A&B juniors are keen to spread their wings – and this Georgian giant is just as keen to help them on their way.
“WHEN you come to A&B you’re not just a tool for billable hours, you’re a future partner.” No, that’s not a marketing line lifted from Alston & Bird’s website – that’s the hope and ambition we often heard from the eager junior associates we interviewed here. Many of them were sold at the interview: “I really did fall in love. I feel they’re invested in my professional and personal growth, and how those two interact.” As a legal market, Atlanta – where the firm's HQ is and the largest group of associates are based – certainly appealed to those “looking for a little more work-life balance” compared to what firms further up the east coast might offer. And when it came down to choosing A&B specifically, “the prestige factor was number one: it has a reputation for being one of the top full-service firms in the city.”
“home-grown talent – that permeates the culture.”
A&B is indeed a weighty presence in the Peach State, where it picks up a number of top-tier Chambers USA rankings in areas like litigation, corporate/M&A, real estate, banking & finance and healthcare. Juniors enthused about a broad clientele that ranges from “local big-names in Georgia to national and international clients,” includingCoca-Cola, Nokia, UPS and Wells Fargo. Elsewhere, A&B also secures praise for its work within North Carolina, DC and California; the latter state became a point of focus in 2017, when the firm opened a new San Francisco office and expanded its offering in LA. However, in light of this growth associates were keen to flag that the focus is still very much on nurturing “home-grown talent – that permeates the culture.”
Strategy & Future
On the topic of the new Cali office, chairman Richard Hays tells us:“We relocated a partner who’s been with us for more than 20 years to the San Francisco office to help integrate new partners and others in the office. That has enabled us to serve our clients in the area, and has opened the door to new client opportunities – especially in areas like litigation and insurance.”
Elsewhere, Hays explains that A&B's sector-based work in healthcare and with financial institutions continues to thrive. He adds that “the economy is doing better, so we saw more M&A activity in 2017. Nobody has a crystal ball but we’re expecting to see a continuation of that, along with some volatility. We also continue to see demand in the cybersecurity and data compliance area.”
At the end of the summer program, successful associates receive an offer to join a specific practice group – they can make their preferences clear at the end of the summer. By far, most newcomers on our list ended up in the litigation & trial practice. IP litigation took the next largest chunk, while the rest were spread between transactional groups like corporate transactions & securities, real estate finance & investment, and financial services & products.
Across the groups, juniors get work in several ways. First, each junior is formally linked up with “three people they can get work from – I have three partners but you could be grouped with senior associates too.” Second, there's a “workflow management system” that juniors fill out once a month to highlight whether they can take more work on or not: “The practice group leader keeps an eye on how busy people are to spread the work around.” Third, there's the informal route of “building relationships – it can just be a case of seeing someone in the hallway and asking if they have work. You gravitate to what you want and those people gravitate to you.”
The litigation & trial group practice covers “a myriad of general commercial cases.” Among the most common strands encountered were antitrust, healthcare, white-collar defense, insurance and international arbitration matters. What juniors do “totally depends on the size of the case: big clients may have a team of 30 people working for them, so we'll be doing doc review, but on a small case where you're working one-on-one with a partner we could be writing motions to dismiss and deposition outlines.” Other sources reported managing doc review teams and actually taking depositions during the discovery stages of cases. Some juniors in IP litigation had specialized in pharmaceutical matters, while others worked for “a wide range of tech clients: I'm the lead associate on one case for a Georgia-based company and I'm heavily involved in the strategy.”
“...working one-on-one with a partner.”
On the transactional side, juniors in the corporate transactions & securities practice are encouraged to work in both streams. Due diligence is “pretty common,” but sources also picked up ample experience “handling signings and closings, doing research, and revising and drafting documents – I've put together ancillaries and produced the first draft of a simple purchase agreement.” Real estate sources had worked on a mix of public finance and development deals, and reported a good system for ensuring progress: “We have a multipage checklist that covers the first three years in practice; it includes broad points like 'do a leasing deal' but also breaks them down into specific tasks.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates across the groups found the 1,950 billing target “achievable – if you're billing regularly it's not so difficult.” Hitting those hours makes juniors bonus eligible, and there's more up for grabs if they bill more: “At a minimum, you'll get 4% of your salary at 1,950, 8% at 2,050 and 12% at 2,150 – there's a discretionary amount for anything over that too.” Overall, sources felt “well compensated,” with Atlantans telling us “our base salary is top of the market for the city, and while our bonus structure isn't, it is nonetheless competitive.”
“We're expected to have a life outside of work.”
Work-life balance varied among groups. Those in the transactional practices were happier on this front, with one telling us that “110% I've struck a balance, especially compared to other Atlanta firms.” Bear in mind that for some this still meant “working maybe once every four weekends,” and long days of ten hours and upwards were the norm. Litigators felt the balance “isn't where it should be,” but put this down to finding their feet in practice rather than the firm's stance on hours. “One of the messages several associates got in our recent reviews was ‘find a way to take vacation.’ We're expected to have a life outside of work, and they realize the benefits of that, as you'll come back to the office and do better work!” We heard that “people with kids tend to leave by 5:30/6pm so they can have dinner with their families – if something comes up they can usually take care of it from home.”
Training & Development
A&B’s “prettyextensive” annual reviews combine a self-evaluation with critique from other attorneys, and culminate in “a meeting with your practice group leader and a partner on the associates' committee.” Juniors found the whole process to be very worthwhile: “You get an email containing everyone's feedback the day before the meeting; they rank you in several categories and provide comments. I got constructive feedback and as a result of that put together a good action plan for my second year.”
Practice-specific formal training is delivered through 'Alston & Bird University.' There are 'colleges' devoted to litigation, IP, corporate and tax, as well as more professional skills like business development and communication. IP litigators were particularly impressed, as their sessions were “focused on substantive areas of IP law – they're concentrated in the first year but continue beyond that.” The firm's mentorship program also fared well: “When you start you get both a partner and a senior associate mentor for four years. They allocate a budget so you can take them to lunch and talk – they're there for you if you run into any issues or have questions.” Some were especially happy with the scheme: “They really do invest in you and want you to stay for the long haul.”
Associates repeatedly touched upon A&B's “emphasis on home-grown talent” when discussing the firm's culture. “What differentiates us is that we retain a lot of associates – the partners know that and so tend to invest in developing your skills.” This, juniors felt, promotes a “healthy, phenomenal” culture from the top down: “It’s anti-A&B to be a yeller. From our managing partner Richard Hays to our paralegals to the folks making coffee and keeping the space beautiful – they know your name and face. It makes the long hours easier.”
“...doing the same work as the traditional 'white-shoe' firms, but with more of a smile on our faces.”
Many linked this more amiable vibe to the firm's Atlanta roots. “It’s an easy cop-out to say, ‘we’re a Southern firm so we have this Southern charm,’ but I think there is some truth in it,” thought juniors. “We pride ourselves on doing the same work as the traditional 'white-shoe' firms, but with more of a smile on our faces.” At the same time, associates emphasized that “we’re still a big firm, and a lot is demanded of us, but the people you’re working for make it known how appreciative they are, and to the extent it’s possible they are with you in the trenches. I had a major doc review project and the partner said: ‘I’ll take 100 docs, the mid-level can take 100 and the junior can take 100.’ That level of pitching in tends to be the norm here.”
A&B's Atlanta HQ is based in midtown in “the tallest building in the city.” The office was renovated in 2014 and juniors raved about the improvements made: “When I've brought pro bono clients and my family here they've all been blown away. There's lots of marble and glass, every associate has their own office, and there are great resources in the building like a dry cleaners, a florist, and a gym in the basement.” What's more, the area is fast becoming “a hub for Atlanta business. Looking out my window now I can see nine or ten cranes putting up new high-rises.” The city itself is “super affordable – tons of people, especially juniors, are buying homes here. Plenty of us live within walking distance of the office.”
The firm's New York office housed the second largest group of juniors on our list. Its Park Avenue address means it's a convenient “two blocks from Grand Central station.” Renovations are also underway here: “We have four floors and we're working on them one by one – we've got clean carpets, nice furniture and a Starbucks on the first floor.” The remaining juniors were fairly evenly spread between the DC, LA and Charlotte offices, with just one or two joining bases in Dallas, Durham and Silicon Valley. “They make a pretty concerted effort to keep everybody linked between offices,” sources told us, highlighting a lot of cross-staffing on matters and “a travel budget that allows you to attend training sessions in other offices. Many people work from other offices too, if they're visiting family in a certain city, for example.”
Among A&B's diversity efforts, associates especially approved of “a confidential suggestion box,” which resulted in the implementation of a “breast milk shipping program for women who are traveling for work – the firm pays to have the milk refrigerated and shipped back home. After someone proposed it the program was in place within a month.” Some associates felt the firm should do more to address unconscious bias in the workplace: “White men tend to give work to other white men, so you have to be more of an advocate for yourself as a woman or a minority.” However, they felt confident that A&B's women’s initiative and wider diversity committee would tackle this and other issues: “They plan panels, mentoring programs, lunches and dinners. They also have a budget to send people to certain diversity CLEs.” The firm also told us that unconscious bias training is rolled out on an annual basis across all offices.
Associates had made full use of the 150 pro bono hours that can count toward the billing target: “I maxed that out and even went over. The experience you gain is transferable to the billable side.” In Atlanta, there's “a full-time pro bono partner with tons of ties in the community. She helps to organize and distribute opportunities for all kinds of cases – landlord and tenant, domestic violence, appellate, asylum. You could go to her and say, ‘I’m interested in saving the rainforest in a far flung country,’ and she will get you involved.” Associates outside of Atlanta had no trouble getting work either: “We get weekly emails from various organizations, and if we want we can develop our own projects – the firm's happy and willing to guide us through that.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 55,778
- Average per US attorney: 63
Several associates recommended that law students identify A&B attorneys that went to their school: “Reach out to them to see if they’d be willing to give you any tips. Pick their brains about their experiences just to get a sense of what it’s like.”
But for anyone hesitant to start networking, associates advised hopeful candidates to “put student government to the side and focus on your grades. If you can do that, you’re still gonna be in a good spot – even if you’re the shiest person and don’t want to reach out.”
And if you get to the interviews, “we know you can do the work, or you wouldn’t have gotten the interview.” Associatesunderlined that “it’s important to show you’re interested in both A&B itself and the legal market we're recruiting in,” but the most important point is “letting your true personality show through. Don’t necessarily show up with a silly hat, but be yourself. It becomes painfully obvious if you're putting on a façade; our firm really is dedicated to wanting to work with genuine people we want to be around.” And finally, associates wanted students to “trust your instincts about the interview process – we do give a thorough impression of the firm as a whole.”
OCI applicants interviewed: 850
Interviewees outside OCI: 70
Applicants invited to 2nd stage interview: 264
Interview with Alston & Bird's chairman, Richard Hays
Chambers Associate:What has Alston & Bird been focusing on over the last year?
Richard Hays: We had a busy year in most of our sectors: corporate, securities, finance, healthcare, intellectual property, and litigation. Our busiest year ever.
We opened a new office in San Francisco. We relocated a partner who’s been with us for more than 20 years to the San Francisco office to help integrate new partners and others in the office. That has enabled us to serve our clients in the area, and has opened the door to new client opportunities – especially in areas like litigation and insurance. We have historically been fairly conservative about opening domestic offices, so we put a lot of thought into this and really considered the demand for us to be there.
Growth in LA has been good this year as well. We’ve added partners in litigation, finance, and in our environmental practice. We’ve also promoted several associates to partner, so the number of lawyers that we have there has increased.
CA:Which areas will you be focusing on over the next couple of years?
RH: We have a significant number of practices that are industry-based. Our work in the financial institutions sector, for example, represents a substantial part of our practice – it's predominantly in New York but we also have a strong presence in Dallas and Atlanta. Healthcare-related work continues to be a very busy area for us. Our commercial litigation, class action and multi-district complex litigation group has always been strong for us too.
The economy is doing better, so we saw more M&A activity in 2017. Nobody has a crystal ball but we’re expecting to see a continuation of that, along with some volatility. We also continue to see demand in the cybersecurity and data compliance area. We anticipated that in our Brussels office, which has been working on matters tied to the privacy law changes that are taking place in the EU and other countries.
CA:How has the firm changed since you joined?
RH: I take pride in saying I was a summer associate in 1985 and joined the following year in 1986. I think I have always viewed my job as one that requires me to inspire people to change while preserving the firm's core values.
Culturally, you bring core values into the times, but we have always focused on collegiality, mutual respect and creating teams of lawyers that work together. We did that when I joined in ’86 and it’s something that remains important to our partners now. We have a very strong sense of the need to invest in the next generation of people who are coming along. I can say I feel strongly about this because I have benefited enormously from the people who invested in me and wanted me to succeed. Only now with distance have I come to appreciate that I had more senior partners and others who were working with me, who genuinely believed in me and wanted me to succeed. That is a strong part of the culture and something we keep intact.
One area that is changing is how we go about practicing and how we use and integrate technology into our practices to respond to client needs – I think we’re just beginning to see that take hold and that’s exciting. It presents a lot of opportunity.
CA:Do you have anything to add on training and developing the next generation?
RH: Over the last several years we've implemented several initiatives that have addressed how to integrate technology into our practice. One of our top initiatives, however, has been our investment in AB University. In our secondment program, for example, we put our developing lawyers in different sectors and different courts and continue to invest in them while they are away. Our work with AB University really ties back into what I was saying about the need for constant training, mentoring and investing in that generation. That’s something I continue to be really excited about.
Interview with Alston & Bird's hiring partner Liz Price
Chambers Associate:How many schools do you typically visit for OCIs?
Liz Price: Last year we were involved in 42 OCI programs and job fairs. We go to the national schools and also to the regional schools in geographic accordance with our offices – each office tends to have feeder schools. We also do a number of resume collections: for schools where we don’t go on campus, we will collect resumes and then do screening interviews, typically by video. Regardless of how we first meet them, our callback process is the same. Last year we interviewed 850 students on campus, and I think we had about 260 callbacks.
CA: And how are the callback interviews structured?
LP: It differs by office. Our New York office, for example, has 'super callback days' where they bring in a group of about four to six students to interview with groups of lawyers on specific days. Our process in Atlanta involves bringing someone in the evening before so they can go out for dinner with at least two lawyers. If the candidate coming in has a spouse then we’ll have our lawyers bring their spouses as well. The next day the candidate will interview with at least five people, and then they'll go to lunch with two more lawyers. We include all levels of lawyers: we do like to try and have partners attend at least one of the meals, and we always include members of the hiring committee.
We will also ask students before they come to the callback if there’s an area of the firm that they're particularly interested in, so we can individually set up and tailor their callback interview. They might have an interest in a particular practice area, committee, or type of work we’re doing, so we'll try and schedule the appropriate people to meet them.
CA: How is your summer program shaping up in 2018?
LP: The summer program firm-wide has recently been around 40 2Ls and then maybe eight to ten 1Ls. We expect around that number this summer, too. We will probably have a number of similar events and trainings in 2018 too; we always have an annual retreat in Atlanta where we bring associates in from across the US to spend three days here to do some training, team-building activities and a number of social events, including visits to various meaningful sites in the city, like the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Martin Luther King Center.
The biggest change in our entry-level recruitment plans will be an increased focus on hiring outside of Atlanta due to growth. Our summer program in Atlanta used to comprise the bulk of the summer class by numbers, but over the years it’s come to account for less than half of our summers across the firm.
CA: What kind of person thrives at Alston & Bird?
LP: I would say there’s a lot tied up in that question. Mostly we want people who are going to be genuine and enthusiastic about more than just practicing law – we want people who will engage in the community outside of the firm. So we want people who are multidimensional, and those who will thrive in a very collegial, team-oriented and collaborative environment. We place a very high value on our culture in that regard, and are looking for people who have similar core values to the firm.
CA:What kind of questions do you ask in the interview?
LP: We have different types of interview questions. A large part of the process will reflect the more standard, softer, personal interview style – we'll be getting to know somebody, and getting to understand them beyond their resume. We do also use behavioral interview questions. For example, if we're assessing teamwork values we might ask: ‘Tell me about a time when you had to lead a team and the outcome wasn’t what you desired.’ Then we have a conversation about that particular incident and how they handled it. You can learn a lot about a person that way. Many candidates haven’t worked in a corporate environment, so the examples they use could relate to a sports team, a school project, or a summer job.
CA:What doesn’t impress you at interviews?
LP: The people I interview are for the most part extremely impressive. When I interview folks now I think I wouldn’t hire me – I would hire them! But from time to time we will get something that either doesn’t ring true or doesn’t feel like someone is being genuine, and that would be a turn-off – when people sound like they’re repeating a mantra or just saying what they think you want to hear.
Someone who doesn’t ask thoughtful or sincere questions won’t impress in the interview. I once had somebody who asked: ‘Tell me about your alternative fee arrangements.’ We’re talking about someone just starting their second year of law school. I think he'd just read about it. There was nothing in the question or the following conversation that led me to believe there was something deeper than that. It didn’t feel genuine.
I also had somebody who handed me a new resume when they came into the interview. That’s not surprising, as sometimes people have new grades or a new activity to highlight, so I asked him, ‘What’s new?’ He pointed out a grade, but he had also taken off one thing I’d flagged as interesting – an a cappella group. But he had taken that off and put in a sports activity instead, and when I asked why it had changed, he said he had been told to change it. And I thought that didn’t feel genuine. I believe that if you are interviewing and you feel that you can’t be yourself, it probably isn’t the right place for you.
CA:We understand your first interview was a bit of a learning experience – could you tell us about it?
LP: My very first interview involved going out to a lunch with a couple of partners, and I didn’t know what to expect. I asked my mother for advice on what I should order to drink if asked first and she told me to order a Chablis or a sherry. At the lunch, I ordered sherry and the interview kind of went downhill from there. I probably should have known because Mom hadn’t been in the workforce since the 50s.
I didn’t get the job of course, but I happened to see one of the interviewing partners a few years later because we had a mutual client. I went up to him and mentioned our interview lunch and he was trying to be very polite. He said: ‘Oh no, you were terrific!’ I said: ‘You must have overnighted my rejection letter.’ We had a good laugh. That was all on me. It’s a funny story to tell – we’re all human, and we all make mistakes or do things that probably don’t put us in the best light.
I haven’t seen anything like that as an interviewer. I think people are probably a little more aware, and they probably have better advice – especially advice gained from their career service. I didn’t know any lawyers, so the whole process was new to me. Now you can google interview questions and behavioral interviews and know what to expect. Not so much 35 years ago!
Notable pro bono opportunities (schemes, client affiliations etc.)
Children's Advocacy, Voting Rights, Asylum and Immigration, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Death Penalty Appeals, Veterans' Benefits, Landlord Tenant, Family Law, and more.
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 (email@example.com)
- Hiring Partner: Elizabeth A Price
- Diversity officers: Cari Dawson and John Latham
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 46
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls 9, 2Ls 46
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 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 2018: 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
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, 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Construction (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
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)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Finance (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Derivatives Recognised Practitioner
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 3)
- ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) Recognised Practitioner
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 3)
- Government: Government Contracts Recognised Practitioner
- Government: Government Relations (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Customs (Band 2)
- 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)