It's less 'Houston, we have a problem' and more 'Houston, we have lift off' at this energy-fueled firm.
BRACEWELL'S Texas background means it knows what's watt in the energy sector. The firm generates legal expertise from its four bases in the Lone Star State, three on the East Coast, and also a small office in Seattle, plus across the seas in London and Dubai. As an energy-focused (though not energy-reliant) firm, the drop in global oil prices may cause concern, but newish managing partner Greg Bopp explains that “you have to be adaptive to the environment you're in. Our focus is to continue to be universally recognized in the 'Big 3' sectors of energy, finance, and technology, as well as strategic areas like M&A, capital markets, complex commercial litigation, white collar defense, and government regulatory and policy.” He also reiterates that “fortunately the market continued and has improved in 2016.”
Next to energy, Chambers USA ranks the firm highly in areas including banking & finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, environment, tech, labor & employment, and corporate/M&A. However, associates told us: “Our motto is 'we know energy',” so as a result “people in finance, environment, or even litigation are connected to energy on some level.”
Whichever practice groups associates are in, the work often has an energy slant. Most juniors are in litigation, closely followed by corporate, and finance. Others go into areas including real estate, environment, IP, restructuring, and tax. Work allocation is generally through a pooling system. “People end up with working relationships quickly; you tend to develop and get on partners' radars.” In smaller offices, things tend to be more informal: “I work for a partner or group of partners,” a Dallas source revealed, “but it's definitely encouraged to branch out from your main partner for work.”
Corporate sources in the Houston HQ reported doing a fair amount of doc review and due diligence, with one describing themself as “a repository of information about the deals.” Another spoke of drafting clauses: “They're usually completely wrong at first! But it's great that partners take the time to let me try, then explain their feedback.” The department deals with a mix of public companies, private equity clients, and energy clients, primarily in the Texas area. Deals worked on have included “one of $120 million, and one of $12 billion.” But regardless of size, there's a hefty amount of client contact: “I help coordinate with the company and agent banks, and that's cool for me because I was the one making sure everything was moving forward. I was talking to these people, and if the clients needed something they would contact me directly.” Another had experienced “ending the day feeling like you helped the clients, and that definitely helps with maintaining morale.”
“It's great that partners take the time to let me try, then explain their feedback.”
Litigators are abundant in New York as well as Houston. White collar crime is split between civil and criminal work. Criminal defense clients tend to be individuals. Occasionally larger companies appear, for example in relation to alleged FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] violations. Sources mentioned that regulators are currently hot on the tail of public corruption and bribery. “80% of the time it's just me and a partner on a case,” a New Yorker noted. “I'm doing tasks that would usually be given to mid-level associates, which is great! If you show you're able to do the work, no one has any reservation about giving it to you.” Tasks include meeting with potential clients and evaluating their case, preparing memos, preparing interviews with clients, and then helping interview them. In a cross-over with the cyber-security department, a litigator described “drafting incident response plans, and cyber-security policies for companies.”
Finance associates, largely based in Texas and New York, deal with “the lending side of oil and gas” through credit agreements, representing agent banks, and helping negotiate current agreements. Houston associates have also worked with borrowers – “really interesting, seeing things from both sides.” Public finance associates mostly work for governmental and non-profit entities. Regular duties include changes to contracts, due diligence, and even attending client dinners: “You wouldn't typically see a first or second-year invited to those!” Such a level of responsibility “could be overwhelming if you're afraid to ask for help. You just have to know when to ask questions and when it's time to rely on the people around you.”
Training & Development
“You can't beat the quality of training you get here. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know, but we have the resources to help you figure it out.” Training kicks off with two days of new associate orientation in Houston, covering everything from IT to confidentiality. Meetings with partners take place, as well as dinners where associates can get know their peers from other offices. Orientation used to take place two months after first-years started, but in response to feedback that “some things would have been better to learn straight away,” the firm moved it earlier. Finance and corporate associates talked about a boot camp which takes place every Friday for the first few months. The training process in litigation is more informal.
Reviews start with a self-evaluation and used to occur annually, but in response to associate feedback they now happen every six months. “A year is a long time that you could be doing things consistently wrong,” one junior reflected. The AEC [Attorney Evaluation Committee] speaks to partners you've worked for and compiles a review.
Culture & Offices
The firm's HQ is located in Houston's snazzy Pennzoil building – “architecturally very beautiful, and cool to be in a piece of Houston culture.” Renovation of the office is helping to “promote a more uniform culture.” A tradition of Monday morning video conferences involving all offices and led by the managing partner helps “show you your place in the big machine,” according to associates. “It's clear we're all playing for the same team.”
While different cities have different cultures, a New Yorker felt the Big Apple office has certain aspects of Texas culture: “Everyone knows people's spouses and kids' names, which isn't really a New York thing.” Juniors also praised the ability to work remotely: “It's rare that you need to be in the office all the time,” a corporate associate explained. “Even partners sometimes work from home – the remote connections are very good.” They also agreed that “the firm doesn't like to do things on weekends – they know people work hard enough, and don't try to take any more time than that.”
Hours & Compensation
The 2,000 hour annual billable goal is “definitely a target. Not a requirement disguised as a target.” Some associates in smaller offices thought there might not always be enough work to reach the target, but assured us that “the firm is really reasonable. A couple of years ago we had two massive trials and everyone was exhausted but billed crazy amounts of hours. The next year's hours were lower because everyone wanted vacations after the hectic year. The firm understood – everyone got full bonuses and the firm was fine with it.” Unlike the coffee-fueled law firm stereotype, all-nighters at Bracewell are rare: “I can count on one hand the number of times I've been here past 10pm. Unless it's an emergency, it's really not the norm.”
"It will make you a better lawyer if you really care about the issue.”
Bracewell allows attorneys to bill 100 hours of pro bono and diversity-related work toward their billing target. Former managing partner Mark Evans was said to be working on a pro bono case – indicative of the “spirit of the firm.” Cases have included working on divorces, housing and tenancy matters, immigration, and asylum cases (for example, for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)). Bracewell also helps Legal Lines, a hotline people can call for legal advice. The firm “allows you to say 'I'm really passionate about this organization or cause, and want to do legal work for them.' They also know it will make you a better lawyer if you really care about the issue.”
Pro bono hours:
- For US attorneys: 9,258
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
Interviewees agreed that “the legal profession as a whole has a problem with diversity,” but differed about which area they thought the firm is better at. Some highlighted women's diversity as the firm's biggest strength, with initiatives like 'Minute Mentoring' – “like speed dating, but for mentoring.” However, associates in Dallas found that “there are not many women in our office, but there's good racial diversity. Even higher up – there's significant diversity in partnership levels in our group.” A New Yorker was more critical of BigLaw as a whole: “Maternity policies don't really facilitate the retention of women. BigLaw isn't kind to people who want to step out for a while and come back, but I don't think it's through lack of caring.” In Bracewell's case, we did hear of multiple attorneys coming back after their parental leave.
Juniors emphasized that Bracewell “genuinely wants to improve diversity, and is actively trying. There's just a lot of competition between law firms when it comes to recruiting diverse candidates.”
Strategy & Future
With multiple changes in the last year – the departure of Rudy Giuliani and a few partners, and a new managing partner – some associates were curious about the future direction of the firm. “It was a bit worrying coming from law school to an office that's in flux,” a New Yorker remembered, “but things are starting to settle down now, which is comforting.” MP Greg Bopp tells us: “For those currently in law school, they'll continue to see us focus on our strengths – energy, finance and technology, as well as our strategic practice areas like complex commercial litigation and M&A.”
“Effort on entry-level hiring.”
He concludes: “We will continue to have a strong focus on entry-level hiring... and the organic growth that results from that. We consider ourselves to be a destination firm for talent – a firm you can join straight out of law school with the hope and expectation that you will have a long-term career here, if that's what you are interested in. I'm an example of that, having been here for my entire legal career.”
So what are the folks at Bracewell looking for in their associates? “Enthusiasm,” director of attorney employment Jean Lenzner tells us. “Someone who is a good all-rounder. We value collegiality, and people who share those values do well here.” Whilst of course looking for candidates with good grades, associates said that “understanding what Bracewell does, and how you can help that” goes a long way in interviews. Associates who had interviewed in OCIs advised that “coming across as arrogant or as someone who won't want to work hard or be on the team wouldn't look good. People want to have someone they're going to enjoy working with. In the 30 minute conversation, we want to know if you're someone we can bring in from of clients, and someone that will represent the firm well.”
“It's good to decompress and have fun with the people you work with sometimes” a New Yorker told us of happy hours and the occasional attorney lunch or dinner. Some in the smaller locations described a more “top-heavy office” with more partners than associates, with less opportunity for associate get-togethers.
Interview with managing partner Greg Bopp
What's your long term vision for Bracewell? What do you want it to look like in five, ten years' time?
We just finished our annual partner retreat, and this was one of the main topics. Our vision is to capitalize on our strengths and continue to be universally recognized in the “Big 3” sectors of energy, finance and technology, as well as in our strategic practice areas like M&A, capital markets, complex commercial litigation, white collar defense, and government regulation and policy. I'm certain we’ll see growth in all of these areas. We believe that our commitment to excellence coupled with our sector and strategic practice area focus will fuel future growth and continue our reputation as a destination firm for talent and clients.
What have been the survival lessons learned from the drop in oil prices?
You have to be adaptive to the environment you're in. 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. It’s critical to stay abreast of market developments and be adaptive to your clients’ circumstances. 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.
Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?
We always look at geographic locations and what makes sense for our firm and our clients. Right now, we have a coast to coast presence, and our second largest office is located in New York. If our client needs take us to other geographic locations, we will always consider that. We believe there are other interesting opportunities for us on the West Coast – the West Coast fits in well with our focus on energy, finance and technology. We're very pleased with our success in London and Dubai, which are both focused exclusively on energy. We might also consider other places around the world that fit with our sector focus – perhaps the Far East or Canada.
Given that our readers wouldn't be joining your firm for another couple of years, what's the general strategy going forwards?
For those currently in law school, they'll continue to see us focus on our strengths – energy, finance and technology, as well as our strategic practice areas like complex commercial litigation and M&A. We will continue to have a strong focus on entry-level recruiting – for law students with outstanding credentials, we will always be a firm that emphasizes hiring straight out of law school and the organic growth that results from that. As I said before, we consider ourselves to be a destination firm for talent – a firm you can join straight out of law school with the hope and expectation that you will have a long-term career here, if that’s what you are interested in. I'm an example of that, having been here for my entire legal career. We invest a lot of time in our associates through professional development training, mentoring, client contact, meaningful evaluations and hands-on experience. We spend time making sure they're aligned with the clients and work that interest them. Associates appreciate that. Clients do too.
How will this growth affect the culture of the firm?
It will undoubtedly impact the culture in a positive way. We're very open and transparent here – with partners and associates alike. I often describe our culture with the term 'One Bracewell' – we focus on teamwork, collaboration and maintaining excellence in everything we do. We have an all-attorney meeting every Monday morning and talk about what's going on at the firm – client successes, community involvement, etc. Our lawyers feel very connected to the firm. That connectivity fosters a positive culture. I also meet with associates regularly, traveling across all offices.
And why do you feel so strongly about transparency?
We have very high expectations of all of our lawyers. Clients have high expectations of us too. If we're going to meet this standard, I believe it's important to be transparent – to share information with everyone in the firm. In order to be successful we must perform at a high level and come to work with a mindset of excellence. When we're transparent, people feel more connected to the firm and our clients. It’s more than just a job – it’s about being part of a team, something special.
What was Bracewell like when you joined and how has it changed?
It's larger now and much more geographically diverse. When I first started, the only offices outside of Texas were in Washington D.C. and London. While Houston is still our largest office, our second largest office is in New York. Of course we have a large presence throughout Texas, but we also have a significant presence in New York, Washington D.C., London, Dubai, Hartford and Seattle. Culturally I think we're very similar to when I joined. One of the things we're most proud of is that as we've grown over the years, we've maintained our culture and traditions. That's been important to our spirit of teamwork and collaboration, even as we expand more broadly. I'm very proud we've been able to do that given the geographic diversity we've achieved.
And finally, any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
They should be excited and optimistic about becoming lawyers. It's a great job, solving complex problems and creating innovative solutions to achieve business objectives. It’s also a personable profession – you work daily with highly intelligent and creative colleagues and clients. They are entering the legal market at a great time and will certainly benefit from the experience of joining a firm like Bracewell that's growing and forward-looking. As always, ensure you maintain a good work-life balance. We work hard as lawyers, but you have to have a good balance in life – whether that's family, physical activities, anything that interests you. It’s so critical to maintain that balance even while beginning your career as lawyer.
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.
711 Louisiana Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $277,000,000
- Partners (US): 169
- Associates (US): 197
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,461.54/week
- 2Ls: $3,461.54/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 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.
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 2017:
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 8-9 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.