Energy work isn't all that's powering this Texan dynamo – finance and technology also fuel the firm's fire.
CONTRARY to popular belief, not everything is bigger in Texas. Houston-born Bracewell is a relative pocket rocket compared to many of the global juggernauts in Chambers Associate, and newcomers “really liked that Bracewell was smaller; the partner/associate ratio is closer than it is at a lot of larger firms, so you're not just a number. It's a place where people stay and grow.” There's also plenty of power under the Bracewell hood – the firm packs a nationwide punch in Chambers USA for its energy work, especially when it comes to oil and gas expertise in the regulatory and litigation spheres. In its home state it's especially well regarded for its environment, banking & finance and technology practices.
These practices slot into Bracewell's broader picture, which managing partner Greg Bopp tells us more about: “Our vision is to continue to be a global leader in the energy, finance and technology industries, as well as a powerhouse in strategic practice areas such as litigation and government relations.” The headline-grabbing hire of Crowell & Moring's former chair, Angela Styles, in DC has recently boosted Bracewell's government contracts clout, but Bopp tells us that he expects all of the areas mentioned above to grow. At the moment, Bracewell has eight domestic offices (four are in Texas, while the rest are in New York, DC, Connecticut and Seattle) and two overseas bases (in London and Dubai), but that number could go up…
Strategy & Future
"We’re always open to exploring new locations that allow us to better serve our clients’ needs,” Bopp reveals. “We will strategically grow each of Bracewell’s ten offices by deepening relationships with current clients and continuing to recruit top talent." For the full interview, click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
The Houston HQ houses the biggest group of newbies, followed by the New York and Dallas offices respectively (only a few were based in Bracewell's Seattle and DC bases). Most associates fall into either the litigation or business & regulatory groups, but the odd outlier fits into a smaller niche like labor or technology. Business juniors dive into a relatively informal pooling system, while litigators are assigned a supervising partner “who's responsible for making sure we have all the work we need, but not too much.” How much work comes from the supervisor themselves “depends on how busy they are,” but on average junior litigators felt that “around half of it comes from them, and the remaining half comes from other partners.”
Bracewell's business & regulatory unit spans corporate, government contracts/relations, projects, real estate and more. The energy sector is “a big focus” no matter which office you're staffed in; juniors in the unit informed us that “a lot of the clients we work with are energy funds and utilities.” They'd also picked up a lot of work on the M&A side of the practice, typically on the buyer side of the transaction. “Because we're so leanly staffed I've managed to get a broad junior experience,” one deal-doer said, before explaining: “I'll do the typical due diligence and contract reviews, but also write up LLC formation resolutions and take the first turn at production sharing agreements and asset purchase agreements.” Going into the third year, associates “get a lot more experience of midlevel work. During the busy periods you learn a lot.”
“I like being involved in the whole case rather than just being part of the production line.”
Fledgling litigators were able to dabble in a mix of complex commercial, real estate, technology, IP and tort litigation, and were “really pleased to have built up a broad practice.” The Texan offices – you guessed it – have a “heavy energy focus,” but work from that sector is less omnipresent in New York and other bases. “As a junior we're involved with writing pretty much every motion in a case,” sources explained. “Most matters are done with just one or two associates and the partner. I like being involved in the whole case rather than just being part of the production line.” Document review and discovery are part of the junior associate experience, “but not to an overwhelming extent asthe firm trusts us to try our hand at things – and they're supportive if you don't get it right straight away!”
Training & Development
Two days of 'new associate orientation' brings all fresh-faced juniors together in Houston and takes them through everything from IT to confidentiality. Corporate juniors then begin a “great” weekly boot camp program that consists of weekly videoconferences. There isn't a litigation equivalent, but most in the department “haven't panicked about a lack of training. Partners do a lot of hands-on training, so it's not lacking at all!” Juniors get reviewed every six months, and begin the process with a self-evaluation: “The associate answers ten questions, then meets with the evaluation committee and their supervisor to get feedback.” Some found the process “less helpful than informal and ongoing feedback, which senior associates are especially good at providing.”
Culture & Offices
Associate classes “tend to be pretty close; we hang out outside the office and the partners sponsor us to socialize sometimes. We're pretty good at finding ways to organize that!” Summer is the peak of the social calendar, but each office also has a Christmas holiday party and a spring service project that “helps the local community. I've loved getting to do that, as it gives you a different perception of your colleagues.” Juniors reported high levels of communal energy across the offices, with one insider commenting: “You need to be social here! Everybody works hard and plays hard.”
Bracewell's Houston, Dallas and New York offices have all been recently remodeled in line with “a very contemporary design.” Houstonians in particular appreciated the “new breakout rooms, as we have a designated space for team working,” as well as new electric standing desks. Up in New York there are “amazing views of Central Park and the Hudson River. Everyone has their own office and you get a lot of room even as a first year.” The recently introduced 'One Bracewell' mantra has led to increasing cross-office collaboration, though New Yorkers reported less of this than their Texan colleagues.
“We all know each other, each other's spouses, and each other's dogs.”
“The whole is only as good as the sum of its parts, and Bracewell does a great job building strong teams that invest in one another,” an associate said of the firm's overarching culture. “We all know each other, each other's spouses, and each other's dogs.” Each Monday at 8:30am Central Time, all attorneys at the firm (pets sadly aren't invited) participate in a videoconference called the Monday Morning Meeting; “you get to see people in every office every week.” Sources firm-wide noted a “Southern culture permeating the atmosphere,” with New Yorkers telling us that “the partners know what the associates do – they ask me how my soccer games went, for example. It's more of a community than a hierarchy – less formal and rigid than other firms.”
While some Big Apple associates grumbled that “transparency isn't one of Bracewell's strong points,” those in other offices believed “they've been very forthright with us. People here feel like they're able to ask management direct questions.” They were particularly complimentary of the firm's willingness to involve juniors during the recruitment process and get their views on potential new arrivals. “By submitting our views, we can help to decide what type of firm Bracewell will be in the future,” they reasoned. The management committee also meets with associates annually to talk through the firm's priorities and goals going forward.
Hours & Pro Bono
There's also a meeting at the beginning of each February to explain the bonus structure for the coming year. Currently, bonuses are dished out to those who hit the 2,000-hour mark. This can vary slightly by office: in NY and DC, for example, 1,900 hours makes you eligible for a 50% bonus. Associates had mixed reactions to this figure: some worried that “2,000 hours has become a requirement rather than a target – it's a big point of contention,” while others argued: “It's a goal, not a hard target. I don't fear for my job if I'm not going to reach it.” In the Texan offices, 2,000 hours was deemed “very achievable; first years may find it more difficult but the work is there if you want it.” Other sources – particularly those in New York, where work peaks and troughs were more common – were less confident.
Regardless of the bonus arrangements in any given year, Bracewell allows its attorneys to bill 100 hours of pro bono and diversity-related work toward their 2,000-hour goal. Housing and landlord/tenant cases were felt to be the most common, followed by immigration and asylum matters. “In the first year I had a pro bono matter that took up a lot of time over twelve months,” a junior recalled, “and I worked on some additional matters with the client too and the firm was very supportive throughout.” Many enjoyed “getting to be the primary attorney and take the lead on the case. It can be more difficult to find matters that suit transactional lawyers, but those assignments do exist.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
“Late nights are very infrequent and I've never once stayed up all night working.”
While there's “no average day,” Bracewellians generally did pretty well on the hours front. “I try to get in at 8am and leave at 6pm – that typically means I don't have to work at home,” one representative source explained. “Late nights are very infrequent and I've never once stayed up all night working.” Colleagues agreed that “busy periods can require you to work well into the night, but they're rare.”
On the gender front, interviewees flagged that “there are a ton of female partners who are extremely intelligent and wonderful mentors.” Half of the firm's practice groups are led by women, but, disappointingly, only one attorney within the nine-strong 2018 partnership promotion round was female. Smaller offices like Dallas are “a little less diverse” than Houston, while “New York is lacking in minority partners. We interview a lot of diverse candidates but when you walk in the door it's hard if there aren't examples to follow.” In a bid to address issues at the pipeline level,Bracewell currently offers a 'Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship' in several of its US offices.
According to our eyes and ears on the inside, Bracewell “is not the type of place where you're going to be asked obscure legal questions in an interview.” Instead, the process focuses on “who are you as a person; as an interviewer I'll be thinking things like 'do I think you can meet clients?' and 'what do you want to do within the legal industry?'” Understanding the firm's culture is crucial for any applicant to be successful, but how do you show you're right for the job? “Initiative is the key word,” one source explained. “Rather than just doing what's assigned to you, we're looking for people with a strong work ethic who'll follow through to the next step.” Another junior added: “We want somebody who's a hard worker and who will inspire confidence in clients, but we also want interviewees to relax so we can see how they are from a personal standpoint.”
Among the biggest turn-offs is “an overly competitive mentality and a tactic of stepping on others to get ahead. Teamwork is really valued here, because our staffing is so lean it's essential to be helpful rather than compete with your colleagues.” Extracurricular activities are a good way of demonstrating your team spirit. “Real-world jobs, mock trials or experience working on a journal” are all potential resume boosts, and “Bracewell particularly values clerkships; all firms look well on them but we especially value the experience that a clerkship can bring.”
“Anything that stands out on your resume and you can talk about in detail helps,” one source suggested, “as these things work well as conversation starters in interviews.” Providing a first-hand account, another told us: “When I walked into the Bracewell interview the two partners there were easy to talk to. They laughed and joked and put me at ease – a stark comparison to the normal stiff interview mindset. Now when I interview candidates I tell them to relax – don't be too informal, but talk to your interviewers like they're real people.”
OCI applicants interviewed: 533
Interviewees outside OCI: 12
Applicants invited to 2nd stage interview: 160
Notable summer events (eg dinners, sports/cultural trips):
- Three-day summer retreat for all summer associates at Barton Creek Resort in Austin, TX
- At-home dinner at hiring partner’s house for the whole office in Dallas, TX
- Houston Astros baseball game at Minute Maid Park in Houston, TX
- Korean BBQ dinner and karaoke night in New York, NY
- “Legal Mushball Classic” softball game benefiting the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Washington, DC
- Tour of the WJLA News Channel in Washington, DC
Interview with managing partner Greg Bopp
ChambersAssociate: What’s your long-term vision for Bracewell? What do you want it to look like in five or ten years’ time?
Greg Bopp: To anticipate, innovate, and build on Bracewell’s strengths. By this I mean, continue to be a global leader in the energy, finance and technology industries, as well as a powerhouse in strategic practice areas such as litigation and government relations, especially in this time of regulatory change. This continued focus, along with our commitment to excellence, is the foundation of our plan for long-term growth and success.
CA: Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?
GB: We will strategically grow each of Bracewell’s ten offices by deepening relationships with current clients and continuing to recruit top talent. As for new locations, we are client-focused. We’re always open to exploring new locations beneficial to our clients’ needs.
CA: Given that our readers wouldn’t be joining your firm for another couple of years, what’s the general strategy going forward?
GB: We strive to be a destination firm for talent. Our priority is to attract and retain talented lawyers, and therefore, I am very involved in all of our recruiting efforts. We place a great emphasis on professional development and mentoring, and we are always seeking to do better. All of our associates continually participate in a variety of firm-organized programs that allow them to grow as professionals.
Our culture includes providing associates meaningful interaction with clients from day one. Our goal is to be a firm you can join straight out of law school with the hope and realistic expectation that you will have a long-term career here.
CA: How will this growth affect the culture of the firm?
GB: Bracewell’s organic and lateral growth has had a positive impact on the firm’s culture. The firm is very open and transparent – with partners and associates alike. We promote teamwork, collaboration and commitment to excellence in everything that we do – something that I often describe as our 'One Bracewell' culture. Every Monday, we have a firm-wide meeting to talk about our clients, our attorneys, our lessons learned, and what is happening in our ten offices. This level of communication and transparency permeates throughout the firm. It helps create a collegial environment in which lawyers can have meaningful and lasting careers. Many of the associates elected to our partnership are lawyers who began their careers as Bracewell summer associates. We also have dozens of 'boomerang' lawyers and staff at the firm. These individuals began at Bracewell, left the firm to pursue professional opportunities elsewhere and eventually returned to Bracewell because of our One Bracewell culture.
CA: Why do you feel so strongly about transparency?
GB: Clients expect the best from us. We, in turn, expect the best from our lawyers. Everyone must perform at a high level and approach each matter with the highest standard of excellence. Promoting a culture of honesty and transparency allows people to feel more connected to the firm, to our colleagues and to our clients. Working at Bracewell is more than a job. It’s about being part of a team with a relentless focus on excellence.
CA: What was Bracewell like when you joined and how has it changed?
GB: To put this in perspective, I joined out of law school 23 years ago. Today Bracewell is larger and more geographically diverse. When I joined, the only offices outside Texas were in Washington, DC and London. Our global footprint now includes offices from coast to coast in the US – from New York and Hartford to Seattle – as well as Dubai. As Bracewell has grown, I’m proud of the fact that we’ve continued to maintain our culture and traditions.
CA: And finally, any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
GB: You should be excited and optimistic about becoming a lawyer. There’s nothing better than being part of a team that’s focused on helping clients solve complex issues to further strategic business objectives. Each day, you have the opportunity to work with highly intelligent and creative clients and colleagues. You should be excited – at least on most days – to be a lawyer. You should also strive to achieve balance between your professional and personal lives. We work hard as lawyers. Each of us needs to make time to continue to pursue our interests and spend time with family and friends.
711 Louisiana Street,
- Head Office:Number of domestic offices:Number of international offices:Worldwide revenue:Partners (US):Associates (US): Houston, TX 8 2 $278,698,000 158 196
- Main Recruitment Contact: Jennifer Queen, Chief Talent Officer
- Hiring Partners: Austin: Victoria Ozimek, Dallas: Jon Leatherberry, Houston: Cle Dade and Chris Dodson, New York: David Ball Washington, DC: Kirk Morgan
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 17
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 11, 2Ls: 28
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,461.54/week 2Ls: $3,461.54/week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
• Corporate & Securities
• Environmental Strategies
• Financial Institutions
• Financial Restructuring
• Intellectual Property
• International Practice
• Labor & Employment
• Private Investment Funds
• Public Finance
• Real Estate & Projects
• Strategic Communications
• Tax • Technology
• White Collar Defense, Internal Investigations & Regulatory Enforcement
Baylor, Columbia, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Law Interview Program, Northwestern, NYU, On Tour Interview Program, SMU, South Texas College of Law, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, The Consortium, Thurgood Marshall, University of Houston, The University of Texas, UVA, Vanderbilt
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We participate in resume drops at law schools across the nation and accept write-in candidates via our website.
Summer associate profile:
We look for candidates who have distinguished themselves academically and actively participate in law school and professional legal organizations. Successful candidates possess a strong work ethic and are self-motivated. Given the firm’s collaborative culture, we also look for individuals who are team players.
Summer program components:
The firm offers summer associate programs in all US offices, though demand in each office is determined from year to year. These programs vary by location, but typically range in length from eight to ten weeks. During this time, summer associates have the opportunity to explore different areas of the law by working on actual matters. Summer associates attend hearings, depositions, trials, negotiations and client meetings. They also hone legal writing skills by helping research and draft agreements, briefs, articles and blog posts. In addition, summer associates are encouraged to explore the local community and attend attorney dinners, summer associate lunches and a summer associate retreat.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
District of Columbia
- Environment (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
- Construction Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Technology: Outsourcing (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Climate Change (Band 3)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 3)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
- Projects: Power (Band 4)