Government expertise is just one of many draws for associates at this relatively young, multi-office DC institution.
“I WANT us to be different,” Crowell's chair since 2015, Angela Styles, emphasizes to us. “A lot of law firms seem to consider younger lawyers as commodities, not focusing on their careers. I want young associates to understand the business of law from day one.” She helps interview on campus herself and makes an effort to spend time with junior lawyers – “I want to build careers with them.” One outcome of a nurturing culture is lower attrition, as one associate observed: “Several partners, counsel and associates have been here a long time, and that's rare.”
Crowell has tried to do things a little differently ever since a group of lawyers broke away from the now-ginormous Jones Day in 1979 to set up this firm. As it continues to grow, some juniors highlighted tension between the better lifestyle associated with a newer, smaller firm and traditional BigLaw expectations. On the one hand, the billing target rose from 1,900 to 2,000 hours in 2016, following a Cravath-matching salary hike to $180,000 for first-years. On the other, associates tell us every year how much they appreciate a degree of “flexible working” which “promotes diversity. The traditional law firm model of working ridiculously long hours is outdated and not sustainable.” One felt that Crowell “is not a lifestyle firm, and I don't think it ever was, but there was a time when it wasn't as much of a big dog. Are we one of the big firms and do we want to play on that level? It's a good problem to have!”
In 2016, Crowell closed two of its domestic offices (Anchorage and Cheyenne). Nevertheless, the firm enjoyed a super-successful year financially, with revenue shooting up almost 20% and partner profits jumping $412,000 to $1.45 million.
The Work & Offices
Well known for government contracts work, Crowell also secures excellent Chambers USA rankings in areas including litigation, white-collar crime, environment, healthcare, insurance, and transportation. Cyber security is a growing department, and crosses over into several of the firm's older practices. Most new associates head to the DC HQ, with the rest spread around four other offices: New York, LA, San Fran, and Orange County (although the smallest branches take juniors infrequently). Overseas, Crowell is in London and Brussels.
On arrival, associates are assigned to two departments from their list of preferences: “As a young associate who doesn't know what they want to do yet, this really attracted me,” a DC source enthused. Groups most populated by juniors are antitrust, commercial litigation, government contracts, and white-collar defense & regulatory enforcement. Juniors also go to practices including energy, environment & natural resources, IP, healthcare, corporate, international trade, cyber-security, tax, and advertising & product risk management. Each department has a staffing partner who assigns work based on associates' self-penned availability reports. “That's the formal system,” an associate explained, “but a lot of work comes from people you know and have worked with before.” Another added: “I feel I have control over what type of work I do, and that's important to me.”
“I feel I have control over what type of work I do.”
The firm's government contracts group and those with a regulatory focus like advertising are centered on DC. 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. It offers a fascinating peek into the murky world intersection of the public and private sectors. Juniors liked that “Crowell does a good job of getting associates involved early,” and “from my first year I was interacting with clients.”
In antitrust and litigation, associates said they worked with larger companies, including Fortune 50 clients, so had less client contact – but “that's just the nature of the work.” They got more client exposure on smaller cases where they “slide up in responsibility” anddevelop “at a pace that isn't overwhelming.” Legal research, drafting and “writing substantial portions for a case” are par for the course in litigation teams. Juniors highlighted that regular cross-office staffing helps remove any sense of being in a “satellite office” for those outside DC. “I've worked with attorneys from Orange County, San Francisco, and DC, and have been to these offices myself,” one pointed out. Across the board, associates felt the responsibility they were given was appropriate to their level: “A little bit more responsibility than you can handle is the perfect level because it forces you to be sharp. Sometimes it can be stressful, but what job isn't?”
IP sources in DC found themselves doing tasks like “writing briefs and memos” but also “liaising between our firm and the particular client. It was awesome for a junior associate to do that – it's unheard of in most firms!” There's also a rising popularity to do IPRs – a condensed form of litigation in which “everything moves quickly.” Corporate associates spoke of doing the usual due diligence, preparing reports, and “drafting and editing provisions of agreements.” One felt that “the person who brings in the deal is the heart of the deal – I just help out where I can, but I'm definitely an integral part of the process.” Excitingly for white collar crime associates, there are often meetings with the Department of Justice and FBI: “It's fun to get out from behind the desk!”
Training and Development
Training for summer associates includes the opportunity to do a mock deposition, with feedback from a partner. For incoming first-years, formal training involves an orientation followed by practice area-specific bootcamps. “It involves some legal training, but also some business training on how the firm actually works,” a DC associate described. From then on it's about learning on the job, though “you're never thrown in to cope by yourself. They allow you to learn things thoroughly from the ground up.”
“Learn things thoroughly from the ground up.”
Associates were eager to mention a 'trial academy' that the firm organizes for third-years and up. It's a one-week intensive trial advocacy training program that you have to be nominated to do. “You do a whole trial in one week, with the partners as the judges. It's the craziest work week, with people coming to DC from all offices.”
Associates are required to bill at least 50 pro bono hours each year, but with the recent rise in billing hours, the firm has put a new policy in place and now has no cap on pro bono hours. “In theory you could bill 500 hours to pro bono!” one associate exclaimed. Cases have included criminal defense, landlord and tenancy matters, and immigration cases, such as “procuring a visa for an undocumented Polish immigrant who needed a specific visa for women who have been victims of crime.” There's also a full-time pro bono partner, Susan Hoffman, who helps coordinate this.
Pro bono hours
- For US attorneys: 35,855
- Average per US attorney: 78
Hours & Compensation
Associates are paid in lockstep, which helps to eliminate any competition between attorneys. But it's the salary rise that's been the talk of the town at Crowell recently. The firm's starting salary has gone up to $180,000. Associates were all happy with this, but expressed some concern about the increased billable hour target (2,000 up from 1,900): “If you're in one of the big groups like government contracts or antitrust then there's no real worry, but if you're in one of the slower groups it might be tougher. Some people worry that it will make things more cutthroat with people trying to make sure they have enough work to do,” one associate thought. But for many, the rise won't make much difference: “People who consistently hit 1,900 will have no problem hitting the new target. It will be a good indicator of where people are. For me, there's a new found motivation to do even better.”
“The founders wanted to break away from 'big firm culture' and that's still prevalent. Old partners have left, but that doesn't mean the culture has changed,” explained a DC associate. “We're a big firm, but we don't act like it.” A shining example of this is Crowell's famous rubber ducks. Legend has it that someone placed a rubber duck in DC office's fountain soon after it was installed. Many more have appeared since then. “They're like the calling card of the firm,” an associate laughed, “and a nice segue into the history of the firm.” The firm looks for people with a sense of humor, according to associates: “Down to earth, not too formal, but hard working. After all, you want to sit with people who you enjoy working with.”
“We're a big firm, but we don't act like it.”
Juniors have noticed a slight difference in culture between offices and departments, but a lot of it comes down to size: “In the LA offices there are about 30 attorneys, so everyone is pretty tight. DC feels much bigger, simply because it is!” DC associates similarly observed that “some bigger groups have some pride in their group, so there's a little separation there, but I wouldn't overstress that. I know a lot of people around the office and we socialize to an extent.” All staff are invited to happy hours, not just attorneys. The Christmas parties are a highlight for many – an associate told us how “the leader of our practice group traditionally calls bingo every year."
“Crowell is better than most of its peers,” one associate said of diversity, “but the industry as a whole has a lot of work to do in that area.” Others praised gender diversity, pointing to the female firm chair, Angela Styles. A Women's Attorney Network regularly meets up and put on events like “'Making Partner 101', where a panel of women – including one on the managing board, two that had recently been promoted to partner, and two on the promotions committee – discussed the unique challenges that women face in the industry. It was really well attended. Women want to answer these questions, but you have to ask.” For other diversity matters there's a diversity council, which “really has an invested interest in someone's career.” One lawyer told us: “I'm a minority here, and diversity is kind of there. I'm not worried about it.”
Strategy & Future
“Really beefing up our national brand."
Firm chair Angela Styles tells us the plan going forward is “really beefing up our national brand, while making sure we have international capacity.” The firm's HQ goes toe-to-toe with other big DC firms, so “now we're focused on expanding that to New York and California.” The real aim, Styles tells us, “is to make sure companies know who we are, know what we're good at, and come to us.”
Hiring partner Ryan Tisch tells us “our questions are designed to relate the candidates' experiences to skills we think make people do well here. An example would be 'tell me about an experience at your last job in which you made a bad judgment and what you learned from that?' The best answers are ones that are self-analytical and think hard about what skills would be useful in a law firm. 'I learned not to make bad decisions' is not a good answer.”
Juniors who had helped interview in OCIs told us that “one of the biggest things is finding out if this person is an interesting person that won't be too uptight, and that will fit in here. They have to be able to talk about other things besides work. Personally, I look for the interests section, and if that's not there it's a pretty big red flag.”
Interview with firm chair Angela Styles
What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
I took over as chair a year and a half ago, and I've placed a real focus on younger lawyers. There seems to be a certain trend in the market place of a lot of law firms considering younger lawyers as commodities, and not focusing on their careers. I want us to be different. I interview on campus and spend time with the younger lawyers – I want to build careers for them. It's not about bringing them into billable hours, though it is important to business to be productive, but it's also important for the business to grow future leaders because they are going to shape what the firm looks like 10 to 20 years from now. The direction of many law firms worries me because the focus is on partners and partner productivity. I want young associates to understand the business of law, the business of the firm, the details of clients, billing arrangements, and how we develop this business. We want them to be engaged from day one. There's a lot they have to learn, and I worry that the way you get trained at law firms generally is just on the intellectual side – you don't learn about the business, or how to formulate billing arrangements, etc. It's important to show people what it means to be a full lawyer, and to be invested in their own career as opposed to just another employee in a firm. They need a full glide path. They need to understand how important the other aspects are to their future, not just the substantive practice of law – it's learning what it means to deliver a great product for a client. I want my lawyers to be invested in that. That's what we're working on.
What's your long-term vision for Crowell & Moring?
I'm focused on the next five years at the moment. There's a couple of things that are really important to me, one is beefing up our national brand, while making sure we have international capacity. For instance, we're known as a great firm in DC, so now we're focused on expanding that to New York and California. We want to make sure companies from coast to coast know who we are, know what we're good at, and come to us.
Another focus is on flexibility. We always want to bring the best talent to the table, regardless of whether that's a second year associate with a specialised background, or an hourly lawyer that works from home. To bring the right people in, different kind of things need to be done. The right assets also need to understand what the client needs. If they're working for an aggressive high-tech client, we need a different kind of lawyer that can answer the phone to the client at 1am. Some people aren't capable of doing that. We have to practice law to match out clients' needs and have to match the right talent to the right client no matter where they are.
Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?
We'll be investing in domestic growth, with certain focus on New York and San Francisco. We're always open to other opportunities that are strategic, but currently the focus is on these two offices.
Given that our readers wouldn't be joining your firm for another couple of years, what's the general strategy going forwards, what do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years?
We'll definitely continue our financial strength – it's been strong over a long period of time, even through some tougher times. We also have a wonderful client list of Fortune 50/Fortune 100 companies, and there's a lot of prestige in working for those companies. We do top notch work in the areas we're best at, and working with these companies often makes people's careers.
We also want to create a work environment where people are happy, which is a hard one. I tell partners and associates that if you don't love it, we need to find something else for you. It's so important to enjoy what you do, and enjoy working in teams – a lot of our work is about teamwork. The happiest people here are working in teams with clients to solve their problems together. We want to continue to hire people that believe in that.
What would you say are Crowell and Moring's core practices?
Primarily government contracts, antitrust, healthcare, whiter collar, and some emergent areas are strong like cyber-security, which we're looking to grow. It overlaps with some government contract clients that often need cyber expertise. We are looking to grow our corporate group as well. Many firms in the Am Law 100 are driven by their corporate work, but we have a strong litigation side and are historically driven by our regulatory practice. For summer associates, the most popular areas are probably government contracts, antitrust and white collar.
Define the firm's character or culture. How is culture promoted?
It tends to be a really nice place to work. People, whether lawyers or other staff, like to come into the office, and like the general environment. It has the feel of a smaller firm, and a lot people socialise outside of the office together. Some of that has to do with practice groups. Associates do a lot both business-wise with clients, but also socially within the group which helps to create a team environment. We're really good in regards to flexibility – there are law firms where if you're not a full time lawyer then you're not considered on career track, or not considered as successful. Here we have learnt to be responsive to people's needs. We have partners here who work from home a lot of the time, but I wouldn't know it because they respond immediately if emailed, and are available at most times.
I think we've done a really good job of being flexible with our workforce which has allowed us to keep some of the best people – there is good talent there and we need that. It's hard, but we are trying to create a law firm that is less hierarchical, in which everyone can get really good opportunities. There's a lot of focus on entrepreneurship – lawyers are leaning from day one about how the business itself works and how to work with clients.
Can you tell us about the ducks?
There's a lot of different stories about the ducks but this is my understanding of it: the firm was founded in 1979, and one founding lawyer wanted to celebrate this, so he thought it would be great to add a water fountain to the firm as a monument. People thought the fountain made it look like we were some kind of New York law firm, so the day after installation people started to put rubber ducks in there! It's also a reminder that we don't take ourselves too seriously around here. And one time a real duck landed on our balcony and decided to lay its eggs there. We created an environment for the duck to look after its young, and when they were old enough to swim, we took them down to the river. [See https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-ducks-call-9th-floor-law-firm-home/2013/06/05/58b0c424-ce24-11e2-8f6b-67f40e176f03_video.html]
What's the balance like between offices? Is the aim for the culture to be uniform across offices?
Yes we do try. I think sometimes in smaller offices it's a bit easier. In some ways, it's a stronger united culture because of the smaller number of people. LA is one of the best offices for that, and I tell people we should try to be more like them! You can really see it and feel it when you walk through the door. It's the same in our Brussels office – everyone is very connected to each other. Some firms grow fast, and build offices fast, but if you still need that glue. We are trying really hard to maintain that culture. I spend more than half my time in all our other offices, and it's consistent with the vision of making a national firm.
Has the pay rise/billing hours rise affected any views on working here?
It probably has. On one hand, there's nothing more important than compensating the best lawyers at or above market rate to retain them. But how do you balance that with being flexible? That's the hardest part. We want to maintain that flexibility and make sure that if you're not on the 2000-hour track, you can still grow here.
Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
I would say every law firm is really different, and I know it's hard to get a sense of people and culture at interviews, but it's really important, Even if you have an offer from a firm, call them and ask to speak to the people. There's nothing wrong with doing this because it is a really important choice. Spending enough time with the people will give you a better understanding of the kind of firm you're walking into. You can rely on the internet for most things, but you've got to get a good feel for the culture.
Also, people should understand who it is they are interviewing with and talking to. Even as a young lawyer, you want to make sure you're not just interviewing with associates. Use this to help you evaluate the firm – whether you get to speak to partners and management. It'll give you an idea of how much you'll get to speak to them if and when you join.
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 humor,” 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 rumored 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: 5
- Number of international offices: 2
- Partners (US): 167
- Counsel/Sr Counsel (US): 132
- Associates (US): 141
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,462/week
- 2Ls: $3,462/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,462/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 24 firmwide
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 14 offers, 10 acceptances
Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with approximately 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, London, and Brussels.
• Number of 1st year associates: 12
• Number of 2nd year associates: 17
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: No
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
We interview at the majority of the top 20 law schools and numerous diversity-related and IP-specific job fairs throughout the United States.
Summer associate profile:
The firm looks for highly qualified, entrepreneurial candidates with diverse backgrounds. We prefer candidates 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” 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 such as court hearings, client meetings, depositions, presentations and negotiations that summer associates may attend in order to observe Crowell & Moring lawyers in action.