There's a lot more than oil and gas at Texas' oldest law firm.
OIL prices may have hit rock bottom over the past couple of years, but Baker Botts has blossomed. “Although to our core we're an energy firm, we're very focused on continuing to grow in other areas,” hiring partner Van Beckwith explains. Associates were likewise keen to stress that “we do more than just energy.” These days, the 177 year-old Texan practices many different types of law in 14 offices across the globe, conducted by 725 lawyers who between them speak 50 languages and handle matters in over 145 countries. “I wanted to join a general practice firm with prestige and a great reputation – and that's what you get here,” one junior associate told us, and others said similar. Big-name clients include ExxonMobil, Shell, Petrobras, and Dell.
Unsurprisingly, Baker Botts' energy practices radiate Chambers USA's hottest national rankings. In Texas, the best marks also go to corporate/M&A, environment, tax, real estate, and IP. This breadth of expertise once again yielded glowing financials – in 2016 revenue soared over 20% to $846.5 million. “We've held as strong as the year before, which was a relief during the challenging times of uncertain commodity prices,” says Van Beckwith. High tech work of all description is one particular growth area, he adds: “In the next ten years we want to have an even deeper tech bench. We currently have 180 lawyers with tech degrees and I can see us taking more.”
Candidates should know which location specializes in what practice area. Most beginners join one of the three Texan offices and they gave us the run-down of who practices what and where: “New York is primarily corporate and IP work," which are the two practices Chambers USA ranks here, although other practices are active too. "There's a lot of IP and emerging companies work in Palo Alto. San Francisco does real estate," plus IP and litigation. "DC does a lot of antitrust, white-collar, environmental work, and international arbitration." Energy regulatory and general litigation also feature prominently in DC. "Houston and the other Texas offices are generally treated as one unit and are mostly full service. There’s a lot more energy work, specifically energy litigation, in Houston because the chair of that practice is there.” A large number of rookies join litigation, corporate, and IP, with projects, environmental, and tax following not far behind.
“You get to pick partners whose practices you want to emulate.”
“There's no structure to getting work,” insisted insiders. Initially, starters are given their first work by formally assigned mentors to ease their transition into the firm. “But as more people hear about your work you get it from other people.” Sources liked the freedom “to go get work from people you actually want to work with and you get to pick partners whose practices you want to emulate.” However, others reasoned that “for first-years it can be a double-edged sword, because it can be difficult to get your bearings.”
Litigators commonly “do a lot of research in the beginning and help other people write briefs.” Pretty standard fare, but “what was surprising was that it wasn't as much doc review as I had thought, and what you do review is like the meat and potatoes of the case.” More substantive tasks include “drafting discovery motions and motions to dismiss in the federal court.” Some had also “been there for jury testing and voir dire for a trial.” Traditionally, newbies start off as generalists and can take on work from different sub-groups that can include bankruptcy, securities litigation, ERISA and energy litigation.
Texan transactional associates get energy work as well. Permeating both general corporate and global projects, insiders told us that “despite the crappy market last year, we are still going to make our hours.” Corporate sources felt that there was “a fair amount of drafting things like contribution agreements and lots of sitting in on client calls.” Different offices have different focuses: for example, DC is mostly energy regulation and trade sanctions, while Houston is the epicenter of transactional energy work. Interviewees said that “from day one partners are very open with you and tell you to speak up if you think something is legally incorrect.” Purchase and sale agreement drafting was usual, as was the opportunity to be seconded to a client for “around three to five months. It's great for client contact.”
IP juniors detailed that “we do everything here like litigation, patent prosecution and also trademarks.” Litigation tasks were a good mix of “taking the first crack at drafting discovery motions, second chairing a deposition” and “working directly with clients. I was on a two hour conference call with a client. I didn't expect that as a first-year.” Prosecution assignments involved “interviewing inventors to write and file patent applications, responding to patent office actions and writing appeal briefs.”
Training & Development
“The first few weeks are 'drinking out of a fire-hose'-type training, like how to use the computer, send emails and other soft skills,” as well as initial legal training on how to be a good associate. After this, practice groups tend to run fundamentals training that cover the basics for each group. For example, new litigators got “training in depositions and discovery, plus bi-weekly email updates on changes in the law.” Newbies in global projects went through “everything oil and gas-related. We do general contract drafting and then more specific things like international contracts for oil companies. There are also lessons on the lingo like what does 'upstream' mean?” As associates progress through the years there's evidence of partnership-track training, and “how to bring business into the firm through networking and stuff like that.”
“You're going to get lost in the weeds if you're not a self-starter.”
There's a formal annual review. Usually two partners take each associate through the conglomerated feedback from all supervisors they've worked with for more than 20 billable hours. “Partners aren't going to remember all the small things you did. It's a bit lackluster – you hear things you've heard before.” Informal feedback was a mixed bag. “The most helpful feedback I get is after each assignment in real time. Mid-levels are really good at giving it. Seniors struggle a bit more because they're so busy, but the partners are fantastic and really take the time to make sure you understand.” However, others qualified that it depends who you work with: “You have to ask for it and it's tough. You're going to get lost in the weeds if you're not a self-starter.” The overall consensus was that while the quality of feedback was generally good, insiders wished that “there was more communication as a whole.”
Offices & Culture
Baker Botts has developed seven domestic and seven overseas offices, and boasts a strategic alliance in Kuwait with the International Legal Group. Closer to home, the Houston HQ contains the “top brass.” Renovated around three years ago, the Houston office is “beautiful. We're at 1 Shell Plaza and there's glass everywhere. It's awesome, but sometimes I wonder how useful doors are when everyone can just see in anyway!” All associates get their own offices regardless of location. Austinians told us that “sometimes we can feel like a bit of a support office, but that's probably because we're smaller. We still originate our own work here though.” New Yorkers were more than happy being “in a landmark location in 30 Rockefeller Center. I'm looking straight at the Empire State Building right now. Tourists pay for the view I've got.”
“Tourists pay for the view I've got.”
“Wherever we are, the culture translates as still being a bit Texan.” That boiled down to “being really friendly and you're not taken for granted. I get a lot of 'thank you' emails. It means a lot.” Most felt that while the atmosphere is “chummy,” it's normally “a little more 'business first' compared to some other firms.” This did impact on BB's social side. “The social life might be one of the firm's weaknesses. Most people do their own thing: there's not a firmwide culture of frequent events.” But the events on offer weren't disappointing. Along with the usual sprinkling of monthly happy hours, more unique events have included a lip-sync battle for charity and “a Thanksgiving pot luck lunch, for all the lawyers and staff. People bring stuff in and there's always really good pie.”
Hours & Compensation
Most juniors work around ten hours per day on average, with some logging back onto the system from home. Most people get in around 8.30am and normally stay till 7pm. In global projects “it's been a slower year, so sometimes it's more like 9-6pm. But when a deal is on, you're billing around the clock.” Some told tales of working until “3.30am and then coming in for 7am the next day.”
Attorneys have a 2,000-hour billable target to be bonus eligible. Some didn't “really understand the bonus system.” Others explained that it's “unique. Instead of locktstep, we have this strange level system.” Rather than bonuses being determined by class year, BB operates under four levels that house two or three associate year-groups. Insiders liked this approach: “If you're doing amazing work, you get more money based on your attributes within your level and it doesn't matter what year you are.” However others were more reasoned. “Just because you hit 2,000 hours, you're not guaranteed the maximum rate. It's more like 2,200 and then it's more about how your group leaders view bonus allocation.”
“They can give you credit for every pro bono hour you do and it goes toward your bonus.” While some had been clocking up to 400 hours, others warned that “while they say it's unlimited, I don't think they mean for you to spend all your time doing it.” However, “it gives you the confidence to start acting and thinking like a proper lawyer.” Litigators were the most enthusiastic: “It's the best training because you get to go in front of judges as the lead attorney.” Corporate newbies also got in on the action, partnering up with their counterparts in lit. “We do a lot of domestic violence work and divorces. So corporate associates do the run down of the assets and the litigators handle the actual court part.” Most people recounted how they'd interviewed clients, drafted the case documents and spent a good amount of time in court and mediations. “It makes you pay closer attention to what you're doing because there's no partner fail-safe to lean on.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 33,932
- Average per US attorney: 80
While some urged that “it's not all WASPs,” others disagreed. “We're not very diverse. It seems like an issue that the firm cares about, but doesn't really know how to address.” Others continued that “we talk the talk and know it's important, but we're not fully there in terms of inclusivity.” There's a diversity committee that orchestrates the running of different affinity groups representing women, LGBTQ, Black and Hispanic attorneys. But “there used to be monthly meetings and break out sessions and that's gone away now. It's understandable because everyone is so busy.” However, the firm is still trying to remedy the situation. Working with pipeline initiatives like the National Black Pre-Law Conference and CLEO [Council on Legal Education Opportunity] has helped to ensure that incoming classes are more diverse.
“The commitment to diversity and the attempts at diversity are disconnected.”
“I'm very comfortable here. In terms of gender it's pretty even. In fact, in the class that just started there are three women and one male.” Others were more blunt about ethnic diversity. “It's something we are always going to struggle with in Texas. We do have diversity outreaches. But given the political climate, I don't blame diverse people for not choosing to live and work in this state.” It was clear that associates appreciated the firm's attempts, but thought BB fell short in terms of results. “It just feels like the commitment to diversity and the attempts at diversity are disconnected.” Initiatives to remedy this include programs for LGBT, minority, and female summer associates, plus celebrating events like Asian Pacific heritage month.
Get Hired & Strategy
Van Beckwith lets us in on what's in store for the future. “I'm very excited about what the future holds for us. Even during this challenging time for oil commodity pricing, we're on track to have a record year. In 177 years as a firm, management has never taken for granted who we are. We've continued to reinvest in people and as students arrive here we hope that they feel that energy too. It's definitely made people excited to come and work at Baker Botts.” But what do you have to do to get through the door? Sources suggested “trying to gear activities in law school to future practice. If you know you want to be a litigator, get on the mock trial team.”
Interview with hiring partner Van Beckwith
Chambers Associate: What's the scope of your recruiting drive?
Van Beckwith: We just keep getting stronger classes of incoming associates. In 2016 we had 63 and in 2017 we will welcome 52 new associates had 51. While that is a 10% decline from the previous year, it's not purposeful, business just changes by geography. But we've spread a substantial number of the new intake into our New York and DC offices, so that they are now in line with the Texas offices. It's also a matter of timing, because there are now increasing numbers of associates taking federal judicial clerkships. We're seeing that happen across departments in the first-year intake, because it's a measured way of rounding out your experience when you leave law school, so we really encourage this.
In terms of where we recruit from, we still take the approach of looking around the whole country for any office. We don't recruit based on geography. We're a national law firm, so we seek national candidates. People might be from Yale but end up in Houston. In general we look at the top law schools, but we are proud to have deep affiliations with some regional schools as well, for example Fordham, George Washington and SMU the University of Dallas.
CA: What does Baker Botts do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
VB: We are very active in making sure we have diverse classes every year. It starts at first with a resume collect. When we are thinking about what we want each new class to look like, we are always conscious of diversity. We also run fellowship opportunities with a variety of partnership law schools. We host a number of programs, including run mock interviews, to assist diverse students with their journey into practice and we are looking to expand our outreach even that further.
CA: What are you looking for in a candidate both in general and in an interview situation?
VB: When looking for candidates, we hire people who are leaders. You can demonstrate show these leadership skills through leading a student organization at undergrad or working part time to get through school. Show us what you've done extra that can prove you'll be a professional in business, by bringing that maturity to hit the ground running. Try and be relaxed in the interview because it's time for all of us, interviewer and interviewee, to get to know each other. We try to ask questions that can help people describe themselves more, rather than just talking through their resume. We feel it's more meaningful. We're looking for people who firstly want to work here and secondly fit with our core values of collegiality, team work, and commitment to excellence to fit client needs.
Nerves play tricks on all of us, but just relax and prepared to talk about your life experiences and how that journey has shaped who you are. Tell us why you're a good fit for us and right for this job. There's a right job for everyone – it's just a matter of finding it. So it's really important that you just be yourself in the process.
CA: What can students do now to prepare?
VB: We believe in the real value of practical classes like securities regulations and income tax, or corporate planning. Take courses that will help you with the foundations of business. If you're a litigator, take evidence, plus pre and post-trial procedure. Law Review is invaluable because it teaches you how to edit and be a good writereditor. Use every hour you've been given at law school wisely.
CA: Can you take us through what you have in store on the summer program?
VB: I expect that next summer, we will increase the amount of opportunities we give to our summer associates intake to go out and get involved in the community. We want our summer associates to get out there, meet people, spend time with clients or spend time with us to see lawyers in action. We want them to get first hand exposure to prepping a trial or deposition or hearing, so we will be increasing that offering. We also have the 'Baker Weekend' which is our annual retreat. The former Secretary of State, James A. Baker comes and speaks to the students about his experiences. He is the only person to have been the White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State. So he's a great hero that the summers get to see in action. We also spend a lot of time that weekend, talking about what we expect from our summers, through writing seminars and other workshops. But we also all go out to a spa, go swimming, play golf and have fun together and we think it's really important that we our summer associates and attorneys have the opportunity to meet in a fun, relaxed setting.
CA: Finally, what do you think the future holds for the firm, especially in light of the changes the new administration is ushering in?
VB: We've been really busy. We've held as strong as the year before, which was a relief during the challenging times of uncertain commodity prices. Our clients trust us so we want to make sure we're being completely thoughtful in terms of where our business is going in terms of how that affects our clients. Although to our core we're an energy firm, we're very focused on continuing to grow in other areas. I think in the next ten years we want to have an even deeper tech bench. We currently have 180 lawyers with tech degrees and I can see us taking more. I also think we'll be deeper in Asia and Europe.
But in the present, this year's been great. We invested 13 years in a securities case and it paid off, handsomely. It was such a long investment from all of our colleagues so everyone, from partners to staff, got to share in that payout. It was a great day, literally everyone in the firm got a little extra. Lots of firms don't automatically share their rewards, but we do.
The new administration – that's a big question. It's hard to know precisely, but we expect that it will be a time of greater opportunity in the energy industry and it will be interesting from the position of antitrust regulation, as this administration takes a different stance to the current rules we have in place. But, I'm very excited about what the future holds for us. Even during this challenging time for oil commodity pricing, we're on track to have a record year. In 177 years as a firm, management has never taken for granted who we are. We've continued to reinvest in people and as students arrive here we hope that they feel that energy too. It's definitely made people excited to come and work at Baker Botts.
Energy law under the Trump administration: the views from top energy lawyers
The new administration is going to usher in a new era of change and, for the moment at least, uncertainty. Many senior legal sources didn't want to hedge their bets and suggest what exactly we can expect from the new President and his team, partly because there's very little information to go on. Presently, we're unsure whether these changes will be good for the wider legal community or spell trouble. However, one area that might be on the up under Trump is the energy sector. During his campaign, the President announced an 'America First Energy Plan'. It was perceived to include less regulatory oversight and a greater promotion of drilling activities to combat the oil price slump that has affected the industry for over two years. Steve Sonberg, managing partner at Holland & Knight, suggests that “I think that under this new administration we will see a relaxation of EPA regulations in particular, which may be helpful to some of our clients and will spark more opportunities for industries like mining and oil and gas.” While Trump's plans must have sounded like music to the ears of drilling and mining companies, the potential issue is that it could foster a market where supply outstrips the demand and prices drop further.
But the legal industry has been weathering the slump for some time now and so is confident that it can continue to do so. “You have to be adaptive to the environment you're in,” explains Gregory Bopp, managing partner at Bracewell. “It’s critical to stay abreast of market developments and be adaptive to your clients’ circumstances.” Bopp goes further, “for example, we have a tremendous amount of talent and expertise in restructuring and finance. These areas have been at the forefront of the challenging commodity price environment. Fortunately, the commodity price market has improved in 2016, and there's a lot more M&A and capital markets activity.”
But that was 2016 — pre-Trump. How will the industry fair under the 45th President? Because Trump's M.O. is all about promoting domestic industry, “maximizing the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil” according to the White House website, it's likely that there will be a surge in expanding US production capabilities. Exportation in particular is likely to increase under this administration. The US Energy Information Agency has reported that domestic crude production has already increased, adding approximately half a million barrels per day since the later part of 2016. Additionally in March 2017, Trump formally approved the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The 1,897 km pipeline is intended to carry 830,000 barrels of oil each day between Alberta, Canada and Steele City, Nebraska to decrease dependency on Middle Eastern supplies. Trump promises that this will “lower costs for American families” and create 28,000 American jobs. However, this project was continually blocked by Obama after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised against it. Obama refuted that the pipeline would lower petrol prices, impact upon foreign energy dependence or create long-term jobs.
Regardless of what happens, the legal industry is keen to embrace change and go with it. Baker Botts' hiring partner, Van Beckwith, gave us some insight into how law firms are dealing with the new lie of the land. “The new administration – that's a big question. It's hard to know precisely, but we expect that it will be a time of greater opportunity in the energy industry and it will be interesting from the position of antitrust regulation, as this administration takes a different stance to the current rules we have in place. But, I'm very excited about what the future holds for us. Even during this challenging time for oil commodity pricing, we're on track to have a record year.” Sonberg paints a similar picture. “Looking at energy specifically in light of the new administration, we've brought in a number of people that have worked in the governmental regulation area and others who have strong ties in congress and the administration.” In early 2017, Holland & Knight hired one of Trump's transition team, lobbyist Scott Mason, as a policy adviser in DC to better equip them for the alterations likely to be introduced by the new administration.
Other preparations, have seen law firms enhance their alternative energy offering, as well as develop complimentary areas to their existing energy focus. Gregory Bopp says “it's about listening to the clients and understanding what they're experiencing in a market downturn. It's about being innovative and creating solutions to issues that are present in a distressed or challenging market environment – thinking of new and creative ways to address risk.” Holland & Knight have done this by bolstering its alternative energy practice. Steve Sonberg tells us that “we also expect alternative energy to continue to be active and we expect to continue to do a lot of solar, geo-thermal energy work as well.” Conversely, Van Beckwith explains Baker Botts' intentions to expand other sympathetic industry areas to better adapt to market disruptions. “Our clients trust us so we want to make sure we're being completely thoughtful in terms of where our business is going in terms of how that affects our clients,” says Beckwith. “Although to our core we're an energy firm, we're very focused on continuing to grow in other areas. I think in the next ten years we want to have an even deeper tech bench. We currently have 180 lawyers with tech degrees and I can see us taking more.”
Whatever happens, one thing is a dead cert: Lawyers love change and will strive to adapt to keep their clients happy. Whether that involves making the most of lesser regulatory control, or developing new areas to take into account environmental factors and commodity pricing issues, we'll just have to watch how it all plays out.
More on getting hired
Insiders tried to think of ways candidates should try to beef up their resumes. “It's quite tricky because a lot of student's don't necessarily know what they want to do yet in practice.” However, they soldiered on and encouraged potential newbies to try and gear their studies towards where they would ultimately end up. They particularly stressed the importance of transactional experience, “because it's so hard to find in law school.” Hiring partner Van Beckwith backs them up. “We believe in the real value of practical classes like securities regulations and income tax, or corporate planning. Take courses that will help you with the foundations of business. If you're a litigator, take evidence, plus pre and post trial procedure. Law Review is invaluable because it teaches you how to edit and be a good writer. Use every hour you've been given at law school wisely.”
Once you've put the finishing touches onto you're resume, and if you get through to the interview, Beckwith tells us what they're looking for at Baker Botts. “We hire people who are leaders. You can demonstrate leadership skills through leading a student organization at undergrad or working part time to get through school. Show us what you've done extra that can prove you'll be a professional in business, by bringing that maturity to hit the ground running.” But he also understands that the whole ordeal can be quite stressful. So his final tip for readers is that, “nerves play tricks on all of us, but just relax and be prepared to talk about your life experiences and how that journey has shaped who you are. Tell us why you're a good fit for us and right for this job. There's a right job for everyone – it's just a matter of finding it.”
Baker Botts LLP
One Shell Plaza,
910 Louisiana Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 7
- Partners (US): 238
- Associates (US): 345
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,642/week
- 2Ls: $3,642/week
- Post 3 Ls: $3,642/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 96 (64 2Ls, 32 1Ls)
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 70 offers, 44 acceptances, 6 deferred acceptances, 4 undecided
Main areas of work
Based on our broad experience and our in-depth knowledge of our clients’ industries, we are recognized as a leading firm in energy and technology. Core practice areas include project development and finance; corporate transactions; complex business litigation; international arbitration; antitrust; intellectual property; environmental; compliance and enforcement; tax; employee benefits; and real estate.
Baker Botts is a globally respected law firm with 725 lawyers and 14 international offices. We are driven by the highest ethical and professional standards. This professionalism, combined with industry knowledge and insights and our understanding of the law, helps us to deliver effective, innovative solutions for our clients.
For more than 175 years, Baker Botts has delivered results-oriented services, establishing us as a leading law firm. Our reputation is complemented by our leadership in government, the judiciary and our communities. Regardless of size, sector or jurisdiction of a client, our commitment is to help achieve their business objectives.
• Number of 1st year associates: 52
• Number of 2nd year associates: N/A - advancement based on levels system
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Alabama, Baylor, Berkeley, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Houston, Loyola Patent Program, LSU, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Pennsylvania, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UC Hastings, UCLA, UC Davis, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington University, Yale, Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston College/ Boston University Job Fair, Harvard BLSA Job Fair, Lavender Law Job Fair, San Francisco IP Job Fair, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Southwest BLSA Job Fair, Texas in NY and DC Job Fairs.
Summer associate profile:
Baker Botts lawyers are selected from the top graduates among the best law schools. We have formally established a set of core attributes we seek in candidates; some of which include leadership, collegiality, dedication, and commitment to excellence.
Summer program components:
they are interested. Written and oral work evaluations are strongly encouraged and monitored. Each summer associate has both partner and associate advisors. All summer associates receive formal performance evaluations during the summer program. Baker Weekend, the cornerstone of our summer program, brings together summer associates and lawyers from all seven of our U.S. offices for a weekend of training and social events. Our summer associates learn about our firm through interactive panel discussions and informal break-out sessions with firm leadership and enjoy socializing with each other and our attorneys in a fun, casual setting.