Youthful Axinn punches well above its weight.
NEW York boutique firm Axinn celebrated 20 years of existence on April Fool's Day 2017, but its enviable reputation for patent, antitrust and litigation work is no joke. “The firm is doing very well,” managing partner Jim Veltrop tells us. “Our antitrust deal work continues to be exceptionally strong, and our litigation practice has been especially vibrant.” A recent uptick in tech sector work has been an added bonus for the firm's three core practices.
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. With just 29 lawyers in New York, 23 in Hartford, and 17 in DC, such recognition is a big accolade for a firm this small.
“Axinn is unique in that it might be the smallest firm in the world that handles matters as large as it does,” Jim Veltrop expands. “There are unique challenges to taking on $60 billion dollar deals at a firm this size, and juniors are asked to take on a lot of responsibility – a lot more than they might in a larger firm. That exposure from such an early stage breeds excellent lawyers, which is why entry-level hiring is so important for us.” If this all sounds like your kind of thing, then you're in luck. Axinn's 2016 summer program welcomed nine summer associates, which is its highest number ever. 2017 also welcomes nine. “It's a great time to get involved,” said juniors already here.
All of Axinn's lawyers are litigators, and newbies are evenly divided between antitrust and IP, plus 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. The past year has also brought “a substantial increase in litigation relating to financial services,” MP Jim Veltrop adds. Wherever they end up, juniors' work is allocated formally via an assigning partner. Workload reports are submitted every week, and “the assigning partner will try and staff you on matters that fit your interests.” Take note: “There's a culture here of being assertive and independent, so it's on you to communicate with people to make sure your priorities are accounted for.” In the past year the firm has been busy working on a number of major antitrust cases,including “a major price fixing case and a class action that could be the largest in US history,” Jim Veltrop enthuses. The team “definitely leans toward tech, life sciences and healthcare work,” associates pointed out, “but also works with more down-to-earth industries, like manufacturers of auto parts and forestry products.”
With deal work, counseling, criminal cases and litigation all on the cards, juniors rated the department's variety of cases on offer. “I had the chance to work as part of a very large team on a cross-border merger transaction,” recounted one. “With so many people I figured I'd be doing the grunt work, but I ended up on a substantial filing for a foreign jurisdiction.” On smaller transactions “there's usually just one associate working on the planning stages. When things heat up, guess who's best placed to lead the team? Having that responsibility for the product and the direction of the team was not something I expected a couple of years into my career.”
“I'm now the leading associate on a case for an important product, and I'm barely out of second year!”
Axinn's IP practice continues to carve a name for itself as one of the leading practices in the country. 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, with cases related to developments in the biotech field – like spinal implants – common fare. When it comes to the work itself, “patent litigation is a big part of what we do,” one junior outlined, “but we're not just a straight lit shop. There are plenty of counsel and Freedom to Operate opportunities on offer too.”
On litigious matters our sources had been busy preparing depositions and tackling first drafts of motions and briefs. Those staffed on counseling matters focused more on legal research and preparing memos for clients. “It's very much a meritocracy,” so “there are a lot of opportunities for advancement,” we heard. “I'm now the leading associate on a case for an important product, and I'm barely out of second year!”
Training & Development
Rookies' speedy progression begins during the summer program, where they're “given meaningful and substantive tasks, like writing memos to be presented to clients. You're expected to take initiative, work independently and submit your work on time. It's a real assessment of how you'd function as a first-year at the firm.”
“You're treated like an adult.”
This on-the-job style continues once juniors begin at the firm. “There are a few days of admin training when you start and a handful of periodic meet-ups over the next few years, covering things like case management and effective use of resources. Still, the best training comes through working one-to-one with partners,” we heard. Juniors liked this up-front approach, adding: “You're a member of the team and you're treated like an adult. People trust you, they motivate you, they guide you. Ultimately they get the best out of you because they see the best in you.” Formal feedback comes in the form of two annual appraisals, held with juniors' head of department.
Offices & Culture
In the capital, rookies told us their office “has the benefit of being close to the DOJ and the SEC, so we tend to work on a broader mix of litigation and antitrust matters.” Attorneys here all have their own office and there's also an in-house gym. “That's particularly useful,” one junior joked. “We're near Chinatown so there's a lot of good food nearby!” Over in Hartford meanwhile, “the lifestyle is more suburban, but we work on the same high-level cases as New York and DC. The work here isn't necessarily Connecticut-focused.” The office predominantly deals in IP matters.
The New York HQ is mainly focused on the merger control side of antitrust work as well as litigation, and associates agreed the office “definitely feels like our main base. It's got a larger associate-to-partner ratio and a lot of the associate-centric training happens here.” Perhaps the biggest coup for Big Apple attorneys is the quality of snacks on offer. “We get much healthier stuff than Connecticut or DC,” one New Yorker reckoned. “It's a perpetual in-joke when the offices get together for Skype training sessions: we'll be chowing down on fruit and nuts, whilst they're stuck with chips!”
“Everyone is on first name terms.”
Associates revealed that attitudes to work differ between offices, and that DC and Connecticut offer “less erratic hours and a more laid back atmosphere” than New York. Still, it's important to remember that “when it comes to numbers, Axinn is a relatively small firm, even in New York. Everyone is on first name terms, and people take a considerate interest in each other's professional and personal lives.”
It's an attitude that stretches from the top down. Founding partner John Harkrider “is always stressing the importance of being comfortable being yourself here,” one junior mentioned. “He's a keen movie-maker. Another attorney publishes sci-fi novels. It's not a place where you have to fit a certain mold to succeed.”
Hours & Compensation
“We're a firm that asks a lot of our associates, and that means we have to work extra hard to make sure those associates are also able to maintain a good work-life balance,” Jim Veltrop acknowledges. “We are committed to creating and improving policies that allow associates to strike that balance – things like enhanced caregiver leave and support and sabbatical leave options.”
"People are mostly reasonable with their demands.”
Associates corroborated this view, and were particularly impressed with the firm's acceptance of family commitments. “There's the option to do some of your work from home if you need it,” we heard. “If you have to go collect your kid, no one will begrudge you.” Associates need to bill 1,800 hours to be eligible for a portion of their bonus, and 2,000 for the full amount. “There aren't too many crazy 14-hour days,” but we did hear of the odd early hours finish around trial time. Thankfully “no one will set you meaningless deadlines. People are mostly reasonable with their demands.”
100 pro bono hours can count toward billables at Axinn, though “there's no hours requirement. Pro bono is definitely encouraged, but often people are so busy it can be hard to see where to slot projects in.”
Regular emails are sent out listing opportunities, which range from veterans' rights affairs to 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
- For all attorneys: 1,999
- Average per attorney: 30
“The firm isn't as diverse as I would like,” grumbled one antitrust junior. “There's a definite deficit of female partners in my department.” It was the same story in IP and litigation, where associates had found “the firm has trouble retaining female lawyers, particularly after they've had children.” Ethnic diversity “could be better too,” with Axinn's figures showing that 100% of partners are white, while just 12.5% are women. Juniors couldn't list any specific initiatives in place to counter this imbalance, but did praise the women's affinity group, which organizes monthly conferences, as well as social events such as dinners and lunches.
Strategy & Future
“An exciting combination of stability and exceptional performance” has fueled another successful financial year at the firm, according to MP Jim Veltrop. In the years ahead, he envisions “major growth in our biotechnology practice, including both patent litigation and regulatory matters.” Furthermore, “we also see strong client growth in our criminal antitrust practice.”
In 2016, Axinn's summer program welcomed nine summer associates, which is its highest number ever: “A significant increase in hiring,” according to MP Jim Veltrop. “We've grown to about 75 lawyers” and “we'd like to see the firm grow to between 100 and 125 lawyers, while remaining focused on our current practice areas. We look to entry-level hiring as our primary growth method.We have a number of people who have come to us laterally who are among our most valuable stars. But we also see tremendous value in developing home-grown success, and that comes through training lawyers to a high standard from day one.”
To really impress Axinn's hiring team, “it’s important to be both a self-starter and to want to do everything you can do to be the best lawyer you can be,” Veltrop assesses. “It's important to prove to us that you're someone who takes deep internal pride in your work, and has the motivation to excel. That's the most important characteristic for being a success here: wanting to work to the absolute highest standard because that's the standard you set for yourself.”
Given Axinn's young status and ambitions to grow, juniors also hinted that the firm is on the look out for recruits with “an entrepreneurial spirit. Real emphasis is placed on associates being key players from day one, so you're encouraged to bring in business and help build the firm's brand.” All associates are equipped with a marketing budget for entertaining clients, so “it's important to take on a partner mentality from the outset.” Extracurricularactivities or prior business experience can be an effective way to hint at these skills on your resumé.
Antitrust associates were very clear that “you need to go in with a demonstrable interest or substantive background in antitrust.” Several sources we interviewed had undertaken political science or economics undergraduate degrees. For IP “it's crucial you have a relevant science background,” either through your studies or your past career. The firm also likes people that offer background knowledge of specific tech areas, with sources advising “Axinn is a good next step from a career in pharmaceuticals or software design.”
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.”
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): 33
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: $3,269/week (CT) $3,461/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 2017: 9
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 5 offers, 5 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 through 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: 4
• Number of 2nd year associates: 4
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $170,000 in CTO; $180,000 in NYO and DCO
• Clerking policy: Case by case
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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 boutique practicing in antitrust, IP and high-stakes 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, sporting and museum outings and cooking classes.