One of Boston's finest, Choate offers juniors plenty of responsibility in the city of the Red Socks and Sam Adams.
ACCORDING to associates, this 120 year old Bostonian offers two things. First, it's “a firm where nice people work.” So far, so unremarkable. But insiders put this down to Choate's 'under one roof' business model – the conscious decision by management to operate out of just one office to encourage people to mingle and get on. “At Choate everybody knows each other and asks about families and weekends,” one junior observed. Another added: "The one-office model and the fact there is some good continuity of people here are probably self-reinforcing aspects of the firm."
Second, juniors felt that the fact the firm staffs “a little bit more leanly than others means juniors get to do more on each deal. When you combine that with seeing the same people on the same team constantly you’re responsibility grows much faster.” The firm's single site has not stopped it from growing (modestly), from a lawyer head count of 165 to 181 in the past five years. Gross revenue, meanwhile, has more than doubled since 2004, and in 2017 it increased by 8.1% to $236.3 million. Chairman John Nadas feels a proprietary sense of pride in the firm: “We consider ourselves to be the custodians of a great institution and we intend to make it even stronger and then pass it on to future generations.”
Chambers USA ranks the firm in Massachusetts across its main practice areas, including corporate, litigation, insurance, antitrust, banking & finance and IP. The rankings are mostly in Chambers USA's second and third tiers, but across the board Choate is usually the highest-ranked firm with only an office in Boston, and it ranks alongside the Boston offices of major national firms like Weil and Morgan Lewis.
At the time of our research, most junior associates were in either the litigation or business departments, split evenly between the two. There were also solitary juniors to be found in private wealth, IP litigation and real estate. Work is initially managed by an assigning partner though over time “you build relationships and gradually shape you own way.” Insiders generally liked this system as it “means you have an advocate to help you get the kind of work you want to get. The partners have their favorites but the assigning partner means you get a chance to work for more people. It also helps us not to get completely smashed and overwhelmed.”
Business is a broad umbrella department that covers various subgroups, including finance & restructuring, life sciences, business & technology, sport & retail, healthcare, tax and private equity. Associates can keep things broad and sample work from all these areas but the juniors we spoke to had gravitated toward private equity work, advising private equity funds on venture capital and "representing startups from a corporate perspective." Clients include Massachusetts video-screen producer Seachange International, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase and Boston-headquartered private equity firm Summit Partners. "One of my emerging technology clients will be in tomorrow, so I am currently prepping for that meeting," a junior told us. "We're doing a deal for them that's closing at the end of the month – a private equity firm is taking a minority stake in the company – so most of the meeting will be focused on that. I also had two deals close recently so there are post-closing matters to handle." Sources found that “on a lot of deals it's just you and a partner, so you get more things like drafting purchase agreements to do rather than just sticking with diligence. With one client I have gotten to a point where I am running and closing the deal.”
Choate's litigation clients include pharma companies Merck & Co and Shire, tech outfits HP and Dell, and financial services firm Fidelity Investments. Litigators cover insurance, IP, labor & employment, government enforcement and appellate work, and juniors work across these areas. "There's always something to do," one source said, "meeting deadlines for motions and doing the entry-level junior associate work like document review, plus doing legal research, getting things filed with the court, drafting pleadings and helping to prepare depositions." Another interviewee reported that a typical day might consist of “case research into the rights of our clients, writing up a 'cheat sheet' for a partner, drafting a motion to dismiss and brief writing.” We also heard that one junior had “participated in presentations to the government to convince them not to pursue a case against a client.”
Choate's one-office model means “it's pretty rare to not be able to put a face to the name.” Juniors also noted: “Most people in the firm are from or went to college in New England, so they like it here in Boston.” It also seemed to us that many Choate juniors had previous careers, were a bit older and/or had families. One source felt this created a somewhat less frenetic social atmosphere than at other firms. “I have friends at big New York firms and they seem to have a younger 'go get drinks and party at the weekend' crowd. Choate is more 'come in, work hard and go home to your family.'”
“Choate is more 'come in, work hard and go home to your family.'”
This isn't to say there's a complete dearth of social events. "The business group has a lot of client events, for example," we heard. The firm also runs both a holiday and summer party, hosts speakers and there's a “monthly pizza night where everybody can catch up and hang out.” In the summer juniors can join summers on a sailing trip and a day at a country club with “golf, tennis and yoga.”
Juniors were positive about LGBT and gender diversity at the firm (over half of associates are women), but noted the firm is “predominantly white.” There was recently an 'open forum' on diversity which “gave everyone an open space for dialogue about how we can get better.” The firm also has a diversity hiring scheme for summer associates and organized a lecture series on “topics including implicit bias and women in the workplace.”
Opportunities include education advocacy (“you help students who are being denied some educational service”), legal clinics at homeless shelters, asylum cases and for one insider “a hearing before an administrative law judge on a social security disability case.” Pro bono is mostly litigious but the firm has been trying to “find more corporate opportunities. I helped set up an LLC for an entrepreneur.” There's no cap on the pro bono hours that juniors can count toward their bonus target, though they need to hit 1,900 to count pro bono toward the target. One junior pointed out: “If you were doing 100 hours of pro bono per month that would not be acceptable.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 5,289
- Average per attorney: 27
Hours & Compensation
At the time of our calls the firm's bonus policy was causing some frustration among our interviewees; associates were not guaranteed a bonus for hitting the 2,000 hours target. Instead, this target made them bonus eligible, and the professional development committee and managing partner made the final decision on the amount awarded. One source grumbled: “We don’t get paid market bonuses and it's not clear to us how or why we get a certain amount.” Another put things more bluntly: “I think compensation has been the biggest negative about being here.” On the plus side, most sources said they didn't have much difficulty hitting the 2,000 threshold. In addition, there's even more good news: before we went to press the firm told us that it had changed its policy, so that market-rate bonuses are guaranteed for all associates who hit the 2,000-hour target; above market-rate bonuses are paid out to those who perform particularly well.
"There is a lot of fluctuation.”
During quiet periods litigation juniors work 9am to 7pm, while busier times see them exiting around 10pm. We even heard of one associate operating on less than four hours' sleep, “but that was in the middle of a trial – things like that are very atypical.” Those in business & technology “are beholden to clients so there is a lot of fluctuation.” Most days start at 9am or 10am with juniors leaving at 6pm when it's quiet, 7pm to 8:30pm when things start to heat up and midnight when it comes to crunch time.
Renovated three years ago, Choate's office has “lots of glass, which takes some time getting used to.” On the plus side the location near Boston Harbor means “you have beautiful views no matter where you are” and keeping things see-through has encouraged juniors out of their internal offices to “get talking to people a bit more.” One source did, however, think that “everything is a little bit smaller than before and the soundproofing is not as good. You have to shut your door to keep the noise out sometimes.”
Training & Development
After initial training, juniors said, “once a month a partner comes in and gives a presentation, which could be on document review or a junior's role on a trial team.” A transactional junior told us about “an annual retreat where everyone in the private equity department gathers for a weekend to take apart a transaction document. That really helped my understanding of larger deals.”
"A lot of mentoring also happens outside of that structure.”
The firm's mentoring program has been formalized recently with monthly lunches set up by mentors and regular mentor/mentee meetings. Sources were generally happy with the firm's efforts, and one said: “I see my mentor quite often, though a lot of mentoring also happens outside of that structure.”
Choate is pushing for feedback to be given contemporaneously. While some associates said they “had not noticed a huge shift,” insiders did like the change. “Feedback might not be as effective or productive if you didn't get it until the end of your work,” one believed. A few insiders felt the quality and effectiveness of feedback varies “from partner to partner but some have really taken to giving it.” In addition to all this, anonymous surveys and open forums with the managing partner allow juniors to give their thoughts on seniors and Choate more generally.
Strategy & Future
"Boston is so strongly embedded in the history of the firm that I don't see us opening up an office elsewhere," one junior believed. "It's the distinguishing feature that makes Choate unique." Chairman John Nadas agrees: “Choate is built different than other leading law firms. We conduct our highly focused national and international practice from one office in Boston, giving our lawyers the best of both worlds: high-stakes work in a close-knit environment, where partners truly care about associates’ long-term development and work every day to help them improve."
Interview with chairman John Nadas and chief of legal recruiting and talent development Elaine Bortman
Chambers Associate: Last year you told us that 2016 had been the firm's best year, particularly with regards to recruitment. Has 2017 been similarly successful?
John Nadas: Yes, I am pleased to report that 2017 was even better -- our best year ever. We have never had more interesting clients and challenging work, and our talent has also never been better. Moreover, this has been the best year for us financially. Our gross revenue went up by about 8% to $236 million; our revenue per lawyer – which I think is the most meaningful statistic – went up 4% to $1.45 million; and finally, our profit per equity partner went up more than 10% to $2.3 million. The financial performance has been outstanding and we are very proud of it. However, we don't manage our firm for short-term economic gain. We manage it for long-term success and sustainability.
CA: What do you think has contributed to Choate's success over the years?
JN: We have consciously done something different which has been quite successful. It goes back to our decision a number of years ago not to do what most of our competitors were doing. Rather than expanding our service offerings and physical presence into many new locations, we decided to focus selectively on very attractive practices in which we were top of the market, and to practice all under one roof in Boston. We think that approach has contributed to our growing relationships with clients and has also helped us to attract, develop, and retain great lawyers. At Choate, professionals are able to join teams early on and become experts with a substantial amount of responsibility. We offer the unusual opportunity to work on the clients’ most important matters from one location and in an organization that’s about 200 lawyers and 450 people overall. That is different and we think that difference is very important to our success.
CA: With that in mind, are there any cases you would like to mention that highlight the firm's expertise and market position?
JN: On the litigation side there's a very significant case that we're working on in the Federal Court in Denver, Colorado. It's a class action brought against the sponsors of US au pair programs, which challenges the whole program and argues that it is violative of various federal and state laws. We're representing the lead sponsor in that matter. It's an important case and our people are taking depositions across the country and in various parts of the world.
We just settled the significant Alnylam case which involved claims of misappropriation of trade secrets. We also just finished a case for Dell/EMC, which was an important misappropriation case that settled on the verge of trial. Finally, we are involved in lots of litigation arising out of the opioid crisis, which poses a difficult national challenge. We are handling those cases across the country.
On the deal side we have one of the leading mid-market private equity practices. This year our PE and corporate practices completed more than 120 M&A and growth deals for clients such as Summit, Riverside, and Silversmith. We also have one of the leading sports finance practices in the country which represented SunTrust in connection with its financing of the Texas Rangers' new stadium in Texas and John Hancock in connection with its financing of the new stadium for the Golden State Warriors in California.
CA: What’s your long-term vision for the firm? Will any changes be made to the 'under-one-roof' model that Choate currently uses?
JN: This model has been very successful and we believe it will continue to bring us success in the future. Boston is a great market and we have no plans to open offices elsewhere. By the way, the fact that we are in one location should not cause people to conclude that we only practice in one location – we practice across the US and around the world. Our clients ask 'who are the best lawyers to work on these important projects?', not 'where are their offices?'. They hire their lawyers based on expertise, not convenience or location. What we offer continues to attract clients around the country and the world.
We are also very attentive to our talent, as this model depends on continuing to hire, train, and promote the best and the brightest. We listen very carefully to our talent, as this model only works if we can retain our most talented attorneys. If we couldn't attract the talent to our base in Boston that would be of consequence to us, but we are experiencing the opposite. Boston is one of the hottest legal markets anywhere. In the life sciences sector there is no stronger market – the city's combination of universities, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals is extraordinary, and it continues to draw talent our way. Boston is unusual in that it is a very cohesive professional environment. There's a very collaborative relationship between the business, scientific, academic, and political communities, which creates wonderful opportunities.
CA: You made it clear last year that you welcome candidates from outside of Boston, but you do want to see their commitment to living and working in the city. What can those 'out-of-towners' do to demonstrate their commitment?
JN: You are absolutely right, we are not just looking for people from Boston. We have people at the Firm from all around the country and the world. That said, given that we only have an office in this city we do ask the question 'why are you interested in building a career and a life here?'. People can demonstrate that interest in lots of ways. Some have connections here, while others are able to articulate in a meaningful way what is special about Boston and the factors that make them to want to build a life here. They don’t have to have direct experience in or links to Boston, but they should be able to persuade us they are interested in living here.
Elaine Bortman: Our incoming summer class represents a geographically diverse set of people, but they all have a deep tie or strong interest in Boston. One quick way to demonstrate that is by being active in the Northeast club at law school. When we are looking to market the firm, they are one of the ways we identify prospective candidates. If there is something like that at your school, make sure you get involved.
CA: Speaking of prospective applicants – what else are you looking for in a candidate?
JN: We are here to serve our clients, so we are looking for people who can relate to our clients and help them to capitalize on their important opportunities and solve their challenges. We are all 'Type A' ambitious people, but the people who do well here are those who are ambitious not just for themselves, but also for the overall success of the team, the firm, and its clients. It’s all about the clients – they are first and foremost.
In terms of academics we don't have a particular cut off, but we are obviously looking for students who have a strong academic record. We are also very interested in students who have worked between college and law school – that’s an interesting indicator of potential suitability for us, as work experience usually produces a certain level of maturity that's necessary for working and interacting well in teams and with clients. That's not to say that all of our summers have work experience, but a high percentage do and we find it to be an interesting factor.
EB: We are looking for somebody who has demonstrated both academic excellence and drive – somebody who has not just mastered their courses, but who has also taken initiative beyond what is asked of them academically. Another thing we look for is the potential ability to interact well with our clients, and we can ascertain that from prior work experience or leadership roles that have been held in different contexts. Finally, we want somebody who will work well in a team; we are in one building, so the way we work together matters a lot. We need people who are collaborative and willing to help others to get better – this is definitely not a 'sharp elbows' kind of place.
When it comes to first impressions, a candidate’s resume should ideally showcase “journal membership and good grades,” sources recommended. One pondered: “I don’t think we have a grade cut off, but I believe that everyone here has graduated at the top end of their class. It’s a balancing act though: if your GPA isn’t as strong but you’re proficient in four languages then they may take that into account.”
In addition, Choate’s recruiters will be looking at “anything you’ve done to get practical experience, like a relevant internship or an externship with a judge, for example. Here you’ll find that associates have often done other things before going to law school – the average age of a starting associate is probably a bit older than it is elsewhere.”
Interviewees had mixed views on how important it is to have a connection to Boston. At the very least, some relationship to the city “definitely helps, because the firm is conscious that it is a single-site operation; the more you are connected, the easier it is for you to demonstrate your interest in staying in the area, which is good for retention purposes.”
Boston-based law students can also reap the benefits of getting exposure to the firm, by “working in the city” or attending “the events that we host for prospective candidates – we create opportunities for those who are interested to meet with us and get information. Choate is very helpful in that regard.” If you’re not studying at a Boston-based law school but are interested in Choate, don’t panic, as this associate made it clear that they also knew “plenty of people at the firm who didn’t go to school in the city and had no connection to it, and they still ended up here.”
Interviews at the firm were described as “really quite straightforward. You get asked the type of questions that your careers services office can prepare you for.” Associates felt that the process wasn’t “as regimented as it is at other firms: everyone was easy to talk to, and we just had more of a conversation.” There are a few behavioral-type questions to answer, and candidates can also potentially encounter “some more unique questions, depending on who’s interviewing you: questions like ‘if you had a superpower what would it be?’ and ‘if you could be sorted into a Harry Potter house which one would it be and why?’”
At the interview stage the firm is especially on the lookout for “maturity, intelligence and good communication skills.” Sources also noted that “like other law firms, we’re not super-focused on knowing what you want to do before you arrive: our summer associates do all sorts of work and find out what they want to do.” What is crucial to show in the interview is “your interest in Choate in particular. It really makes a difference when someone goes the extra mile to demonstrate that our firm is on their priority list.” One way to do this, sources suggested, is to make sure that you research who is interviewing you on the day and ask thoughtful questions about their practice.
Notable summer events:
- Lawyers Have Heart 5K Road Race
- Habitat for Humanity Build Day with dinner reception at Partner’s home
- Build a Bike for Boys and Girls Club (philanthropic event)
- Red Sox Game
- An Evening at the Institute of Contemporary Art with guest speaker
- Lawyer’s Field Day with all attorneys in the Firm
- Sailing with Partner on Boston Harbor
- Visit to client site and reception
- Concert at Fenway Park
- Alumni Panel and cocktail reception
- Dinners around Boston, including Diversity and Women’s dinners
Notable pro bono opportunities (schemes, client affiliations etc.)
The Firm has a well-established and well recognized commitment to serving an active and generous role in the community. We are proud of this tradition and consider it to be part of our responsibility and our success. The Firm’s public service includes the provision of pro bono legal services to the indigent and under-served communities across a broad spectrum of needs; creative collaborations with public and private organizations that support these communities; and volunteer work for numerous non-profit organizations. For example, we are proud collaborators with the following representative list of organizations:
- Boys and Girls Club of Boston
- Center for Women & Enterprise
- EdLaw Project
- Lawyers Clearinghouse Project
- Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
- PAIR (Political Asylum/Immigration Representation) Project
- Social Finance Inc.
Our commitment to public service is carried out at all levels of the Firm – from summer associates to senior partners – and across all practice areas.
Choate Hall & Stewart LLP
Two International Place,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $236,250,949
- Partners: 63
- Associates: 97
- Other Attorneys: 21
- Main recruitment contact: Elaine Cohen Bortman, Chief of Legal Recruiting and Talent Development
- Hiring Partners: Diana Lloyd, John Nadas
- Diversity officer: Choate has a Diversity & Inclusion Committee which includes partners from a range of departments and is chaired by the Managing Partners.
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 15
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Diversity fellowship: Yes 1L Fellows receive a position in Choate’s summer program and are eligible for a stipend of up to $25,000
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 13
- Summer salary 2018 1Ls: $ 3,462/week 2Ls: $ 3,462/week
- Split summers offered? No
Main areas of work
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, Northeastern, Suffolk, University of Virginia and Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Choate collects resumes via a resume drop at many other schools. If we do not offer this at your school, qualified candidates may submit their resume to Legalrecruiting@choate.com.
Choate offers progression credit, as well as a one-time clerkship bonus, to candidates who join the firm immediately following the completion of a federal district or circuit court clerkship or a federal or state supreme court clerkship
Summer associate profile:
Choate seeks candidates who have a record of academic excellence and professional achievement. We value proven leadership, dedication to team success, a strong work ethic and the ability to approach challenges thoughtfully and creatively. We seek candidates who offer perspectives and talents shaped by a broad range of socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, professional and personal backgrounds.
Summer program components:
Throughout the summer, Choate’s summer associates are involved in real work with real clients. In recent years, summers have performed legal research, drafted memos and briefs, helped prepare transactional documents, conducted diligence, reviewed documents, participated in deal closings, assisted in fact gathering, drafted estate planning documents, observed depositions, negotiations and trials and worked on pro bono matters. Each summer associate is matched with a junior associate, mid-level associate and partner mentor, who provide guidance and feedback. The summer training program provides the opportunity to develop professional skills, to learn about the firm as a business and to have the experience of working at the firm as well as to develop important legal skills, such as writing.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment Recognised Practitioner
- Tax (Band 3)
- Technology (Band 3)