Birds of a feather flock together, and associates hired here have all demonstrated "a hunger, appetite, enthusiasm and creativity.”
ALSTON & Bird added another chick to its nest at the end of 2015 with the hatching of its Beijing office. Managing partner Richard Hays chirps: “We had a growing practice from clients based in China over the last several years, with more of our lawyers spending an increasing amount of time there. Opening an office in Beijing was a natural step.” The new addition, Hays assures us, is already hungry and gobbling up far more than its initial diet of IP matters: “Our inbound corporate/M&A work has been greater than we had anticipated.” Beijing is Alston's second international office (the first is in Brussels) and joins a brood of eight US offices.
Alston's Atlanta HQ is at the top of the pecking order for corporate/M&A work in the region, according to Chambers USA, while its large IP group is also highly regarded. You'll also find the firm roosting among the top branches of the antitrust, bankruptcy/restructuring, healthcare, labor & employment, litigation, real estate and tax trees. Alston might be a golden eagle in Atlanta for these practice areas, but it was high-flying reputation of another kind that first attracted interviewees here: “Alston gives young attorneys national level work without burning them out. A lot of firms promise a work/life balance, but I've found it to be true here.”
Many of the firm's 30-odd entry-level associates swoop into the litigation or IP department (including IP litigation, securities, and trial). The rest are spread across transactional practices including finance, financial services & products, corporate transactions, and real estate. Finally, a few usually go into the tax department.
“You're just the new kid on the block.”
Work allocation is “pretty group-dependent. The smaller groups have no formal process; you're just the new kid on the block and people check your availability with the practice group leader before getting in touch with you. My group requires associates to fill out a workload report to indicate if you're jammed up and off limits.” Larger groups like IP litigation or litigation & trial operate a formal pairing system where associates are attached to two partners and an associate. One litigator explained: “I got most of my work from them in first year but it wasn't a bar to getting projects from other people I wanted to work with.” By the time associates hit their third year, “the system acts as more of a back up” than first point of call, but “there is a concerted effort from the partnership to ensure associates update them every couple of weeks on capacity so no-one is over burdened or under served.”
Alston's IP litigators primarily handle patent litigation (pursuing patent infringement claims) on the defense side, although there's also scope to sample things like trademark litigation. Newbies in litigation & trial spend their first few years as generalists, flitting their way through areas like antitrust, white collar, healthcare and class actions. Litigators in both groups pointed out that a current busy spell at the firm meant they'd seen higher levels of responsibility than expected: “There are definitely times when I'm helping out on a higher level by assisting with deposition prep and writing motions for the court, but there has been a good mix of tasks. I can sit back and not worry about things while doing doc review and at other times make a lot of effort with a memo.”
Training & Development
Litigation juniors felt “the firm makes an effort to fill the gap created by the lack of trial experiences for young associates, in a world where cases don't go to trial as often as they used to.” Alston & Bird Litigation University schools associates in practical areas such as “conducting depositions or handling discovery disputes. We submit mock assignments and receive feedback; it's been helpful in broadening our horizons when the client work isn't bringing us to those stages. We'll be a bit more prepared when we see it.”
“Fill the gap created by the lack of trial experiences.”
IP litigators can also jump on IP training with their transactional counterparts every couple of months to discuss areas like “patents, trademarks and trade secrets, so those who don't encounter those areas learn what each section does.” Deal-doers in corporate and transactional groups receive regular rundowns on skills such as conducting due diligence and negotiating agreements. They also participate in mock acquisition agreements, with associates acting as either buyers or sellers.
Way before they get into all the nitty gritty training, all new starters attend a week long orientation on the usual nuts and bolts, topped off with discussions on “how to manage being a young associate.”
Up to 100 hours of pro bono count toward the firm's bonus eligible target. One junior told us “there are associates who've never done it and some who bill over 300 hours a year. We can tackle whatever we feel comfortable with.” Others felt there was more of a concerted "push from senior associates and partners to make sure we're involved with it. We might not otherwise get the opportunity to be able to stand up in court as a first or second-year.”
“We might not otherwise get the opportunity.”
Most matters are sourced through the firm's internal pro bono portal where juniors can pick up “opportunities helping artists write contracts or sell and protect their work. We also help victims of domestic violence and write wills and offer estate planning for folks,” one associate outlined. “A big pro bono opportunity in Atlanta is human trafficking cases.”
Pro bono hours
Hours & Compensation
Alston & Bird has no formal billable hours requirement but associates are bonus eligible at 1,900 hours (including 100 hours of pro bono). Bonus amounts increase for every 100 hours above the target and the firm also offers discretionary bonuses tied to non-billable work such as business development or high levels of pro bono. Juniors believed the bonus target was a “reasonable figure but it's dependent on which group you're in and your seniority so not everyone makes it.” For those who don't, “it's a little disheartening that the number is so rigid and doesn't take work flow into consideration.”
“Past 7pm there are only a few lights on around the office.”
One typical target-hitter reassured us: “I don't feel like I have to work 12 hours a day to make the 1,900.” Most interviewees put the daily attorney exodus home time at around 6.30pm. “If I'm here past 7pm there are only a few lights on around the office. There is really is an acceptance and encouragement to work remotely. People don't care where you are so long as the work is done.” That said, several sources generally didn't have to plug in from home more than a couple of days a week, if at all: “I've not had to do it for a few weeks.” Even those who do consistently put in a couple of extra evening and weekend hours told us they had “tons of time for a social life, gym, vacations and all that other stuff while still hitting bonus hours.”
Alston & Bird's decade and a half on Fortune's list of the '100 Best Companies to Work For' sets expectations high, so do attorneys think Alston actually lives up to the hype? “Generally everyone has this perception that they wouldn't want to work anywhere else,” one junior reckoned. “That's not to say it's a cake walk here. Expectations are very high for everyone but they come with a lot of respect too.”
A leisurely stroll through the firm's hallways doesn't usually afford attorneys the sight of “people with their doors closed or their heads down looking like they haven't slept in two months.” Several sources noted the firm's knack of diffusing any slip toward BigLaw's notorious highly strung environment: “I'm stressed but it's not like despair,” clarified one upbeat associate. “It's more that I'm involved in work that places a lot of expectations on me. I don't dread working with anyone in particular, which makes pretty stressful projects easier to do.” Another shared similar emotions: “I'm normally an anxious person – law school made me anxious! – but everyone is so upfront there are no real surprises here. People are warm and understanding, so my stress is low.”
“The Southern culture is warmer and friendlier.”
Alston's Atlanta origins topped our poll of the main drivers behind its culture. “We're more congenial and laid back than the traditional stuffy firm; the Southern culture is warmer and friendlier,” one Atlanta-based rookie revealed. “The partners take an interest in associates' personal lives. I see that day-to-day in the hallways and it carries into the work environment when partners want to make sure I'm not overburdened and I'm getting the kind of work I want to do.”
The HQ's atmosphere appears infectious to varying degrees. In Washington, DC, the smaller office “feels more formal than Atlanta,” but head up country to the Big Apple and you find that “being a Southern firm, Alston's culture is a little different to New York institutions which grind associates out.”
Sources believed there is a good amount of “collaboration across offices” when it comes to staffing cases. “It creates an environment where we feel like one firm, not different firms spread across the country.” Even juniors who were yet to see substantial cross-office action noted, like this New Yorker: “We often call other bases just to ask what their particular thoughts on a matter are. I think we're very integrated.”
“We feel like one firm.”
Atlanta handles “a bit of everything.” New York tackles cases with more of a financial bent and “our California offices have a really strong environment group.” DC houses a robust healthcare practice while Charlotte's IP group is regarded by Chambers USA as one of three top-ranked IP groups in the region.
“Alston makes a sincere commitment to diversity," associates said. "During orientation we had presentations in unconscious bias in the workplace and visited The [Martin Luther] King Center in Atlanta.” Happily, diversity initiatives stretch somewhat further than a quick Powerpoint and jaunt to the local memorial site. Alston's active Women's Initiative, for example, throws events like happy hours, client dinners and associate dinner parties at partners' homes.
“A coffee and a chit chat every quarter.”
While the Women's Initiative operates its own mentoring system, other minorities (LGBT, ethnically diverse etc) are also assigned a mentor. "We have coffee and a chit chat every quarter.” But are these initiatives having any effect on Alston's attorney make up? “The partner level is not as diverse as the associates. I don't know how to feel about that,” one source admitted. “Variety takes time to bubble up to senior levels, especially as the odds of making partner are hard anyway. We'll see how it goes.”
Setting aside the obligatory good grades, Alston is “not looking for people who just want to punch a clock, but those seeking to be part of our firm in a meaningful and complete way. We want new associates to come in with an appetite for sophisticated and meaningful work, and personal and professional growth and development, ” professional personnel partner Liz Price stresses.
“Act like a regular person.”
But bear in mind that “at some point you have to step back and be yourself,” one associate involved in hiring told us. “If I see someone just putting on an act, that's strikes one, two and three. I don't know who you are if you're trying to be a super associate for 30 minutes rather than yourself.”
Strategy & Future
Late 2015 saw the addition of a Beijing office to Alston's roster. "It's the next frontier,” one associate exclaimed. Sources pegged the move as "very much work driven; we're not expanding internationally just for the sake of it.”
While no more new offices are on the horizon, the firm's concentrating on its existing bases: “We've had a good bit of expansion in our Dallas office; at the beginning of the year we brought in about eight lawyers into our financial team and just added an additional five lawyers within the last couple of weeks to our financial services and banking groups,” managing partner Richard Hays tells us.
We interview managing partner Richard Hays
Chambers Associate: The firm launched an office in Beijing in 2015, what was the reason behind this?
Richard Hays: We're very excited about that. I would put it into the context of our overall strategy of being where we see client demand. We had a growing practice from clients based in China over the last several years, with more of our lawyers spending an increasing amount of time there. Opening an office in Beijing was a natural step to provide administrative support and a branded platform for lawyers to serve our clients and attract new business. Thus far it's been extremely successful.
CA: Will Beijing predominantly handle IP matters?
RH: We're focusing more on inbound needs. IP was a primary focus and that remains the case, but part of the success of our Beijing office has been that we've seen opportunities in, and attracted work in, other areas. Our inbound corporate/M&A work has been greater than we had anticipated.
CA: Are there any plans to open offices in other locations?
RH: We remain opportunistic. We have had significant expansion in Brussels with the addition of several lawyers. We've seen increasing client demand here in the area of privacy and data security; we welcomed Peter Swire, who is a significant presence in this practice area, into our Atlanta office. Our cyber security group has also grown in Washington, DC, Dallas and California.
CA: Are there any current offices you've particularly invested in over the last year?
RH: We've had good growth in all of our offices and promoted around 20 lawyers to partnership. In terms of lateral growth, we've had a good bit of expansion in our Dallas office; at the beginning of the year we brought in about eight lawyers into our financial team and just added an additional five lawyers within the last couple of weeks to our financial services and banking groups. We've had a lot of success in those two practices, which is consistent with our strategy of focusing on areas of client needs. We've also had good growth in our regulatory practices in Washington DC.
CA: Which areas do you think will be busy in the coming year?
RH: We have strong corporate, finance, IP, healthcare and litigation practices. Our tax practice has been an area of focus for us as have the regulatory practices in Washington, DC; these include our FDA, trade, antitrust, and healthcare fraud and abuse groups.
CA: So what's the general strategy going forward over the next few years?
RH: You can't be a great law firm if you don't have great lawyers. Our fundamental strategy has been to fundamentally recruit, train and promote top talent in areas of client demand and need. We train our associates through Alston & Bird University, and a number of business development programs from associate level to the early years of partnership. It's our goal to promote as many of our associates as we can. Organic growth is always our starting place for firm expansion and our lateral growth is more strategic and focused in areas of specific need.
CA: Any advice for law students as they try to enter the legal profession?
RH: I would encourage new associates entering the profession to have an appreciation for how important what they do really is. It's easy to lose sight of that in the daily grind but the work they're doing is very important; they're building an infrastructure for society and shouldn't lose sight of that. Every associate has a strength; identify that strength and take advantage of it. Everyone has something we as a firm can use and need. Successful associates are comfortable with that and don't try to fit into a pre-existing mould; they play to their strengths and leverage them.
You also want to be in an environment that has a steep learning curve because you'll be dealing with people who are extraordinarily talented and can achieve great things.
CA: Is there anything else you think it's important to know about the firm?
RH: We've had a successful year, we've reached a record high on all our metrics. We've had two initiatives over the last few years that have yielded lots of positive results: our Client Service Initiative and our Team Work Initiative. We've focused on building and creating an environment and infrastructure where our lawyers can come together across offices and areas, quickly and seamlessly. The results have been wonderful and that's been reflected in terms of our rankings by various organizations. The rankings don't define us but it's always nice to see they reflect what’s important to us.
Interview with professional personnel partner Liz Price
Chambers Associate: What qualities do you look for in candidates?
Liz Price: We seek well-rounded, highly motivated and creative individuals who are committed to the practice of law in a collegial, team-oriented environment. We're not looking for people who just want to punch a clock, but those seeking to be part of our firm in a meaningful and complete way. We want new associates to come in with an appetite for sophisticated and meaningful work, and personal and professional growth and development.
CA: How can someone stand out in an interview?
LP: Candidates who are authentic and who can demonstrate the qualities stated above (enthusiasm, creativity, and a desire to learn and grow) tend to stand out in our process. We also appreciate candidates who can speak to how their past experiences have impacted their academic, professional and personal endeavors.
CA: The firm introducing some additional summer associate training programs in 2015. What did they entail?
LP: We have a hybrid approach to training that includes utilizing our own attorneys, outside consultants and plenty of “learning by doing.” Examples of our training programs include the Business of Law, negotiations skills, hands-on writing exercises and client service projects.
CA: How successful have the new programs been?
LP: Our training programs are very effective and the feedback is universally positive. Our summer associates are hungry for training and a more realistic summer associate experience. We provide that by encouraging them to stretch in their assignments, to engage in firm and community activities, to experience practice activities outside the office – whether that's attending a client meeting or hearing – and to ensure they get exposure to what lawyers do on a daily basis.
CA: How can someone stand out on the summer program?
LP: We strive to create an environment in which the summer associates see each other as teammates, friends and colleagues. Individuals stand out by doing excellent work, demonstrating a fit with our culture by participating in the firm community, and showing a strong sense of teamwork with their fellow classmates. We host our summer associates from all over the country at an annual retreat in Atlanta to ensure camaraderie across all offices and practice groups, further providing each summer associate the opportunity to demonstrate the qualities stated above and to experience what we believe is a uniquely collegial and supportive environment.
CA: Is there anything else students should know about the summer program?
LP: We encourage summer associates to take on pro bono work and are pleased that 100% of our class took on a pro bono matter in 2015. While not a requirement, it is important to the firm that we continue the tradition of giving back that has been a hallmark of our culture since our founding in 1893.
Human trafficking pro bono at Alston & Bird
Life can be far from peachy in the Big Peach. Recent statistics complied by the FBI marked out Atlanta as a human trafficking hub thanks, largely, to its well-connected transport network and the numerous conventions held in the city, which draw in plenty of potential clients with time and money. It's estimated that a whopping $290 million a year is generated each year by the hidden sex trade in the city, which exploits both adults and minors.
While government agencies chase down and prosecute pimps, traffickers and individuals who've forced victims into servitude, Alston's attorneys assist newly freed individuals with applications for legal status in the US. Cases are referred to the firm through the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) but the firm also works closely with local social services: Tapestri – an organisation which aims increase access to services for human trafficking victims and raise social awareness of human trafficking in the local area – and New American Pathways who support to refugees to settle and integrate into the local community through cultural orientation and support in areas such as education and careers.
We caught up with Alston & Bird's pro bono and community service director Cheryl Naja to learn more about the firm's efforts.
Chambers Associate: How did this pro bono opportunity come about?
Cheryl Naja: All of our offices engage in a variety immigration matters but attorneys in the Atlanta office responded to a long-recognized unmet legal need in the Atlanta area. By joining together with a group of attorneys in the community, volunteers were able to work with a local nonprofit to help launch a human trafficking pro bono project that got underway in 2008. Unfortunately the Atlanta community has been ranked among one of the biggest markets for child prostitution, sex trade and labor trafficking and in response to the ongoing critical needs the Alston & Bird continues to expand pro bono efforts in this area.
CA: People often associate human trafficking with the illegal sex trade, but what other situations do you come across?
CN: Modern day slavery, or human trafficking, may come in many forms. Our attorneys have represented women, men and children who have been exploited in a number of ways. One of our clients was recruited to come to the United States for a vacation experience. Upon arrival her passport was taken from her and she was forced to work as a domestic servant for several years until she was able to escape. Another client came to the U.S. to marry someone with a promise of starting a new life. When she arrived in the U.S. she spoke no English and was completely dependent on her new spouse. Immediately her passport was taken from her and she suffered years of physical and emotional abuse before seeking assistance.
While the clients’ stories are all different, there are similarities. The clients we serve have been exploited, traumatized and have faced various forms of abuse. Our attorneys are glad to be a part of the healing process. By assisting victims of human trafficking through the legal process, our volunteer attorneys are helping clients take steps to overcome painful circumstances in order to begin their recovery.
CA: What else does the firm do to support victims of human trafficking?
CN: Our staff members also assist clients by organizing a variety of volunteer projects. We have held events to package “house warming kits’ packed with household basics, made blankets, organized drives for a variety of basic needs and helped with home furnishings. For Alston & Bird our work assisting victims of human trafficking is more than just working on the legal matter. We want to follow them through to help our clients start the path to their new life.
Alston & Bird LLP
One Atlantic Center ,
1201 West Peachtree Street,
- Head Office: Atlanta, GA
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $645,287,528
- Partners (US): 340
- Associates (US): 341
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $2,600/week (ATL, CLT, RTA) or $3,075/week (DFW, LAX, NYC, SVA, WDC)
- 2Ls: $2,600/week (ATL, CLT, RTA) or $3,075/week (DFW, LAX, NYC, SVA, WDC)
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes, first half required
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 46
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 40 offers, 34 acceptances; several pending due to clerkships
Main areas of work
Alston & Bird provides a full range of services to domestic and international clients. Our core practice areas are intellectual property, complex litigation, corporate and tax, with national industry focuses in healthcare, financial services and public policy.
Founded in 1893, Alston & Bird is a leading national AmLaw 50 firm. Counseling clients from what was initially a local context quickly expanded to regional, then national levels and now spans a global economic environment. Alston & Bird has overlaid its broad range of legal skills and business knowledge with a commitment to innovation and technology. Alston & Bird has been ranked on FORTUNE magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 17 consecutive years, an unprecedented accomplishment among law firms in the United States. The recognition speaks to the culture of the firm and the environment in which we practice law and provide service to clients. Alston & Bird has been consistently recognized as a US law firm providing superior client service in the BTI Client Service A-Team. This recognition results from interviews with approximately 240 corporate counsel at Fortune 1000 companies.
• Number of 1st year associates: 38
• Number of 2nd year associates: 51
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $155,000-$180,000 (based on location and patent bar membership)
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
American, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Georgia, Georgia State, Harvard, Hofstra, Howard, Loyola, Mercer, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UC Berkeley, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, UNC, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee
Summer associate profile:
Our lawyers have diverse backgrounds, varied social, cultural, civic, and educational interests and our summer associates are no exception. We value hard work, scholastic excellence and strong interpersonal skills. Summer program components: Our summer program provides students with substantive work for real clients, handson training opportunities, lawyer pairings to help foster relationships and a firm-wide retreat.
work closely with their mentors to identify projects from our database that will allow for an authentic experience based on their legal interests. In addition to formal training programs, we offer out-of-office experiences to attend depositions, client meetings, hearings and other hands on learning experiences. Associate contacts ensure that summer associates have plenty of opportunities to interact with attorneys throughout the summer.