Boston's own Brown Rudnick knows bankruptcy is no tea party...
IN a memorable moment from The Office, Steve Carrell's dim-witted character Michael Scott acts on a colleague's advice to declare bankruptcy. Taking this ever-so literally, he proceeds with misguided confidence to shout: “I declare bankruptcy!” If only it were that simple – bankruptcy of big companies is a sticky issue – and that's where Brown Rudnick steps in. Though far from being the largest law firm out there, it excels when companies hit the rocks financially, regularly diving head-first into Chapter 11 litigation to pull distressed investors from the wreckage. Such are this plucky Bostonian's talents in restructuring that it secures top tier recognition from Chambers USA, beating plenty of legal heavyweights that do this kind of law.
“We're staffed pretty leanly, and there are some definite benefits,” associate sources explained. “Even as a second-year I'm the most senior associate on cases or have the most time to devote to them. So you're the master of facts, you know what's going on and partners very much need you. It feels good to be a working part.” In this environment associates have to be “entrepreneurial – that's the firm's term for it, but I would call it scrappy. You need to be able to adjust.”
Most new associates join the Boston or New York office, and at the time of our calls around two-thirds of juniors were in litigation & restructuring. Elsewhere, the corporate & capital markets department covers subgroups like tax, finance, and IP. Both departments have an associate development manager who is supposed to assign juniors work based on their availability. But “in practice it's only true that you get your work from the allocation system to begin with. Since then it's been different.” Another associate continued: “In practice you go through partners – they come to you and ask 'can you do this?' Then they shoot it up to the assignment coordinator.” Circumventing the system allows associates more flexibility to gain and keep good work, but it can also cause hiccups. Some associates said they felt obliged to say yes when partners came knocking, causing “inefficiency in how work is distributed. Some people are slammed and others are twiddling their thumbs.”
“Cases are leanly staffed.”
For restructuring associates, “the things you do over and over are research and first drafts of pleadings. There's also some letter drafting and client management. That you'll do consistently. The things which are a bit more unique come when you are working on smaller cases. You may go to court, second-chair a hearing or work with counsel to strategize. That stuff means you're not just sat at your desk, insulated. You're more out there and feeling involved.” And “cases are leanly staffed. It's nice to step into the shoes which are normally filled by someone more senior,” even if it left juniors “juggling a handful of cases” and was “sometimes stressful.” This lean staffing extended across teams.
Commercial litigators noted that “because we have such a robust restructuring practice you will see a lot of related work, even though it's not our focus.” But this was just one part of a varied mix which also included “contract disputes and IP.” Interviewees recalled drafting motions and briefs, tackling management tasks like overseeing doc review and some even prepared for and attended depositions. Meanwhile, in corporate, associates get to grips with mid-market M&A, contributing “pretty standard junior work” like due diligence. More positively, “once you get your foot in the door,” it's very common “to have the first crack at drafting some fairly significant documents,” such as operating agreements.
Training & Development
Incoming juniors head to Boston for a week of orientation before starting in earnest. From then on “there's a great deal of training.” As “first-years we had two or three trainings a week” which “run the gamut,” coming from every department. “It's usually mandatory to go to your practice group's and optional to go to the others.” Associates went on to tell us about specific deposition training where “the firm brings in an outside group” and “a lot of lunch sessions.”
Associates receive formal feedback through a yearly review which “identifies the people you have worked with a lot. Each of them writes a review of you and you are given a summary.” But some associates found that “other than that I don't get a lot of feedback.” Our interviewees gave the impression that informal feedback was variable. “It's really person to person. Overall I'd say you usually do get feedback, but it's generic and difficult to ascertain what specifically you did do well: 'great job' for example.”
Last year's research uncovered some issues with partner-associate interaction, so naturally we asked this year's interviewees about it. “At the beginning of my experience there were some partners who could be very direct, not quite shouting, but certainly making sure they were getting their point across, maybe if you needed to be more attentive over typos. But there has been a conscious effort to make sure that is not the first approach partners take in providing feedback.” Specifically, associates placed the problem in the Big Apple: “There's a big difference as far as atmosphere goes. New York is a lot tenser, a little less friendly and casual and a little more high-stress, high-tension.” Still, some reveled in this. “We are the New York office and there is an intensity, a busyness and an hours expectation that comes along with that. As a first-year it is stressful, but not more than other places. It only comes from the higher responsibility and tasks that people elsewhere often wait until their fourth or fifth year to do.”
“There's a big difference as far as atmosphere goes.”
“In the last few months there's been a real push to try and make sure that associates are happy here, to try and boost associate morale. They rolled out a survey asking what could be improved and one of the responses to that survey was an increase in quarterly functions outside of the office.” That chimed with associates telling us that “we will organize drinks ourselves and go out, but there's not a lot of firm social events.” It's important to make clear that associates were still positive on the whole, describing partners who are “very invested in mentoring you and developing your skills,” and “real bonds and friendships” between colleagues. Boston associates declared their office “friendly and laid back. You can take a break and talk to people for example. People just get their work done and there's no real face-time needed.”
Hours & Compensation
While the billable hours target of 1,900 a year was seen as “reasonable” and “certainly doable” by most, we heard a few associates, across a couple of departments, complain about a lack of available work. Whether the affected associates met the target and got their bonus was “going to be a close call – it's certainly a concern,” they said. Most juniors described a steady working day lasting from around 9am until 7pm, though “when you're busy you will probably leave between 10pm and 11pm.” Associates from all departments could recall occasional early morning finishes and weekend work, but “normally I'm not looking around asking 'can I leave yet?'”
A swift tour of the Boston office would reveal that “the interior décor is pretty modern – there's a lot of white furniture around. There's a café downstairs that has seating and we're right across from a bunch of food trucks. There's grilled cheese, pizza, and a cookie truck – it gets pretty busy.” New Yorkers were very satisfied with their own glass monolith, a stone's throw from Times Square, but some thought the glass was best kept on the outside. “It's pretty weird that someone can watch you eating lunch.” By a few months in, associates in both Boston and New York had their own workspace. Across offices, the firm “encourages you to establish personal relationships” – Boston and New York's restructuring teams work particularly closely, for example. The firm also has US offices in Hartford, Orange County, Providence, and DC.
“We're right across from a bunch of food trucks.”
“I think they take a lot of pride in pro bono,” associates told us. “They recently changed the policy on credit: the limit used to be 50 hours but now it's unlimited and you get full credit, which is great.” However, many associates struggled to fit pro bono around their “demanding billable work. It's a lot of work and it kind of creeps up on you.” But the larger workload means more responsibility. “In my case I've taken depositions and argued a summary judgment motion. It's given me a unique opportunity.” Associates had tackled “Chapter 7 individual bankruptcies to help people without financial means get representation” as well as working with Kids In Need of Defense on immigration cases.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 9,159 (including summer associates)
- Average per US attorney: 59 (including summer associates)
Associates came up with a common assessment of the firm's diversity. “At associate level I think it's fairly even on men and women. The bigger problem is at partner level. There are fewer female partners and that's something the firm is trying to address. I also think it's accurate to say that the firm is white-dominated.” Brown Rudnick achieves an almost 50-50 split on gender at associate level. Our interviewees used a set of new hires as evidence of the firm's commitment to diversity. There's a new diversity partner, Sunni Beville, and a director of equity, inclusion and diversity, Ari Joseph, in New York. “They're making a concerted effort to make sure it is a central part of how we operate.”
“At associate level I think it's fairly even.”
Strategy & Future
Despite the firm's aptitude for restructuring, “as a firm I know it's trying to expand the type of work it does, especially in the European offices,” according to one associate. London is best known for white-collar litigation, and recently hired a new partner in emerging markets. Paris, meanwhile, does a lot of international arbitration, and has a relatively new restructuring team. Until recently, the firm also had a small office in Dublin, Ireland. Another US associate let us know that the firm is “growing its IP department,” plus “they're still growing white-collar.” CEO Joe Ryan tells us that "we're alert to opportunities and one thing we pride ourselves on is being nimble and being able to react to changes in industry or in the legal environment. We are able to make quick decisions. But it's not a fly-by-night approach that we take." The firm's own website confirms: “Throw out the old paradigm. In fact throw out the word paradigm – and anything else tired, trite, sluggish or slow.”
Interview with Brown Rudnick chairman and CEO, Joe Ryan
Chambers Associate: What have been some of the firm's highlights of the year? What developments should we know about?
Joe Ryan: I think one of the continuing developments at the firm is how global the firm has really become in the scope of our practice. The fastest growing offices in the firm are in London and Paris and for a firm of our size we have a substantial presence outside of the US. A lot of our work is cross border: litigation that involves multiple jurisdictions or cross border M&A. More and more of what we do is in the international, cross-border category. That's exciting and it's something we consciously pursue as it gives us good access to new opportunities and reflects the reality that our clients are global in their thinking and in their business.
One of the things that's always of interest is which practice areas are growing. Restructuring has been historically important and it is a very high profile practice for us. If you look at the firm over the last several years, the places we have invested in and grown reflect why our practice is so global. That includes white collar and investigations. 7 to 8 years ago, we weren't practising in that space. Now we have strong teams in New York, OC London and DC. It's the same with arbitration. That's primarily focused in London and Paris. Our teams are sort of unique in that many of our lawyers are admitted both in the UK but also in France. They speak French and English equally well and a number of other languages. It's a great international team that has tremendous reach.
We also have a focus in our corporate practice on life sciences. That is a practice that spans the breadth of the firm, from the West Coast to Boston and London. Much of what is happening is global and international. For example you might have UK-based or Indian life sciences companies interested in acquiring positions or businesses in the United States. That has grown in the last few years.
CA: Being a relatively small firm in comparison to the firms you often come up against, what advantages does that give you? Does that change the demands on lawyers?
JR: One of the advantages, particularly in arbitration is that many firms don't take an integrated approach to arbitration. We have teams in London and in Paris. We have lots of interaction, work on the same cases and refer work to each other to collaborate in a way that is unusual. For us that's a very positive aspect of the practice and one that clients appreciate. One thing you find is that you may have an arbitration in London, however it's based on New York law, or you have an arbitration in Paris that is being conducted in French but it's English law that governs it and we can negotiate cases which are multi-dimensional without internal friction.
CA: Any plans to open new offices?
JR: We don't have any immediate plans to open a new office on the horizon. But we're alert to opportunities and one thing we pride ourselves on is being nimble and being able to react to changes in industry or in the legal environment. We are able to make quick decisions. But it's not a fly-by-night approach that we take. We're committed to a multi-year approach which has served us well.
CA: Can I get your thoughts on the effects of your recent election? Do you think any practices will be particularly affected?
JR: It's very hard at this moment to say as there is a tremendous lack of certainty. If you think about what the new administration will have as its priorities there are certain market expectations which are being reflected in stock indices. In general terms there is the expectation of less corporate tax and less regulation plus a different policy on the environment. That anticipation is being reflected in the current movement in markets. It's very hard to know, and one of the things which we like to do is to maintain a good balance in our practices so that we can do well in different kinds of economic environments. We are relatively evenly balanced between contentious and non-contentious, between transactions and disputes and that serves us well because in times of robust economic activity the transactional practices do well, and in times of less activity, practices like restructuring and government contracts do well.
CA: From talking to associates this year, we've heard that about efforts to listen more to associates and to generally boost morale – what was the reasoning behind that and how have you gone about it?
JR: We've always done a lot of legal training and we have innovated programs to help associates think about the clients and about business development. We don't want our associates on the brink of partnership thinking for the first time 'how do I build client relationships and gain their confidence?' So we've done a lot on development.
On the other side there are things you can do which seem small and mean a lot – just improving the day-to-day experience and working environment. We really tried to do that more systematically this year. We have an associate liaison committee that helps with the communication between the firm and associates, but it's also a sounding board for ideas. They did a survey of associates to develop some ideas on what would improve associate's working life and I think they came up with something like 14 ideas. Some seem sort of small and maybe not consequential but they have quite an impact. More casual dress on Fridays – it sounds simple and it is, but it creates a more relaxed, collegial environment. That was one thing. We're also investing more in encouraging associates to go to the gym or to go to yoga, to do some things that will r e-charge batteries and to try to improve the life balance that everyone needs. We adopted 6 or 8 different initiatives which were suggested by associates. They are meaningful in terms of being responsive to what associates think.
CA: What are some qualities which you think allow people to excel at the firm?
JR: One is very strong legal skills, reflected in strong academic performance. Number two is a passion about the law and the idea of practising law. Another thing which is very important is having team orientation. We are very collaborative by culture and by necessity. We're a small firm competing against firms many times our size so to be successful we need to be collaborative.
Another thing is having a creative, entrepreneurial spirit or inclination. We give associates a lot of latitude in the way their practices develop. We don't tell people to just point their nose in one direction so it is important that people are willing to embrace that autonomy.
Interview with co-hiring partner Jeff Jonas
Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive? Did you change anything from previous years?
Jeff Jonas: We try and recruit directly for our offices in Boston, New York, DC and Orange County. We do hire for Hartford too, but for Providence, as it's a very small office, we don't have any direct hiring. We visit around 9 schools but take resume drops from more – we visit campuses at Harvard, BC, BU, Columbia, NYU, Fordham, Howard, Georgetown USC and UCI.
We really are trying to up our game on the diversity front. In the past year we hired a diversity director, Ari Jospeh, who sits in New York and came from Fried Frank. He's a very experienced and capable guy. That's significant in our effort to do much better and improve, from gender to people of colour, sexual orientation: on all levels we're hoping to do much better. To that end there's also our partner Sunni Beville who's working with Ari. We previously didn't visit Howard or Fordham and we are planning on it this year. Part of that is our hope that adding those will help our diversity effort.
CA: How many people do you look to recruit? Is that a number calculated with growth in mind or simply by need?
JJ: It's a bit of both. We are shooting to have between 8 and 10 summer associates. We are also always doing lateral associate hiring to make up for attrition – it's a pretty mobile business so in any firm you will lose people. On our summer program we have reduced the size of classes and have now settled on 8-10 – it seems to be the right number to have a really meaningful program. We've always had the idea that summers should see what it is like to be a Brown Rudnick associate. They should develop meaningful relationships and to do that it seems to be the right number. And that is spread out among the offices. The plan is to have 1-2 in OC, 2-3 in NY and Boston and 2 in Washington.
CA: Besides their location, what do you think are the main factors someone should consider if they are deciding between applying to your Boston or New York offices?
JJ: We try really hard to operate without geography, and we need to do that as a smaller firm in the context of who we are up against. We need to be nimble and quick. I spend a lot of time on the road: we go where the work is, whether it's New York or Boston, we go where case is. On one hand that minimises distinctions. You could be a Boston lawyer working on matters which mean you're in New York a lot of the time, and I think that is ultimately a benefit. It's a benefit in that you can choose to live in your city of choice but be exposed to work in different markets. A lot of high end bankruptcy comes from New York, so I might be there more than others, but I don't have to live there.
However each office does have its own sub-culture. We try to minimise that but they consist of different people and so their make up is different.
CA: Who conducts OCI and callback interviews?
JJ: Both associates and partners across the board. Obviously we want people who know the firm well, but on the other hand people need to talk to their peers. We have a hiring committee consisting of 15-20 people and that's the primary source of people who want to do it.
CA: From our research we know that the firm staffs pretty leanly – in fact you told us that last year – how does this influence what you are looking for in candidates?
JJ: We are looking for people who like to be pushed. The best way to learn is right in the middle of it – it takes you beyond your comfort zone. We don't want to overwhelm people but on the other hand I've always found it successful. You want a third-year associate with five years experience. It's good for everybody to be pushed in terms of growth and it's great for associates to have the experience and be well trained. That means we are looking for mature candidates who are confident and can thrive in that environment.
CA: What should students do now to increase their chances of impressing you?
JJ: Obviously doing well at school is first and foremost, but solid work experiences are always helpful. No type of experience is better or worse, although maybe it's better that someone didn't go to a big firm but to a solo practitioner as they could see different things. But any type of work experience is positive. It gets students some exposure and helps them think about what they want to do. Mature and confident is good for us and it lends itself to those characteristics.
More on recruitment from associates...
Of the interview process, sources told us “they put a lot of emphasis on fit, as they're wanting to continue the feeling of camaraderie." At OCIs the firm sometimes sends two partners to interview: "they want to to show that they take it seriously. In callbacks you meet with at least four people, and even with laterals other associates might meet them. They care a lot about current employees wanting to work with them.” Since you're interview's the chance to chin-wag, one junior recommended that “you should be prepared to have a conversation – I always looked people up and prepared some talking points.”
An associate involved in recruiting told us having been invited for a callback interview, “at that point you are qualified academically, you are smart enough to do the job, so to me it's then about finding the people you want to work with. We call it the airport test. If you and a colleagues flight was delayed and you had to hang around the airport with them, would you be happy or miserable?” As a result “the firm puts a lot of emphasis on being a sociable person, not being too quiet or isolated. There is a certain amount of pressure to get into the social dimension of the firm and to build relationships.”
Brown Rudnick LLP
One Financial Center,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $191,000,000
- Partners (US): 85
- Associates (US): 74
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,461/week
- 2Ls: $3,461/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,461/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
- Summers 2017: 10
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 9 offers, 7 acceptances, 2 outstanding (clerks)
Main areas of work
Bankruptcy and corporate restructuring; complex litigation and arbitration; corporate, securities and M&A; distressed debt and claims trading; emerging companies; energy, utilities and environmental; finance; funds; government contracts; government law and strategies; healthcare; intellectual property; intellectual property litigation; international dispute resolution; life sciences; real estate; tax; white collar defense and government investigations.
Brown Rudnick, an international law firm with offices in the United States and Europe, represents clients from around the world in high stakes litigation, international arbitration and complex business transactions. Clients include public and private corporations, multinational Fortune 100 businesses and start-up enterprises. The firm also represents investors, as well as official and ad hoc creditors’ committees in today’s largest corporate restructurings, both domestically and abroad. Founded more than 60 years ago, Brown Rudnick has over 240 lawyers providing advice and services across key areas of the law. Beyond the United States, the firm regularly serves clients in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. With its Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest, the firm has created an innovative model combining its pro bono, charitable giving and community volunteer efforts.
• Number of 1st year associates: 17
• Number of 2nd year associates: 19
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia University, Fordham University School of Law, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University School of Law, New York University, University of California – Irvine, Howard University School of Law, University of Connecticut, University of Texas
Summer associate profile:
Brown Rudnick recruits summer associates who are highly intelligent and creative and also possess those personal qualities that define our firm: hard driving but value oriented and pragmatic, entrepreneurial, always honest and ethical and highly collaborative.
Summer program components:
Brown Rudnick allocates significant energy and resources to provide each summer associate with a first hand experience of life as a lawyer at our firm. We offer a wide range of assignments, provide a robust training curriculum, including core legal and writing skills, business development and networking skills, as well as a fun social calendar.