As a new starter you'll likely find yourself in either the litigation or corporate group, but you needn't worry about choosing your dance straight away: whether you plan to foxtrot through to financing or paso doble to patents, you've got two years to find the right moves for you. An associate in the corporate department explained: “You're unassigned for two years so you can rotate throughout." Litigators, although they don't rotate, also enjoyed broad experience, with one explaining that within two years he had worked on a patent trial, a big securities class action trial, antitrust work and a white-collar criminal case. Another outlined how workflow was managed: "We all have an assigning partner in litigation, but there's a coordinator who spreads out the work and any partner might give you specific assignments. When I had way too much work, I went to the assigning partner and he took me off one of my matters."
A junior in the corporate group explained how the mandatory two-year rotation works: "We have a bunch of different groups – like funds, M&A and IP. You can do a little of each, but not everything if you don't want to." Here, two full-time coordinators conduct the show: “What's nice is they're not someone we'll ever have to work for. I feel confident that I can go to them and ask for more of a certain type of work – they'll never take offence. Communication is very open.” Associates were happy with the level of responsibility they were given within this system: "In general mergers and securities I did a couple of research memos which went to clients. As I've got more familiar with the work, I've done a lot of formation of entities, licenses, tax IDs, and put together LLC agreements. It's all pretty substantive."
As a litigator, don't expect to be waiting in the wings for your first two years either. You may well be speaking to clients from your second week (“it's just part of the business”) and new starters aren't shielded from serious, substantive work. “I thought I might get stuck on doc review,” one began, “but my first assignment was a trial which went to verdict. The level of responsibility grew incrementally for each trial and was always commensurate with my experience. The partners do a good job of treating associates as professional colleagues who know what they're doing. If you have an idea you can take it straight to the partner rather than run it through various channels – the culture is such that if you have an idea it will be listened to and treated with respect.” It's up to you to take the lead: “If you make it clear that you want responsibility then you can get it. It will become your gig. If you do an excellent job of more basic work and show yourself to be inquisitive and problem solving you really can move quickly.”
Training & Development
Training varies across departments, but everyone has “one week of general orientation training” before being let loose on clients and cases. Extensive training programs continue throughout the year, but one interviewee admitted: “Most of my training comes on the job.” Another agreed that in addition to events where they bring in practitioners, panels and even actors, “the staffers and partners make a concerted effort to get you on cases that give you a variety of different skills.”
And when the going gets tough work-wise, “there's a really great mentoring program where every midlevel associate gets a thousand-dollar budget to take out junior associates.” Another conceded that “it's nice to be able to get away from the office and chat over a meal. It really helps me to be more open about any difficulties I'm having.” Despite one associate's admission that “you'll forge those relationships whether or not they're assigned,” it does give a good excuse to “go and grab oysters after work.”
Paul, Weiss has three offices in the USA, bolstered by international bases in Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo and Toronto. While New York is undoubtedly the “nerve center” of the firm, associates in nearby DC and Wilmington are “sent over all the time for meetings and holiday parties.” Juniors in the smaller offices enjoy the same high-profile cases as their colleagues in New York, and video conference meetings help communication: “It feels like we're in the same room.” In New York the general rule is that first-years share an office, second-years are given their own internal office, while third-years watch over the city from a windowed suite.
“A white shoe firm by reputation but not by character,” Paul, Weiss has made efforts to create a culture of candor and transparency, an atmosphere reflected in the shiny renovations of its New York office from “old-school, dark wood furniture” to a brighter, glassier feel. One associate asserted that it's not only a pro-learning, but a pro-happiness environment: “They know we work hard so they try to make the space easy and comfortable.” Not just aesthetically, of course, but in the sense that “there is a lot of open interaction with different levels and you don't feel like you're taking someone's time by asking them questions.” Another added: “If you were rude to a junior associate there'd be so many ridiculous consequences that no-one even considers it. They know you're a junior and not meant to know things!”
And after hours? Trips to NHL hockey games, bowling events and concerts “allow you to develop relationships on a more personal level. It helps partners to understand that you have a life and commitments outside of work.” Another associate backed this up: “We find people often pop in to our office to have a chat. People are invested in your life even though they're busy.”
A weekly cocktail party in New York that serves “top-shelf alcohol and good bar food” sees everyone come together, from partners to receptionists, while an attorney lunch each Tuesday cements relationships forged on the office floor. There is a strong sense of departmental camaraderie: “When anyone gets engaged or pregnant we celebrate as a group. We'll do a department lunch with champagne and toasts.” Interviewees stressed that these friendships transcend office formalities. One confessed rather specifically: “I never thought I'd make friends in a law firm, I thought they'd be nerdy and busy, but in truth I like 99% of the people here and really like 60% of them. We often spend time together at weekends.”
Hours & Compensation
Hours at the firm are typically described as “intense,” but as one associate put it: “No partner dumps work on you and goes out for a drink. Everyone's in the same boat. Even if it's a miserable, long-houred boat.” Staffing coordinators are on hand to help you ashore whenever it gets really rough at sea, and will take you off assignments where necessary. Associates appreciated that there are no billable hour targets and admitted that “partners are pretty considerate of your personal time.” There is no pressure to stay in the office out of hours since “technology has made it really easy to work wherever you want to,” and the firm offers an alternative work schedule for those seeking even more flexibility. This isn't just a maternity scheme either, with one associate noting that “you can take flexitime if you feel overworked or simply want to pursue a sideline career as an artist.”
Employees are encouraged to take their full four weeks of vacation: “Here people are working hard because they care about their cases, so there's a real sense that if you can take a vacation you really should. People don't resent each other and aren't constantly looking over their shoulder to check others are carrying their weight. If you deserve a vacation others will happily pick up the slack for you.” Any unspent allowance rolls over to the following year and gets paid out in your final salary should you decide to jump ship for good; “it's a nice little severance package,” as one interviewee put it.
Branded by interviewees as a “politically liberal” firm, pro bono work has always been more than just lip service at Paul, Weiss. A dedicated coordinator distributes the assignments among eager associates: “You can ask them to keep you in mind and they'll match you up with a partner on a relevant case. If you have an idea of what you want to do, they'll find a way to make it happen.” A popular choice among the associates we spoke to were immigration and asylum cases, while one acted as a legal guardian for a disabled person.
Charitable intentions aside, pro bono cases also give associates the chance to take on more responsibility at the firm: “I picked my cases and was completely in charge.” Another added that “it seems the best way to get oral advocacy experience as a junior associate.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 54,471
- Average per US attorney: 68
As the first major NYC law firm to hire an African-American associate (in 1949) and one of the first to make a female partner, Paul, Weiss certainly carried the baton for diversity to begin with, but has this followed through to the present day? One associate admitted that “it's not like a rainbow walking down the hallway, but that's BigLaw for you.” The numbers testify that the firm is not particularly unusual in terms of ethnic diversity or female partner ratios, but what does stand out is its commitment to waving the ideological flag. One interviewee was drawn to the firm for its “progressive, democratic reputation,” while another added that “women are treated exactly the same as men here, which is strangely a mark of social liberalism even in this day and age.”
This year a group from the firm took to the streets in celebration of Gay Pride and the firm's recent victory for equality in the Supreme Court, wearing t-shirts printed 'I'm with Edie' (see our Web Extras). There are women's networking groups, a black lawyers group, and a mentoring program that you can opt into as a member of an affinity group. Diversity needn't be limited to race, gender and sexuality, however, with one associate pointing out: “There's a lot of life experience. The variegated backgrounds of employees contributes to making it a very intellectually diverse place to work.”
“Everyone at Paul, Weiss has a story," one junior mused. "We're not robots, and even the partners are quirky.” It seems that if you want to get hired here, you need to be able to demonstrate a passion for something outside the law (but still don't forget about the law). Chairman Brad Karp confirms: “We're looking for the most talented lawyers in the US and around the globe, but talent alone will not cut it. We want lawyers who have a broad range of interests and who will enhance our culture. A top academic record is required to get an interview, but being a well-rounded, mature individual with presence and a range of interests is required to get an offer. We're looking for people you want to have a beer with and talk about the issues of the day." In case you're in any doubt about what having broad interests means, Karp states proudly: "Our associates have climbed mountains, acted in Shakespeare's plays, worked for humanitarian firms around the globe, and served in government in multiple capacities..."
The associates we spoke to all agreed that interviews were more an informal chat than a grueling academic assessment: “Once you meet the high academic threshold, it's more personality based. They're looking to see if you're emotionally intelligent with good communication skills. They focused on my past work and tried to understand my interests.”
Strategy & Future
Brad Karp believes “transparency” is of utmost importance and each quarter holds a round table with the associates to inform them of the firm's progress and strategy. This is to ensure they feel like a "cohesive enterprise, working together to achieve a common objective." An associate committee led by elected representatives is able to relay information to senior management, “from what we'd like to see in the kitchen, to technology issues.”
Associates also praised the way the firm encourages them to be transparent about their own career goals: “You don't have to pretend your career track is something it isn't. If you're pursuing a governmental role, partners are willing to help make calls and get you the resources you need. This means those who want to make partner are able to be heard and stand out.”