Baker Botts LLP - The Inside View

Once the original Texan energy firm, Baker Botts is now an international, diversified practice with a “terrific reputation.”

TEXAS was an independent republic when Baker Botts opened for business in 1840. Born into an age of upheaval, the firm has weathered just about every trial history can throw at it, and now its knack for survival has come to the fore once more, as it rides out the bumps in oil prices. “We're the oldest firm in Texas and proud of it!” insiders proclaimed. And their high spirits are deserved: over the past year, the firm opened its latest addition to the network in San Francisco, and watched revenue jump to $704.5 million.

Juniors were drawn by the “familiar atmosphere coupled with the sophistication of big-firm work.” In Texas the giant clients like Shell, BP and Halliburton take center stage, but Chambers USA doesn't overlook the breadth of the work in the state, awarding top-tier rankings in IP, real estate, tax and corporate – alongside the expected first prize for its energy practices. Nationwide, the firm picks up a diverse bunch of rankings too: as usual, energy looms large, but climate change, international arbitration, M&A and environment are just a few of the areas attracting high praise.

The Work

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: “Houston is huge and has basically everything. DC’s focus is energy regulation and antitrust. Manhattan is mainly corporate and energy projects. Palo Alto is known for IP as is Austin, with the latter also doing State regulatory work. And Dallas is pretty big in real estate.” Associates in New York can also expect some high profile IP and corporate work. A large number of rookies join litigation, corporate and IP, with projects, environmental and tax following not far behind.

Assignment was generally described as a “free for all.” Initially, starters are given their first work by mentors so that “you know you have projects when you come in. After that partners can reach out and so can you, but there isn't an assignment system.” Others divulged that “there's an email once a month which tells us what's coming down the pipeline. We also have luncheons within our practice groups and half the time is spent talking about work opportunities.”

Once staffed on cases, litigators commonly spend time “drafting motions and various odd jobs throughout discovery like deposition prep. I've also argued minor discovery motions.” Those who specialized in antitrust litigation devoted “80% of the time to government investigations, criminal investigations and internal company audits.” One DC source felt that "they staff matters leanly, so if you are the only junior you have to do everything.” New joiners in corporate reported similar staffing models. Respondents pondered that “it's a mix of larger M&A work in due diligence and drafting smaller ancillary documents.” Those in Palo Alto considered that “a third of the time is venture capital finance startup work. I have the chance to take a substantial role drafting first round finance documents.”

"It doesn’t hurt to say 'I can do this' because people let you try.”

IP juniors detailed that “there's a strong patent prosecution docket so I'll research patent trails and source-code scans. If another entity holds a patent, I have to make sure that there isn't an open source license that could cause problems during a transfer.” The Austin branch “is fairly prominent in IP so several new IP partners were brought in.” Sources also revealed that “in prosecution you're normally writing a patent application or working with the patent office to issue it. The work hasn't substantively changed as we've progressed; you just get more autonomy."

Training & Development

New starters are given “a series of classes on our different systems,” then associates divide up and get training on their respective practice groups. In the second and third years litigators have Houston-based deposition and trail advocacy training. Global projects newbies received “guidance on basic contract writing on energy issues and the market. We also have lunchtime events called ‘EnergyU’ where we can talk about industry issues.” Others went to a “two-day deposition and negotiation workshop at Columbia University.” However, the majority of instruction is “ad hoc and happens organically.” As associates progress through the years there's evidence of partnership-track training, too.

"The assessments took me a day and a half to complete.” 

Reviews are "taken seriously. The assessments took me a day and a half to complete!" shared one insider. "Self-evaluations are based on a model of skills that we should be developing," we were told. "We’re then sent a list of all matters that we’ve billed more than 20 hours on and from this we choose the supervisors we want to review us.” Some intimated that “the senior associates are better at giving feedback, but no news is good news right?”

Offices and culture

Baker Botts has developed seven domestic offices and seven overseas. “For the firm's 175th anniversary there has been an initiative to remind us of our Texan rooted history, so we've had articles about our founders.” But our associate sources needed no reminders about the firm's identity: “We're definitely a Texan firm.” Even New Yorkers commented that “it's relatively laid back for New York. It must be our Texas roots.” Juniors were anxious to point out that “we're not rigid like other old firms. It's very easy-going: everyone calls each other by first names. It's a team-orientated environment.” We noted a collaborative, non-hierarchical vibe from our interviewees. 

"We have giant canisters of candy and we rotate flavors."

Those in DC are “close-ish to the White House. We're in a central location so people come here for the fourth of July fireworks.” Dallas locals spoke of firm festivities “on Friday afternoons: there's ping-pong with beer and wine. There’s also a lunch culture here.” While all locations told of regular “happy hours,” Houston trumps the rest because “every Friday is ‘M&M’ day. We have giant canisters of candy and we rotate flavors. We also have soda fountains on most of the floors. It's horrible and wonderful at the same time.”

Hours & Compensation

While this may sound like “candy-land,” it is still BigLaw with its demanding hours. Most juniors work around ten hours per day on average, with some logging back onto the system from home. As with most firms of this caliber, “it can fluctuate dramatically. In a single week I had a two-hour day and then a 17 hour day.” However, insiders liked that “if it's a long night, partners also get down in the dirt.”

“If it's a long night, partners also get down in the dirt.” 

Attorneys have a 2,000 hour billable target. While pro bono work can feed into this number uncapped, insiders were tentative to suggest that it was easily achievable. “It's been a little rough with the oil price problem. But the partners have gone out of their way to tell us not to worry,” because the firm is so well diversified. Once the target is reached, an associate becomes “bonus eligible.” However, many suggested that “the bonus system is a little nebulous.” When asked to explain, insiders stated that “we operate on a level, not a lockstep system. There are four levels of associates and each level is two to three years.”

Pro Bono

All interviewees spoke highly of the pro bono work at Baker Botts: “We take it very seriously.” All first-years are assigned a case usually in teams with a partner mentor. However, "you're ultimately responsible for managing it. It's a formative experience as a new lawyer.”

"I'm now more comfortable talking to judges and thinking on my feet.” 

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 24,777 
  • Average per US attorney: 40


“Law firms think that they can say the word 'diversity' and it will fix the problem,” retorted one respondent. New York litigators weren't so enthusiastic about ethnicity. Those in Dallas explained that “there are a lot of women associates who then get more senior and leave. It's a tough puzzle the industry hasn’t figured out yet.” However, all associates agreed that “being 100% truthful, the firm knows it needs to work on this.” And it is.

"It's a tough puzzle the industry hasn’t figured out yet.”

Get Hired

“Each year, we visit close to 40 campuses and job fairs,” explains Beckwith. He asks candidates to “show us your past success in law school, but then go further: we want examples of open and obvious leadership successes either in a student organization or job. The more a student can tell me about this in a granular way, the better the interview.”  Associates added that “I feel fortunate to be working here. A client once told me that I should be grateful to work with the smartest people in the room.” Intellect aside, juniors elaborated that “people have to fit in culturally. When everyone needs to be on deck, there's no separation between sixth-years and third-years. We just have to get the work done, so people can't take themselves too seriously.” Beckwith emphasizes that “we are looking for people who have the drive and determination to be successful on our platform.”

"Be grateful to work with the smartest people in the room.” 

Strategy & Future

The energy market slump recently caused a dip in this work across the country. However, insiders were keen to stress that “we've bucked the trend.” Associates mused that “initially when prices dropped, no one knew what to do. People stopped buying and selling, but it stabilized and I don’t think it affected us like other firms.” Others proffered that “there were some slow years, but in oil and gas it's always volatile.”

"There is more than enough work to go round.”

Interview with hiring partner Van Beckwith

Chambers Associate: Roughly how many associates do you take on each year and what is the scope of your recruiting drive?

Van Beckwith: In recent years we have been taking on between 60 and 70 associates. I would say that it is closer to 70 in reality. We are looking to try to find people who are interested in energy and tech work which is what we are best known for. We need to match our geographic footprint globally. So each year, we visit close to 40 campuses and job fairs with whom we have very long term synergies. We tend to interview 30 law students per day and sometimes we have multiple rooms of interviews going on at once. During that process we narrow that list down. It's an opportunity to tell us about your career goals and how they fit into what we do here. From this, if the candidate is selected to interview back at the office, that process is a little different. It will be an interview with multiple partners and associates too, so that we can try to understand whether this person will fit in with us.

CA: How was Baker Botts' recruiting ability affected by the recent economic crisis?

VB: We were very careful during the recession. We ensured that we were able to honour our commitments to those who had received offers with us. We never stopped recruiting and never rescinded our offers. It was quite the contrary actually. It hasn't hindered our process for the future either.

CA: We noticed you have some strong initiatives for promoting diversity within the firm. How do you translate this commitment to recruiting?

VB: So diversity for us is a core principle of who we are and what we do. Diverse candidates have a home here to be successful. At law school level, firstly we send a diverse range of partners and associates to make up interview panels at OCIs. This diversity translates into many forms. For example, we send a range of people from different practice groups, offices, ages and genders. We also work to make candidates aware of us early on. In partnership with Duke Law School, we run a resume review and help workshop for the entire first-year class. We also run specific fellowship programs awarded to diverse candidates to encourage success at our firm.

Through the Women's Global Forum who put on the Enterprising Women's Series, we try to start with associates and work our way up to partners to work together to promote, retain and attract women to partnership level. Women are increasing in the ranks of in house general counsel in particular, so we are attempting to have greater mentoring opportunities for all our employees in this respect.

CA: What are the do's and don'ts of a Baker Botts interview?

VB: We are looking for people who have the drive and determination to be successful on our platform. Show us your past success in law school. But then go further. We want examples of open and obvious leadership successes either in a student organization or job. The more a student can tell me about this in a granular way, the better the interview.

What we don't want is people who say what they think I want to hear. For example, I have had people say they wanted to work in a certain office, but when pressed it turns out they just want to work and don't care where. Tell us the truth and explain why you're saying what you are saying.

CA: What qualities are you looking for in a candidate and what can students do now to enhance their chances of being successful?

VB: At Baker Botts we have people who enjoy working together and respect the intellect we all bring to the table. Specifically for our IP practice, I would suggest that a technical background is needed otherwise it will be an impediment to both your growth and the firms hiring abilities in this sector. Prior work experience in any sector, while not required, is interesting, so make yourself stand out.

Mainly, our people have service mindsets for their clients. They do whatever is best for them and like doing it. We like each other and enjoy practising the law together so the ideal candidate will share those qualities too. So to prepare, we are very clear that we want students to be taking as many substantive courses as possible to add to that student's ability to hit the ground running if hired. If you want to be a litigator take evidence and pre-trial and post-trial procedure. If you want to work in transactions familiarize yourself with securities and corporate drafting assignments and don't treat your third-year as a mini vacation. Dive into the substance.

CA: What does the Summer program consist of? 

VB: It is a working summer program with fun mixed in. The work will be on real assignments with real needs. We pride ourselves in the fact that our clients specifically ask to have summer associates work on their cases. So we give our summers more opportunities to do real work and then share what you've done with those clients and present it back to them. We are really excited about giving associates that opportunity. But we also host dinners and other social events to get to know one another as that is an important part of it too.

CA: What is your approach to lateral hiring?  

VB: We spend a lot of time trying to interview laterals who will again fit with us. This is because our culture is very important to us and our clients. We want to make sure that they have a reasonable explanation as to why they left their last firm, in conjunction with assessing how they match our criteria for success. We are actively recruiting in the lateral market. We are also serious that the lateral will stay with us. It doesn't do anyone any good if they were to stay for only a short amount of time.

CA: How does the bonus system work?  

VB: It's a combination of performance and quality of work. However, we are looking for a distinct effort by the associate in working towards the goals and needs of our clients. It is hours based to be deemed eligible. However, there is more focus on the overall performance of the candidate as a whole.

CA: What is the firm's approach for the future and have you noticed any significant growth in the past year in the midst of the energy price slump?

VB: We are not seeing any slowing. Instead we are seeing an expansion of litigation in the East and West. We are therefore finding people to help us to maintain our presence in this space. Government investments, patent prosecution and regulation will increase in a very short time so we need similar experience to deal with this growth too.

Antitrust is booming and IP litigation is very strong. Corporate/M&A is well known to continue to grow especially in the wake of the energy market difficulties. Although there is this slump, we are seeing a variety of transactions in the energy space. They may look different but they are continuing.

Baker Botts LLP

One Shell Plaza,
910 Louisiana Street,
TX 77002-4995

  • Head Office: Houston, TX 
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 7
  • Partners (US): 240
  • Associates (US): 329
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,077/week
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • Post 3 Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 112
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 86 offers, 59 acceptances

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.

Firm profile
Baker Botts is a globally respected law firm with offices around the world. Since 1840, we have provided the highest ethical and professional standards combined with our reach and depth of understanding of the law to help deliver better and more innovative solutions. We have advised on a broad range of issues, including many of the largest, most complex matters. With a presence in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Baker Botts provides responsive services both domestically and internationally. This broad reach enables us to go wherever clients’ industries go and respond to the challenges, minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities that are unique to their businesses and markets.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 64
• 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 2016:
Baylor, Berkeley, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Houston, Loyola Patent Program, LSU, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Pennsylvania, SMU, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, UC Hastings, UCLA, UC Davis, Santa Clara, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, 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, Sunbelt Minority Job Fair, Texas in NY and DC Job Fairs.

Summer details
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:
Our philosophy is to allow summer associates to sample work in practice areas in which 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. The firm sponsors numerous social activities, so that summer associates can meet our attorneys and learn about the offices and the local area.