As Washingtonian as House of Cards, and almost as much fun, Crowell & Moring offers the chance to do cutting-edge work in a place that doesn't take itself too seriously.
BEING a little different has long been a part of Crowell & Moring's DNA. The firm was founded in the 1970s by a splinter group from Jones Day who wanted to create “a different kind of law firm.” This doesn't just refer to the firm's slightly quirky, duck-loving culture – the fountain in the DC HQ's lobby is famously home to a diverse collection of rubber duckies, as are other offices – but also to the way it does business.
Crowell was one of the first firms to bring in 'value-based billing', which in a world frustrated by law firms' insistence on charging by the hour, is a big deal. It's also looking to take advantage of the new practice areas opened up by big data, adding practices like cyber security & privacy to its traditional strengths of government contracts, litigation and healthcare, which are among those highly rated by Chambers USA. On the topic of ducks, real live versions actually nest from time to time outside the ninth floor conference room in DC, no doubt attracted here by their plastic cousins...
On arrival, associates are assigned to two departments from their list of preferences. “This allows you to work with a larger number of people, and get much broader experience than you otherwise would,” explained a New Yorker. Associates generally specialize eventually in one of the two departments, although the firm is in no hurry to make them choose. We heard of some associates who didn't pick until their sixth year, and others who opted to join another department entirely. Junior associates are found in groups including commercial litigation, corporate, government contracts, intellectual property, energy, healthcare and international trade.
Some offices have particular specialisms; in antitrust, for example, the East Coast offices tend to represent corporate defendants, while the offices in California specialize in plaintiffs' recovery work. The firm's government contracts group and those with a regulatory focus like advertising are centered on DC, thanks to the “sheer proximity to the contract, or the regulator.” The department primarily focuses on bid protests, where aggrieved contractors challenge the outcome of federal procurement process before the Government Accountability Office or Court of Federal Claims. The department offers a fascinating peek into the murky world intersection of the public and private sectors, and sees lawyers grappling with a multitude of rules. To resolve bids in a timely manner, the GAO operates strict timetables, so good time keeping is a must.
"Crowell is much less wedded to the idea of giving all the tedious tasks to the new associates."
Many of the more specialized departments do mix contentious and noncontentious work, allowing associates to try their hands at both. For example, the firm's burgeoning advertising & product risk management group grapple with both litigation and regulatory compliance. “I will review product packing to ensure that clients adhere to FDA regulations and best practices,” explained a lawyer in this department, “and on the litigation front I get to take the first stab at all the major papers in a case.” A lot of cases and deals are quite leanly staffed, particularly in the more specialized departments, which means that associates can get a lot of responsibility very quickly. “Crowell is much less wedded to the idea of giving all the tedious tasks to the new associates,” said one source, adding that “you're as likely to help a partner put together a memo as you are to do doc review.”
Several juniors were struck by the "impressive" DC building, with a few affectionately terming it "the mothership," although the firm stressed that there is no official HQ. It's a stone's throw from the White House, and across the road from the FBI and Department of Justice buildings. Los Angeles is “gorgeous, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the mountains.” If the other California offices are “a bit lacking architecturally” by comparison, they also make up for it with fantastic views. San Fran “is a little cuter and a little quainter than the other offices,” said an associate based there. “We have things like a pizza day once a month.”
“It's never a good sign when your office serves dinner,” said a DC associate ominously. “Fortunately, ours doesn't.” It does, however, have a cafeteria that serves breakfast and lunch. The office's other amenities include a gym. The smaller New York office has fewer perks, which associates there felt impacted on its social scene. “It's a friendly place, and people talk in the corridors, but it can be a little quiet,” explained an associate in the Big Apple.
"It's never a good sign when your office serves dinner. Fortunately, ours doesn't."
Training & Development
“The partners' willingness to mentor young associates really makes Crowell stand out,” enthused a DC junior. “They view it as an investment, rather than a cursory exercise like some firms.” New associates get both an associate and a partner mentor. Partner mentors also act as “advocates” for their mentees. “They'll stick their necks out for you, help you get work and help you navigate the partnership,” explained one associate. On arrival, new associates are treated to three days of orientation and then whisked off to 'bootcamp'. Don't worry, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman doesn't make an appearance: Crowell's bootcamps are a series of monthly training sessions. “The courses cover things like writing motions or interviewing clients,” explained a source.
"Not giving us cookie cutter objectives."
At the time of writing the evaluation system was undergoing something of an overhaul, and nobody we spoke to had experienced the entire thing. The new system has three stages. In the first, associates submit a written evaluation of their own work and receive the same from the fee-earners they worked with. Following this, they meet a partner from their practice group for an informal discussion. “It's not like an interview,” said an associate who'd been through this part of the new process, “more of a chat.” They discuss things like what types of work they'd like to do more of and how their practice area is performing. After this, the partner liaises with the firm's Lawyer Development Committee, and the associate is given a list of objectives. Our sources appreciated this part of the process, saying “they make a point of not giving us cookie cutter objectives, but tangible goals.” The final stage is a meeting between the assessed associate, their partner mentor and the committee.
Associates are required to bill 50 pro bono hours each year, and associates aren't short of different ways to help them bill those hours. Asylum and immigration, criminal appeals and landord and tenant cases all make an appearance. “I'm doing a lot of pro bono trademark work,” said one lawyer, “but you don't get pigeonholed.” A dedicated pro bono partner is on hand to take requests: “You can email and let her know what you're interested in doing, and she'll find you work in that area,” reported one source. “They don't look down on you for doing pro bono,” said an associate in DC. “At other firms management worries that it's taking time away from billable work.”
Pro Bono Hours
Hours & Compensation
Associates are paid in lockstep through to their sixth year, which helps eliminate competition between attorneys. The firm pays market rate, which associates were generally happy with, although some noted that legal salaries in general haven't kept pace with inflation. “The salary for lawyers hasn't changed since 2006, but places keep getting more expensive,” noted one.
"Does work interfere with my life to the point where it's not manageable? No way."
Officially Crowell's billing target is 1,900 hours, but when you include the mandatory 50 hours' pro bono “it's really 1,850, which is great, particularly in DC.” The firm has its ducks in a row when it comes to work allocation: there's a formal system run by an assigning partner who tracks everyone's hours, but it often functions as more of a backstop. “In my experience, partners reach out to me,” said a junior in DC. A New York litigator agreed: “Most of the time, partners come by and say 'I have something for you.' Besides, the coordinators are all in DC.” This system keeps Crowell's attorneys busy with work, but it also leads to some late nights. “I think because of the ducks and the quirky culture, people think we're all play and no work,” said one source, “but it isn't true. I regularly work 12-hour days.” Associates tend to get in around 9am and leave at 7pm or 8pm, but “there's no pressure for face time, and a lot of flexibility. Does work interfere with my life to the point where it's not manageable? No way.”
“If I could describe Crowell's culture in a word, it would be 'forgiving',” said an antitrust lawyer on the West Coast. “I refuse to say we're laid back, because we work hard, but it's a forgiving, encouraging and positive place to work.” Consider the following anecdote from a misty-eyed associate on the other side of the country: “When I was a fresh attorney, I was given a massive task to do, and in my opinion did a terrible job.” Instead of slamming the hapless newbie, “my supervisor wrote that I was the hardest worker she'd ever seen.”
"Every office has at least one duck."
A quirky sense of humor runs through all the offices. The Agri, a less-than-picturesque sculpture in the front lobby of the San Francisco office, is a frequent butt of the office jokes. “People send around emails claiming to be from the Agri,” explained a San Franciscan, “and someone did a mock 'New Yorker'-style cartoon starring the Agri. It's funny when you see it.” Then there are the ubiquitous ducks. Back in the depths of time, someone dropped a rubber duck into the fountain in the DC office's lobby. Others soon joined them, and the ducks became a symbol of the firm, to the point where “every office has at least one duck.” All the offices have regular happy hours, which have names like 'lowering the bar' and 'cheap booze' (the booze is actually free), and, yes, the ducks make an appearance. “Sometimes the cheap booze is themed, and they'll dress a duck up to match the theme,” a Washingtonian told us.
Once again, Crowell got top marks from associates for its gender diversity, although there was still a long way to go. “I think we have two male and a dozen female associates, and more than half the counsel are female,” remarked one source, “but at partner level it still isn't great.” Some associates felt that the firm could do better when it came to ethnic diversity. “We're no more or less diverse than our peer firms,” explained a source in DC. Similarly, “the New York office needs to be more diverse,” although our sources there conceded that “that's weighing heavily on everybody's mind.” There are signs that Crowell is making inroads, however: “Now that you mention it, I think there were only two white guys in my incoming class,” recalled one source vaguely.
"We're no more or less diverse than our peer firms."
Get Hired & Strategy
Crowell was founded by some breakaway Jones Day lawyers who wanted to create a more interesting place to work, so it places a premium on hiring interesting people. “I won't say they're looking for people who 'fit in,' because that sounds quite hostile,” said an associate familiar with the hiring process, “but Crowell wants people who want Crowell.” Sources recommend familiarizing yourself with not only recent cases, but also working out who's who at the firm. “If you're interested in a certain practice area, find out who the big shots in that group are and mention them in the interview,” they suggested. The firm's hiring process follows a fairly typical OCI then callback structure, and nobody recalled being thrown any curveballs. “They tend to adopt a conversational style of interview,” said one. Don't make the mistake of thinking getting into Crowell will be a cakewalk, though. “Be smart, articulate and confident” suggested one, “but don't be arrogant.”
"Crowell wants people who want Crowell."
Crowell has “no immediate plans to open any additional US offices,” according to managing partner Ellen Dwyer. Instead, the firm is looking to build on its existing locations. Dwyer mentions an "Internet of Things initiative” and a big push to “grow the Washington office as a regulatory hub,” while sources in California identified a drive to increase name recognition. “On the East Coast, everyone knows who Crowell is,” explained a Californian, “the big point is to let the West Coast know that we're a great firm.” To that end, Crowell is looking to bring in lawyers “who are excited about building the firm and building our new practices.”
A brief history of the Crowell & Moring ducks
Back in the depths of time, the fountain in the DC office's foyer was a “minimalist water-feature designed to exude class and presence.” One ordinary morning, legends tell us that the firm's lawyers turned up to work to find a rubber duck in their fountain, left there by persons unknown. The rest is history. Crowell's ducks aren't just a cute tradition: they also go to the heart of what it means to be a modern, Biglaw lawyer.
In our 2009 edition, we reported that the ducks “have been adopted by the firm as a mascot for its blend of professionalism, innovation and humour,” and by 2010 the yellow critters were on people's desks, in the artwork and even had a mention on the website. Crowell was founded back in the 1970s by breakaway Jones Day partners looking for a more collegial atmosphere, and it had long been known as a 'lifestyle firm.'
By 2011, some within the firm were looking to throw off the 'lifestyle' tag, as they felt that it cheapened the firm's achievements. The ducks were in the firing line. By 2012 “the powers that be” were rumoured to be plotting the ducks' downfall, and associates lamented being known as “the social firm with the ducks.” Was it curtains for the firm's floaty mascots?
Not quite. Indeed, in 2013 the firm's enthusiasm for all things duck-related went into overdrive when a real-life mother duck laid her eggs in one of the planters in the ninth-floor office. The firm's facilities team made her a shelter and a pool, and access to the terrace was restricted. For 27 days, the office waited with bated breath as the eggs incubated. On the 28th day, they hatched, to everyone's delight.
While the flesh-and-blood ducks moved on, making their home in Rock Creek Park, in 2014 management ruled that their plastic brethren were “here to stay.” Today the ducks are ubiquitous- everyone has at least one on their desk, firm events lead to themed ducks and there’s even a small duck on the firm’s website to remind potential clients that “law need not be practised in an ivory tower.” The ducks stand as a proud symbol that to Crowell, professionalism need not be bought at the cost of personality.
Crowell & Moring LLP
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
- Head Office: Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $363,039,506
- Partners (US): 177
- Counsel/Sr Counsel (US): 116
- Associates (US): 148
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,077/week
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 17 firmwide
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 15 offers, 14 acceptances
Firm profile Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with more than 500 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Anchorage, Cheyenne, London, and Brussels.
• Number of 1st year associates: 15
• Number of 2nd year associates: 22
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: No
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
We interview at the majority of the top 20 law schools and numerous diversity related and IP specific job fairs throughout the country.
Summer associate profile:
The firm looks for highly qualified, entrepreneurial candidates with diverse backgrounds. We prefer candidate with law review, journal or moot court experience and/ or strong relevant legal employment experience, including judicial clerkships; as well as demonstrated leadership capabilities.
Summer program components:
The diversity in our summer program reflects the diversity of our firm at large. We want summer associates who take the practice of law and client service more seriously than they take themselves, who will contribute to the life of the firm, and who share our sense of responsibility to the community.
Most of our junior associates come from our Summer Associate Program. We want you to go back to law school knowing who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Work for summer associates includes mostly short-term projects that will allow you to experience as many practice areas and as many lawyers as possible.
Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars on such topics as The Law Firm as a Business and Negotiations Training. In addition, the firm offers summer associates the opportunities to participate in our Public Interest Fellowship program and sign up for Live Events which are real-world activities like court hearings, client meetings, depositions, presentations and negotiations that summer associates may attend in order to observe Crowell & Moring attorneys in action.