Associates start their life at Paul, Weiss either in the general litigation or corporate departments, or in a niche area such as bankruptcy, ERISA, tax, real estate or personal representation. They had nothing but praise for the firm's work assignment system. The idea is not to pigeonhole juniors at an early stage, but to give them a taste of the firm's smorgasbord of practices –“I liked that because I didn't know what I wanted to do,” explained one. Department managers “keep track of juniors pretty closely” and help them to steer their work toward their interests while ensuring that they have a good mix of cases. “It's very rare I've been assigned a matter that is similar legally to the subject I did previously,” one litigator claimed. “Even senior associates, to some extent, are staffed on a variety of matters.” Juniors are also encouraged to fend for themselves, sourcing work directly from partners.
Almost half of all junior associates fall under the broad litigation umbrella. They're encouraged to dip their toes into various practices, including securities, IP, commercial litigation and white-collar law. The level of responsibility afforded tends to fluctuate depending on ability, partner and case size, but as a general rule, “if you earn a partner's trust, they'll give you all the responsibility you can handle.” The occasional bit of doc review is inescapable on large cases, which can run into billions of dollars for multinational clients like Citi, but on smaller matters juniors regularly work “one-on-one with a partner, draft all the briefs and are in charge of the day-to-day running of the case.”
“In the past year and a half our corporate group has been completely transformed,” one junior claimed. This is largely due to new client Apollo, an investment management firm, which has massively bolstered the group's client portfolio. The firm's M&A, securities and private funds teams have emerged as ones to watch. The department houses a hefty contingent of juniors, who enjoy vast amounts of responsibility from day one. “I've had more responsibility than I was probably ready for,” explained one associate, but sources agreed that “partners are always there for you, even if things are over your head.” Duties generally include client coordination, constructing auxiliary documents, “having the first stab at putting a draft together,” and closing transactions – “juniors always run those.”
The bankruptcy department is “the largest small department” at the firm. It's “small enough that you feel you're part of an inner group” and have plenty of direct access to partners. “There's not so many layers of associates” and cases are leanly staffed. With a good mix of transactional and litigation work, juniors regularly “go to depositions, help review documents and prepare witnesses for depositions,” as well as “preparing for hearings and working out of court with creditors,” a second-year said. “I was the primary associate on that case.”
Training & Development
After an initial induction for all new associates at the New York office, Paul, Weiss has “a pretty hefty training curriculum,” with two weeks of intensive sessions for corporate and litigation juniors. “For the first year it's pretty regular,” claims one litigator. At first “there's probably training every week or two,” with the odd session and an endless amount of online training available after that. In-person sessions are slightly less frequent in the firm's smaller teams. A bankruptcy junior explained: “We have monthly or bi-monthly lunches where somebody in the group gives a presentation. It's very helpful, but there's not as much formal training as the other groups.”
Appraisals are a democratic affair at Paul, Weiss. In fact, "everyone reviews everyone," a junior said. In downward reviews, juniors receive feedback from partners and senior associates, and in upward reviews from staff attorneys and paralegals. “I've reviewed people, and they've reviewed me. I've even reviewed other associates that I've worked with,” one claimed. It's a pretty thorough process, culminating in a face-to-face meeting with the junior's assigning partner, although “if there's an issue it tends to come up before that point anyway.”
Paul, Weiss has managed to fend off the up-and-out mentality of so many of its peers, perhaps due to its incredibly buoyant economic condition. “The firm is just so economically stable that people know it's somewhere you can keep your job,” a junior admitted. It's not unusual for associates to be in the job for the long haul and “when you hit your fifth year, they give you a more thorough review to give you a realistic sense of what to expect in the future.”
While Paul, Weiss has offices in Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Toronto, Washington, DC and Wilmington, the bulk of its attorneys (70 percent in fact) reside in the firm's flagship New York office. Paul, Weiss was the first Wall Street law firm to move its offices up to Midtown, and it remains in the district to this day. The offices are currently going through a bit of a facelift – some floors have become temporary building sites and a few associates have been bumped off into windowless offices – but in a few years expect “a very nice looking law firm.” Another added: “We're going from a conservative look to something more modern,” describing the newly refurbished offices as “bigger and brighter with more glass.”
Juniors traditionally share offices for their first year or two, fostering a real “sense of camaraderie,” and some are treated to amazing views over the ice rink at the Rockefeller Center. DC is the firm's second largest office, housing only 50 attorneys in total. “There's a similar cultural feel to New York,” explained one source, “but it's newer and nicer, brand new and with even more space and class.” Litigation remains the office's strongest suit – according to juniors, “teams are a little smaller in DC, and there may be more emphasis on going to trial.”
There are two faces to Paul, Weiss. On the one side it's a razor-sharp litigator and BigLaw machine. On the other there falls a mysterious “Zen calm.” As one source noted, “Paul, Weiss is very courteous in terms of the decorum and the way people speak to each other. Nobody ever runs in the hallways or looks frantic or disheveled.” This is no accident, and maintaining the relaxed culture is high on chairman Brad Karp's agenda. “We're an old-fashioned partnership,” he explains. “We still believe the practice of law is a profession, not a business, and we are committed to safeguarding our democratic, collaborative and collegial culture.”
Part of Karp's strategy involves eliminating competitiveness through the firm's lockstep compensation system. “There's no reason to be competitive here,” claimed one source. “In fact, I can't think of a single reason why you would be.” As a result, the firm seems to attract academic types rather than ruthless go-getters. A junior described how “people are hard-working, and while not everyone is cuddly, associates are treated with respect and never like functionaries.” There's an informal vibe and relations between partners and associates are relaxed and friendly. “There are definitely some partners that I discuss the game with, or they'll come into my office to toss a football around for two minutes.”
Hours & Compensation
Paul, Weiss has somehow managed to bag itself a reputation in some quarters for working its associates to the bone. However, the consensus among juniors is that “it's not the super-sweatshoppiest of sweatshoppy firms.” Rather, “the hours are just unbelievably unpredictable.” This is largely down to the sheer amount of work on offer. “It's a 24/7 work culture” and when there's work to be done, it needs to be done, whether this runs into the evening or the weekend. The collaborative culture at Paul, Weiss softens the blow, however. “It's not the kind of place where people need you to physically be here,” and working from home is perfectly feasible. There's no sense of face time, and when hours stretch into the night “it's not like everyone else is at home doing pedicures – everyone is there which makes it much more bearable.” Ultimately, “people are very communicative, and if something urgent comes up people are responsive and pick up work for you.”
There are no billable hour requirements at the firm, and there is so much work doing the rounds that there's no real need to keep tabs on hours anyway. “I've never heard anybody talk about hours,” explained one source. “It just doesn't happen.” With the firm's lockstep compensation system, everyone gets the same bonus, no matter how many hours they've worked. “They try to make sure we're all shouldering an equal load,” a junior explained.
Every pro bono hour worked at Paul, Weiss counts toward attorneys' billable hours, and there's no cap on how much they can take on. “The chairman is really into pro bono,” claimed one source, but ultimately, it is up to every attorney how much they take on. While one junior told us, “I haven't done a minute of it,” another explained how “I think one colleague billed about 95 percent pro bono hours for six months.” The conclusion? “Not every associate takes advantage, but if you want pro bono work there's plenty of it.”
The firm is partnered with scores of public interest organizations, and associates are involved in everything from public housing to homicide trials to helping socially responsibly companies get off the ground. One even explained how he brought in his own case: “We brought it in, staffed it, and got a partner and an expert on board.” On pro bono projects juniors are handed “fantastic” responsibilities – “meeting the client and reviewing documents, as well as going to the hearing and cross-examining witnesses.” In general, “things you wouldn't get to do on a paying matter.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 55,911
- Average per US attorney: 75
Combining healthy dollops of both fact and speculation, it's perfectly reasonable to assert that if Atticus Finch were a real person, he would've been a Paul, Weiss lawyer. To Kill A Mockingbird is often said to be based on the infamous Scottsboro trials of the 1930s, defended by a group of the firm's early attorneys. Paul, Weiss's wholehearted commitment to diversity appears unshakable. In 1949, it became the first major law firm to hire a black associate, and was also among the first to make a woman partner in the early 1950s.
This loyalty to diversity shows no sign of waning. Coming in at a respectable number 11 on Am Law's 2011 Diversity Scorecard, the firm holds an annual Diversity Networking Event, which plays host to around 1,000 attendees. It's "big into its affinity groups,” each of which “has a huge budget and holds events fairly frequently," associates said. Plus, its diversity committee works actively with diverse student groups at each of the schools it attends for OCIs.
It takes brains to be a Paul, Weiss lawyer, and the firm doesn't mess about when it comes to selecting the pick of the bunch from the nation's finest law schools. While the feeling among juniors is that “it's pretty clear a big portion of summers come from Harvard, Yale, NYU and Columbia,” the firm does visit up to 30 different schools each year to conduct its OCIs.
Good grades aren't enough to impress this bunch, however, and Paul, Weiss really does look for candidates whose personalities shine through at the interview stages. After the obligatory resume chat, associates agreed that “I think with respect to the process, there really was a sense of individuality among the attorneys. Interviews weren't just law-related but we talked about relevant work experience or research I'd done outside academia.” As one junior put it: “It was refreshing to be interviewed about my background, but not in an accusatory way.” This is no accident. Chief recruitment officer Pamela Davidson explains: “We don't give interviewers set questions. We're not looking to stump our students, we want to allow them to tell their story.”
Buried within this story, recruiters are seeking candidates demonstrating a level of maturity. “We look for a go-getter who likes to take the initiative but is also a team player,” Davidson elaborates. A good sense of humor will also serve you well. “We go for people who don't take themselves too seriously, and who are enthusiastic about the profession.”
Strategy & Future
There is a bubbling and irrepressible optimism at Paul, Weiss, largely embodied by its chairman Brad Karp. “Our revenues and profits are at record levels, our talent has never been deeper, our lawyers have never been busier, and our client roster has never been stronger," he says. “Our litigation and corporate practices are operating at record clips and we are handling more multibillion-dollar litigations and regulatory matters, and more multibillion-dollar transactions, than at any time in our firm's history." The conclusion, unsurprisingly, is that “we're very optimistic as we enter 2012.”
So, where next for the firm that has everything? According to Karp, its litigation and corporate practices will continue to be “the engines that drive the firm.” While it currently has no plans to open any more offices, Paul, Weiss has a simple but effective expansion policy up its sleeve: “The legal market is experiencing an unprecedented level of stress and turbulence. We will continue to pay close attention to changes and trends, and try to take advantage of our position at the very top of the market to strengthen our firm even further.”