Dykema Gossett PLLC - The Inside View

It's a mighty legal brand in the Midwest, but recent expansion in Texas has given Dykema a taste for further national growth.

“DYKEMA has really strong credibility in this state,” a Michigan-based associate enthused, “but it also has a better national presence than other local firms.” Indeed: while five of the firm's offices can be found in The Great Lake State, it also has a further eight spread across Texas, California, DC, Illinois and Minnesota. Detroit is still very much the firm's beating heart though, and retains its status as the firm's official headquarters despite the San Antonio office housing the most attorneys in the network.

Since successfully exiting its bankruptcy in 2014, Detroit has witnessed “a lot of development, and Dykema has been a part of it,” associates proudly revealed, flagging the firm's work on the city's new public transport system. Famously, the automotive industry is prominent in Detroit, through good times and bad. Unsurprisingly, Dykema has been involved in many automotive-related matters, and is now steering its focus towards what the future holds: “New mobility services within the automotive industry – what some refer to as autonomous vehicles – is an area we've targeted for us to grow in and be a player in,” CEO Peter Kellett explains.

“We want to continue expanding our geographic reach.”

He adds: “We've had continued growth and success in our recent expansion in Texas, and continue to do well there.” Kellett is referring to Dykema's 2015 merger with Texas-based firm Cox Smith, which added bases in San Antonio and Dallas, and doubled the firm's number of lawyers in Austin. Beyond that, Kellett also highlights that Dykema has had “a number of new client matters in different areas, affirming our focus on our key sectors." These include the automotive, energy, financial, insurance, food & beverage, and dental industries.Michigan is still considered the firm's stronghold in Chambers USA, where it picks up high rankings in areas like corporate/M&A, real estate and general commercial litigation. Dykema also scores praise for its real estate work in Illinois and its bankruptcy/restructuring expertise in Texas.

Strategy & Future



“We want to continue to grow our geographic reach,” Kellett adds. “We're having ongoing conversations with other groups and firms about combining and growing the footprint of our firm geographically.” Where does Kellett see the firm growing? “We're very much mindful of the fact that we have opportunities here in the middle region of the country to expand. There are places where we're not already – generally the Midwest is a place where we have some presence but it's not uniform. It's a logical place for us to look.”

The Work



Half of the second and third-year juniors on our list were based in Dykema's litigation department, which is divided into subgroups like commercial; financial services; labor & employment; and products, class actions & professional liability. The remaining half were split between the firm's business services (which includes corporate finance and taxation & estates practices) real estate & environment, regulated industries and intellectual property departments. Across every department there's a “free market system where you develop relationships with certain partners and develop a niche for yourself.” Sources liked “being able to try out different types of law to get a good idea of what you like.” They also had this advice: “When you start, treat the partners like clients and build the relationship so they feel comfortable assigning work to you.” If juniors get stuck “you can go to the practice group leader and they will help you.”

“You get a feel of how courtrooms work and how to interact with judges and opposing counsel.”

Litigators are “encouraged to work with any subgroup regardless of which one you're initially placed in.” In commercial litigation, sources had encountered a lot of breach of contract cases for “clients ranging from small local entities to large Fortune 500 companies.” Financial services matters enabled sources to work with “banks and mortgage providers,” while product liability cases exposed them to “big automotive clients – we've recently had a case where an automotive company sued their parts supplier.” Tasks included “creating deposition exhibit binders and outlines, then going to the depositions with partners to provide support.” One mentioned being “sent to status hearings really early on. You get courtroom experience in a non-threatening way. You don't start off arguing motions, but you get a feel of how courtrooms work and how to interact with judges and opposing counsel.”

In the business services department, our corporate finance sources had experienced many commercial lending deals. “We work with a lot of midmarket clients in many different industries,” our interviewees revealed. Some had worked with energy clients, while others told of deals involving “pet food companies and dental service organizations.” Associates had done the classic junior tasks of conducting due diligence and drafting ancillary documents, but had also tried their hand at “doing the first draft of a loan agreement.” Overall, business services sources felt that “they do give us a lot of responsibility and expect us to know our stuff – the partners rely on us to provide them with the correct information.”

The real estate department covers both finance and development work, and attracts a lot of clients in the telecom industry. On the lending side, our interviewees had been “drafting loan documents – they're often construction or acquisition loans.” Telecom work saw sources hone their skills on “leases, easements and some fee deals, as well as a bit of buying and selling work – I work with some clients just on my own!” Others had ventured into broader commercial leasing matters, as well as contentious condemnation cases: “It's my third year and I'm still experimenting with things.” National work “is definitely a significant proportion of what we do – a lot of the lending work is Michigan-based, but you also end of working on sub-leases in California and Nevada, for example.”

Training & Development



An initial two-dayorientation program clues new starters up “on things like the phone and IT systems, how documents are saved – everything you need to give you a solid foundation at the firm.” A month and a half later, all newbies congregate in Detroit for the 'New Associates Retreat,' which takes them through the firm's evaluation and advancement processes, as well as the firm's history and pro bono opportunities. There's also a set of 'New Associate Programming' sessions for juniors, which run on a weekly basis for the first two and half months that they're at the firm; topics covered here include time management and professionalism. In addition, litigators attend bi-monthly training sessions for their first six months, which are delivered through the Dykema Litigation Institute. “They're good, focused on important topics and pretty intensive. However, at times you don't get a sense of what you're applying them to as you haven't built up enough experience yet.” Juniors in other departments told us that “on the job training” is more common.

Annual reviews provide juniors with feedback on the substantive work they've done. As part of the process, an appointed person from the professional personnel committee “represents you to the broader committee, which listens to the feedback and subsequently decides what your bonus will be. The one critique I have is that the person representing you might not have worked with you at all that year.”

Hours & Compensation



Associates have a 1,950-hour billable target, which sources found be to “tough, but not impossible.” Optimism varied depending on the practice group: those in corporate finance, for instance, said they were “on pace to hit 2,000 hours,” while their counterparts in business litigation said “I'm not going to hit the target – I'm not close.” Overall interviewees felt that it's “challenging as a younger associate, as you have to build up your reputation with attorneys to get work.” Hitting 1,950 hours officially makes juniors eligible for a merit-based bonus, but we did hear that Dykema also has an alternative bonus formula: “If you're not hitting your hours but are still profitable to the firm, you can still get a bonus.”

“It's quite common to work remotely at some point.”

Most juniors reported being in the office between 9am and 7pm on average, though unsurprisingly this varied across practices. Litigators told us that when “giant cases come up you can have a wonky schedule and be working from 8am to anywhere between 6pm and 11pm.” Most sources rarely worked at the weekend, but some in the transactional groups did find themselves “working for a bit every other weekend – I can still do things outside of work, I just need to plan around it.” Others added that “if you need to work from home, that's not an issue. It's quite common to work remotely at some point.”

Pro Bono



“I would give the firm an A+ for pro bono!” one junior exclaimed. Up to 100 hours can potentially count toward the billing target (subject to approval), and it's compulsory to rack up 30hours – those who fail to reach this donate $500 to a charity of their choosing.Many interviewees had accrued over 100 hours, and sources reassured us that “getting approval has never been an issue – I went way over 100 and the firm is giving me credit for that.” One minor grumble came from those outside of Michigan, who explained that “the pro bono coordinator is based in Michigan, so a lot of opportunities and connections are based there too. They could improve on broadening the scope a bit.” Our interviewees had nonetheless got involved in various matters, such as immigration and asylum; prisoner and civil rights; and human trafficking cases.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per attorney: undisclosed

Diversity



Dykema's diversity committee “is not only trying to recruit more diverse candidates, but looking into retention to address root causes for minorities not staying.” One diverse junior praised the firm's efforts: “When there's a diversity event in a different office, they will fly you out so you can attend if you're interested. They sort the hotel out and everything.” As a result, sources felt “the firm is really putting its money where its mouth is.” Dykema has partnered up with the Universities of Michigan and Illinois to offer diversity scholarships, and also participates in initiatives like the Wolverine Bar Association's summer clerkship program for diverse 1Ls.

Offices



The juniors on our list were based in Dykema's Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Chicago, San Antonio, Lansing and Los Angeles offices. Because Dykema is registered as a Detroit-headquartered business, it goes into a “smaller pool of preferential service providers in the city.” And the city has a growing need for them, as sources agreed that “Detroit is undergoing a renaissance – it's really coming around.” Appropriately, the firm's headquarters is located in the Renaissance Center – “currently the tallest building in Detroit!” – which is also the world headquarters for General Motors, one of the firm's big clients.

“Detroit is undergoing a renaissance.”

The Chicago office has its quirks, as it's the product of a few mergers between firms in the market; one junior explained that “people hold onto some of the rituals and rules from their legacy firms – Rooks Pitts attorneys, for example, had a rule where if there was a conversation between two or more people, another person could come in and completely change the topic of conversation by claiming Rooks Pitts rule.” Over in Texas, one San Antonio resident told us that “we're right in the heart of downtown. In the office we have lots of cool artwork, including a sculpture of a bear made from shoes!”

Culture



“People come to Dykema and they seem to stay here because of the overall culture – there's a real sense of camaraderie between our lawyers.” This sense of camaraderie came up on multiple occasions during our interviews, with sources emphasizing Dykema's “very collaborative culture” and good relationships between associates and partners: “The partners are easy to talk to and go to for advice – they all know we're on the same team.” One reflected: “Initially I had a fear about law firms being cutthroat, but I didn't see anything like that here. That's a big reason I stayed after the summer.”

“We project a friendly, Midwest culture.”

Although this was the consensus across all offices, our sources also noted slight differences between Dykema's bases. Those in the Michigan offices told us that while “the firm has put things in place to push for a modernized feel, on the whole it feels more traditional due to its longstanding presence, clients and partners.” This is reflected in Detroit's dress code, which was said to be “a lot more formal” than it is in the firm's other offices. Sources here nonetheless felt that “we project a friendly, Midwest culture,” in which “it's not uncommon to hear partners say, 'Hey, it's four-thirty, and my son's got a hockey game – I gotta make it.'” The Chicago and San Antonio offices were described as “more homey” than the Detroit stronghold, while the smaller LA and DC bases were seen as “smaller and tight-knit.”

Get Hired



“I definitely like to see someone with a lot of personality, who doesn't take themselves too seriously but at the same time is very driven,” one junior who'd been involved in Dykema's recruitment activities told us. Many agreed that grades were important, but beyond them “it's all about a candidate's personality and how well we think they will fit into the culture.” Sources also reckoned that having “some connection to the state that you want to practice in is important.” During interviews, juniors advised candidates “to very clearly articulate why you want to work at our firm – general answers aren't helpful. Firms are risk-adverse; we have a limited number of spots to give, so we make sure that the candidates we give call back interviews to are those who really want to be here and are likely to accept the offer.”

OCI applicants interviewed: 206

Interviewees outside OCI: 4

Applicants invited to 2nd stage interview: 53

Offers: 18

Acceptances: 12

Interview with CEO Peter Kellett



Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?

Peter Kellett: We've had continued growth and success in our recent expansion in Texas, and continue to do well there. We have a number of new client matters in different sectors, affirming our focus on our key sectors. New mobility services within the automotive industry – what some refer to as autonomous vehicles – is an area we've targeted for us to grow in and be a player in.

I would also say our practice in financial institutions and in the healthcare area have been robust over the past year. Specifically in the financial sector, we've made significant inroads into building our data security practice, like digital payments.

On the non-client facing front, we're proud of our continued favorable ratings in the Corporate Equality Index, in which we received 100%. On the pro bono front, we've had 100% commitment across the firm. Some of our proudest achievements have been in the pro bono space – for instance, we successfully argued a case for a young disabled school girl who had to fight the school district to have her service dog work with her through the school day, which went up to the US Supreme Court.

CA: What's Dykema's strategy going forward? What do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years' time?

PK: We want to continue to grow our geographic reach. We have ongoing conversations with other groups and firms about combining and growing the footprint of our firm geographically. We also want to advance our depth in existing geographies where we're currently present. Secondly, we're continuing to focus on those practices and industries where we have a presence, and we're very focused on allocating some of our internal resources to strengthen those practices and build them out across the firm's platform.

CA: Where will the firm be investing?

PK: We're very much mindful of the fact that we have opportunities here in the middle region of the country to expand. There are places where we're not already – generally the Midwest is a place where we have some presence but it's not uniform. It's a logical place to look for us.

CA: How do you feel the current political and economic climate will affect the firm's business?

PK: We have uncertainty over what's going to happen domestically with tax laws, but change and disruption tend to provide opportunities. Whether it's generally good or not, we live in interesting times that will afford us opportunities.

CA: What's the long-term vision for the firm?

PK: We want to continue to be a firm that is delivering high-quality service, where our clients need us to be. We will go where our clients take us in terms of geography and services. Geographically, we'll continue to expand both short-term and long-term to have a more fully national platform. It's possible we'll have an international presence, but it's difficult to predict. Right now, we don't have plans to expand globally – it's not a strategic priority for us. My belief is that clients will require their important firms to be in more places, and be able to deliver more services in more practice areas. So inevitably, to respond, we will have to build out our platform. Most firms realize that, and we have certainly made that commitment.

CA: What is the split between contentious and non-contentious work like?

PK: I would say that it is roughly 50/50 – a little bit less than 50% of the firm's work is in the contested proceedings or litigation areas. On a combined basis between traditional corporate practice and the other transactional practices in finance and real estate, there's about 50% there. Lobbying, government relations and IP can be both transactional and litigation, and there's a combined 10% in those two.

CA: How would you define the firm's character or culture?

PK: I had the opportunity to talk with our new associate class at our retreat this fall. It's an important topic to talk about. I highlighted to them what keeps us in a good position and helps make us a favorable destination in terms of culture: we have a high degree of teamwork and collaboration, alongside a culture of hard work. It requires a high level of integrity and ethical standards. We're collegial; we treat each other with mutual respect. It's very important to us, and it's those elements that I think help us be an enjoyable place to work.

CA: What was the firm like when you joined and how has it changed?

PK: I think it embodied many of those same elements – I don't think it's changed too dramatically. Because of changes in the profession and the way that the business climate has evolved, we operate more and more as a business; at times we're treated as venders. By consequence, there's a strain on the ability to retain our culture, and deliver results at the same time. It's more imperative that people are committed to hard work, but that hasn't impacted the ability to be nice to people and treat people with respect. I think law firms have had to become quicker-acting and make decisions on a more real-time basis. That said, I don't think it has negatively affected the culture of our firm, and I think that's something that we very much value preserving.

CA: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

PK: Pursue the profession with passion and look for an area of law that you find challenging and enjoyable, as opposed to what you think is going to be the next hot practice to be involved in. If you're not cut out for it, you won't enjoy it, and if you don't enjoy it, you won't last. Look for an area that challenges you and gets you stimulated.

CA: Do you have anything else to add?

PK: We're optimistic about the continued relevance and importance of the legal profession. There are some negative connotations surrounding the future of practicing law that have seeped into the popular mind, and there's some pessimism about whether pursuing the law is a rewarding endeavor. It's challenging at times, but I don't think it's ever been as important in our recent past as it is now, to have the best and brightest promoting the rule of law. I think it's going to be turbulent times ahead, but also important and interesting times to be engaged in the legal realm. I would encourage students to embrace that. When things are challenging, we as lawyers have a special responsibility to promote what's right, what needs to be done, and to protect our clients. 

Interview with hiring partner Lisa Brown



Chambers Associate: Firstly, how do you pre-screen those who have bid on your firm?

Lisa Brown: We will look carefully at the candidate's resume for items that bode well for those who join us. Things like work history, participation in journals, mock trials, or moot court are key. We also look for leadership positions in student organizations. The quality of law school and undergrad schools do also matter, and a strong academic performance at any institution is a plus. If a candidate is active in their school and community, this often suggests that the candidate will be able to develop good client and business skills. There's no grade cut-off per se, but we do like to see a strong academic performance.

CA: Roughly how many associates do you take on each year? What is the distribution like between the offices?

LB: We hired 16 entry-level associates in 2017 and have 11 joining us in 2018.  All but one of these hires were with us as summer associates.  Chicago, Detroit, San Antonio and Bloomfield Hills have the highest number of new associates, but we will be adding people also in Los Angeles and other Michigan offices this year.

We are in the midst of recruiting first-year students for the summer program via our diversity efforts and expect we'll pick up two to three additional students for this summer.  I think that was a similar mix to last year.  We had 18 2Ls last year, spread across our offices. Typically Detroit will have the most in Michigan, followed by Bloomfield Hills. San Antonio and Chicago will round out the total as two of our largest offices.

CA: What's the scope of your recruiting drive?

LB: We go to a lot of local schools around our offices, but also see national schools. This year we went to 13 schools, and two job fairs. We also take write-in candidates. We also look for 1L candidates and we'll do that through diversity scholarships and local Bar association programs, which have worked well for us in the past.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

LB: Dykema has its own diversity scholarship for first-year students. It's done at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan at the moment. It includes the opportunity to work for the firm over summer after the first year in law school. We pay a portion of the law school fees too.

Our recruiting committee itself is very diverse, which is important to us. We have a firm-wide approach to recruiting and make sure our lawyers are properly represented from offices, practice areas, and from a diversity standpoint.

CA: What questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?

LB: We ask very open-ended questions, designed to get the candidates talking. For many questions we'll ask about an example, such as 'what was your most challenging aspect of law school or at your summer position and why?' There's no canned response, but it lets candidates demonstrate the characteristics we're looking for, such as teamwork and analytical skills. We also ask about projects or articles candidates are writing to see if they can articulate a description of legal issues. We like to see how candidates make decisions and how they've solved previous problems. We look for whether they show intellectual initiative and appropriate self-confidence.

CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?

LB: Candidates who display that 'fire in the belly' really stand out. We like to see candidates who exude enthusiasm, crave responsibility, and are up for a challenge. Dykema also strives to maintain a collegial environment, so we put high value on respect, hard work, and teamwork. If a candidate is able to provide examples of those qualities, that can make them stand out. Also candidates who are proactive in an interview and ask thoughtful, detailed questions and who demonstrate interest in the  firm stand out as well.

CA: What can students do now to increase their chances of impressing in their application and at interview?

LB: The best thing I think you can do in your 1L summer is take a position in some sort of legal field. It doesn't necessarily have to be a law firm – clerking for a judge is great too, or working for organizations where you're demonstrating legal skills. If you know what office you're interested in, it's great if you have a connection to that particular area in your 1L summer too.

CA: Can you briefly outline your summer program?

LB: We've had really great reviews about our summer program: we have a centralized work system to help organize things and make sure folks are getting the appropriate amount of work. We want you to have a full plate, but have the ability to participate in social activities. We want you to get to know the lawyers you're working with. We do a retreat where all offices get together for a couple of days. It's fun and informative, with lots of substance and content covered about the firm. We offer a lot of training over the summer, both internally through attorneys talking to summers, as well as using outside organizations. For instance, we have a fantastic writing coach who comes in – it's a really wonderful program. The retreat is great for having an atmosphere of collegiality – it's beneficial, for instance, for summers in Texas to meet summers in Michigan.

Another thing that distinguishes Dykema is that over the summer, candidates will do a lot of hard work for clients and sample different practice groups across the firm’s offices. We emphasize working with colleagues in other offices as we're organized within practice groups. If you're in Michigan, you might be working with a lawyer in Chicago on a project. It's a great way to get to know people across the firm.

More on Dykema's social life



The associate committees often handle the social side of things. “They usually organize one major outing every other month or so. Sometimes they plan events that bring the associates in different local offices together.” When this happens, the firm “pays for the attorneys coming from other offices to get a cab home or a hotel for the night.” Outside of the semi-regular happy hours, the summer period brings with it the most exciting outings: previous excursions have included museum trips, kayaking adventures, escape room challenges and indoor skydives.

Dykema Gossett PLLC

400 Renaissance Center,
Detroit,
MI 48243
Website www.dykema.com

  • Head Office: Detroit, MI
  • Number of domestic offices: 13
  • Worldwide revenue: $212,000,000
  • Partners (US): 276
  • Associates (US): 141
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Sarah K Staup (sstaup@dykema.com)
  • Hiring partner: Lisa A Brown
  • Diversity officer: Sherrie L Farrell
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 11
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 3-4; 2Ls: 16
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Chicago 4; Dallas 2; Detroit 5; Bloomfield Hills 2; Grand Rapids 1; Lansing 2; Ann Arbor 1; San Antonio 2-3
  • Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $ 2,300-2,900 2Ls: $ 2,300-2,900
  • Split summers offered? No

Main areas of work



  Dykema provides counsel to business entities worldwide on a wide range of business issues. Our practices include business, commercial, financial services, product liability and appellate litigation; automotive; corporate finance; energy; real estate; dental; government policy; IP and IP litigation; bankruptcy; labor and employment; health care; tax; environmental and insurance.

Firm profile



  With nearly 400 attorneys and professionals in 13 offices across the country, Dykema delivers the highest quality counsel and exceptional client service from a work environment that thrives on collaboration, diversity and inclusion. Associates have autonomy and are given responsibility and client access early. Dykema provides an extensive professional development program including abundant legal skills and business development training. Given the firm’s culture of collegiality and teamwork, many have made Dykema their home since the start of their careers.

Recruitment



 Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
Baylor, Detroit Mercy, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, OSU, St. Mary’s, Southern Methodist (SMU), Texas Tech, U of T–Austin, Wayne State

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Dykema has a long tradition of hiring from schools outside OCIs. Our current firm-wide hiring partner was such a candidate. We also attend job fairs for diversity and geographic outreach.

Summer associate profile:
A successful summer associate shows initiative, excellent analytical skills and strong writing ability. We look for associates who are willing to work hard, have demonstrated leadership potential and enjoy working in a team environment. We urge our associates to take advantage of all the firm offers to help them learn our practice and our culture. Advisors, practice area activities, professional development training and social events combine to accomplish this goal.

Summer program components:
Dykema’s summer program offers challenging assignments and a real life law practice experience with opportunities to participate in client, court and other formal settings. A firm-wide summer retreat is held in early June. A key component is a writing workshop with a professional writing instructor. This retreat, along with our advisor program, training, substantive practice experience, and social events have greatly contributed to the success of Dykema’s summer program.

Social media



 Linkedin: dykema-gossett-pllc
Twitter: @dykema
Facebook: DykemaGossett1

This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts Recognised Practitioner