firm, and insight into the partnership structure and decision-making processes. The unique philosophy of IPB does not stop there. No one is given any type of credit for bringing in clients, generating work, or working longer hours. Partners compensation is lock-step. There is complete transparency in the process. Every partner knows what every other partner earns and frankly, so do the associates.
It’s hard for a law student to appreciate the ramifications of the foregoing approach and the effect that it has on life at IPB in comparison with other law firms. Under the IPB compensation system, partners do not hoard clients or matters, because there is no incentive to do so. All client work is shared with associates, who get immediate client contact and responsibility. At other law firms, associates and even junior partners, are kept away from clients, not because of their inexperience, but rather because under a merit-based compensation system, there is simply no incentive (and in fact a disincentive) for a partner to share his or her clients with other attorneys in the firm. The IPB approach also benefits our clients because the appropriate attorney with the right level and type of experience handles the client’s particular problem, instead of the partner who is simply trying to retain client credit under a merit-based compensation system (sometimes appropriately described as an “eat what you kill” system).
At this point you are probably saying to yourself, “This sounds like a great place to work, but what is tax practice like?” The best way to describe tax practice at IPB is that it is like taking an IQ test every day or solving puzzles through logic and analogy. Tax law is extremely intellectual, it utilizes all of the legal analysis and writing skills that you are taught in law school. Tax law is also complex and ever-changing, so that it never gets boring. As a testament to the interesting nature of the practice, whereas in other fields of law older attorneys can’t wait to retire and never recommend the practice to their children, at IPB the attorneys love what they do and even when they retire, many attorneys simply work a reduced schedule because they want to continue to be involved with the practice.
If all of this sounds appealing, look us up when we are on campus, or send us your resumé and we can discuss with you a career at IPB.