With 20 US offices, Duane Morris is more tight-knit than you might expect...
WHEN asked how such a big business maintains a unified culture, Duane Morris's chairman and CEO, John Soroko, quickly replies: “We put a huge emphasis on people interacting and getting to know each other personally as well as professionally. This is the explicit aim of our annual firmwide get-togethers. We've got every Duane Morris employee in the same place, having fun but also learning.” DM, as it's affectionately known, also has another trick up its sleeve when it comes to creating that aforementioned unity, it models every one of its 20 US offices on its Philadelphia HQ – “right down to the paintings on the wall,” as one associate put it.
A focus on smaller, compact offices with identical furnishings, and an emphasis on tight-knit working relationships is complemented by a healthy respect for associates' abilities. Add attentive pastoral care to the mix, as evidenced by the firm's annual retreats – that alternate between funky Philadelphia and sunny Boca – and you're on to a winner. It's a happy mix, and revenues in 2016 rose again: to $454.5 million, up 4.6%. Chambers USA also recognizes its success, awarding the firm top-notch rankings for its bankruptcy, construction, corporate and IP practices.
In the firm's bigger offices (New York, Philly and Chicago), summer associates are given a form on which they rank their three preferred practices. After you've received a job offer there's “a bit of a waiting game while they decide where you'll be placed.” Then, “about two or three weeks before you join,” you are told your practice. Most incomers will find themselves in litigation (or 'trial' as it's known at DM), the firm's largest department. Other groups newbies go to are corporate, IP, bankruptcy, real estate, wealth planning, labor & employment. Assignment across the board is fairly free market and associates are given a few years to find their niche.
Litigators need not worry about being pigeonholed, because Duane Morris' gargantuan operation deals with “almost every dispute under the sun.” Sources spoke of being involved with everything from construction, to product liability, to insurance disputes. Other areas include CSAL (commercial securities & antitrust litigation), appellate, construction, insurance, IP, product liability, tax, white-collar corporate investigations & regulatory. Since cases range from “two guys arguing over a home extension” to “two banks arguing over the mis-selling of debt,” juniors' tasks encompass “top-to-bottom stuff.” One pretty typical interviewee had “drafted preparation documents, prepared for trial, gone to trial and argued on my feet on my own.” Another lauded the faith that senior lawyers have in raw recruits: “I know that most of our motions for summary judgment have been drafted by associates. They have a lot of faith that we can get the job done.”
“They have a lot of faith that we can get the job done.”
Over in corporate, juniors have similar freedom to find their niche. Though the practice is pretty evenly split, “when you come here there is no point at which you need to decide whether you are an M&A or finance lawyer.” With the former, associates will “do all the diligence, draft the purchase agreements, usually take initial calls with the client – really as much as you feel you can handle.” Other areas on offer include private equity, venture capital, securities, and emerging growth. Healthcare finance is a big source of the corporate team's work and one attorney described a typical deal: “I'll draft all the ancillary documents, draft the credit agreements, track them once they've been sent off and generally keep the partner organized and up-to-date.”
A combination of small class sizes and fluid practice groups means associates “work with and get to know a lot of people quite quickly.” Because of this tight-knit environment, senior lawyers are more invested in their juniors – “they have a personal interest in my life and will always ask me about my weekend.” And this cordiality even extends to clients: “Partners here have a great relationship with their clients. We don't regularly have midnight emergencies because the clients aren't going to ask that from their friends.”
“We don't regularly have midnight emergencies because the clients aren't going to ask that of their friends.”
This friendly approach makes DM a sociable place to work across the board. In Baltimore there are “events with cake and balloons and singing for whoever's had a birthday that month.” In LA things are a bit more formal, with “bi-monthly all-office lunches at a nice restaurant round the corner.” Over in the Big Apple, some attorneys like to get their families involved – “we'll all go to a local bar and, rather than make our excuses, we'll get our spouses to join us and just hang out all night.” The Chicago office takes socializing seriously with “a get together every month, whatever the weather” and a “seriously fun summer party.”
Training & Development
Associates mentioned the words 'fun' and 'sun' maybe a dozen or so times when describing Duane Morris' annual conference, whose location alternates between Philadelphia and Boca Raton. It brings together every lawyer from all of the firm's 28 international offices for “breakout events, dinners, dances and group meetings.” The Boca location perhaps unsurprisingly came in for the most amount of praise: “We're all put up in this luxury resort and after attending the meetings, everyone heads to the beach.”
“Everyone heads to the beach.”
After that, other formal training might sound decidedly dull, but following some “pretty uninspiring IT instruction” at the start of their careers, associates have a “comprehensive offering of CLEs, online videos and courses” to aid their development. There was also praise for the firm's very own direct messaging system that allows lawyers across the firm to communicate with one another at lightning speed.
Hours & Compensation
When it comes to salaries, the firm is “below Cravath" ($165,000 in major markets), but “the fact that we have lower billables makes up for that.” As for those billables, there's an official target of 1,950 firmwide, but that includes up to 100 hours of pro bono, which sources agreed “seriously sweetens the deal.” Overall, this sweetened deal was viewed much more favorably than the higher pay/increased pressure at other firms: “Duane Morris lawyers obviously still work extremely hard but there's an appreciation that we've got a much better work/life balance than other BigLaw firms, and I think this makes everyone that bit happier.”
“A much better work/life balance.”
Respect for people's family lives permeates the firm from the top down: “There are absolutely no face time requirements here. I've not once been asked 'where were you?' if I've left early for something. Anyway, some partners are gone around 4.30pm – they're off coaching their kids' sports teams and going to recitals. You can basically have the kind of family life you want.” This attitude extends to vacation: “We get four weeks a year and unless something major is going down, you won't be required to be constantly taking phone calls and replying to emails.”
With 20 US offices – stretching from San Diego to Boston to Miami – you'd think it'd be hard to develop a sense of home for visiting attorneys. But the powers-that-be came up with a foolhardy solution: make all of their offices look exactly the same. This might seem like hyperbole but it's true, and every single source that we spoke to attested to their identical nature: “Even the paintings on the wall are the same! It makes it feel like one huge worldwide office – when you video call anywhere in the world you feel like you're in the same building, just in different rooms.”
Further uniformity is offered by pro bono work, which is “a big deal across the firm.” Though associates aren't forced to take part, all of the resources are there and the 100-hour allowance acts as a big incentive. New York associates had worked a lot with Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), “an organization that helps victims of trafficking.” And, besides the obvious benefits of helping a good cause, this had allowed some of them “experience in court, on our feet.” Over in Philly, the firm has relationships with a heap of local organizations, including “the Inner City Law Center, Advancing Justice and the Children's Rights Alliance.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 34,710
- Average per US attorney: 47.2
Uniformity might be good for wallpaper but when it comes to a workforce, diversity is the key to success. To this end, Duane Morris is definitely making moves in the right direction. In fact, the firm's efforts were so well regarded that in 2015 Philadelphia's newly elected mayor Jim Kenney picked head of diversity and inclusion Nolan Atkinson to head the city's diversity drive. Interviewees were proud of DM's achievements: “We were one of the first firms to have a special retreat for diverse lawyers. Every May they meet with the executive committee in Philly and discuss how to improve the prospects of diverse attorneys.” Gender diversity is also heavily promoted – “We have women's book clubs in the bigger offices where female lawyers get together and read books related to women in business. They're also good for offering tips to junior associates who are just embarking on their careers.”
“You have to have a desire to develop business and take a more entrepreneurial approach."
One way the firm recruits to its smaller offices that lack a summer program is by offering 'externships' to students from local colleges. These are basically work experience placements that offer participants extra school credit as well as “invaluable insight into what life is like for junior lawyers at Duane Morris – what kind of work you will be involved in, and really what day to day life is like at the firm.” For those entering by more conventional avenues, recruiters make sure you interview with a wide array of attorneys, so that “when you start you recognize a lot of friendly faces.” When asked what kind of attributes recruiters looked for, many agreed that “you have to have a desire to develop business and take a more entrepreneurial approach. From the beginning they really encourage business development. They force you to attend events.”
Strategy & Future
Sources opined that most partners at the firm had been summer associates there too: “That's another thing I noticed. They must be doing something right if they are retaining people that long.” And when it comes to looking to the future, John Soroko, has his eyes fixed on reinforcing the home front: “We've added a new group from Carlton Fields to our Miami office and added a new corporate and banking team in LA.” That said, DM isn't ignoring emerging international markets: in 2016 the firm opened a new office in Taiwan and continues to build on its existing presence in places like Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Interview with John Soroko, chairman
Chambers Associate: It's safe to say that Duane Morris is a huge operation. How do you maintain a tight-knit environment in such a big business? And how do you ensure that junior lawyers don't just feel like another cog in the machine?
John Soroko: I think we as a firm have a commitment to a culture of collaboration and non-territoriality. That helps us set a precedent in which we put a big priority on people interacting, getting to know people professionally, but also as people. I also has an effect in terms of who we hire – we are looking for people who don't want to just work in individualized silos, but want to work in teams in an inter-disciplinary way, or do a secondment.
We have continue to our commitment to having a firm meeting at which all our lawyers come together and get to know each other as professional colleagues and human beings. It's a bit of a virtuous circle and we reinforce that.
CA: You seem to have the US pretty well covered. Are there any plans to expand abroad?
JS: Over the past year we've added a significant team to our Miami office. We've also recruited a new corporate and banking team in LA, as well as opening a new international office in Taiwan to service our new IP clients there.
In the US I think we feel we have pretty much sketched out the type of platform that works for us. So we want to add to our existing offices domestically and to continue our focus on internationally emerging markets – including in Asia and out of Singapore.
CA:Is Philadelphia still very much the center of the operation?
JS: I feel Philly is very much not the center of the operation. Of course I'm here, and can only ever be in one place. But I try to visit as many places as I can and at almost every turn we try to get practice leaders who will be in offices other than Philadelphia – we try to deemphasize Philly as a center. For example, the vast majority of the associates we have promoted have been outside Philly, almost 75% in fact.
That said, the Duane Morris tradition started here and I feel it has been fairly well embraced firmwide. We even take that down to the issue of making sure all our offices lookalike – you don't really get more 'one firm' than that. While absolutely the firm had its start in Philly – it's very much in the front of my thinking to take us away from that at every turn. I don't think people outside Philly think they're in remote outposts, and we have an associates committee the leadership of which is 2/3 outside of Philly, which I think is great.
CA:Any plans to move in line with Cravath?
JS: It's interesting in 2016 we did increase our compensation. But firms like Cravath and other Wall Street firms have different sets of economics. We did put in an increase in starting salaries as well as across the board for standard track associates. We are addressing further increases in compensation and I fully expect that there will be such increases. I don't think we're making a conscious or explicit trade-off, but nor are we looking to sell ourselves as a lifestyle law firm. I think the demands of the business environment are just too severe to have people operating on the assumption that it's ok to work less hard.
CA: What effect do you think a Trump administration will have on the firm and the wider legal market?
JS: Let me start with from the perspective of the wider legal market. I think from a historical perspective we've just finished an eight-year period during which the US economy did not grow at a 3% level in any single year and I think that the impact of that on law firms has been quite negative and severe.
One thing I anticipate is the American economy getting a bit of a jump-start due to a little less regulation and a bit more confidence at a consumer-level. I'm also expecting that the demand for legal services will increase. And where will these new clients go? Will they go to large firms? And then the challenge for a firm like ours is to be as relevant in that area as possible. I think the unknown frankly is how much that increased demand will get sources to what firms.
CA: What does Duane Morris offer young lawyers that is unique?
JS: I think two of the things that come to mind are the ability to start as a key member of a specific team rather than being just another first or second-year associate. When we make offers to young lawyers, it is always with the view to slotting them into a specific team – which is a much better career path than someone that just knocks about. So we make initial assignments to specific practice areas. The other thing we do is we have quite a well-developed program of coaching, both in terms of professional skills and personal skills. This includes coaching on business development and on becoming a more well-rounded lawyer.
I think it really helps our lawyers believe that the firm has a very significant interest in them having the best training during their time at DM. What I've tried to impart is that with many associates spending a few years at a law firm then leaving to do something else non-legal – the training we give isn't DM specific, but will be valuable if an associate left us to start a business or go into the non-profit sector. Hopefully they'll think: I've had some great legal training but it also helps in what I'm doing now.
CA: Do you have any advice for our readers as they embark on their legal careers?
JS: I'm very realistic and I know that particularly in this generation of students graduating the expectation may be of spending a shorter period of time with their first firm. And if I was such a student I think the question I'd be asking myself is where can I go for the best experience? Where can I get the best grounding and personal development? Where can I get the best mentoring? At what firm can I start my career that gives me the best platform for success? I may be doing something totally entrepreneurial; It might have some connection with the law. Where can I go to a law firm that I can develop the most as a person? That's what I would be looking at.
Now, obviously I'm very biased, but I think we do a very good job in all those regards. Looking at our young lawyers in that holistic way. We give them the career and personal tools and whatever else they need.
Doing Business in Cuba
Cuba, the final frontier. After more than half a century long stuck in the permafrost of the Cold War, US-Cuban relations starting to thaw. At the same time, Cuban President Raul Castro has introduced a number of key reforms to allow much-needed private capital to grease the wheels of the island's creaking socialist economy. While the island offers new and exciting investment opportunities, doing business in Cuba is still fraught with pitfalls.
Much of Cuba's economy remains state- controlled, obliging investors to co-operate with the country's opaque bureaucracy. Exporters can't sell directly to end users, but to the Cuban government. For example, agricultural produce is purchased by an agency called ALIMPORT, which then sends it on to the next stages of the state-run distribution system. Additionally while the government has eased sanctions, they haven't lifted the economic blockade. For example, US citizens will be able to travel to Cuba on business or to visit relatives, but tourism is still prohibited.
This means that US businesses in Cuba need to be doubly careful- not only do they need to navigate the country's own rules, they'll need to make sure that they comply with US sanctions as they do so. Fortunately, Duane Morris' Cuba Business Group is on hand to help companies avoid falling foul of this tangled legislative web. The group builds on Duane Morris' experience liaising with US regulatory bodies, and follows the firm's pioneering work in opening offices in important and unconventional emerging markets like Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Most interviewees applauded the success of Duane Morris's “no jerk policy,” reporting a workplace “full of friendly and approachable people.”
2016 saw the Chicago team take to a rooftop bar near the office, where the social committee laid on loads of great games including “a quiz about our fellow employees.” Philadelphia attorneys can enjoy a bit more sophisticated fare at “weekly wine and cheeses.” While in Silicon Valley a “Pokémon GO-obsessed managing partner” organizes weekly “Pokémon catching trips” for fellow hunters.
Duane Morris LLP
30 South 17th Street,
- Head Office: Philadelphia, PA
- Number of domestic offices: 20
- Number of international offices: 8
- Partners (US): 392
- Associates (US): 324
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $2,788/week (Phila)
- 2Ls: $3,173/week (Phila/NY/Chicago)
- $2,884/week (San Diego)
- $2,692/week (Miami)
- 1Ls hired? Yes, 1
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
- Summers 2017: 16 (15 2Ls, 1 1Ls)
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 16 offers (100%), 14 acceptances
Main areas of work
Business reorganization and financial restructuring; corporate; employment, labor, benefits and immigration; energy, environment and resources; wealth planning; health law; intellectual property; litigation; and real estate.
Duane Morris LLP, a global law firm with more than 750 attorneys in offices across the United States and around the world, is asked by a broad array of clients to provide innovative solutions to today’s legal and business challenges.
• Number of 1st year associates: 13
• Number of 2nd year associates: 18
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $140,000-$165,000
• 2nd year: Non-lockstep compensation structure in place
• Clerking policy: Yes (federal only)
Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College, Boston University, University of Chicago, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, University of Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Temple, University of Virginia, Villanova, among others.
Summer associate profile:
Duane Morris strives to attract the best law students and to offer the ideal environment for lawyers at the beginning of their professional lives. We endeavor to improve our Summer Associates Program each year to make Duane Morris a meaningful and valuable destination for summer associates. The firm’s summer associates rated the firm’s program #6 nationally in The American Lawyer’s 2016 Summer Associates Survey and a #3 ranking in the Philadelphia city ranking for 2016.
Duane Morris offers interesting challenges to law students who participate in our summer program. We believe the program offers a realistic picture of our practice to aspiring attorneys who have an interest in sharing our goals and serving our clients. Our program balances challenging work assignments with constructive feedback, work-related activities outside the office and enjoyable social events.
Summer program components:
The growth and development of each Duane Morris attorney furthers the central goals of the firm to provide the best legal services possible, to develop and build client relationships, and to ensure the stature and reputation of the firm with its clients. Duane Morris’s Attorney Professional Development Program provides its summer associates and associates with comprehensive training and mentoring to support development of individual knowledge, skills and abilities in three broad categories: legal skills and substantive law, best business practices for the firm and practice development. Aside from these specific responsibilities, the mentors help introduce the summer associates to other lawyers in the firm and provide general guidance on any matter, whether or not related to particular work assignments.