A senior statesman of the Boston market, Choate condenses a lot of exciting development opportunities into its one office.
“WE'RE a one-office firm. We all operate under the same roof, and that mentality runs through everything we do,” declared junior associates at this plucky Boston firm. Comprising some 163 attorneys in its Massachusetts homestead, Choate has made its name by turning the traditional BigLaw model on its head. And it's a model that's paying off.
Hot on the heels of a record-breaking 2014, when the firm posted revenue of $194.37 million, Choate registered its best ever financials in 2015, smashing through the $200 million mark for the first time to post a 4.3% rise in revenue. Focus is the name of the game here: Choate's prolific success stems from its formidable prowess in a cherry-picked bunch of practices, which draw in clients from way beyond the confines of the Bay State. In Chambers USA, antitrust, banking & finance, bankruptcy, general commercial litigation and technology all secure high rankings.
Our associate sources couldn't speak highly enough of Choate's strategic approach: “We're involved in top-quality complex work for an impressive host of clients nationwide, but don't have the hassle of having to coordinate with a partner three thousand miles away!” relished one. In fact, “everyone knows everyone, so it's much easier for partners to keep an eye on your progress.” In terms of associates' development, Choate's cozy setup lends itself to a learning environment where “there's no sense that you're part of a rigid hierarchy,” so “it's not the case that junior associates do all of the doc review, and the midlevels get the writing opps. It's all about proving yourself here.”
Juniors are split roughly 50:50 between the litigation and business streams, though patent & IP and wealth management also snap up one or two. Practice area preferences are highlighted during summer exit interviews, but “the hiring team calls in during the 3L summer. There's sometimes the odd 180, and Choate is really receptive to changes in opinion.”
Irrespective of where they end up, rookies' workloads are managed by an assigning partner, to whom they send weekly capacity reports. “There's also space to convey your interests,” explained one insider. “They want us to enjoy our work, so if you have a burning desire to try something, you're encouraged to reach out.” Practicing as generalists for at least their first three years, associates eventually build up work streams from partners they've previously worked with. This work still goes through the assigning partner, which sources found “a good protective measure.”
Litigators work their way through a varied mix of tasks, stemming from Choate's appellate, bankruptcy, general commercial, government enforcement, insurance & reinsurance, IP and labor & employment subgroups. “One week you'll be drafting motions in a patent litigation case and the next you'll be preparing corporate executive witnesses for interview in a government investigation,” recalled one interviewee. “It's great exposure and really keeps it exciting.” Juniors begin with legal research and doc review tasks, but “the teams are pretty small so once you're comfortable on the basics the intensity soon ramps up.”
“Once you're comfortable on the basics the intensity soon ramps up.”
It's a similarly mixed bag over in business, where finance & restructuring, business tech and private equity are king. Whether undertaking their “fair share of diligence on a private equity deal,” or “assisting with the logistics of a Series A business tech financing,” newbies' responsibilities here are “undeniably low-level” until they feel ready to take on more. Our second and third-year sources weren't complaining, however, having drafted ancillary documents for credit facilities, held one-to-one client calls and meetings, and even advised clients following consultation with partners. Such opportunities for client contact “really put your substantive legal training and business development skills to the test.”
Training & Development
Such rapid progression means that “there are definitely times when you're terrified,” but it's a small trade-off for feeling like “you're growing as a lawyer with every day that passes.” Thankfully senior colleagues are “very open to questions. I've even asked people working on different transactions for help,” bragged one rookie. “There were no excuses or 'maybe laters,' they just took the time to sit down with me and talk it through.”
Starters cover the logistical nuts ’n' bolts with a few days' orientation training. Over the next six months, lunchtime sessions led by individual practice groups cover more substantive legal areas. Further food for thought comes during 'lunch ’n' learn' sessions, which though not compulsory, are “definitely popular.” Open to all disciplines, the itinerary is curated based on associates' requests. “If a few people want to learn about patent licenses, then the development team will tie up with certain partners to arrange informal Q&A seminars. You can just fire away!”
“There are definitely times when you're terrified.”
Every six months juniors' progress is reviewed by all partners and seniors for whom they have spent ten or more hours working. Submitted online, this feedback is summarized and presented by a reviewing partner. “We're also able to request copies of partners' original reviews, so you can see exactly where you went wrong or excelled on individual matters.”
A new pilot scheme is scrapping the surveys and instead interviewing partners individually. “It'll help the review go into even greater depth,” explained one respondent. A 'firm compact' aims to objectively set forth all of the skills that Choate expects associates to have mastered each year. Associates are also made aware what they should expect from partners.
Office & Culture
Housing some 163 attorneys, Choate's Boston digs have been treated to a facelift in the past year. “It was always a nice building: right on the edge of the financial district with great views of Boston Harbor,” enthused one resident. But now it's been renovated, “it's looking pretty sexy!” Styled with a “modern, startup feel,” the HQ features “lots of glass, and lots of collaborative spaces,” making it “much easier to get together and chat over a draft, or just shoot the breeze for five minutes.”
Rookies also saw real value in Choate's single-office setup. “If you ever have any questions, you can just go and knock on someone's door. If we had to schedule calls with someone in California to get a simple point clarified, then our ability to get work done would suffer.” On a more social level, “there are very few partners or seniors who you won't have had a coffee or chat with. That's rare in a firm of Choate's stature.” Such familiarity “helps you to further your understanding of the kinds of work covered here.” After sussing out colleagues' areas of expertise, “you know who to go to when there's something you need help with, or would like to try out,” so all in all, it was thumbs-up for the one-roof approach.
"There are very few partners or seniors who you won't have had a coffee or chat with."
Further integration opportunities arise through more formally organized means. For instance, the first Thursday night of each month is pizza night. Held in Choate's staff cafeteria – groan-inducingly named 'The Firm Bite' – it's “well attended by partners and associates” alike. And to top it all off, there's the annual lawyers' field day. Held in “a high-end country club,” the day treats Choate's attorneys to a bit of downtime over rounds of golf, yoga classes or a few sets on the tennis courts. Best of all is the firm dinner, where first-years traditionally premiere a video skit that makes fun of partners. “We tried to stay between bounds of decency,” one chuckled, “and in fairness they all took it pretty well!”
Hours & Compensation
Choate's integration efforts seem to be paying off, and it's just as well. “We all work long hours,” sighed an insider, “so it really helps that we all take an interest in each other's lives.” The amount of hours spent in the office “depends on personal preference.” Many will work nine until six and then head home for dinner, finishing off the day with an hour or two remotely. Others prefer to get everything done in the office. The odd late night does crop up, but “you never feel like you're grinding out useless hours. If you're in past midnight, it's because it's important and we need all hands on deck.”
“You never feel like you're grinding out useless hours."
To qualify for a bonus, grafters must hit 2,000 billable hours. Pro bono work counts hour for hour, and rookies can also count up to 100 hours of on-the-job training (OTJ) toward billables. OTJ credit was a big hit, not only because it facilitates bonus achievement, but also because “it really puts the direction of your training into your hands.” One enthusiast elaborated: “If you want to observe the negotiation of a credit agreement on a deal, then there's a strong possibility that the client won't want to pick up the bill. That's understandable. The firm gives us the option to bill that as OTJ, which means that you're still learning, and clients still get good value for money.”
As a key player in the Boston legal community for over a century, “giving back is really important” at Choate. “There's no hard cap” when it comes to pro bono, so though “you wouldn't get away with working exclusively on pro bono” matters, juniors felt that “if a case is taking a lot of your time, it's not a problem.”
“If a case is taking a lot of your time, it's not a problem.”
A dedicated pro bono team, comprising a partner and two senior associates, is responsible for broadcasting up-for-grabs matters. “They're extremely knowledgeable, and are open to questions if you're taking on something new.” As well as having close ties with the Center for Women in Enterprise, the firm also works with the Lawyers Clearinghouse, a Bostonian organization tackling homelessness and housing troubles by matching pro bono lawyers with individuals in need of legal aid. With asylum cases also common fare, Choate's juniors did concede that “opportunities tend to fall in favor of litigators.” That said, we did hear of more transactionally minded associates who'd chipped in to organize founding documents or dissolutions for nonprofit organizations.
Pro bono hours
Though its attorneys are “predominantly white, and at partnership level white and male,” Choate's associates felt that “the firm is doing its best to recruit fairly, in a market that is still pretty homogenous.” A diversity 1L summer fellowship is helping to boost Choate's numbers for ethnic minority representation, and sources were also resolute that efforts were being made to retain female attorneys. A big part of this is Choate's “fabulous” maternity leave program, which sees “most beneficiaries take about six months, four of which are paid.” The firm also considers part-time scheduling for parents with young children, so all in all juniors felt that “the firm will always do its best to find a workable outcome.” The firm takes an egalitarian view towards paternity, especially when the father is the primary caregiver.
Choate's one-office Bostonian heritage is an important consideration for applicants. The firm takes on some 15 summers each year, following OCIs at a smattering of East Coast law schools. Key targets include Boston College, NYU, Georgetown, Cornell, BU, Columbia, Harvard, Suffolk, UVA and Yale, though write-ins are also accepted. Juniors aren't expected to walk around in 'I heart Beantown' T-shirts, but a vested interest in the local area is important. “Don't be afraid to take on pro bono work during your summer program," advised one insider. "It's a great way to show you're interested in exploring Boston's legal scene."
"I know a lot of us would be willing to grab a coffee and talk about our experiences if asked.”
“One of our key strengths is having all of our talent and expertise under one roof,” adds chief of talent development & legal recruiting, Elaine Bortman, “so we're looking for strong collaborators. Candidates should be ambitious, smart and interested in working hard, but beyond that we need to see an interest in the firm's work, and the work of our clients.” Behavioral interviewing techniques are used to ascertain such traits. “If we ask for evidence of team-based accomplishments and the interviewee uses 'I' a lot instead of 'we,' we'd be inclined to probe further on their collaborative skills,” she continues.
For more insider info, “don't be afraid to reach out,” nudged one junior associate. “It's often said at law school but rarely taken advantage of. I know a lot of us would be willing to grab a coffee and talk about our experiences if asked.”
Strategy & Future
Keen to strengthen Choate's position as a venerable Bostonian institution, chairman John Nadas expresses particular excitement at the city's current economic health. “General Electric's recent announcement of plans to relocate its corporate headquarters to Boston illustrates the strength and vibrancy of the Greater Boston economy,” he delights. “GE is one of the largest companies in the world. After considering many, many attractive options, GE chose Boston on the announced basis that Boston has the most dynamic and creative ecosystem in the country.”
"Our model won't be changing any time soon."
But Choate's reputation stems far beyond its home city. “Being distinct in the market is important,” proclaims John Nadas. “We are unusual in that, from a single central location, we focus on a select group of practices in which we are able to provide our clients with market-leading expertise, experience, service and success.” As such, “clients seek our guidance from all over, seeking our help not because of our geographical location, but because of the unusual expertise, experience, service and success we provide.” The one-roof strategy is key to ensuring such success, and “we don’t anticipate that we will be changing that strategy any time soon," Nadas asserts. "In terms of efficiency, collaboration and cohesion it works unusually well. Our clients understand and appreciate it, and we continue to thrive under this model.”
Recent Work Highlights
- Counseled app development tool FeedHenry during its $65 million takeover by Red Hat, the world's leading open-source software company
- Successfully thwarted a suit raised by consumers against Samsung, whose Galaxy S smartphone was alleged to be malfunctioning
- Helping Wells Fargo to oversee $200 million worth of liquidation proceedings stemming from the bankruptcy of its debtor client, supermarket giant A&P
- Providing strategic, corporate and regulatory advice to Foundation Medicine, whose sequencing testing technology is used to flag and highlight appropriate treatment methods for genetic mutations in tumors and blood cancers
Choate gets a makeover
Completed “on schedule and just about on budget,” Choate's recent office makeover brings a smile to the face of chairman John Nadas. Camped up in Two International Place – the glowing crown in Boston's night skyline, and tenth-highest skyscraper in the city – Choate's new-look HQ was completed just before Thanksgiving 2015. Architecturally-speaking, Two International's circular tower is already pretty striking, but according to associates, Choate now boasts the domestic pizzazz to really flaunt the firm's BigLaw credentials.
“Our floors are quite small,” grumbled last year's associate interviewees. “I know everyone on my floor, but there's no central area for everyone to meet up, so we don't see so much of our other colleagues.” For Nadas, this was a key consideration when remodeling the workspace: “Our priority was to create very open space, with lots of natural daylight," he explains. "That's consistent with our commitment to creating a transparent work space and organization. We also wanted lots of collaborative space to facilitate our approach to client service. We're stronger for having everyone here in the same place, so we wanted the layout to encourage as much interaction and collaboration as possible.” Associates praised the interior stairwell as a particularly effective tool in achieving both aims. “It has to be the highlight,” delighted one rookie. “Our building is circular and the glass staircase meanders seamlessly through the six floors we occupy. People are always congregating there, and it gets lots of light as all of the walls are made of glass.” Falling on the window side of the building, the staircase is privy to “amazing ocean views,” so it's hardly surprising that “no one really takes the elevator anymore!” There are also “several specifically-designated collaborative spaces, which make it much easier to get together and chat over a draft, or just shoot the breeze for five minutes.”
The firm's investment in collaborative space has helped alleviate juniors' sole concerns for the new get-up: “We now take interior offices, so our individual workspace has significantly shrunk.” As you may have guessed, an interior office does mean no windows, but rookies weren't too perturbed. “Three sides of our offices are made of glass, so you're never lacking for light,” said one. What's more, rookies are bumped up to a window room after their fourth year, so it really is isn't all doom and gloom for Choate's young guns.
If all else fails, there's always the firm library, which went largely unscathed under the renovations. “It's a great resource as it has an excellent selection of books, beautiful views of Boston Harbor, and is right next to the cafeteria!” one caller scoffed.
Choate Hall & Stewart LLP
Two International Place,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $202,666,179
- Partners: 64
- Associates: 88
- Other Attorneys: 15
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,462/week
- 2Ls: $3,462/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,462/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes, through the firm’s 1L Diversity Fellowship program, through which Fellows receive a position in Choate’s summer program and are eligible for a stipend of up to $10,000
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
- Summers 2016: 17
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 12 2L offers, 11 acceptances
Main areas of work
Private equity and M&A, life sciences and technology companies, intellectual property and related litigation, finance and restructuring, government enforcement and financial litigation, insurance and reinsurance, complex trial and appellate, and wealth management.
Choate is one of the nation’s premier law firms. Choate conducts its national and international practice through a single office model, with all lawyers under one roof in Boston. The firm’s associate-to-partner ratio is low, affording junior lawyers opportunities to play important roles on matters and facilitating rapid career development. Lawyers know each other well and work together in dedicated client teams. That familiarity, proximity and continuity allows them to share knowledge easily and respond to clients’ needs efficiently, seamlessly and immediately.
• Number of 1st year associates: 12
• Number of 2nd year associates: 9
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Choate offers compensation and 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
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, Northeastern, Suffolk, University of Virginia, Yale and UConn
Summer associate profile:
Choate seeks candidates who have a record of academic excellence and professional achievement. In addition to academic success, we seek candidates who are committed and who offer perspectives and talents shaped by a broad range of socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and personal backgrounds. We value proven leadership, dedication to team success, a strong work ethic and the ability to approach challenges thoughtfully and creatively.
Summer program components:
Choate’s summer associates are involved in real work with real clients from day one. In recent years, summers have performed legal and factual research, drafted memos and briefs, helped prepare transactional documents, conducted diligence and managed deal closings, assisted in fact gathering, drafted estate planning documents, observed depositions 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, learn about working at the firm and work with writing and communications coaches.