Having made its nest in the US' 'city in a forest', Alston & Bird is securely perched atop the Atlanta legal scene, enabling it to spread its wings in markets at home and abroad.
“ALSTON is a powerhouse in Atlanta,” our associate sources beamed during interviews.This firm's capabilities in the Peach State are certainly applauded in Chambers USA, which awards top rankings to Alston's work in nine areas, including general commercial litigation, corporate/M&A, antitrust, banking & finance, healthcare and real estate.A stellar reputation is one thing, but as we all know there's more to life than just rankings. Alston's associates were certainly wise to this, and told us that living in Atlanta was a big draw because “it’s somewhere that's friendlier and cheaper to live in.” This appealing degree of chirpiness rubs off on the firm itself – associates told us one of the reasons they were initially attracted to Alston was its reputation for being “very family-friendly and in keeping with that Southern hospitality spirit.” Others asserted that “because it’s a Southern-founded firm, Alston's known as a kinder, gentler BigLaw firm.”
“...very family-friendly and in keeping with that Southern hospitality spirit.”
But it’s not all about Atlanta with Alston; it has an additional eight domestic offices, giving it coverage on both coasts and in Texas. After Atlanta, the firm's North Carolina and DC offices pick up the most attention in Chambers USA, especially for IP and real estate in the former and tax, healthcare and employee benefits/exec compensation in the latter. On the international stage, Alston has offices in Beijing and Brussels.
Strategy & Future
2018 saw the firm report a record year, managing partner Richard Hays tells us – “We had a particularly busy year in our corporate and finance practices. We had a good bit of M&A activity in a number of sectors, so were busy in our healthcare and financial service practices as well.” The firm has “spent a lot of time through our firm retreats focusing on this notion of innovation,” through the integration of technology. Going forward, we can expect to see the firm’s data security and privacy practice grow further.
Alston's litigation & trial practice housed the largest contingent of juniors on our list; IP litigation took on the next biggest chunk, followed closely behind by corporate transactions & securities. The odd one or two associates were honing their craft in areas like healthcare, product liability, real estate finance and labor & employment. Work assignment tends to vary by practice group. For example, in corporate transactions & securities, “they have a system in place where we fill out a report every Monday and they reach out if we need more work.” However, in other departments like IP litigation “it’s pretty organic. It’s free market and once you work with a partner, work snowballs from them. There's no formal system where I fill out a form – it just happens!” Not everyone found the free market easy to navigate though: “Seeking out the partners means it’s sometimes not as inclusive as it could or should be.”
“...it’s one of the goals of the firm to make us more well rounded.”
There are “several different areas” to sample within the litigation & trial group, including “data privacy, antitrust, class actions and insurance defense” matters. The group picks up top marks from Chambers USA in its home state of Georgia, and is known for its handling of product liability cases, as well as those occurring in the automotive, healthcare, tech and retail sectors. In the New York office there's more of a focus on insurance and financial services matters. We heard that “a lot of the strategy revolves around litigation avoidance to keep everyone out of court and high exposure, so we tend to work on motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment.” When matters do progress to the trial stage, juniors can help partners to craft their argument for court – we even heard of one associate who got to draft a reply at the appellate level. Common tasks include “researching discrete issues and writing our findings up into client memos or briefs.” As they progress, however, associates can expect to get involved in preparing and even taking depositions.
Litigation clients: T-Mobile USA; The Home Depot; and Dell. Defended the latter after CamSoft Data Systems accused several defendants of conspiring to steal the company's video surveillance technology.
“...everything you could think of in terms of technology areas.”
The firm’s IP litigation department covers “everything you could think of in terms of technology areas, from consumer electronics to life sciences.” The Dallas office tends to focus on the former and New York on the latter. Meanwhile, the Atlanta HQ has some cool niches in telecommunications, consumer credit and veterinary sciences. In DC, there are a fair few matters tied to trademark and copyright issues. However, cross-office staffing gives juniors the opportunity to work on any mix of matters mentioned above. Overall, the department tries cases in front of the district courts and the PTAB (Patent Trial and Appeal Board), and deals with appeals to the Federal Circuit. Our interviewees had formulated answers to queries; liaised with experts; drafted documents for experts to review; and conducted “a lot of research into patents and completed technical analysis of them.” Click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read more about Alston's corporate transactions and securities practice.
IP clients: Web development platform Wix.com; manufacturer McNeilus Companies and telecom equipment company Nokia Solutions and Network US. Represented the latter during four patent infringement matters against Huawei related to communication equipment.
Hours & Compensation
Most interviewees found themselves working a 9am to 6pm/7pm day on average, and completed some “additional work after dinner maybe two or three days a week.” Busy New Yorkers did feel that they spent more time in the office though: “It’s typical for us to be here ten hours a day – and then do some more at home as well!” Weekend working tends to “come and go in waves – when it gets really busy, it’s not unusual to be in the office at the weekends for at least one day.”
“I was even able to take a vacation and still be on target.”
IP juniors noted a dip in their hours following a couple of partner departures, but work has recently “picked up – I was even able to take a vacation and still be on target to hit 1,950.” Associates across the other groups found the 1,950 billing target achievable: “Most people are doing well over the minimum – the expectation is people will work that much and more,” a source in Atlanta reported. It’s therefore good to know that A&B rewards attorneys who clock up more hours with a percentage of their salary as a bonus. Hitting 1,950 gives juniors 4% of their salary; if they reach 2,050 it’s 8% and if they climb to 2,150 it’s 12%.
The firm also raised its salaries in light of the increases witnessed during the summer of 2018. At the top end, incoming juniors in DC, Dallas, New York and the California offices receive the new rate of $190,000, but in Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh they start below at $165,000. “They say they are going to keep monitoring and adjusting as necessary,” a junior here explained. “It’s not the end of the world because we still get paid very well, especially for Atlanta.”
Associates can count up to 150 hours of pro bono work toward their billable target, but we also heard that “even if you go over that they'll consider the hours you've done when it comes to bonus time.” Corporate transactions & securities associates had generally done less than their litigator counterparts (“I've done some... not a ton...”), but even the higher pro bono billers in the litigation practices found that “it can be hard to prioritize pro bono over paying client work – most do it in their free time,” an Atlanta junior commented. Despite this, associates did generally agree that “everyone is encouraging” and that “the firm is dedicated – they'll make any project happen.”
Available work includes landlord and tenant, domestic violence, appellate, asylum and citizenship matters, as well as some juicy voting law work. IP litigators told us about a government-sponsored program “which enables us to work with small clients and patent their inventions; we also handle issues for actors and artists – we do a ton of that.”
Pro bono hours:
- For all US attorneys: 59,430
- Average per US attorney: 72.8
The Atlanta HQ took on just over half of the juniors on our list. Capturing the mood here, this associate told us: “Alston has always had that reputation for being a big firm with more of a friendly culture. Having been here for over a year now, I know it’s true – everybody is extremely pleasant and humble.” Interviewees in the HQ put this experience down, in part, to the generally smaller teams they’d worked in: “It makes a big difference because I work directly with partners most of the time. I’ve built relationships with partners and I’m not afraid to talk to them and chat about our weekends. Little things go a long way to making associates feel they’re respected.”
While the culture in Atlanta was felt to be “family friendly” (“I have kids and I don’t feel the need to hide that!”), associates here warned future recruits not to fall into the trap of thinking that the further south you go the less you have to work: “I’ve heard the pace is slower but I don’t think that’s true. We work hard – just as hard as the other offices, and we bill just as many hours!” That doesn’t mean there isn’t any time for fun though: nitro coffee, tea and kombucha are served on Thursdays at the ‘collaboration station’, which is a “nice way to get to know colleagues and talk to people you don’t usually talk to.”
“Little things go a long way to making associates feel they’re respected.”
DC and New York were the next most populous offices for juniors. While admitting that they “have a good amount of fun in DC,” some here did feel that they “probably do miss out on some of the bigger social opportunities that they get in Atlanta.” The relatively small size of the New York office “gives it a bit of the Atlanta feel, but it is definitely more formal than the other offices.” However, those in the Big Apple still felt that it’s “not as stressful as the other typical New York firms” and that “there’s more of a work/life balance: they respect vacation time and times when you’re not available.”
'Alston & Bird University' offers practice-specific trainings dedicated to litigation, IP, corporate and tax, as well as more professional skills like business development and communication. “A&B University is one of the main reasons I wanted to come to the firm,” a litigator in Atlanta told us. “We get the training we need before we need to tackle the work for real.” However, those in the smaller offices highlighted that “sometimes you feel that you’re getting less of the big training sessions and CLEs than those in Atlanta.” However, the firm's formalized training is available through a variety of platforms, including real-time video-conferencing, and on-demand eLearning modules.
“...they’ve given me a road map and a checklist, and they’ve shown patience.”
Across the board, juniors gave positive reviews of their mentors. “We have formal and informal mentors,” an Atlantan explained, “and mine have helped me to see what was changed in my work and how can I adopt the desired writing style.” In DC, an associate reported that they’d “been put with super knowledgeable people who want to see me do well; they’ve given me a road map and a checklist, and they’ve shown patience.” With an eye to the future, sources also said that they’d been encouraged to build relationships: “The firm tries to motivate us to think about what we can do to build our practice. They provide us with a budget to entertain people and encourage us to host events where we invite people from our social circle.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“They are trying but it’s disheartening,” said a DC-based source on the topic of diversity. “Our numbers aren’t great. A lot of diverse associates end up leaving, but that’s a reality in BigLaw in general. It’s an uphill battle.” IP litigators felt that their “STEM backgrounds narrow the pool already,” hampering diversity efforts, but those in the broad litigation & trial group felt that their group “is the best” when it came to “hiring and retaining diverse candidates.”
There are unconscious bias trainings for lawyers at the firm, but some in New York found that these weren’t “well attended – it’s just not a focus for some people.” Sources were more positive about a new initiative that has seen a diversity ‘point person’ allocated to each group, who connect groups to senior diversity management. “That person’s role is to address and acknowledge issues that crop up. They are the one who’s inviting that one diverse associate to lunch, when everyone else is walking by. So they are working on the inclusivity part.” This initiative was felt to be a step in the right direction: “Diversity is its own practice, and you need dedicated people who have studied it and are certified in it, not lawyers to be diversity point-people.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 626
Interviewees outside OCI: 30
Alston & Bird recruits from nearly 40 law schools and job fairs each year. It also conducts resume collections at 25 schools nationwide. The firm takes a “one-firm approach” to law school recruitment, which professional personnel partner Liz Price tells us means “that students may express an interest in any of our offices regardless of the office(s) represented by our interviewers.” At each school, the firm will interview between 18 and 40 candidates depending on the schedules. Interviews are conducted in teams of “enthusiastic” lawyers – usually one partner and one associate who are alumni of the school.
Interviews focus on “three key factors – desired office location, disposition, and a genuine interest in our firm,” says Price. Interviewers also note that while they are interested in an interviewee’s practice area interest, they understand that not everyone knows exactly what they want to practice so early in their career.
Top tips for this stage:
“A lot of our associates here have had clerking experience as well. Many of my colleagues came here during law school, got hired and then went and clerked for a year or two, then came back. The firm encourages that. Clerking got me comfortable in court.” – a junior associate.
“Make eye contact with your interviewers and be intentional about your responses. Relax and be yourself. We want to get to know you, not a fake version of you.” – professional personnel partner Liz Price
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 220
Each office handles the callback process differently. Some offices conduct interviews over lunch or dinner, others may conduct them in pairs. Price tells us that “in each instance, however, candidates meet with a combination of partners and associates from various practice groups, levels of seniority, and committees.” All candidates see their schedules in advance of the interview.
Price tell us that the callback isn’t “only for us to get to know the candidate, but also for the candidate to learn enough about us to decide whether to start their career with the firm.” For that reason, the firm ensures they interview candidates in a way that “encourages open dialogue and two-way conversations. To achieve this, we ask open-ended questions that allow candidates to provide us with examples of past experiences and achievements.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Being prepared, showing enthusiasm for the firm and being genuine are critically important to our lawyers.” – professional personnel partner Liz Price.
“When I interviewed here I got this feeling that everyone really cared about me and was actually nice. There were no fake interactions.” – a junior associate
A&B has a nine-week summer program that’s designed to “allow students to maximize their exposure to our lawyers and our various practice areas,” Price explains. Some smaller offices hire summer associates to fill specific practice group needs, but all of offices encourage “flexibility with work assignments with no formal rotation required.” The firm also provides “a variety of training opportunities,” including a firmwide retreat in Atlanta for “teambuilding, hands-on training, presentations, and plenty of fun.”
Almost all summer associates return to the firm as first-year associates. Some decide to pursue a judicial clerkship. During the summer, work is assigned “flexibly based on one’s interests, which allows our summer associates to explore a variety of practice groups during their time with us.” At the end of the program, summer associates flag their practice group preferences and group-specific offers are subsequently determined with this information in mind.
Top tips for this stage:
“I always encourage our summer associates to take advantage of the many opportunities provided by the firm, whether it’s a project in an unfamiliar practice area, coffee with lawyers they haven’t met yet, the opportunity to attend a hearing, deposition, client meeting or negotiation, or a fun social activity.” – a junior associate.
“We want to hire people who are committed to maintaining that culture of collegiality, good humor, excellent legal skills, open communication and genuine respect for each other.” – professional personnel partner Liz Price.
Interview with chairman and managing partner Richard Hays
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
Richard Hays: We finished our year very strong. Once again, we had growth in all of our core metrics. We reported a record year for the firm, with a particularly busy year in our corporate and finance practices. We had a good bit of M&A activity in a number of sectors, so were busy in our healthcare and financial service practices as well. Our data security and privacy practices also continue to grow and be busy.
We’ve spent a lot of time through our firm retreats focusing on the notion of innovation and have had a number of successes as a result. Our technology innovation group has pushed awareness of our technology tools closer to the day to day practices of our lawyers. We now have a full-time liaison between our practice groups and the firm’s technology resources. This eliminates the distance between what one part of the tech group is doing and everyone else.
We also expanded our e-discovery group and our special resources group. In the past we’ve used outside vendors to host data and process it, but now we do that ourselves. The clients don’t have to deal with multiple players so it’s less expensive and more efficient.
Our innovation and business development teams have also had success – we have always put on seminars, but now we’re doing podcasts, including a banking podcast that’s been well received.
CA: Tell us a little bit about the firm’s commitment to training.
RH: Our associates look for continuous improvement and innovation in the development and training opportunities we provide. A big part of our focus is on developing lawyers’ skills. To that end, we’ve devoted significant resources to our A&B University online educational training program at different levels.
We’ve recently added TAP, our Trial Advocacy Program, which has been very popular with our lawyers. Through the program, we develop relationships with local district attorneys’ offices and then designate lawyers to spend six weeks with them, during which they try two cases as the lead lawyer. We have mock trials at the firm, but this experience gives them trial by fire! When you’re handling cases at that level, you pretty quickly end up having to be the lead chair. The program has required substantial commitment on our side – we essentially take someone off the assembly line for six weeks – but the return has been pretty significant.
CA: How is the firm showing its commitment to diversity and inclusion?
RH: As firms get larger and become more institutional, they often hire individuals to run programs such as pro bono, diversity, and technology innovation. It is important that the people we hire not be disconnected from what’s going on in the trenches.
We created a Practice Group Diversity Partner within each of our practice groups as well as diversity partners in each office. The appointed partners are very seasoned and successful within their groups, and are excited to serve as champions for heightened awareness and connectivity.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
RH: Go into something that has a steep learning curve and seek out people who have a genuine interest in your development. This has been a winning formula for us. I genuinely believe that from the moment I started at the firm, the lawyers with whom I worked cared more about my success than their own.
I graduated from law school and joined the firm 32 years ago. I have been at A&B my entire career and it’s been very rewarding. In law school it’s easy to envision yourself as just one kind of lawyer, but there are a lot of different pathways and your daily life can vary greatly depending on what you choose. Going into BigLaw is just one thing you can do with your degree. You can also go into the university setting, or into a nonprofit, or use it to go into government. There is no single right path.
On the transactional side, juniors in the corporate transactions & securities practice are encouraged to work across the whole group, and even with other related practice groups such as finance and payment systems: “There’s no issue going cross-group like that – it’s one of the goals of the firm to make us more well-rounded.” Interviewees as a whole had worked on “a ton of M&A,” – both private and public, as well as security filings, public offerings, and general corporate work for private equity clients. Some associates told us that they had worked “mainly on due diligence, which can get pretty repetitive!” But one associate did wisely acknowledge that “one of the ways we get better is by just doing things over and over and over.” Other responsibilities come in the form of “drafting portions of agreements, producing smaller documents like resolutions – that sort of thing. When they see an opportunity to get you involved, they do try and give you the experience.”
Corporate clients: Payment business FLEETCOR Technologies; building products distributor U.S. Lumber Group; and poultry products specialist American Proteins. Represented the latter during the $850 million sale of certain assets to Tyson Foods.
Alston & Bird LLP
One Atlantic Center,
1201 West Peachtree Street,
- Head Office: Atlanta, GA
- Number of domestic offices: 9
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $730,579,255
- Partners (US): 345
- Associates (US): 366
- Main recruitment contact: Erin L Springer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring Partner: Elizabeth A Price
- Diversity officers: Cari Dawson and John Latham
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 46
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls 9, 2Ls 46
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Atlanta (ATL): 26, Charlotte (CLT): 9, Dallas (DFW): 4, Los Angeles (LAX): 2, New York (NYC): 7, Raleigh (RTA): 1, Silicon Valley (SVA): 4, Washington, DC (WDC): 2
- Summer salary 2019: 1Ls and 2Ls: $3,000/week (ATL, CLT, RTA) or $3,5000/week (DFW, LAX, NYC, SVA, WDC)
- Split summers offered? Yes, first half required
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
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, privacy and data security, 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 20 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 Most Recommended Law Firms. This recognition results from interviews with approximately 300 corporate counsel at Fortune 1000 companies.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
American, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Georgia, Georgia State, Harvard, Hofstra, Howard, Loyola – LA, Mercer, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UC Berkeley, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, UNC, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee
Recruitment outside OCIs:
BC/BU Job Fair, Georgia State Southeastern IP Job Fair, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Interview Program, NEBLSA Regional Job Fair, Pennsylvania (ATL Program), Sunbelt Minority Job Fair
Summer associate profile:
Our lawyers have diverse backgrounds as well as 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. Summer associates 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.
Recruitment website: www.alston.com/en/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Construction (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use Recognised Practitioner
District of Columbia
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Healthcare Recognised Practitioner
- Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory Recognised Practitioner
- Tax (Band 4)
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Mainly Regulatory (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Energy (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Immigration (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Finance (Band 2)
North Carolina: Charlotte & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Capital Markets: Derivatives Recognised Practitioner
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 3)
- ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 3)
- Government Contracts Recognised Practitioner
- Government Relations (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Customs (Band 3)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds Recognised Practitioner
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 3)
- REITs (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)