This firm's small intake means Mile High opportunities for rookies, so Denver's Brownstein Hyatt is hunting for associates who are “all in.”
COLORADO-founded Brownstein Hyatt is relatively young by BigLaw standards. Established by three law school friends in 1968, the firm has since ventured out from its Denver roots and established a string of offices across the western states. “We're right in the sweet spot between a large and regional firm,” associates told us. “It feels small but you have all the resources of a big firm with a national reach and different practice areas.”
The firm considers itself, managing partner Adam Agron tells us, as “a national boutique with a handful of practices that are complementary with one another. We’re not trying to be a full-service firm that is all things to all people.” Brownstein's corporate and real estate practices muster top tier Chambers USA rankings in Colorado; Denver's IP, labor & employment, litigation, and energy & natural resources teams here are also worth a mention. It's also a dab hand at gaming and licensing law, scooping up Chambers USA rankings in this area in Nevada and nationwide. Over in the east, the firm's Washington, DC office has an established – and rapidly expanding – lobbying focus.
Brownstein's Denver office absorbs most of its junior associates but a handful are also scattered between Las Vegas, and Santa Barbara. Of the juniors on our list, four were in litigation, three apiece in IP, energy & natural resources and real estate, two in corporate and one in government relations.
The Denver summer program is split into two halves. During the first half “work is free flowing from each of our four major groups: corporate, real estate, litigation and natural resources.” Other areas to dabble in include IP and government relations. A mid-summer check-in allows summers to identify the areas most interesting to them and after that “they funnel you work from that practice.”
“They do a good job at making sure you're not sat in your office, holding your knees and crying.”
Once they're through the door as full time associates, work is allocated out in a free market system. “You work primarily for specific attorneys in your department,” sources told us. “They do a good job at making sure you're not sat in your office, holding your knees and crying” over a mountain of work.
Transactional associates were pleased to garner a fair amount of client contact. “I've had a lot of client interface, directly emailing back and forth with them, especially with regards to compliance work,” one energy & natural resources junior told us. “The headcount and lean staffing in our group gives great opportunities for responsibility.” This sentiment was echoed by counterparts in real estate: “I'm often corresponding with clients over email or phone. I also have plenty of access to partners,” one told us. “For big institutional clients I get the more menial due diligence work, drafting and scanning documents, while on the smaller deals I'm responsible for drafting purchase and sale agreements and taking a transaction to closing,” another real estate attorney outlined.
How do litigators fill their days? “My top task is research,” one told us. “There's a lot of research and writing memoranda to explain the legal implications of the issue at hand, a lot of doc review and condensing the findings from that into a usable work product. I might help someone prepare for a deposition too.”
Training & Development
Brownstein's first-years are “considered apprentices. As part of the apprenticeship program the billable hours requirement is lower.” Newbies shoot for 1,400 billable hours, 200 pro bono and 300 shadow hours (more on this below). Shadow hours can be used for “a variety of things. In litigation you could attend a hearing or trial that would be above your level. Transactional associates could sit in on client calls.” Following a one-day orientation, the “pretty solid training program acclimatizes attorneys to the firm” by connecting them with a peer mentor. They then enter “a formal mentor program which pairs you up with an older attorney in your department.” CLEs and departmental training occur regularly throughout the year; in real estate, for example, a series of luncheon sessions during the first half of the year “covers all the basic real estate issues.”
The firm operates “a step program as opposed to counting us as first, second or third-years. You're considered a level one to four instead.” Each level typically counts as two years so, for example, a third-year associate attorney is a level two attorney. Everyone gets an annual review. First-years and those approaching a level change also have a mid-year review.
Hours & Compensation
Attorneys aim for 1,900 billable hours a year, 100 of which can be made up of pro bono. First-years are also aiming for a “modified 1,900 hour target” – 1,400 hours can be client billable, 200 pro bono and 300 shadowing.
"Does an extra $30,000 a year justify you being in the office till midnight and then going in again at five? I don't think it does.”
Juniors slated the 1,900 target – modified and standard – as very achievable. “Oh yeah, there's definitely enough work,” one busy interviewee chuckled. Our sources reported putting in roughly ten hours a day at the office, with some taking work home a couple of nights a week: “The office is pretty dead after 6pm as people go home to their families.”
Bonuses kick in once the 1,900-hour threshold is breached and is based on a combination of hours and merit. Denver associates told us, on their $135k salary: “We don't get paid on the Cravath scale as we don't work on that scale. I have friends at bigger firms with sleeping bags in their office. Does an extra $30,000 a year justify you being in the office till midnight and then going in again at five? I don't think it does.”
Brownstein's 200 pro bono hour requirement for newbies “is a really positive part of being a first-year,” one interviewee reckoned, while another added: “I did a ton of it, you can get really involved in the community.” A pro bono partner matches up attorneys with projects and everyone's encouraged to bill at least 50 hours a year. Juniors had got stuck in helping nonprofits draft foundation documents or assisting them with transactions, or advising clients on employment issues. We even heard of one first-year who'd worked with the coordinator to build a monthly legal aid drop-in clinic from scratch.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 12,749
- Average per US attorney: 49
“We take what we do seriously but we don't take ourselves too seriously,” juniors told us. “It's definitely more laid back than a bigger firm. Part of that is just that Colorado is a casual kind of place.” You won't find the “the stuffy old law firm dynamic here. We have a mindset that feels more collaborative, social and fun. I genuinely enjoy the people I work with,” another interviewee reported. “At Brownstein, people have known each other for years and their families take weekends or vacations together.”
"Colorado is a casual kind of place.”
Back in the office, “no-one closes their door; the partners never kick us out or have full power plays. It feels very friendly.” We were also told there's “definitely a lot of energy. They do a good job of engaging people with the firm and ensuring we all come together for social events.” In Denver everyone gets together on the third Thursday of the month for drinks. Once a quarter the firm hosts an ice-cream social where “they put up a picture of everyone hired in the last quarter so everyone can come and meet them.”
An annual all-associates retreat is supplemented by an all-attorney retreat every other year. The latter tends to be “more CLE and strategy-focused like 'this is what's happening at the firm, and this is your role'.” The former, dubbed “associate spring break” by one excited attorney, is aimed at “community-building.” Associates are whisked away to a client's property for activities such as golfing, pool-time, horse-riding and drinks.
Aside from the retreats, associates hadn't had much interaction with colleagues in other locations. Eleven offices make up Brownstein's US offering: five in California, two in Nevada and one each in Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Washington, DC.
HQ Denver is the firm's largest base. Interviewees described the recently renovated office as “nice but not like the flashiest office.” One reckoned the décor “fits the model and mindset of the firm; the service we provide to clients is not premised on the white shoe law firms of old but more the millennial mindset.” Modern artwork dots the walls and everyone gets their own office “with good views of the city on all sides.”
Interviewees reckoned location was the firm's biggest barrier to improving diversity at the firm. “Denver is just less diverse than New York or DC,” sighed one, while a colleague elaborated: “The pool of talent we're attracting our attorneys from has a lack of diversity and I think the firm suffers from that. I think it takes recruiting diverse attorneys very seriously but it's fighting an uphill battle and has to take really proactive steps.” Consequently, “minorities are a minority here,” but juniors did think the firm was “pretty diverse gender-wise.”
The Women's Leadership Initiative is undergoing “a strong push right now. We've set up small mentoring circles for women in the firm” and the group meets once a month to discuss “an article which talks about the unique challenges of being a woman.” Brownstein also participates in the Colorado Pledge to Diversity Program, offering a place on its summer program for a diverse 1L student.
Strategy & Future
Brownstein sticks to its focus on specialty groups when it comes to building the firm:“We’re not keen on adding practice groups just to add revenue and we’re not keen on adding groups that don’t synergistically benefit the firm or our people,” managing partner Adam Agron tells us. “We’ve added depth in the hot area of cyber and data security.”
We speak with Brownstein Hyatt’s managing partner Adam Agron
Chambers Associate: What’s been happening at the firm over the past year?
Adam Agron: There are a handful of things I’d like to mention but first I think it’s important to understand our overall strategy. We are a national boutique with a handful of practices that are complementary with one another. We’re not trying to be a full-service firm that is all things to all people. Rather, what we have done is to assemble a handful of practice areas that are specialized, complex and synergistic. The goal is to have a horizontal approach to practicing rather than vertical. It avoids us getting into commodity work and allows us to be at the higher end of the rate and sophistication spectrum. It also allows us to have our people work together in a team environment and collaborate, which is a cultural priority for us.
In the last year, we have continued to bring on specialty practice groups or identify specialties in the firm that are trending and are important to our clients. A great example is in our IP group. Three years ago, we added a patent group with a computing, electrical engineering and life sciences focus to the firm.
We’re not keen on adding practice groups just to add revenue and we’re not keen on adding groups that don’t synergistically benefit the firm or our people. We have to be strategic and targeted when we look at adding talent. For instance, we have a health care practice that spans corporate, litigation and regulatory work. It doesn't sit neatly on its own – that’s on purpose – but it combines well with our other disciplines.
CA: Which practices areas have been hot over the last year?
AA: We’ve added depth in the hot area of cyber and data security. We recently brought on a shareholder who focuses on security, privacy, breach planning and post-breach issues like handling regulatory issues, liability, litigation and public relations. We also have a defamation and crisis management team at the firm so we can help clients cradle to grave when it comes to data breaches and security. Cyber and data security is an area that’s exploding and we’re planning to continue to expand this practice group.
CA: Looking to the future, where will the firm be investing? Are there any particular offices you want to focus on or any plans to open new offices?
AA: We don’t have any plans to open new offices. We’re opportunistic, we don’t have a geographic strategy or goal; it’s more along the lines of what I mentioned above. For instance, two years ago we had a very small office in Reno but we came across an IP litigation boutique in Nevada. We had a large office in Las Vegas so we brought that boutique on board as we saw an opportunity to build out our IP litigation capabilities. We’d invested in trademark and patent and the third leg of the stool was IP litigation. The group we found happened to do a lot of work for entertainment and gaming companies – two existing areas of strength for the firm – and IP litigation related to that. We had a strong gaming and entertainment group in Vegas doing corporate, licensing and real estate work but not so much IP litigation.
CA: What makes Brownstein stand out from its competitors?
AA: Number one is our overall strategy of offering an integrated and synergistic collection of practices. Another differentiator is our state and federal lobbying and regulatory practices. We have an office in Washington, D.C., that is ranked the second-largest federal lobbying shop in the country by revenue. In addition to our federal lobbying practice, each one of the states where we have offices has a state lobbying practice. This gives us the ability to do things for clients that few of our competitors can do, particularly our competitors in the western US We operate at the intersection of business, law and politics, which enables us to bring political connections and legislative solutions to our clients’problems. The US is a highly regulated nation and clients are increasingly attuned to how state and federal legislation or policy can impact their business. We are getting more frequent calls from clients to discuss legislation they’d like to see passed, challenged or modified.
CA: Do you have any advice for students as they try to enter the legal profession?
AA: My biggest piece of advice would be to get to know the firm really well. Many firms look similar on paper, have really interesting clients and work and great lawyers, but you have to understand the culture of a firm and what it’s truly like to work there.
For us, internally speaking, our biggest differentiator is our culture. This firm was started by three law school friends almost 50 years ago. Their relationships – with each other, their clients and their communities – as well as their set of values have guided our firm since its inception. And, still today, we continue to live the four values they built the firm around – Excellence, All in, Respect and Giving Back. They guide everything we do from hiring to firm strategy, client selection, professional development and promotion. Those values are the backbone of the firm and we don’t make any meaningful decisions without taking them into account.
The reason I’m here and have been for nearly 20 years is the culture. For many lawyers this can be a very transient business because people are constantly moving around. We have a much lower turnover rate than our competitors and we are very proud of that. We of course must be great lawyers and policy professionals but those things are table stakes in this business. We are focused on building a firm where people love to come to work, find meaning in their work and have fun. Those are definitely priorities.
We speak with director of attorney recruiting Jamie Olberding
Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?
Jamie Olberding: We visit six to eight law school campuses that are within our geographical footprint and we collect résumés at a number of other schools to engage with students across the country.
CA: Roughly how many students do you see at each campus and how many get called back for a second interview?
JO: We see around 20 to 22 candidates in one day. We don’t set a minimum or maximum limit on how many we invite to the firm; if a candidate is a good fit, we call them back.
CA: The firm has summer programs in Denver, Las Vegas and Santa Barbara but do you recruit entry-level associates for any other offices?
JO: Not regularly. We regularly hire first-years in Denver, Santa Barbara and Vegas just given the size of those offices. We may advertise in another office if the need for an associate is there, but it’s not a regular occurrence.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
JO: We are a member of the Colorado Pledge to Diversity through which we take on a diverse 1L student in addition to the 2L class on our summer program. The program is run through the University of Colorado School of Law and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
CA: Who conducts your OCIs?
JO: The partner who chairs the summer program or a partner who is affiliated with or an alumni of the school we are visiting and me.
CA: And who do candidates meet at callbacks?
JO: It depends on the office. In Denver, a candidate meets with the summer associate committee, which is made up of six associates, two partners and me. In Santa Barbara and Las Vegas, the candidates meet with a diverse group of people depending on who is available.
CA: What kind of questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?
JO: We ask questions to help ascertain whether a summer associate will fit the firm’s culture. We have four core values: giving back, being all in, excellence and respect. Any questions we ask try to help us understand how someone aligns with those values. We ask about community involvement and any leadership experiences. We want to know about teamwork –we don’t run a competitive program, we want strong collaborators who are team-oriented.
CA: What makes someone stand out at the interview?
JO: The candidates we are looking for are entrepreneurial, progressive and people who can understand and appreciate opportunities. They need to be familiar with the firm and the type of work we do. We want to see a demonstrable interest in our practice areas.
CA: What type of person thrives at Brownstein?
JO: People who are interested in leadership and teamwork. We find the most successful associates are those who are looking to build a book of business from day one, are involved in the community on nonprofit boards or on our Karma Project –we have a Karma Committee that provides the opportunity to do community service throughout the year.
CA: What, if anything, can students be doing in their 1L summer to increase their chances of impressing you in their applications?
JO: Highlighting those key values I mentioned above on their résumé. We want to see students who take advantage of their summers; we want to see what they’ve done, whether it’s clerkships or internships. If they’ve made the most of their 1L summer, they tend to stand out on paper.
CA: Your summer program only takes on a small number of students. What are the benefits of a small program?
JO: It’s not a hyper-competitive environment; rather, we encourage our summers to use this as an opportunity to learn practical application of their legal knowledge. We encourage teamwork and substantial interaction with associates and partners. Everyone around here embraces the summer program and enjoys having the students here. Those students who do well take advantage of being able to sit down with our associates and partners and talk about a project. The level of attention students receive might be different if we ran a larger program.
CA: Can you outline your summer program for us?
JO: We have seven summer associates this year; five in Denver, one in Las Vegas and one in Santa Barbara. Students have the opportunity to do the same work that a first-year associate does. We make sure our summers attend summer and associate training. Finally, we offer summers the opportunity to build relationships, learn about our culture and understand our values through social events once per week.
With the exception of someone coming into our patent group, we don’t assign students to a practice area. They have the opportunity to take on projects in every department. We track projects and give them evaluations throughout the summer and they have the option to gravitate toward things they like doing. Our training program covers everything from writing seminars and the financials of the firm to how our pro bono program works.
CA: Is there anything else students should know about the firm’s hiring process or associate life?
JO: We have an apprenticeship program for our first-year associates. The firm’s billable-hour goal is 1,900 hours, but first-years coming from law school as part of our apprenticeship program aim for 1,400 billable hours with an additional 500 hours elsewhere. They’re given 300 shadowing hours where they can sit in on client calls, depositions or anything else our attorneys want them to be involved in. They’re also expected to do 200 hours of pro bono work. It takes the pressure off students transitioning from law school. It’s a pretty unique setup and we don’t know of any other firms in the area doing this.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP
410 Seventeenth Street,
- Head Office: Denver
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $173 million
- Partners (US): 131
- Associates (US): 79
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $1,800
- 2Ls: $2,600
- Post 3Ls: NA
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case-by-case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? NA
- Summers 2017: 7
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 4/4
Main areas of work
Practices: Corporate and business, gaming, intellectual property, energy and natural resources, government relations, litigation, real estate
Industries: Banking, investment, finance and money management; energy and mining; gaming; health care; life sciences; real estate; water; consumer products; entertainment; government, regulation and public policy; hospitality; professional service; and science and technology
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck has developed a reputation as a high-powered law firm with unparalleled community and business connections. The firm has more than 250 attorneys and legislative consultants across 11 offices in Albuquerque, Atlantic City, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Reno, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Washington, DC. The firm handles work for leaders in industries ranging from real estate, gaming, water, resorts and telecommunications to construction, energy, private equity and finance. The firm’s broad resources allow it to assemble the right team of legal talent for any deal or case, no matter the size, complexity or location. Operating in partnership with their clients, Brownstein attorneys and policy advisors design integrated strategies that combine multidisciplinary teams to strive to become a seamless extension of in-house resources.
• Number of 1st year associates: 7
• Number of 2nd year associates: 7
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $135,000
• 2nd year: $140,000
• Clerking policy: yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
University of Denver College of Law, University of Colorado School of Law, UCLA School of Law, UNLV School of Law
Summer associate profile:
Brownstein’s summer associate program offers an in-depth view of life at the firm, as well as the opportunity to develop the skills and relationships to establish a solid foundation for future success. For our structured, nine-week program, we look for current law students from law schools across the country dedicated to learning the life of the “real” legal world at a law firm. Associates must be open to mentoring and a comprehensive training schedule, including topics such as the billable hour, law firm survival skills and exploring major practice areas within the firm.
Summer program components:
Our summer associate program provides an in-depth view of life at the firm, as well as the opportunity to develop the skills and relationships necessary to establish a solid foundation for future success. The summer associates will have the opportunity to work with attorneys at all levels to learn about their individual practices and careers, and are also offered the opportunity to do pro bono work. In addition to a comprehensive training schedule, each summer associate is paired with a mentor who will help guide them through the program and facilitate their introduction to the firm. Brownstein offers education and training sessions each week during the program covering topics such as “The Billable Hour,” “Law Firm Survival Skills,” and exploring major practice areas within the firm. Additionally, the summer is filled with networking and social engagements to allow summer associates a chance to meet Brownstein attorneys and staff.