Hunton has eight core teams for new associates to join. These are: litigation, IP and bankruptcy; administrative law; capital finance and real estate; corporate; competition; labor and employment; energy and infrastructure; and tax and ERISA. Within many of these teams there's the opportunity to specialize; a junior in litigation, IP and bankruptcy can narrow their practice down to financial services or securities litigation, for instance, while corporate contains subgroups like private equity, M&A and structured finance. And even though new starters are assigned to a specific practice group upon arrival, many of the associates we spoke to reported taking on work from areas outside of their specified team. One interviewee summed it up perfectly: “Your practice may be focused, but it's far from being constricted.”
In order to get work, some juniors find they “have to be very proactive to begin with. You need to go to the senior attorneys in your group, knock on their doors and show a willingness to get involved. But over time you develop these relationships to the point where, eventually, they'll come to you with assignments instead.” It doesn't quite work like that in the smaller groups, though: “As you're working with fewer people in those groups, it's easier for you to be given work off the bat without having to hunt it down yourself.”
While there's isn't much of a formal allocation system in place, partners do take it upon themselves to ensure associates are kept occupied. “They have a very good grasp of how busy we all are,” sources agreed, “as they keep tabs on our hours through official reports that are submitted – but they also find out just through the conversations they have with us.”
Insiders were thrilled with the way in which attorneys at Hunton “are very attentive to your education as an associate. They don't just give us work purely for the sake of it; they're always keeping in mind how we might be introduced to something new.” This means life as a junior here “never feels static, because you're not simply doing the same old boring tasks each day.” A case in point: “At the start I wrote memos, did bits of research and was pretty heavily supervised. But after building that trust and proving myself, I've been granted a lot more independence, to the extent where I've even been leading my own cases.”
Training & Development
A relatively standard orientation at the start of associate life is followed by a plethora of training sessions throughout the first year and beyond. “They tend to be weekly, but sometimes they can even be on multiple times a week,” a source explained. “Some are for CLE credits, others are just internal sessions. The best part about it is they're pretty much all optional, so I can go and take advantage of them as much or as little as I want.” Many of these cover quite general topics, but the more practice-specific sessions are just as frequent. In litigation, for instance, there are monthly lunches covering skills like “how to write summary judgment motions, or about the ethics surrounding internal investigations.”
The “extremely formal” yearly review comprises several components: “You write a self-assessment, describing things like the projects you've done, what work you'd like to do more of in future, and how you're hoping to develop your career.” The next step is for associates to be reviewed by the partners they've worked a great deal with – but, unlike at some other firms, “all the comments are attributable; there's no hiding behind a number. All the reviewers are present in the room during the meeting too, so it's very transparent.”
Hunton's Richmond HQ, its largest office overall, is situated “right in the middle of downtown” at the Riverfront Plaza. “Our offices are all outward facing,” one dweller observed, “so every associate has either a view of downtown or a view of the river.” Inside the building is a gym that offers reasonably priced membership, as well as a cafeteria with “hot meals, a burrito station, a huge salad bar, Starbucks coffee and a soda machine. The food is great and the prices are even better!”
The firm moved into its current DC base in 2011, meaning “everything is very swish. We've got floor-to-ceiling windows and the facilities are incredible.” Among those facilities is a free-to-use gym, which “the HR team has started using to put together exercise classes for Hunton employees.” On the work front, the office “is arguably best known for its environmental and energy practices,” and makes use of its location by often being involved with government-related work. Hunton has 12 other domestic offices, including a team of nearly 100 lawyers on the 52nd floor of the MetLife building in New York, while its overseas operations are in Bangkok, Beijing, Brussels, London and Tokyo.
In the eyes of its associates, Hunton is a place where “everyone genuinely spurs you on to succeed and be happy. A lot of resources and time are spent on making us feel like we're a valued part of the firm; partners listen to what we have to say, and try to develop our careers in ways that are meaningful and will help us greatly for years to come.” It's also a place that's “devoid of big egos.” As one junior recalled: “I wanted to be in an environment where people do brilliant work but don't have to be jerks in the process. I've found that to be absolutely the case here.”
Speculating on what factors might influence the firm's culture, Richmond-based sources sensed that “our Southern roots do play a big part. Just as an example, law schools in Virginia tend to stress the importance of civility, and many of us here were recruited from Virginian schools. The civility that's present in all those institutions is carried over to Hunton.”
Our interviewees who were stationed outside of the South didn't quite share the same view, though. “That Southern influence is something you'll find to be a lot more prominent in the Richmond office, seeing as that's where we started out,” a DC-er noted. “We very much fit the DC mold here.” Indeed, some got the impression that “the New York and DC offices are generally more demanding and home to spunkier personalities. They're more in line with what you'd expect from their locations – you stay slightly later, work more weekends, see your family less...” Even so, “people don't shy away from one other and it's far from being doom and gloom.”
Hours & Compensation
Hunton sets its juniors an annual billable target of 2,000 hours, which includes pro bono hours and client service work. The consensus was that “it's easy enough to hit if you have the work – and the most important thing is the firm knows whether you do or not.” In other words: “If you don't hit your hours but have been doing everything you're supposed to do – filling your time with pro bono, knocking on doors, stuff like that – then you needn't worry.”
Something insiders were a lot less clear about was how the bonuses tie into it all (a complaint we've heard in previous years too). Put simply, “the process is very opaque,” prompting a couple of associates to reveal that they “literally have no idea what it takes to get one.” A second-year offered their own explanation for how the bonus system works: “There's no set scale where the extent to which you bill over the target corresponds to a certain bonus amount, which would be nice. But at the same time they look at it from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective – so if you don't hit exactly 2,000 hours, for example, you can still get a bonus based on the quality of your work.”
Associates were quick to point to Hunton's record of having 100% pro bono participation from its attorneys for the past few years, a sure sign that “while many firms simply talk about how committed they are to pro bono, we actually walk the walk.” The first 50 hours of pro bono undertaken automatically go toward the billable target, but we also heard “if you go way beyond those 50 hours then some of that may still be counted toward the billable – like working on a particularly time-consuming project,” but this has to be approved. However, beware of falling short on pro bono hours: “They'll start to track you down if you've not been doing enough,” according to one source.
Pro bono opportunities are easy enough to come by. “There’s a central database where you can see what’s on offer in the various groups,” plus “e-mails are sent around for the larger matters that require more engagement, such as death penalty and asylum cases.” What’s more, the firm “has developed longstanding relationships with a bunch of nonprofit organizations,” meaning juniors can get involved in their local community no matter which office they’re based in.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 44,908
- Average per US attorney: 67
Hunton has the evidence to support its associates' claims that the firm cares about diversity. Just look right at the top: Wally Martinez is currently one of the few minority managing partners in BigLaw, while the London, Los Angeles, New York, Raleigh and DC offices are all headed up by women. In the case of DC, office managing partner Andrea Field was singled out for considerable praise: “She regularly organizes events where female attorneys will get together and do something like go for lunch or see a play,” we were told.
Although it became clear to us that Hunton “is by no means a boy's club,” one junior thought “the meetings and events geared toward ethnic minorities aren't quite as frequent.” That said, others mentioned quarterly meetings with a focus on diverse issues, as well as a recent two-day retreat in DC for minority lawyers and summer associates. A source added: “There was a slate of events, seminars and day sessions, where we discussed professional development and any specific concerns we had.”
Hunton's recruitment drive focuses on about 19 schools, with an emphasis on ones ranked in the top 20. “We also interview at Fordham University, the University of Richmond and Southern Methodist University – those are the ‘backyard schools’ for certain offices,” explains recruiting manager Becky Chavez. “We accept online applications too, and have hired numerous summer associates through that avenue.”
When it comes to what Hunton is looking for, hiring partner Kim MacLeod says: “A candidate must have good grades, writing or journal experience – especially if he or she is focused on litigation – and leadership roles.” From then on “it's mainly about personality and finding a mutual fit, and that's something we can't determine until we meet in person.”
As far as the interview process goes, MacLeod offers some sound advice for those eager to impress: “It's understandable that candidates want to be remembered, but it's important that they're remembered for the right reasons. I once interviewed someone who rearranged my office furniture and propped his elbows on my desk. That certainly left an impression, but probably not the one he intended.”
Strategy & Future
While managing partner Wally Martinez appreciates the hard graft put in by Hunton's more senior attorneys, he's just as keen to recognize the contribution juniors are making at the firm. “Our associates continue to perform incredibly well,” he tells us. “Something that struck me through the economic downturn was how they managed to remain at such a high level of engagement and productivity. That speaks not only to the quality of the associates but also our culture; this isn't the sort of place where partners will hog the work in order to keep themselves busy.”
Martinez continues: “We're hiring heavily out of our summer programs, but we also look to hire aggressively in the lateral market. It seems like every time we fill two, three or four slots, we realize another three or four need to be created.”