Despite its youth and boutique size, Axinn handles some of the world's biggest deals, and is a veritable teenage dream for antitrust.
“IT'S been an extraordinary year for us,” managing partner Jim Veltrop enthuses, with justification. Having turned 18 in 2015, Axinn's coming of age little resembles that of your average late teen. This feisty firm spent the past year advising on billion-dollar mergers and representing the heavyweights of the pharmaceutical and technology industries; notches in Axinn's legal bedpost feature the names of huge corporations including Google, Black & Decker, and most recently Dell (see Work Highlights).
Axinn's expertise is further demonstrated by its rankings in Chambers USA, where it is among the front runners both for general commercial litigation in Connecticut, and antitrust in New York and DC. And while 2015 might be Axinn's “best year ever,” according to Jim Veltrop, “2016 looks just as good, if not better.” With a growing antitrust practice and several major cases pending, including one he describes as “possibly the largest antitrust class action in US history,” it's no wonder this young firm's hard-working partners and associates alike are excited about its future.
All of Axinn's lawyers are litigators, and newbies are evenly divided between antitrust and IP, with just one in the general litigation group. The latter does a lot of corporate-level insurance and commercial contract litigation, as well as some high-level labor & employment cases. Work is allocated formally via an assigning partner: “Every week we turn in our projected hours and he will use that information to task people on matters.” While the firm is “working on a system to align associates better with what they want to do,” assignment is mainly based on associates' availability.
In IP, the firm's “bread and butter for many years,” the team works a lot with medical devices and generic pharmaceutical companies (generic drugs being those whose patents have expired). Technology has also been a growing industry for the firm in recent years. Associates mentioned cases related to developments in the biotech field, like spinal implants. A large portion of work in this group is devoted to patent litigation, although there is also “counseling work and Freedom to Operate projects: the client comes to us to see if they can put the project on the market without infringing existing patents.” For first-years, this mainly translates into discrete research projects as newbies familiarize themselves with particular topics. Although doc review in the traditional sense is mostly contracted out, “you still have to manage that,” and attorneys review documents to prepare for depositions. Second and third-year associates described tasks such as writing first drafts of briefs and motions, prepping expert witnesses for depositions, and defending depositions: “I have a far more central role. I'm not the captain, but I'm squad leader.”
"The most rewarding part of antitrust is getting to dive deep into those markets."
Over in antitrust, Axinn does “everything from deal work to counseling to litigation, and we're also trying to grow our criminal practice.” How does this break down day-to-day? “The main ball of work is getting to know the markets and the products, finding out who your client is and what they sell. It's all about pricing and competition – the most rewarding part of antitrust is getting to dive deep into those markets.” The compliance side involves “looking into current compliance programs, and finding out what would be effective, and what regulators would consider a good compliance program.” Merger control is “like an investigation, working hand in glove with regulators. Then at the end of the tunnel there may be litigation, so it's a hybrid.” Antitrust associates described clients ranging in size and industry, from the portfolio companies of private equity firms, to large lab equipment and computer technology corporations.
Training & Development
Aside from a few days “getting to know the IT systems,” Axinn doesn't have much by way of initial orientation, and “you basically learn everything on the job.” That said, there is the odd training session on topics such as taking depositions, how to bring in clients, and “recently someone came in to teach us about oral presentation skills.” As far as practice area-specific training goes, attorneys will “get together once or twice a month to discuss new issues and developments in the legal field. If something particularly interesting happens in a case, we'll go through that too.” While associates agreed that the training schedule “isn't very systematic,” efforts are being made to increase the amount of formal instruction.
"I've never thought twice about asking questions."
Although juniors are assigned mentors, associates also find guidance more informally: “I look for coaching and advice from those people that I have developed a close relationship with. I've never thought twice about asking questions.” But while most felt well supported, some said high rates of turnover among midlevel associates means that “as a junior, there's not a whole lot of accessibility to somebody who is above me. It's hard to ask a partner a stupid question!”
Offices and culture
The New York HQ is mainly focused on the merger control side of antitrust work. The building is “spectacular,” with “a very black and white, hipster-style décor. It's very modernistic.” Another added: “It's kind of monochrome with splashes of color, not the wood paneling of your typical New York firm.” Although New Yorkers don't have a gym, being Midtown means there's a lot of choice for restaurants, and “frankly it's good to get out of the building sometimes.” The DC office, which works on a broader mix of antitrust matters, does have its own gym, and is “in a great location; all of the metro lines are close to us, and there's a lot of options for places to eat around the office. It's a very vibrant area.”
Over in Hartford, the office is awash with “light colors and dark, stained woods; it's very light and inviting.” The building offers various amenities such as banks and a food court, and associates have access to a YMCA gym on the first floor. One Hartford associate told us that “it's almost like they're a different firm in New York.” By comparison, New York and DC “work together a lot.”
"It's almost like they're a different firm in New York."
Associates revealed that attitudes to work differ between offices, and that DC and Connecticut are more “laid back” than their counterparts in New York. So is the Big Apple is more BigLaw? “That would be the tactful way to say it,” one DC associate responded carefully. “When you're working on a deal for somebody in New York, the hours are much more unpredictable. Well, they're predictable in that they're inconvenient!” Another remarked that working with New York means “I will regularly have to sign back on at around 10pm in order to receive edits for the next three hours, whereas if I'm working with somebody in DC, I might get those first thing in the morning.” New York associates themselves agreed: “We work longer hours here and it's a little more intense.” That said, the sophisticated matters that the firm takes on mean that regardless of where you are, “people work really hard. Although Axinn is a smaller firm, it's not for somebody who wants a small-firm lifestyle.”
Working habits aside, the firm's small proportions give it a universally “amiable atmosphere.” A junior in the Hartford office mentioned that “I know every single person in the office, and that’s also starting to be true in the New York and DC offices, because I travel there for business.” Another added: “We'll get lunch together, and stop by offices to chat.” This doesn't necessarily translate into a lot of external socializing, however, and while there was talk of the odd happy hour, a quarterly office get-together, and lunches with other associates, “a lot of us just want to get home to our families and lives.”
"We're not holding hands singing Kumbaya, but I will ask partners questions."
In general, associates felt that partners were approachable, to an extent: “I mean, we're not holding hands singing Kumbaya, but I will ask them questions.” Another associate was equally imaginative, explaining that “I view the partners as half-coach, half-captain of the team. For the most part you're doing the work and they're coaching you through, and at the end of the game they enter and score the winning goal.”
Hours & Compensation
Interviewees agreed that “the reality at Axinn is a lot of hours, so there are a fair number of late nights and weekends.” A few felt, therefore, that “the firm could benefit from respecting associates' time more. It's not the amount of work, it's getting the weird late-night and weekend emails.” Juniors were generally quite accepting of the demanding hours, unless “we're working into the middle of the night because a case wasn't well managed.”
Associates need to bill 1,850 hours to eligible for a portion of their bonus, and 2,000 for the full amount. While most reported achieving their target, some IP associates had struggled as “things have been a little slow” in the department this year. Antitrust associates, meanwhile, highlighted that “if you're on an investigation or a litigation your hours could range from seven to ten a day, whereas if you're on a big deal, they could be more like ten to 14. And the big deals can last for six to ten months, so if you don't get put on one, your hours could come in as significantly lower.” As far as vacation goes, Axinn's formal policy is four weeks, and while “the firm is fairly accommodating” if you plan in advance, the consensus was that “it would be very strange if somebody were able to take the full four weeks.”
"Taking on pro bono seems very daunting.”
100 pro bono hours can count toward billables at Axinn, and the firm sends out regular e-mails with opportunities. But while some juniors were enthusiastic about pro bono, and had exceeded even the 100 billable hours, others felt “pretty overwhelmed by billable matters, so taking on pro bono seems very daunting.”
Opportunities that were mentioned varied from veterans' rights affairs to taking on refugee cases through the International Rescue Committee. Attorneys in New York had worked for Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, which provides legal representation for low-income artists and nonprofit arts organizations.
Pro bono hours
“This is a very white place,” one associate informed us, another noting: “We have a few minorities and certainly a good number of women associates, but in terms of partner ranks both are very much underrepresented.” The firm's figures tell us that 12.5% of partners are women, while 100% are white. What is being done to improve this? “I'm not aware of any initiatives,” one associate admitted. There is in fact a diversity committee, as well as an initiative for female attorneys. The latter get together in New York once a month for a conference: “Sometimes we get speakers in who help us think through developing various skills like oral communication.”
Given Axinn's young status and ambitions to grow, antitrust hiring partner Daniel Bitton looks for “people with an entrepreneurial spirit.” And if you think you're the cream of the crop, think again: “We need our attorneys to excel beyond the best in order to get the business. They need to be smart and have creative ideas, and be committed to working hard and outworking others.”
"You have to have a demonstrable interest in antitrust."
Antitrust associates were very clear that “you have to have a demonstrable interest in antitrust. We take that very seriously into consideration.” A background in economics for this practice area is also “pretty much a must-have. It probably could be picked up but it would be pretty difficult.”
Strategy & Future
“I'm super-excited about Axinn," HP Daniel Bitton tells us. “I started in 2004 when there were 18 of us, and now there are more than 60 here. We're growing rapidly: it's a really exciting startup environment to be in.” And associates echoed this, with one antitrust newbie adding that “we expect to grow from our summer associate program and from laterals this year, because we've been very busy.” MP Jim Veltrop points to some challenges within the IP market of late, adding that “there's a storm going on within IP, but we're weathering it quite well. The practice remains very vibrant, with lots of very high-level cases.” Read the full interview in our Bonus Features.
"We're growing rapidly; it's a really exciting startup environment to be in."
How to succeed at the boutique end of BigLaw
The term BigLaw can be misleading. It brings to mind enormous national or international firms with hundreds of lawyers, which encompass many – if not all – practice areas. But, like any good rule, there are exceptions. Firms such as Axinn – while classed as BigLaw for the size and complexity of the matters they handle – don't adhere to the same criteria when it comes to firm size and structure. “I don't know how to measure this, but there might not be another firm in the world that's this small, and doing the matters that we do,” managing partner Jim Veltrop muses. With just 65 lawyers, and a boutique structure specializing in antitrust and IP, Axinn is certainly on the littler side of BigLaw. But how does this impact your approach to applying? Luckily, alongside Jim Veltrop, we've got Axinn's antitrust hiring partner Daniel Bitton and IP hiring partner Jeremy Lowe on hand to give some advice.
First things first, don't assume that specializing early on will be harmful to your legal career, as Daniel Bitton explains: “What I see sometimes when I go recruiting is that law students don't have a good idea of what they want to do coming out of law school,” he tells us. “I would encourage students to really think about that, because I've seen students go to big firms to keep their options open, but the reality is that you don’t necessarily have optionality when you go to a large firm, and you may end up in an area that you don't enjoy. If you know you like antitrust, at a top tier boutique like ours you get to do high end work on extraordinary matters in the practice area of your preference, without the risk of being placed in a practice you don’t like.” It's important, then, to think ahead, and consider what areas you've enjoyed, or are enjoying, during law school. Leaving your options too open could ultimately detract from your career at a later date if you wind up in an area you dislike. And anyway, as Bitton points out, “we live in a world where you're going to have to specialize – there's no way around it.”
If you have decided upon a practice area, one of the first things to consider is whether your interests align with that of the firm's. In Axinn's case, “we look for candidates with an excellent academic record, who are very interested in antitrust, or law and economics,” Bitton tells us. He continues: “Especially law students that have an economics background – maybe an economics major in college. Also, we ideally want students that have had some sort of exposure to antitrust in law school and are able to articulate why they're interested in this area; we look for people that have a sense that this is what they want to do.” Jeremy Lowe reiterates this point: “We look at a number of criteria specific to the IP practice group; a technical background can be an asset in the type of work that we do.” He adds, however, that this isn't always a must: “We're looking for the best lawyers, not necessarily the best engineers.”
What exactly are the sorts of things students can be getting involved in, then? “What's very impressive on a resume are things like being on the trial team at a law school,” Jeremy Lowe clarifies. “In general students should try to learn everything they can about oral advocacy skills, because those are typically the hardest things to learn as a lawyer. We are very impressed by candidates who have made efforts to sharpen their trial skills.”
For Bitton, internships with the FTC are “very attractive” on a resume, although some alternatives would be to “write about antitrust if you're writing a law review note, or go to seminars dedicated to antitrust. There are also some antitrust-related think tank organizations like the AAI [American Antitrust Institute], and they may have summer programs.” The AAI did in fact offer an internship for law students during the summer of 2015, starting at two months full-time. “There's also the ABA or the New York State Bar Association, not to mention committees that you can be involved with as a student, and research positions with antitrust professors.”
Practice areas aside, there are certain character traits that boutique firms look for in candidates. As “a very small firm doing very very large matters,” Jim Veltrop tells us, Axinn “can't do what we do without a number of cultural factors, one of which is teamwork. People need to be willing to drop everything and work with other partners if necessary.” He also notes that the firm relies on a meritocratic structure; a small number of associates means everyone has to be able to shoulder a large amount of responsibility. “First and second-year associates are doing things that the senior associates are doing. We can't afford to have seniority, and we can't work on high level cases unless we let the talented people do what they can do.”
Interview with Jim Veltrop, managing partner
Chambers Associate: So how's the past year been?
Jim Veltrop: It's been an extraordinary year for us; we've been on an upswing for a while. In fact, this might be our best year ever. We've been working as lead antitrust counsel on numerous major deals such as Dell's acquisition of EMC – we are the global coordinating counsel for that – and there are a number of other major antitrust deals that we're working on, so that's very exciting for the firm. I don't know how to measure this, but there might not be another firm in the world that's this small doing the matters that we do; we're only 65-70 lawyers! So there's a lot going on.
CA: We heard that antitrust in particular has been really busy for the firm, what are the reasons for this?
JV: There are always several factors with deals. One, the level of deal activity, and more deals happen in good economic climates than bad ones. Deals have been very active for a few years now, and a large part of that is because low interest rates make them easy to finance. Another factor is the aggressiveness of the jurisdiction; the level of enforcement can change according to administration, but this hasn't changed in a while. In a large part we've become a go-to firm for these big deals. We don't have a corporate group, we just do the antitrust part, so we have a lot of people who are very devoted to that practice, and I think the success we've had is becoming known. We're becoming a household name in boardrooms and among private equity groups as the firm to go to when you have a major deal.
CA: Where do you see the firm heading in the next year or so?
JV: We're going to carry on as we are. Next year looks just as good, if not better; I see the upswing continuing. Of course the economy could change, which would mean fewer deals overall, but our position on those deals will continue to grow. We will also continue to grow antitrust litigation; we have numerous major cases pending, including defending what’s possibly largest antitrust class action in US history.
In IP, there has been a lot in the press about how the market has been facing challenges over the past few years. Part of that is to do with rate pressure across the industry. More specifically to patent litigation, we've seen a downturn due to a lot of legal developments at the Patent and Trademark Office. There have generally been changes in the industry; for instance we're seeing a lot more patent troll litigation [a patent troll is a person or company that is in the business of patent litigation instead of making products covered by those patents.]
What we do at Axinn is related to the life sciences – that's where the core of our practice in patent litigation lies. And that practice remains very vibrant; we have lots of very high level cases. We have lawyers on all levels who have a lot of experience in areas such as the pharmaceutical industry and medical devices, as well as attorneys with technology experience and trial skills. There's a storm going on within IP, but we're weathering that quite well.
CA: How would you define Axinn's culture?
JV: Well first of all, we actually have a culture, which I think is impossible to say at a lot of large firms. There are lots of places that are good to work, but it's very hard to have a single culture when you're dealing with offices across the world – it just can't be done. We put a lot of effort into defining and maintaining our culture, and that's something we've done since we founded the firm, for three reasons.
The first aspect, to go back to where we started, is that we're a very small firm doing very very large matters, and we can't do what we do without a number of positive cultural factors, including teamwork. If people don't work together as a team, we couldn't do what we're doing; people need to be willing to drop everything and work with other partners if necessary.
The second part of our culture is meritocracy. And we also can't do that unless we let the talented people do what they can do; what matters here isn't seniority but what you can do. Junior associates can shoulder enormous responsibility, we have second and first-year lawyers doing things that senior associates do. We can't afford to have seniority, so the work has to go to those who can do it.
The third factor is that we're motivated to create a different kind of law firm, so we do a lot of things very differently here, such as our training program, how we involve associates in the work, and how we pay associates – we're really trying to rethink all of that.
CA: More generally, what does Axinn offer to new associates that is unique?
JV: I think we offer a very extensive training program that involves a mix of in-house and external resources. We offer the opportunity to advance quickly, through working on small teams and being given substantial responsibility, and we offer the opportunity to work directly with some of those most talented partners in the business, as opposed to juniors spending years having lawyers of people between them and the partners.
CA: What kind of person makes a successful candidate to Axinn?
JV: We're particularly attracted to people who have an entrepreneurial spirit. If you're a young associate that really wants to work on the most interesting most challenging cases out there in our areas, we present a unique option. There are a lot of mega firms you can go to in order to get that kind of work, but there aren't many firms like us. Every associate that wants to do the highest level work in the practice areas we’re working in, should give us a serious look.
Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP
114 West 47th Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 24
- Associates (US): 36
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: $2,884.61/week (CT); $3,076.92/week (NY/DC)
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? No
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
- Summers 2016: 4
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 3 offers, 3 acceptances
Main areas of work
Antitrust, intellectual property and complex litigation.
Axinn is a different kind of law firm. It combines the skills, experience and dedication of the world’s largest firms with the focus, responsiveness, efficiency and attention to client needs of the best boutiques. Axinn was established in the late 1990s by lawyers from premier Wall Street firms with a common vision and has been joined by lawyers from the best firms and law schools who share that vision. Axinn is devoted to providing the highest conceivable quality of service in three practice areas: antitrust, intellectual property and high-stakes litigation. Axinn achieves that goal with world class skills and deep trial experience. Time and again, major companies have turned to Axinn for their biggest deals and cases, often on the eve of trial.
• Number of 1st year associates: 3
• Number of 2nd year associates: 5
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $150,000 in CTO; $160,000 in NYO and DCO
• Clerking policy: Case by case
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Connecticut, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Stanford, Virginia, Washington University in St Louis, Yale
Summer associate profile:
Axinn is a top tier litigation boutique practicing in antitrust, IP and high-stakes corporate litigation. It seeks students who have achieved academic excellence and are entrepreneurial. Candidates must be among the top 25% of their law school class. Top 10% class ranking, law review and moot court experience is preferred. For the Antitrust Group, Axinn prefers that candidates have an economic or finance degree/ background. Science or engineering backgrounds are preferred for candidates who wish to work in IP. Patent bar admission is a plus for IP candidates.
Summer program components:
During their summer with Axinn, associates attend internal meetings and seminars to familiarize themselves with lawyers, clients and range of projects that comprise our practice. In addition, Axinn attorneys and outside professionals provide training in such topics as legal writing, litigation strategy and how to effectively utilize firm resources and support services. Each training experience emphasizes “learning by doing” and serves to enhance opportunities for summer associates to develop, exercise and build confidence in their skills. Each summer associate is assigned a partner and associate mentor, who are available to prioritize assignments and act as a sounding board. Axinn combines the prestige of a large firm with the collegiality of a boutique. Summer associates are invited to join events such as wine tastings, theater and museum outings and cooking classes.