This Texan powerhouse has more than just energy tricks up its check shirt sleeves…
But while it’s historically been known for its energy work, the firm is strong in other areas too, with top Chambers USA rankings for banking & finance and technology outsourcing, for example. “Even for people who aren’t interested in energy, I think Bracewell is definitely a place you’d want to be,” one third-year associate told us. “There’s a lot going on outside the energy world.” Texas is still at the heart of Bracewell, though, and many of our interviewees agreed that the firm is trying to keep it that way: “We are international but we try really hard to keep a small-town feel, even while we’re fighting with the big dogs.” In January 2016, former NYC mayor and Bracewell name partner Rudy Giuliani left the firm for greener pastures – Greenberg Traurig – and Bracewell & Giuliani became simply Bracewell.
Nearly half of this year’s group of interviewees were based in the corporate field, while a quarter were in litigation and a quarter were in finance. The remaining handful were spread across the white-collar, labor, tax, and IP litigation groups. Juniors at Bracewell are allocated work though a pooling system, meaning they aren’t necessarily assigned their ‘own’ supervising partner to help them with work flow. This means that “you have to get out there,” and “take on more work with certain partners and organically move to the group that you’re interested in.” While most of our sources felt this was a great way to develop their contacts and get involved in a range of cases, others felt that the system made it “harder to build strong partner-associate relationships.”
"You have to get out there."
On the corporate side, juniors work in a range of areas, including transactions, project finance and bankruptcy & restructuring. “We do pipeline and power plant projects, then there’s a transactional component where we help out with buying and selling energy assets.” Day to day, corporate newbies described “doing research, writing memos and briefs, reviewing documents for enforcement cases and prepping witnesses for depositions.” Those in litigation told us: “I write a lot of motions and briefs. I also do legal research and some doc review, although that’s not the bulk.” Other tasks included preparing depositions and attending mediations and hearings.
Most of our interviewees agreed that they were offered a high level of responsibility at Bracewell: “My first week of work I was assigned to draft several motions right off the bat.” This was particularly common for the smaller cases, which associates can “handle from start to finish, taking depositions and doing all of the interaction with the client.” The prevalence of energy clients was also, unsurprisingly, very apparent. One corporate associate told us that “I probably do about 70–80% of work for energy partners right now,” another adding: “We’ve been working on projects where they turn natural gas to liquid products, so it’s not all traditional oil and gas.” Even in the white-collar group, “we’re doing defense and investigations of energy clients, from very large international companies to smaller local companies.”
Energy isn’t the only thing on Bracewell’s agenda, however, particularly in the younger New York office, where lateraled-in partners have brought in their own clients from different sectors. “Only a few out of my busiest cases have been in the energy sector,” noted one junior New Yorker. Sources mentioned non-energy clients including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, as well as automobile companies and online retailers.
Training & Development
"We're not just blindly drafting."
All new starters are introduced to Bracewell with a short training program in Houston: “One day was more administrative, another day we focused on big topics like client confidentiality, and the third day was more of a meet and greet.” Although juniors are usually assigned partner mentors, many felt that “the people you become most reliant on are the people who weren’t assigned to you.” Indeed, the support offered by the partners themselves was something that our interviewees were keen to highlight. “We’re not just blindly drafting,” one finance junior told us. “After a partner has made corrections on my draft, they’ll go over it with me – sometimes for up to two hours. It’s invaluably helpful.”
Finance and corporate associates talked about a boot camp which takes place every Friday for the first few months, that “brought in partners in different specialisms, from finance-specific matters to securities matters. Now if something comes up for us to work on from another group, we have a bit of background.” The training process in litigation is more informal, the learning method being to “just throw you in the fire, and let you experience a variety of legal work.”
The firm’s head office in Houston – covering eight floors of the angular, asymmetrical Pennzoil Place – is certainly a well-known landmark, although some felt the interior of the building could use a facelift. One associate described some of the floors as “retro,” although Bracewell's managing partner, Mark Evans, assures us that over the coming year "we’re going to make a lot of changes, such as stripping out the attorney floors and putting in a lot of glass to bring in much more natural light." The New York office is located in central Manhattan, and around a quarter of juniors start their careers here. One associate proudly stated: “When people say the center of world is New York, we’re right in the middle of the center. There’s a great feel to it.” Meanwhile in DC, the firm moved to a brand new building in April 2016, which is “all glass inside and out; a really high-quality office.”
"We don't limit ourselves to our local office."
The high level of connectivity across the offices was frequently mentioned by our interviewees, part of this being an 8.30am (CT) Monday morning video conference, when “all the offices get together and deliver reports based on new deals, transactions, cases or wins.” For those in time zones west of Texas it's an even earlier start. In the work, too, Bracewell associates noted that “we don’t limit ourselves to our local office; if there’s somebody in another office who we can ask for help, we will.” One Houston junior described working on a case with “partners in New York and Seattle, and I worked at the Dallas office for few days last week.”
While laid back is one way to describe the Bracewell environment, a junior in Houston added that “it’s a good mix between conservative and relaxed; it’s not over-the-top Southern.” Nonetheless, some associates reported seeing the occasional cowboy boot, and there is a ‘go Texan day’ once a year, with all the offices getting involved to crown the best-dressed Texan.
"It's hard to hide here."
Associates in the New York office described the atmosphere as “more traditionally BigLaw,” although it seemed the Texan friendliness still reached the Big Apple. Describing the partners, one source noted that “if you screw something up they’ll let you know, but no-one is going to yell at you.” And this attitude filters down to the associate level: “We’re passionate and good at what we do, but we’re not so tightly wound that if one thing goes wrong we’ll go unhinged; we’re here to work together to solve issues.” But laid back certainly does not mean passive, and an entrepreneurial spirit goes a long way at Bracewell. As one New York associate told us, “the short line is that it’s hard to hide here. People will talk to you and ask things like 'What are you working on? What do you want to do?'”
Our interviewees mostly agreed that “socializing is important; people like to interact as friends,” whether that’s playing tennis, going to happy hours, or taking part in a fantasy football league, as one New York junior reported. “A group this year pooled together to get season tickets for New York City FC.” Litigators in Houston told us that relationships between associates and partners were also sociable, helped by the fact that “there’s a close one-to-one ratio of associates to partners, and most of the partners are quite young.” A DC associate added: “Our managing partner likes to play pranks on the other partners.”
Hours & Compensation
To be eligible for a bonus, associates at Bracewell are expected to bill 2,000 hours, although this target was described as “flexible.” One second-year told us that “they understand that because of the regulatory work we do, there will be people that fall under 2,000. I was below 2,000 in my first year and they still gave me a bonus.” Others reported receiving a token bonus if they fell just short of the target. While the vast majority of associates aim for the 2,000 hours, there is also a 1,800 track available.
"If you want to hit those hours, the work is there for it."
That said, most of the associates had no difficulty in reaching this number, and “if you want to hit the hours, the work is there for it.” On average, our sources reported working nine-hour days, although at busy times this would increase to around 11 or 12 hours, as well as work most weekends.
Attitudes to pro bono were generally enthusiastic among the juniors we interviewed, with many hitting the 100 billable pro bono hours, and some going above and beyond this: “Last year I billed about 150 hours.” The cases in the DC office are largely linked to immigration and work for a veterans’ legal aid clinic, while in Houston, it was common for associates to be on multiple cases: “I’m on one very large death row case, and I have another two smaller divorce cases.” New York lawyers described a variety, many working for NYLAG [New York Legal Assistance Group] to defend the city against law suits, as well as cases involving immigration and domestic violence. One associate added that “we’ve partnered with a local community center where we provide a housing clinic, taking on cases involving tenant and landlord disputes.”
Pro bono hours
The associates we spoke to felt that “there’s somewhat of an issue with diversity at Bracewell, but the reality is in the legal profession there’s an issue generally.” That said, the firm is aware of where it needs to improve, and “there’s definitely been a move over the past couple of years toward recruiting more diverse people.” Another added that “HR has a great list of all the affinity groups within law schools, and we circulate that when interviewing, so if we see an acronym from a certain group we know what it means.”
"It's not a good place to go to bide out a few years in BigLaw doing doc review."
“The firm likes someone who can take ownership of a case,” one associate told us, adding that Bracewell is "not a good place to go to bide out a few years in BigLaw doing doc review.” That doesn’t mean you have to be a workaholic, though: “I think they’re really looking for people with a balance, who are hard-working but know when to relax,” another junior deliberated. Jean Lenzner, Bracewell's director of attorney employment, adds to this: "We’re not the kind of firm where someone can sit in their office and have no contact with other people." Read more on our website.
Strategy & Future
In general, the juniors we spoke to were aware of the firm’s strategy. Aside from the firmwide Monday morning meeting, associates talked about how “our MP comes once a year and sits down with associates and goes over the firm’s finance from the last year, its profits, practice groups, the ten largest clients – various key factors that let associates know about the behind-the-scenes health of Bracewell.”
"They wanted to support her, so they let the deal happen."
Our interviewees felt that the firm was also very active in helping them develop their legal careers: “I interviewed with a finance associate who had brought in a relatively small case, not a case that a large firm would normally take on, but they really wanted to support her, so they let the deal happen.” As Mark Evans, Bracewell's managing partner emphasizes: "We encourage client contact early on; that’s always been a Bracewell trademark, because we do not put a lot of people on things. A lot of the associates get to go to front lines pretty quickly." This strategy means that many of the associates “see a long-term future” for themselves at the firm.
Recent Work Highlights
- Represented Sysco Corporation in a $2 billion public offering of senior notes
- Currently advising Kinder Morgan in connection with its development of the Palmetto Pipeline project, for the shipment of petroleum products from Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, to Georgia and Florida
- Represented Wells Fargo as administrative agent in a $1.5 billion unsecured revolving credit facility to Rowan Companies, a global provider of offshore contract oil and gas drilling services
- Advised Citibank on $5 billion of debt financings related to the merger between energy infrastructure company Williams Partners and Access Midstream Partners
Getting into Bracewell: what is the firm really looking for?
We all know how daunting those all-important interviews can be, but here at Chambers Associate we’ve been talking to associates and the firm’s director of attorney employment, Jean Lenzner, to find out what really makes a successful candidate…
While the work expectations are, of course, very high at Bracewell, the environment is not cutthroat. That the firm is looking for hardworking, bright law students goes without saying, but recruiters also want people who know how to take a break, make a joke, and just generally relax from time to time. “We’re not so tightly wound that if one thing goes wrong we’ll go unhinged,” one third-year associate told us, so “we’re really looking for people with balance.” If you’re lucky enough to get a callback, then, just take a deep breath and try to loosen up. “They’ve already decided that your resume looks fine and your grades look fine,” another attorney added. “Now they’re trying to decide if you’re a normal person they would want to work with. So to an extent you can push past the law school thing where you just focus on grades and qualifications; they want a better picture of who you are and if they think you would fit in at the firm.”
And if you get to the next stage and are offered a summer with Bracewell, there are various ways in which you can really stand out. Jean Lenzner highlights in her interview that during the program, “we really do strive to give our attorneys early client contact; that’s important to us and we think it makes them better attorneys and helps with their development.” This means that a good candidate should “jump in when asked and even before asked, anticipate what’s needed, and really demonstrate an interest in what they’re doing.” One junior added that, “the firm likes enthusiasm for what they do; I think people like the idea of someone who can take ownership. A counter example would be someone who is expecting to sit there for a few years doing doc review.”
So what can you do to prepare yourself now? While you’re not expected know exactly what area you want to practice in, Lenzner emphasizes that “those who know their area of interest early on should do all they can to prepare themselves, through the courses they take, and any work they may be able to do in the summer to enhance their skills set.”
Chambers Associate interview with Mark Evans, managing partner
Chambers Associate: Let's start with a few highlights or key things that have happened over the past year at Bracewell?
Mark Evans: Obviously with declining oil prices, this last year has been a challenge, however I've been very pleased with the clients we have had. A lot of our clients have been going through some very difficult times, especially at the start of the year, however things have started to pick up dramatically in litigation, M&A and finance.
We've made some changes within the firm; we picked up a group of four environmental lawyers from Katten Muchin Rosenman, so we have a very strong environmental team in Texas and DC. We’re also excited to get a couple of senior litigators in New York and Houston.
CA: How would you say the recent low oil prices have impacted the type of work you're doing at the firm?
ME: I think it’s all in the mix. If I took you through 2014 and 2013 where we were really strong and had tons of work in the energy industry, 2015 is different. It’s the same clients, it’s just a different mix of what we’re doing; we're seeing less of the traditional corporate side, but much more on M&A and restructuring, and obviously litigation flows into that. We represent a lot of banks, for instance, and they’re going to need a lot of restructuring. It's a change, and I think most of next year will be like that, and then it will probably switch back a bit, but we certainly have the right resources to handle that.
CA: In the short-term then, where do you think the firm is heading?
ME: I’m not getting ready to open a new office, however there are certain areas where you’ll see us expand. Notwithstanding the fact that energy prices were down, we’re still very bullish in our energy practice. You’ll see us expanding in technology, which is a big practice for us – we definitely need to add some bodies there. There is also a lot going on in our white-collar work in DC and New York; that has grown dramatically this year, and those people are very busy. We’re probably going to pick up a little in real estate too. We’re not interested in growth for growths' sake, expansion needs to be in our seven or eight core areas.
CA: One thing we noticed when talking to associates was that they feel really in the loop about where the firm is going. Why do you think this is important?
ME: It’s our culture! First of all at partnership level we’re totally an open book; every partner knows what every person makes, and we’ve always been very transparent in how we manage things. We’ve learned that you need to carry that down to associates, so I meet with them twice a year. In fact, I just recently had the chance to see them this week; we made a big decision in Houston to stay in this building [Pennzoil Place], and we’re going to make a lot of changes that I think will be beneficial to associates. We plan to strip out the attorney floors and put in a lot of glass to bring in much more natural light. We talked to associates in Houston about that, and formed a partner committee and an associate committee to really help with this project. We won’t be in construction for another seven or eight months, but I really want associate input as to how they want things done – they’re going to meet directly with our architects and our interior designers next week. I want to create a workspace that will work for us and the associates, which will mean a lot more collaborative space.
We encourage client contact early on; that’s always been a Bracewell trademark, because we do not put a lot of people on things. A lot of the associates get to go to front lines pretty quickly. We also have a Monday morning meeting: we meet every Monday wherever I am at 8.30 am CST, and we use it to let several different offices report on various projects. We try to make it quick and meaningful, and our video system is great – the young attorneys get indoctrinated to it very early. It's not a compulsory meeting but the vast majority show up for it. It's also unique; I’m not aware of anyone else who does it. We began it around 25-30 years ago as a way of resolving conflicts, and it just became something that the firm held on to.
CA: Any words of wisdom for our student readers as they enter the legal profession?
ME: The advice I would give to anyone is that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. The practice of law is not easy and it is time-consuming, but take it one day at a time and have a life outside of the practice – I always encourage that. You have to be able to separate work and life, you can have a good balance at the firm. I think that's another thing we do really well actually: we have a lot of relatively young woman partners who have had children and we’ve really supported them. In the finance group – which was my group before I took over as managing partner – there were more female finance partners than male partners, for instance. A lot of our female partners have families and it's something I’m very proud of.
711 Louisiana Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $296,000,000
- Partners (US): 201
- Associates (US): 241
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,077/week
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 37 (27 2Ls, 10 1Ls)
Main areas of work Bracewell’s main areas of concentration are business and regulatory, technology, litigation and government. These areas breakdown into a number of core practices, including banks and financial institutions; energy; environmental strategies; financial restructuring; private investment funds; white-collar defense, internal investigations and regulatory enforcement; broker-dealer and market regulation; corporate and securities; finance; intellectual property; labor and employment; real estate and projects; strategic communications; tax; climate change; and public law.
Firm profile Bracewell LLP is a global law firm with offices in Texas, New York, Washington, DC, Connecticut, Seattle, Dubai, and London. The firm serves Fortune 500 companies, major financial institutions, leading private investment funds, governmental entities and individuals concentrated in the energy, technology and financial services sectors worldwide.
• Number of 1st year associates: 26
• Number of 2nd year associates: 20
• Associate Salaries: 1st Year: $180,000
• 2nd Year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: We encourage associates to pursue judicial clerkships if they are interested.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Summer associate profile:
Bracewell takes into account a number of factors when making its selection for summer associates. These include but are not limited to such academic-related areas as class rank, grade-point average and journal membership. In addition, the firm bases offers in part on the extracurricular endeavors of potential summer associates, such as professional/legal association involvement, internships and/or clerkships and law school fraternity memberships.
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 range in length from 6-9 weeks. During this time, summer associates work in various practice areas – dictated by office locale – and attend hearings, depositions, trials, negotiations and client meetings. When not working at the firm, summer associates are encouraged to explore the city in which they live and are also invited to attorney dinners, all-clerk lunches and a summer associate retreat.