Almost every new starter will find themselves in either the litigation or corporate group, although a few find their way into smaller teams such as employee benefits, bankruptcy, real estate or tax. For the first two years corporate associates are labeled "unassigned," while litigators similarly "take on a broad range of assignments" from the different practices within their department. For example, a litigator could at any given time work on patents, antitrust, torts or copyright matters while corporate juniors can expect securities, financing and M&A projects. Sources agreed this left them in the best possible position when they narrowed their focus during their third year. "I wanted to get a broad range of experiences on as many different deals as possible, so that when I did specialize I could be sure that was the area I wanted to be in," recalled one.
The litigation department has two assignment coordinators whose full-time job is to help manage work flow. Juniors fill out forms to indicate how busy they are, how much they're billing and where their particular interests may lie. The coordinators "collect assignments from senior associates or partners and then farm out the work according to those interests and availability." One source concluded: "It's great to have that buffer as a junior. There's certainly no shortage of work."
Juniors in the corporate department found that partners are willing to "give you as much responsibility as you can handle," often as a result of cases being "leanly staffed." Therefore on smaller deals, expect to be drafting important documents and negotiating agreements. "There's always that level of oversight," said one source, "but you're given a fair amount of latitude to manage your own work." On bigger projects, some more banal tasks such as research and diligence are unavoidable, but client contact is also a run-of-the-mill occurrence. "It comes pretty early on," recalled a second-year. "In my first few weeks I was e-mailing clients, which made me freak out at the time."
Litigation associates were also pleasantly surprised by the responsibility they were afforded. "I was impressed and terrified when I first joined," chuckled one. "I was writing motions to dismiss for big clients within a month and there's so much work to go around it destroys the super hierarchy of everything." Another added: "I felt like I got thrown in the deep end, but I think people like that overall. It's scary because you're not sure you're qualified, but you become qualified so quickly. There's always boring things like doc review to do, but I don't feel because I'm a junior they won't have me do certain tasks. It's more like juniors get the first hit on anything they want to do and then it's reviewed."
Training & Development
"There's a required training program all day, every day for the first two weeks after you start, just to cover the basics and get you up to speed," a third-year told us. A corporate junior concluded: "They don't expect you to have any knowledge coming in, so they emphasize the training is in place to make you feel you can do these transactions without feeling out of your depth." From then on sessions "dealing with substantive areas relevant to your practice" take place fortnightly for the rest of the year. Training continues into the second year, but on a "less intensive basis."
New starters are assigned both an associate and partner mentor upon arrival. "These are people you can turn to for more informal guidance," a second-year said. "I asked my associate mentor a lot of random questions about technology – it's nice to have someone who's not intimidating to ask that sort of thing." Partner mentors often provide your very first assignment: "It's nice to know they would ease you into the transition." On top of this, Paul, Weiss implements an official mentorship program. One junior explained: "Every fourth-year associate and above is given a mentorship budget. It's not tied to anyone in particular but if they want to take a junior out for lunch or dinner to help with their acclimatization, there's firm resources behind that. A lot of mentoring goes on through those off-the-cuff invitations."
Paul, Weiss has three bases in the USA – New York, DC and a tiny Wilmington office – and international offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo and Toronto. The HQ in New York, where the firm was founded in 1875, is home to 70 percent of all its attorneys. Associates appreciate the "extremely convenient location with incredible subway access," with Paul, Weiss sitting just a few blocks from Times Square. For all the art aficionados, corporate memberships to the nearby MoMA are available.
The office itself "is in a bit of a transition" as it undergoes floor-by-floor renovation. "The completed floors have gotten quite an impressive facelift," a junior told us. DC is the firm's next largest location with around 50 attorneys practicing "almost exclusively in litigation." The work space was described as "beautiful, with lots of natural light, great facilities and great conference rooms," while the smallish number of lawyers helps produce "a real community feel."
Chairman Brad Karp describes the culture of Paul, Weiss as "old fashioned in the sense we are exceptionally collegial, supportive, egalitarian, and view our firm as a profession and not a business. We value diversity, public service and pro bono commitment. We believe in complete transparency. I report to our associates every quarter on everything that's going on at the firm – be it our strategy, new clients, potential lateral initiatives or economic performance – and this fosters an inclusive environment where our associates understand that they're an integral part of the firm."
Associates agreed that there's an overriding sense of unity at the firm. "It's a very friendly place with an open-door culture," commented a third-year. "People are happy for you to come and talk to them and everyone genuinely likes working with one another." Another junior added: "There's no clear hierarchy here – partners interact freely with associates which creates a real familial outlook." Therefore expect an atmosphere that is "casual; in the sense that you don't have to put on any pretenses. It's a meritocracy so people will respect you for good work."
Hours & Compensation
Paul, Weiss imposes no billable hour requirements on its attorneys. "I truly feel there isn't any sort of magic number," reflected one third-year. "Everyone works extremely hard, so there's an understanding that if everyone' taking on their fair share you'll probably be doing enough." Another source added: "Hours are generally used here so the assigning coordinators can look and see that everyone is getting the brunt of the work equally. If you're slow they'll just get you on a new case." Lockstep salaries and bonuses mean "there's no pressure or incentive to work any more hours than you normally do."
Don't expect a cushy nine to five arrangement, though, because when there are deadlines to hit, associates can put in some seriously long shifts. "For my first year I was extremely busy and consistently getting out at 2, 3, 4am – rarely was I out before midnight," a second-year recalled. Another junior added: "Corporate work especially can be a roller-coaster in terms of time. Sometimes it feels like you're only sleeping for two hours each night, but other times you can leave by 5 or 6pm." Fortunately there is “no face time whatsoever” and juniors felt comfortable devising their own schedules and working from home.
Pro bono hours are treated exactly the same as billables and there's no cap on how much an associate can take on. "Not only is it something that's encouraged, it's part of the firm's fabric and DNA," surmized one junior. A "dedicated pro bono coordinator" circulates opportunities on roughly a weekly basis, and our sources had dipped their hand into work for nonprofits, as well as more high-profile matters, like petitioning for Guantanamo Bay prisoners and tackling the case of a whistleblower. "One of the great things is that partners pretty much allow you to run the show," reflected one associate. "I can draft all the contracts and directly assist the clients. People are always available to help but you feel as though they're your client and their point of contact for what needs to be done."
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 54,063
- Average per US attorney: 75
Paul, Weiss has a proud tradition when it comes to diversity. In 1949 it became the first major New York firm to hire a black lawyer, and it was one of the first firms to elect a female partner. One associate said, representatively: "If I were to describe the culture here in one word it would be 'diverse'. You really feel that Paul, Weiss champions diversity." Another concurred: "They are very proud of diversity here and they don’t want to lose it as a selling point." Over 7% of associates identify as gay, while just over 15% are Asian or African American.
Minority associates can elect to join the diversity mentoring scheme upon arrival, while interested women can participate in a women's mentoring group. Paul, Weiss also hosts a number of different affinity groups, which work with the diversity committee to target diverse candidates at its OCI locations.
Paul, Weiss recruits on-campus at up to 30 schools each year. "You either need very good grades from top schools, or be the best in your class from a lower school, there's no doubt about that," an associate informed us.
One sure-fire way to put off an interviewer is with "canned answers. I find a lot of interviewees feel they have to provide certain answers so I like to ask out-of-the-box questions that tackle problems they may not have anticipated to see how they think on their feet and communicate their thoughts," said a source. Another agreed: "We like people who are outgoing and come to an interview confident and can have a conversation without it seeming rehearsed. We want to get to know people and see what they're like, so treat it as an informal chat rather than a job interview. That can set you above other candidates."
A final word on getting hired: "You just better not say anything really stupid," one junior sagely counseled.
Strategy & Future
"We’re continuing to focus on incremental and strategic growth," says Brad Karp. "Our strategy is to be the best firm in the world in the areas and regions in which we practice. I don’t presently anticipate us opening offices in other jurisdictions or entering new practice areas. I believe it is critically important to focus on who we are and what we do best."
With the firm coming off the back of two record-breaking years, what does Karp see as the key to continued success? "One lesson we have learned as a direct result of the financial crisis is that talent matters," he tells us. "To that end, we are continuing to stockpile the very best talent of any law firm in the world. That is our fundamental strategy: to attract and retain the most talented lawyers in the world. If we can attract a brilliantly talented lawyer in the areas that are strategically aligned with our core practice strengths, we will look at those opportunities."