Around 70 percent of junior associates enter the corporate and tax departments, while the remaining 30 percent go to litigation.
In New York, the corporate department is split into three major practice groups: M&A, credit and capital markets. Corporate associates are given the option to complete two six-month stints with two of these groups before committing to one. “It's a good experience to rotate because it gives you an idea of how different groups operate and a sense of what you'd prefer in the long run,” associates thought. “From a work perspective, that's attractive.” An assignment coordinator handles work allocation, acting “as an intermediary between you and the partners.” Each week associates provide an update on their total workload, and the coordinator assigns projects based on availability. “It's effective – you can ask for certain types of work, and if you're too busy for something you don't have to turn down the partner directly.”
In M&A, the work revolves around “a fair amount of public deals like filings, tender offerings and public mergers.” There's also “a lot of Dodd-Frank regulatory work going around right now.” Juniors receive “a good deal of experience early on,” such as drafting filings and contributing to proxy statements and scheduled tender offers. “Your work changes as you progress. I was doing a lot of due diligence at the start, but by the end of my rotation I was responsible for overseeing the diligence and getting more work on the primary transaction documents,” one told us. Client contact is “regular” since “banks are structured in a similar way to the firm – there are people on the same level as you who become your primary contacts.”
The capital markets group handles “a whole range of debt, tender, equity, exchange, high-yield and IPOs – the full gamut.” According to interviewees, “juniors do everything that's involved in getting deals done, from diligence to drafting agreements.” Because projects tend to be staffed by small teams, “it's usually just a partner, a senior associate and you. You get really involved, gaining exposure to each part of the deal.” As one source reported, “I got to assume a senior role early on in my career, handling clients and speaking with counsel from the start. Now in my second year, I’m already running my own deals.”
The litigation department also uses an assignment coordinator, although “if you've worked on a certain type of case, and a partner thinks you're a good fit, they can request you.” Interviewees reported working on a wide range of matters in their first few years, including contract disputes, bank investigations, antitrust cases, IP matters and class action suits. “I contributed to every aspect of a large shareholder derivatives dispute, from filing the complaint through to settlement,” one associate told us. Another saw through “a large class action suit involving securities transactions, from the motion to dismiss to the board of summary.” In terms of tasks, “juniors do everything: doc review, drafting and filing briefs, fact investigation, one-off research tasks, preparing witness depositions and examinations, and writing motions.” While there's “definitely some grunt work,” juniors “progress quickly to more substantive roles. In my first year, I was doing a lot of doc review, but now I’m the one coordinating it.”
According to associates, tax work is “broadly divided into three categories: controversy, financial products and M&A.” The group oversees the tax side of a variety of matters, including deal offerings, hedge funds, restructuring deals and private equity cases. “It's a lot of academic work,” interviewees said. “You spend a reasonable amount of time researching and thinking about how to solve queries.” Because the department is staffed leanly, “you can't escape getting responsibility. Generally, it's just you and a partner on a case.”
Training & Development
Associates' training begins with a week-long course dubbed 'Lawyering 101' that provides ���a pretty general overview of the firm,” they said. “It's a good way to ease into firm life – you get to know people in other groups and gain an understanding of how the firm operates as a whole.” While a few pointed out “there's no better training than actually working deals,” sources agreed “the firm does its best to equip you as much as possible.” Ongoing practice-specific training is offered to bolster associates' skill sets as they move through the ranks. “It doesn't just stop after the first week,” one offered. “I’m three years in, and I've just had a two-day-long training course on depositions. They continue to provide opportunities as you progress, which becomes really helpful in your day-to-day work.”
Interviewees appreciated that “feedback seems to be important to the firm.” Junior associates receive two formal reviews a year, which our sources found “really useful – they're more than just a pat on the back.” As far as informal feedback goes, the onus is on the associates to “be proactive” about requesting it. “You can get as much as you ask for. There's a constant stream of comments you can benefit from, but you have to be actively attuned to it.”
Davis Polk's “beautiful” New York headquarters on Lexington Avenue are home to nearly 600 attorneys. “You couldn't do anything to improve it,” associates told us, praising the “fantastic location, clean, bright decor and great cafeteria. As a whole, it compares pretty well to other offices in New York.” The firm occupies most of the building's 32 floors. Attorneys have office mates “for the first two years or so,” which sources found to be “a helpful training tool in terms of getting oriented – you can direct questions to them when you're not sure who else to ask.”
The “spacious” Menlo Park office holds 53 attorneys and features similar furnishings to New York and a free on-site gym. “It's a relaxed place,” juniors reported, pointing out that “the outside looks more like a spa than a law office.” The small DC office – which is mainly litigation and regulatory-focused – houses just 22 attorneys.
A rotation in one of the firm's overseas offices – London, Paris, Madrid, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo and São Paulo – is “a real possibility” for corporate and tax juniors, according to our sources. “Overseas rotations to Asia are something a lot of people do in my practice,” an M&A associate reported, while “there are always a couple of New York tax attorneys going to London for their second or third years.” Managing partner Tom Reid explains: “The trick is to determine which key financial hubs our clients are concentrated in and decide which of our people will provide the best quality of work for their needs.”
“All the stereotypes about us are true!” an associate laughed, referring to the firm's reputation as a “professional” workplace with an “overwhelmingly respectful” culture. “We really are a very polite place to work. There's never any hostility or politics or anything, and certainly never any shouting,” another added. “Professionalism is the one quality they value above everything else – the work we produce has to be perfect and polished, so it's very important to treat each other decently. While the firm bears in mind that people have their own lives, clients' interests do come first, so we have to maintain an environment that lets us perform well.” Associates appreciated how this atmosphere “makes what could be a contentious profession a whole lot nicer.”
While the firm maintains “a sense of hierarchy in terms of structure, you don't see a lot of closed doors.” According to one junior: “Everyone, regardless of whether you have a personal relationship with them, is willing to take the time to talk about work issues. They want you to grow – people here really encourage teaching and mentoring. You're always being pushed toward new successes.”
The firm's social scene is “relatively formal. There are a few social events at the office, and people go out occasionally, but it's not the type of place where there's pressure to hang out after work.” While colleagues “definitely develop natural friendships, people do have lives outside of work. There’s tons of married people with kids who want to have a home life.”
Hours & Compensation
The firm has no billable hours requirement, which one junior called “fundamentally life-changing. It means your primary focus at all times is how to get something done to the best of your ability. There's zero incentive to hoard projects because nobody's competing with each other; you can call people up for assistance and focus on completing something in the best way possible for the client.” Associates were quick to point out that “there's definitely more than enough work to go around, so it would just be a pointless distraction to have a requirement. Everybody works hard regardless, and most people would be exceeding any threshold they put in place anyway.” That said, associates agreed: “It's a relief not to worry about missing a target” during slow periods.
The firm is one of the few that offers both a lockstep salary and bonus system, even at the partner level. “It feeds into the culture,” associates informed us. “It takes away any sense of competition; every client is a client of the firm. This makes for a collaborative and collegial atmosphere.”
According to juniors, “there's no pressure to do pro bono work, but it's definitely there if you want it.” Weekly e-mails are sent to inform associates of upcoming opportunities, and juniors are not restricted to projects within their practice area. “We can work on any kind of matter available, which means you're able to do things you might not get to otherwise,” one told us. Pro bono work “is pretty well subscribed to across the firm,” particularly in the litigation department, where “there are very few people who don't do some form of it. Pro bono hours are looked at equally to billable hours, so the firm will always be supportive.”
Attorneys have recently been involved with: submitting amicus briefs to the US Supreme Court on issues such as wrongful convictions and voting rights; representing organizations such as the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Brennan Center for Justice on civil rights matters; and working with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts to run a biennial drop-in clinic for artists to address corporate, contract, or IP-related issues.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 62,044
- Average per US attorney: 90.8
“Davis Polk tries very hard to achieve diversity,” associates felt. According to NALP statistics, minorities represent nearly a third of the firm's associates and around 11 percent of partners. “I believe there are a few other firms more diverse in terms of minorities, but Davis Polk has done pretty well, especially for LGBT,” one associate thought. “They do everything they possibly can to branch out in an industry that’s historically reserved for a small elite.” In terms of gender, interviewees felt “it's as mixed as it gets.” Around 20 percent of partners and just under 40 percent of associates are female. “Obviously there are still more men than women, especially at the partner level, but it's still something they strive for.” As one pointed out, “Davis Polk was one of the first New York firms to have female partners.”
The firm runs “a ton of affinity groups,” including ones for minorities, LGBT, parents and women. Associates are welcome to join any group, which “helps foster a more comfortable environment. Nobody is segregated from discussing issues, whether they pertain to a certain individual or not.” Diversity events range from film screenings and panel discussions to guest speakers and in-house socials.
DP goes on campus to 20-plus schools each year and visits a number of job fairs. The 2012 summer program will feature candidates from more than 26 different schools across the country. While associates reported that graduates from top schools like Harvard and Columbia “are overly represented,” they believe “the firm's willing to look beyond grades at what people have to offer.” According to recruiting partner Warren Motley: “We look at all different backgrounds in search of smart and articulate people who will bring energy to the team, people who will make our analyses sharper.”
In terms of personality, sources cited “a certain sense of maturity when it comes to dealing with people” as an important criterion. “They want people who can manage others respectfully, even when the situation's stressful.” Motley says the firm also looks for “people who are able to make their opinions felt effectively. They don't have to be loud or center-stage types, but they have to be able to make an impact.” As associates pointed out, “you'll be in contact with clients and opposing counsel very quickly, so you have to be able to handle them professionally.”
Strategy & Future
According to managing partner Tom Reid, “an effect of the recession that will be with us for several years to come is a more intrusive regulatory environment. There's a real demand for lawyers who understand the regulatory philosophy of agencies like the DOJ and FTC. Growth in our domestic regulatory practice has been a key priority in our response to the financial crisis. We have a suite of regulatory practices growing, including enforcements and antitrust.”
Reid says the firm is also interested in geographic expansion, mentioning that practices in “Asia, Brazil and Europe are all areas we've added to significantly. We've integrated our US and Hong Kong practices in the last year and opened an office in São Paulo in the summer of 2011, which will also be integrated. We also recently launched an English law practice in our London office. We intend to continue developing our practice overseas, capitalizing on the strong brand that we've had for decades.”
“The next year is going to be a tough one for clients and the legal profession in general. While we will obviously continue to deliver the highest quality of legal services possible, we'll also be focusing on how to deliver those in a way that shows the increased value of what our clients are buying. It's not just about lowering our billable hours; it's about looking at more clever, cost-efficient and innovative ways to deliver our legal services.” In 2011, the Financial Times rewarded the firm for these efforts, naming Davis Polk the most innovative law firm in the USA. “That was definitely a highlight of the year since the FT is read by both lawyers and business people,” Reid confirms. “It's a valuable accolade to have alongside our Chambers rankings.”