New starters work within one of Hunton's eight main teams: litigation, IP & bankruptcy; administrative law; capital finance & real estate; corporate; competition; labor & employment; energy & infrastructure; and tax & ERISA. The largest teams represent “big umbrellas” and include various specialized practice subgroups. For example, an associate in litigation, IP & bankruptcy might focus on securities, while a corporate attorney may primarily work in private equity. Juniors are assigned to a specific practice from the beginning, although there is the opportunity to “pick up work from elsewhere within the team if there's a need for it.”
Juniors are encouraged to source their own assignments initially. “You had to be very proactive in asking for work and finding out which cases partners were working on,” recalled a third-year. Associates thus build a rapport with certain partners and receive repeat projects. “I work for two partners on a consistent basis,” said one. “If you work with the same partners you know what they want and what they like, and that makes for a better working environment. If you keep changing partners, it's like you’re having to start anew every time.” A weekly report provides an additional safety net for those struggling to pick up assignments. “We submit a two-question survey saying if we have available time for the coming week and for the foreseeable month,” explained a source. “If you're slow, you'll get a call from someone offering you work.”
The more substantive tasks tend to come with experience. “The first year is a steep learning curve after coming out of law school,” recalled a second-year. “You’re figuring your way out, finding your feet – so there's a lot of research and writing assignments and not much client interaction.” However, with a relatively shallow pool of junior associates, partners are willing to pass over responsibilities quickly to those “who show they can handle it.” A third-year beamed: “I'm now spearheading cases. The partner has become more comfortable with my working style so will give me direct contact with the client. I pretty much handle cases from top to bottom with a partner's supervision.”
Training & Development
Hunton lays on training by the bucketful. “We have training all the time,” exclaimed an associate (who was in fact off to a litigation skills session immediately after our interview). “You're not obligated to go to everything but it's certainly encouraged.” Frequent lunch seminars teach “administrative skills such as client development or billing,” or have a departmental focus. Practice-specific training is conducted by teleconference or in person and is “usually very helpful and convenient for you to attend without too much disruption.”
The yearly review is a “very formal process,” which includes self-evaluation and the evaluations of partners for whom you've done a significant amount of work. “The meeting is very constructive – it gives you the opportunity to improve,” said one junior. Another concluded: “I think it worked well, but it came across as institutionalized. You feel like you're getting the same evaluation as anyone else in the firm, even in the different offices.” The firm stresses, however, that all reviews are individualized. A third-year added: “I found it somewhat useful, but there is less constructive criticism than I would hope for. They generally try to keep the review positive unless there’s a problem.” For more, read the Web Extras.
Hunton & Williams has 14 offices in the US as well as operations in Bangkok, Beijing, Brussels, London and Tokyo. The Richmond office, home to 200 attorneys, went through a remodel recently leaving it looking “new, fresh and clean.” The top-floor cafeteria “has great views of the river and the city skyline,” while “the bigger conference rooms upstairs are very impressive." One junior reckoned: “If you're going to spend a lot of hours at work this is the kind of place you want to be.”
Hunton's next largest office is in Washington, DC, whose 140 attorneys moved into a new abode in Foggy Bottom in 2011. Perks include a gym in the basement and an abundance of windows that “let in a lot of light.” However, the layout is “quite segregated,” meaning it “doesn't have the same collegial feel of the old office." Lawyers here are often deeply involved in the workings of the federal government, while the environmental practice “is much sought after.”
The New York office is on the 52nd floor of the MetLife building on Park Avenue. “The views are fantastic,” chirped a Big Apple associate. “Our offices are all outer facing so we get views of all the different parts of the city. New York definitely wins on the view.” The firm's Dallas branch opened in 2002 after Hunton merged with Worsham Forsythe Wooldridge and now has almost 90 attorneys working in “the heart of downtown.”
“Hunton & Williams is a very quality-of-life firm,” an interviewee reflected. “People come in and work hard all day, but the firm understands that you have family obligations and need some time away from the office. They're flexible in that regard.”
Hunton's Virginian beginnings mean that there's a healthy dose of “southern charm” found within its walls. “We're very tied to our southern roots here,” a Richmond junior told us. “People are nicer and more chivalrous. You'll never hear a woman complaining about not being the first off the elevator, that's for sure.”
The firm's working environment as a whole is “relaxed, laid back and cooperative.” One source explained: “Partners don't have an overlord sense; they're very accessible.” Another elaborated: “I had the impression that the legal profession would be stuffy and involve people barking orders and have a very distinct tiering, but that's not at all what I've experienced here. Everybody interacts and gets on really well. There's no clear segregation between partners and associates. It's easy to come to work and that makes the experience so much more enjoyable.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates are set a target of 2,000 billable hours (including pro bono hours and client service work), which some considered “ambitious but achievable.” One third-year summarized: “It includes a lot of work, but is it unreasonable? No. Is it easy? Definitely not.” Most juniors reach this target and even those who were off the pace weren't unduly concerned. “I don't think it's a question of job security,” concluded one. “No-one is a slacker here so the firm is good at taking into account the reasons why you haven't met the numbers.”
Salaries are pitched at market rate, starting at $145,000 in Richmond and $160,000 in New York, DC, California, Dallas and Northern Virginia. Hitting 2,000 hours is usually a guarantee for advancing to the next class year, although merit and performance also come into play. Bonuses are more of a gray area and “there is not a lot of transparency over what you need to do to gain them.” In fact, every interviewee told us different criteria for their allocation. One offered an all-encompassing viewpoint: “Some people say you need to reach 2,200 hours, some say it's 2,300. Others believe you can come in under 2,000 hours and still get a bonus if your work merits it. Overall it's probably a combination of both, but either way the bonuses are not that high.”
“Pro bono is one of the fundamental principles of Hunton & Williams. I was honestly blown away by the level of commitment the firm shows. It's not just lip service.” Another junior chirped: “It's one of my favorite things about Hunton. They really stress how important pro bono is and it's very easy to get involved with.” The first 50 hours of pro bono work automatically count toward the billable requirement and “depending on how substantive it is, up to 100 hours will receive billable credit.” One quipped that if you don't do much pro bono “you'll get a phone call from the managing partner!” In fact, the firm has achieved 100% pro bono participation among its attorneys the past three years running.
Interviewees had been involved in guardianship, domestic violence, asylum, veterans' benefits and child abduction cases, among others. Pro bono offers associates opportunities they may not sample in their normal day-to-day. “I ended up doing some litigation work and ended up before a federal court,” reflected a transactional attorney. “It was completely foreign to me and I had a lot to learn, but that's why I'm so interested in taking on pro bono cases.” Another junior had taken a case all the way from the district to Supreme Court: “In the natural course of things, I possibly wouldn't have ever gotten that experience.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 50,602
- Average per US attorney: 74
Wally Martinez is one of BigLaw's few minority managing partners, while women head up Hunton's offices in Washington, New York, Raleigh, London and Los Angeles. “It's certainly not a rich-old-white-male firm,” a junior reckoned. That said, although the firm's gender diversity was widely praised –“it's nice to see so many women in power” – ethnic diversity was still considered “a work in progress. It's getting better; let's just leave it at that.”
Associates believe the firm is “actively pursuing a more diverse culture” and “is always striving to improve.” Hunton has a 20-member firmwide diversity committee that works with recruiting teams and develops programs and policies to support a diverse environment, while a multiday retreat for minority lawyers and summer associates is scheduled every two years in a major US city.
For candidates interviewing on campus, it is essential to show an interest in the profession. A junior associate explained: “I think the main reason we're turned off a candidate is when it seems they don't want to be here, or don't want to be lawyers. One person I interviewed kept talking about his former job and how he only came to law school because he got laid off. You need to be careful about how that type of statement comes across.” Being able to express interest in Hunton & Williams is also key. “You've got to want to work here,” said a third-year. “Do your research; know who you're interviewing with. Several people interview for the sake of it and can't explain why they want to come here.”
Apart from this, recruiters want to see people who they “will be able to get along with. Hunton has a credo of 'one firm' so a social outlier is going to have a problem.” Associates said “the firm's culture shows that it hires the right people” and those who appear out of sync with this ethos will struggle. “The most annoying trait a candidate can have is when they seem very ruthless in their quest to get to the top.”
Strategy & Future
"First and foremost we want to build on our strengths," says Wally Martinez. "A law firm needs to be comfortable in its own skin, so our strategic plan prioritizes growing out our practices ahead of adding locations." As such, Martinez pinpointed five key areas which Hunton was seeking to expand: financial services; energy, especially in the oil and gas space; real estate; consumer products; and healthcare. "You'll see a significant amount of investment in those strategic areas," adds Martinez. "You have to make sure your core strengths are solidified."
Martinez is cautious when it comes to broadening the firm's footprint. "In terms of growing the firm we're careful," he says. "We don't buy into the strategy of planting the flag. We're not adverse to growth and we welcome the right opportunity, but whether it's international or domestic, there has to be a clear practice and client demand. In this environment growth for growth's sake can lead to problems. It can be destabilizing, or cause you to over-invest. There’s no point in saying 'well, other people are here so let's go join the party'."