Chadbourne & Parke LLP - The Inside View

A small summer intake makes for big opportunities at this projects whizz.

“IT's not a paper airplane!” chuckles Chadbourne's managing partner Andy Giaccia of the New York firm's new logo – a product of its 2014 re-brand. The pointy, fast-looking Concorde-like symbol is “designed to reflect the modernity and innovativeness of our practices,” he adds. In response to a tricky economy, this project finance heavyweight certainly has a sleeker look these days. It closed offices a long-haul flight away from the NYC HQ in Almaty (2012), Kyiv (2014), and Beijing (2015). Despite this trimming, January 2015 saw the firm establish a base in Johannesburg, giving it in a strong position to capitalize on the growing amount of energy and infrastructure transactions in Africa. Desire to grow in the energy sector and emerging markets has also prompted “dramatic additions to our international practice, through the hiring of Ben Donovan and Andrei Baev in London."

The jewel in Chadbourne's crown continues to be its project finance team, for whom energy sector clients are a massive source of trade and income. Over the first half of 2015, the firm advised on a chart-topping $36 billion worth of project finance transactions. $30 billion of this was in the oil and gas sector, so it's no surprise that Chadbourne notches up top rankings in Chambers USA for LNG and renewables projects. Also in 2015, the firm was reportedly in merger talks with Pillsbury, although these came to nothing.

The Work



Litigation and corporate are common destinations for new associates. Others go to project finance, while tax also welcomes one or two. Held in the head office, the firm's summer program won unanimous plaudits from associates for its ability to ease the transition into full-time practice. With the flexibility to navigate through project finance, litigation, tax and corporate, New York-bound newbies are afforded “a good feel for what life would be like in different teams,” which proved “particularly helpful when it came to expressing practice group preferences at the exit interview.” Much more limited in its uptake, rookies heading to DC are usually channeled toward project finance, though litigation is occasionally an option. Irrespective of final destination, all summers get the chance to work on live matters. This can result in “more than a few late nights,” but on the whole interviewees felt that “working to the real-life demands of clients so early on really helps you to find your feet as soon as possible.”

"A lot more chances than expected to work directly with partners and play central roles on huge deals.” 

Opportunity isn't merely a lure for the summers however: lean staffing means that those who had joined the project finance team had received “a lot more chances than expected to work directly with partners and play central roles on huge deals.” The department advises on projects relating to the financing and development of power, renewable energy, PPP and LNG projects, so cases “can be incredibly complex.” Matters “regularly hit the headlines,” so whether you're keeping a checklist on a transaction or drafting an agreement, “each step requires a great deal of individual thought.”

Elsewhere, litigation rookies boasted of “very little doc review,” instead keeping busy researching and writing memos, and drafting sections of briefs and motions. “Far from just a support department for project finance,” lit is split into subgroups such as IP, securities regulation, project finance and white-collar crime, the latter of which is headed up in DC. Corporate comprises groups including private funds, securities, public companies and corporate finance, and transactional interviewees were similarly glad to announce that “we win a lot of our own clients.” That said, “there is a lot of cross-selling between groups, so whatever team you're in, you can expect to work with people outside of your team and your office.” Internationally speaking, the firm's Latin American offices were cited as regular points of collaboration.

Irrespective of which department they head to, juniors' first instructions always come from an assigning partner or practice group manager. It's a popular set-up as “there's no pressure on you to ask partners for work when you've hardly met them.” Reliance upon this centralized allocation system is expected to lessen as relationships with more senior colleagues blossom, but having the reassurance of a backup source “allows you to move at a pace you're comfortable with.” Associates' ties to their assigning partner aren't completely cut, as “they're always available to help you to manage your workload should you need it.”

Training & Development



First-years begin with a few days of orientation in the New York office, which “covers billing, professional conduct, and anything else you'll need to know to hit the ground running.” Juniors then return to their respective offices to undertake departmental training. Those in project finance, litigation, and corporate/tax/bankruptcy are treated to training 'bootcamps': the aim here being to flesh out newbies' market knowledge and provide a few pointers on the kinds of tasks they're likely to encounter down the line. Follow-up training comes on the job, with formal reviews every six months and senior colleagues “always forthcoming with encouragement, comments and suggestions.”  You “soon learn how people like things done.” Litigation training comes more routinely, with a few hours a week penciled in for the first couple of months. These sessions touch upon “every aspect of a case: whether it's sending an email to a partner to ask for work, captioning a brief, conducting the initial client interview, or understanding the court process. It's all covered.”

"It's all covered."

The biannual reviews are held with a member of the management committee, and are based on comments given by attorneys who juniors have spent over ten hours working with. “Informal feedback is great for improving your work, but the appraisals are done with an eye on the future,” enthused one interviewee. “It's done in a 'we think you can handle this, so why not try this' kind of way.”

Pro Bono



Fronted by the “incredibly dedicated” coordinator Maureen Schad (a former associate), pro bono at Chadbourne affords juniors “even greater involvement in cases, and the opportunity to try out new areas while receiving hands-on training.” We heard of first-year litigators who'd given depositions in the federal court, and other juniors who'd given filings in the supreme court on behalf of death row prisoners. Meanwhile, corporate rookies were “astonished by the number of transactional opportunities available,” so whether it's helping a small business whose budget wouldn't otherwise stretch to BigLaw representation, instructing an individual on how to form an entity, or undertaking routine transactions for charities, there's plenty of exposure to be gained.

"I was astonished by the number of transactional opportunities."

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 20,266 
  • Average per US attorney: 87

Hours & Compensation



Chadbourne sets a quality non-billable target of 200 hours. These could be spent doing pro bono, writing articles or working on the hiring committee, and 100 plus pro bono hours can be used against the firm's billable requirement of 1,900 hours. Hit 2,100 combined – a target that associates described as “challenging in your first year” – and you'll make your bonus.

"Very few people who come here don’t realize what they signed up for."

As far as work/life balance is concerned, new starters “do get lots of substantive work earlier on, but that does translate into putting in more hours to do things properly.” Not that this was a problem: perhaps as a result of the summer program's success, “very few people who come here don’t realize what they signed up for.” Nine in the morning to 6.30pm-ish seemed a pretty ordinary day at the DC office, though this was usually followed by an hour or so working remotely in the evening. Despite being the city that never sleeps, New York was ruled “a later starter,” with ten till 8.30pm fairly routine. Interviewees from all practices had spent the odd night working until the very early hours, but project finance was deemed most subject to fluctuations, with a fortnight of 12 hour days followed by a fortnight of seven hour days not uncommon.

Offices and Culture 



With plenty of substantive work to be getting on with, and “less of a bro' culture than at other places,” associates in the New York office found themselves “more likely to forge relationships in the daytime than in a bar after work.” Thankfully, Chadbourne's move to a “dazzling” new Sixth Avenue HQ in September 2014 has made long nights in the Big Apple all the more comfortable. First and second-years double up on offices, and with “homely common areas to encourage interaction” and “an incredible cafe where you can watch the news, or take in the fantastic views of Central Park and the rest of Manhattan,” there are “plenty of spots where you can have a breather and shoot the breeze.”

"You're more likely to forge relationships in the daytime than in a bar after work." 

As far as dress code goes, interviewees found DC a little more laid back than its NY cousin. “On my first day I came in all gussied up,” explains one DC junior, “and people gave me a hard time for it. We're more slacks than suits here, though that's not the case for New York.” But when it comes to the office's social scene, DC boasts a similar vibe, with one source mentioning that “a lot of people here have kids so there's no bar-after-work culture.” Furthermore, “with the level of responsibility we get, we couldn't go and drink every night and do our jobs well. We usually go get coffee together instead, and if you're in for a late night, someone'll always come and see if you fancy a top-up.”

LA completes Chadbourne's stateside showing. Beyond the USA, the firm has offices in Dubai, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Mexico City, Moscow, São Paulo and Warsaw.

Diversity



Chadbourne's internal diversity program was thought to be pivotal in cultivating such a symbiotic office environment. Associates had attended lunchtime discussions, movie screenings, and seminars led by guest speakers, with the latter proving particularly popular: “One encouraged us to describe ourselves according to the stereotypes that we may fall into, and then give a true and accurate account of our personalities in light of that. It really helped us to realize how much we create that's not there.”

"Any future lack of women partners will not be due to lack of opportunity.”

When it comes to minority representation Chadbourne's upper echelons, “like most law firms, are quite Caucasian male-heavy.” However, sources felt that “there have been some huge efforts to push this in the right direction,” and according to director of associate recruiting Lisa Featherson, “the firm is proud of our dedication to recruit a diverse set of attorneys: over 50% of our 2016 summer associates come from diverse backgrounds.” Standing at 15%, associates felt that “there aren't as many women partners as there should be,” though one female source was keen to add that “this is bound to shift in the years ahead. There's a good female showing among associates, and any future lack of women partners will not be due to lack of opportunity.”

Get Hired



Lisa Featherson highlights Columbia, Fordham, Georgetown and NYU as "some of the core schools that hold an important place in our recruiting initiative, due to their strong alumni base at the firm and history of cultivating excellent attorneys. But we're not just looking for great grades from a small group of schools," she adds. “We're looking to recruit attorneys from many schools who have the skillsets we value: leadership and entrepreneurial abilities; dynamic work experience before law school; foreign language skills, and a devoted interest in our core practice areas." 

"We look for confident, calm and collected team members."  

Personality is a big consideration too. With advanced responsibilities early on and a small summer program, Chadbourne wants candidates who "can encourage and support others while working to be successful themselves. This job can be stressful, particularly when you're working against tight timelines: we look for confident, calm and collected team members who will work together towards a common goal."

Strategy



"It's never fun to discover merger talks via Google."

At the time of our calls there had been much talk of a proposed merger between Chadbourne and San Fran's Pillsbury. “Overall I've loved my time here,” reviewed one interviewee, “but I'd dock a point for the firm's efforts to keep us in the loop on such big strategic decisions. It's never fun to discover merger talks via Google.” That said, interviewees had noticed “an uptick in management's efforts to improve our formal correspondence.” With an increased number of committee meetings – now held once every two months – rookies do have access to a forum from which they can voice their views on the way that the firm is being managed. “It's positive to see that they're seeking out our opinions,” one associate glowed. “Whether they listen is another story!”



Chadbourne's new Johannesburg office



Back in February 2015, Chadbourne announced that it would be opening an office in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was by no means the first international firm to formalise a presence in the country: White & Case paved the way with an office back in 1995. In recent years we've witnessed a flurry of firms pour into the country's small but promising market, with Linklaters, Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper all strategically aligning themselves in South Africa within the last five years.

South Africa is a foot in the door for many foreign firms, eager to capitalize on the sub-Saharan region's business potential. Chadbourne has advised clients on matters in 42 of out Africa's 54 independent countries, so this will undoubtedly have been a consideration for the firm's strategic maestros prior to the opening. With a rising consumer population, resource-rich land, widespread demand for more sophisticated infrastructure, rosy returns on investments and an evolving banking sector, Africa is a continent rich in opportunity, especially when it comes to projects.

So considering Chadbourne's projects and energy expertise, establishing a South African base looks to be a good choice. The South African government's National Development Plan is determined to cut the country's dependence on coal via a sizeable and lengthy shift toward renewable energy sources. For Chadbourne, which picks up top rankings in Chambers USA for its renewables work, this is likely to bring even more work to the table in years to come. In fact, since setting up shop in Jburg, the firm has already had its hands full, recently advising Building Energy on $60 million worth of transactions concerning the construction of a solar farm in Uganda. Alongside this, off-shore drilling also signifies a potential boom in oil and gas exploration, which is likely to create a wealth of legal opportunities that the firm has already begun to capitalise on. We can't go into details at this stage, but rest assured that such projects often stretch into the billions.

Chadbourne & Parke LLP

1301 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10019-6022
Website www.chadbourne.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 7
  • Partners (US): 74
  • Associates (US): 135
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,077 per week
  • 2Ls: $3,077 per week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case 
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case 
  • Summers 2016: 16
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 17 offers for, 14 acceptances

Main areas of work
Bankruptcy, capital markets, corporate, intellectual property, international dispute resolution, Latin America, litigation, project finance, renewable energy, tax.

Firm profile
Chadbourne & Parke LLP is an international law firm with approximately 450 attorneys in 10 offices around the world. Headquartered in New York, Chadbourne takes great pride in its approach to the sharing of resources and the ability of all offices to work together seamlessly on cross-border matters. The Chadbourne culture is informal, friendly and entrepreneurial – qualities we have worked to maintain even as we have grown substantially in recent years. The people who work at Chadbourne – lawyers and staff alike – are our greatest assets, making our workplace vibrant, inviting and comfortable. We are seeking law students who will make a good long term fit at Chadbourne and its distinctive workplace. We want you to succeed here. Associates have substantial contact with both partners and clients and benefit from the collegial personality of Chadbourne. In addition, the firm’s strong commitment to a diverse workplace creates an environment of respect and inclusion.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 13
• Number of 2nd year associates: 8
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
• 2nd year: $170,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
American, Brooklyn, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Hofstra, Michigan, NEBLSA, Notre Dame, NYU, Penn, St John’s, UVA

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Chadbourne seeks candidates with top academic credentials, who possess excellent writing, analytical, communication and interpersonal skills. The firm values candidates who demonstrate drive, leadership and entrepreneurialism and uphold our core values of professional excellence, respect and inclusion.

Summer program components: The goal of the summer program is to immerse students in the Chadbourne culture and give them a realistic sense of what life is like as an associate. The assignment structure enables summer associates to work on matters across all practice areas and to be trained through hands-on work and “shadowing” opportunities. Chadbourne strives to give the incoming associates solid skills in negotiating, drafting, researching, performing legal analysis, strategizing and developing business. At Chadbourne, professional development begins during your summer experience and the program is designed to give you solid tools to start your legal career. The summer program also has a vibrant social aspect, providing good food, good fun and, most important, opportunities for summer associates and attorneys to get to know one another.