Dykema has enviable vintage in Motor City but is also revving up its reputation a long drive away in all directions.
MUCH like fellow Michigan native Madonna, Dykema just gets better with age. While the largest office is now San Antonio, the double Michigan offering in Detroit and Bloomfield Hills reminds attorneys of their roots. Against the backdrop of a ravaged auto industry, 2008 to 2014 was also particularly hard on the city, which famously filed for bankruptcy. But Motown is getting its mojo back, and Dykema associates were especially keen to be part of the rejuvenation, citing it as one of the reasons they were drawn to the firm in the first place. “There's a lot going on and there's a lot of regeneration in property. This was specifically why I wanted to work in real estate at Dykema,” one told us. But it's not just real estate that earns the firm recognition. Chambers USA also awards high rankings for its Michigan-based litigation, M&A and labor & employment, and employee benefits practices. Elsewhere the firm receives accolades in Texas and Illinois. Clients include the likes of Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Bank of America.
Approximately 430 lawyers are dotted around each of Dykema's 15 domestic hubs, with a significant influx of fresh faces in Texas in the wake of the merger with San Antonio based Cox Smith. A year on chairman and CEO Peter Kellett tells us that “we've been given new vigor since the merger and we've successfully integrated. Legacy partners from Cox Smith permeate all of our management committees and we've seen real growth in cross-office and cross-client sharing work, which has been a continued focus of ours.”
When new summer associates begin their work experience, they're “encouraged to try whatever they want to try.” At the end, future associates select their three top choices and most participants were pleased to be assigned to their preferred group. No department runs a formal assignment system, instead operating a free market: “You get work organically through relationships.” Most of our sources were transactional associates. “Corporate has different sub-groups like public company, M&A, securities, finance, IP transactions and compliance, but everyone starts off as generalists,” sources explained. Many had dabbled in corporate finance. Around “40% is due diligence,” which was balanced with “drafting board resolutions, ancillary and collateral access agreements and filing the UCCs [Uniform Commercial Codes].” It's a research-heavy group: “I've had to work out what happens when the borrower is in default and if we can collect on their assets.” While most were happy with what they'd experienced, others sometimes felt the heat: “Sometimes clients refuse to have other associates work on their matters apart from you, so you're working 15 hour days.” However, “at the same time I get to work at a higher level of sophistication, so overall it's worth it.”
“I get to work at a higher level of sophistication, so overall it's worth it.”
Real estaters were happy with the spread of work and responsibility levels. “We do a load of land use and landlord/tenant work. There's a ton of leasing, especially with one client who works in the cell phone tower industry.” Tasks include “setting up easements, doing lease amendments, and the client interaction is great. You're literally talking directly to clients and responding to their emails daily.” Chicago insiders explained that the preponderance of their work comes from the commercial lease sphere with a sprinkling of real estate finance in the mix too. “Because of the market at the moment we don't do as much financing, but when we do we represent a lot of banks and lenders. Younger associates are in charge of reviewing the documents involved in the logistics of closings. This is anything from finalizing loan documents or settling statements of title when a deal is co-financed.”
Litigation houses subgroups such as class actions and product liability, commercial, business, or financial services. Associates have free reign to work across practice groups. While there are obvious benefits, some suggested “the downside is that there's no one group you can be certain of getting work from. It can be frustrating at times.” A lot of litigation comes from automotive product liability, despite the industry decline in recent years. Typical tasks in this area include “doing the grunt work creating cases summaries. But it's great because you see the case from beginning to end.” Responsibility is generally good: “Eight months in I was working closely with the director of the department and I could run my own cases. I've managed discovery, drafted discovery responses, motions and mediation statements.”
Training & Development
Training kicks off with a new associates retreat “in Detroit for several days, learning about all the firm's systems. Then we have practice group-specific trainings to learn the basics.” Chicago-based corporate newbies get treated to a “transactional bootcamp, where you have to draft deal documents and close a pretend deal with live negotiations, and you're rated on how you did.” However, most other associates had experienced the “learn as you go” approach to development. They “wished it was more formal throughout. But to be honest, I don't know how helpful that will be as you only take it on board when you physically do it.” Assigned mentors “help you think strategically about your own career. I've been given 100% of my mentor's attention, and I know how busy they are.”
Reviews occur once a year, where associates have to detail the substantive work they've done. Usually, practice group leaders and a member of the professional personnel committee take you through the conglomerated feedback from supervising attorneys. Some felt that “it's not possible to get a true reading, because there's just too many deals to mention and I know the partner won't really remember what I did.”
Hours & Compensation
Hitting the hours target of 1,950 means eligibility for a merit-based bonus, “except for first-years,” who don't get any bonus. Which was just as well, as a few of our sources revealed that “some people, especially first-years, are not even close to hitting that.” However, lawyers weren't stressed: “The expectation is that you do everything you can and if you don't meet it, don't worry. It's not unfair and they appreciate that sometimes the work isn't there.”
“We get paid fairly for the work we do.”
Starting the day at around 8.30am and leaving at “7pm ish” was standard. However, it varies between departments and as usual we heard that those in corporate should prep for the occasional all-nighter. In 2016, Dykema announced pay rises: “From what I understand, first, second and third-years got more,” thought one junior. “Where I think the problem lies is that the straight increase didn't affect mid-level associates. If I was a fourth-year, I'd be upset.” Fourth-years and above still got merit-based rises in 2016, as usual.
Up to 100 hours can count toward bonus eligibility with prior approval. However, 30 a year are compulsory. Those who fail to reach this mark have to pay $500 to a charity of their choosing. Associates were happy with this set-up: “It opens so many great opportunities. If people don’t want to do it, they just have to suck it up!” Associates had been involved in a plethora of good causes, all managed by a “full-time pro bono coordinator who emails us with all the latest matters.” These include “helping to release a person from jail who had served seven years after being wrongly convicted.” Others had “drafted Amicus briefs for a not-for-profit in Detroit. There was a big, bad, cement-crushing company building a facility next-door to a children's charity day care center. So we had to defend the not-for-profit in front of the Board of Zoning Appeals.”
“It opens so many great opportunities.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 15,776
- Average per attorney: 42
“It's something that the firm struggles with,” juniors felt. “They're conscious of it and they really try to hire diverse candidates, but right now it's not as diverse as it was when I was a summer.” However, they were quick to defend Dykema's efforts to promote diversity. Initiatives like the Wolverine Bar Association's summer clerkship program for diverse 1Ls, and diversity scholarships in partnership with the University of Michigan and University of Illinois, have done their bit to make things better. “When I look around I'm very happy compared to other places I've been to. In my class of 16, six of us are people of color, there's some LGBT attorneys and we are about 50:50 men to women.” Overall, Chicago attorneys felt the results of the diversity efforts more strongly than those in other offices. While leadership is still “pretty much Caucasian, last summer class we had no Caucasians, so it shows there's an aim to diversify the pool we hire from.”
“Even though we have all these offices now, Detroit is still officially the HQ,” insiders asserted. “Most of our committees are made up heavily with Michigan-based lawyers, so Michigan is the power center.” Some chuckled that “people call Bloomfield Hills the country club because it's just outside of Detroit, which makes it a little bit calmer and bit easier to work in.” That said, associates further afield didn't feel left out. Chicagoans stated that “we never feel like we're the step-child; we generate our own work so it's an important office.” This independence was probably helped by the fact that Illinois-based attorneys were “made up of a composition of smaller firm mergers and we've adopted some of their rules. For example, anyone can go into anyone’s offices at any time to get help. That was a rule from a previous firm.” The latest merger saw Dykema join forces with Texas firm Cox Smith in 2015. However, at associate level “we haven't really felt the effects of it across the board. But we now do a lot more cross-staffing with Texas.”
Associates all have their own offices straight away regardless of location. Michigan newbies are treated to a more traditional law firm feel with “dark wood furniture, but you can make it your own by personalizing your office and hanging up anything you want.” Those in Texas felt that “our buildings are a lot nicer, they're brighter and more modern feeling with a lot more glass.” Yet Bloomfield Hills pips them to the post with a rooftop terrace, which is the sometime setting of monthly socials.
Across all offices and practice groups, juniors agreed that “we sort of go for people that we think are going to work hard but then can go out for a beer later. It's not always the person with cream-of-the-crop grades, because you can be number one in the class and have a sucky personality.” Michigan sources acknowledged that “it's such a cliché to say people care and that it's collegial, but it's true here.” Don't be surprised if you get an invite to a colleague's wedding, in other words.
"... because you can be number one in the class and have a sucky personality.”
In the wake of the merger, associates were glad of the opportunity to get to know their new comrades. “We had our first retreat in Detroit with the Cox Smith associates. It really helped us to start working together so that it's no longer 'them' and 'us'.”
Chicago-based sources had a few qualms. “It is collegial, but we're all on separate floors. Sometimes you feel insulated from the rest of the office. Partners work across departments all the time, but we don't as much.” However, “everyone has their door open all the time so you can just walk in. Like right now I've got my door closed because I'm talking to you, and everyone is wondering why...”
Strategy & Get Hired
Chairman and CEO Peter Kellett lets us in on Dykema's future strategy: “We want to have a greater full service offering on the national platform. That's why we've grown purposefully in Texas after the merger, as well as in the Twin Cities in Minneapolis. We're not growing just for the sake of it, and we didn't just throw darts at a map to choose where we grow.” What about recruitment? Hiring partner Lisa Brown advises to “not sit back. Take advantage of every work opportunity you're given. Take ownership of them, express your ideas and prove that you're going to be a valuable member of any team. A big part of this job is going out and taking the ownership to get clients. So people with those types of skills are very attractive to us.”
"A big part of this job is going out and taking the ownership to get clients. So people with those types of skills are very attractive to us.”
Interview with chairman and CEO Peter Kellett
Chambers Associate: What have been some of the highlights at the firm over the past 12 months?
Peter Kellett: We've continued with the successful integration with Cox Smith, which has been handled well from all angles both administratively and professionally. It's because of this that we've seen real growth, we've been adding more folks so that we can continue to give new opportunities from a client servicing standpoint, as well as ensuring that we match from a cultural standpoint. So since the merger we've continued to be recognised for excellence in many of our practice areas and our pro bono commitment. We've seen particularly robust activity in the corporate M&A space as well as our transactional real estate and public finance arenas especially in Michigan. For example, we just concluded a major representation on behalf the Detroit Public School District. We found an innovative and novel way of restructuring the financing of the insolvent district. We pooled together our corporate finance and public finance folks together in this, which was great. Another key highlight was our involvement in the implementation of M-1 Detroit Light Rail. We were the lead counsel and this deal promises to add further to the transformation of quality of life in Detroit, because we are committed to making this area more attractive for young working people to live.
CA: Where do you see the firm in five years?
PK: We want to have a greater full service offering on the national platform. That's why we've grown purposefully in Texas after the merger, as well as in the Twin Cities in Minneapolis. We're not growing just for the sake of it, and we didn't just throw darts at a map to choose where we grow. We want to put ourselves in a position to continue to access top quality work and allocate resources to expand the firm. Staying put is not going to make us competitive over time. So obviously we'd want a bigger firm but we have to be smart as to where and how that happens, because we're not going to do anything that's going to put our clients in risky positions.
CA: Speaking of expansion, are there any plans to grow the firm internationally?
PK: We don't have any plans to look internationally at this time. We just haven't had a compelling reason to look overseas yet. We might consider it, but it has to make sense and tie in with who we are. At home we've been given new vigor since the merger and we've successfully integrated. Legacy partners from Cox Smith permeate all of our management committees and we've seen real growth in cross-office and cross-client sharing work, which has been a continued focus of ours.
CA: Could you tell us a little more about what the hot practices at Dykema are right now?
PK: Corporate M&A and in particular our mid market offering. Data privacy is an interesting emerging area and it's an increasing concern. You have to deal with the issues surrounding digital payment, cyber security and privacy issues in the context of data capturing. We've put on seminar activities in this area because we think it's going to be an important part of every day life. We have a robust automotive practice which we've focused a large amount of attention on. Now there are these so called 'self-driving cars'. So because we've accumulated a significant amount of knowledge in this industry, we are now dealing with the emerging regulatory needs of these products. How will they be regulated, what liability issues will play out?
CA: The firm has changed a lot over the years, do you think that it's still inherently Michigan centric?
PK: We've not had an active push to make it so. Historically, we started as a Michigan firm, so we’re still respected as a leading firm there. We have no headquarters so to speak, as our management is spread across the firm to take in a broad representation of all offices for all of our major management functions. In fact there are more people outside of Michigan than in it. At least two of our three biggest offices are outside. That's Chicago and Texas. We are proud to have Detroit and Michigan roots and we enjoy a good reputation there as it's our historic homebase, but now that is changing gradually over time. We are much bigger than purely that location, but we have greater team collaborations across all offices. The world is getting smaller, so it's less important as to where you're actually based because you can still serve your clients from wherever.
CA: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
PK: I gave some first-year law students some words of advice recently. I don't know if they were paying attention, but I think performing well early on in your first year of law school is really important, because it opens up more doors of opportunity for you. Most 2L interviews are based on first-year academic performance, so don't underestimate the importance of doing well in your first- year. In terms of elective opportunities, think about where you're interested in. If you're interested in something, you're more likely to do better in it. Pursue those interests and don't be afraid of expressing them early on, whether that's in trial advocacy or constitutional law or tax. Whatever you find most appealing. Be an initiator of thought and ideas rather than just a receiver of assignments. If you're looking down the road, take control of what you want to do, but keep thinking like a team member and shaper of legal strategy. The sooner you start to act that way, the more opportunities you'll get.
More on getting hired
Insiders told us “it's a great place to work.” Well that's all well and good, but how do you get hired. “Get involved in as many extracurriculars as you can. Law review is a must or do a mock trial. It's easier if you know your focus already so that you can take advanced courses in your third-year.” This is echoed by hiring partner Lisa Brown who tells us that “I like candidates who do extracurricular activities because it shows commitment. You have to be able to describe situations where you've actually been able to lead others or work as a team, so get that experience. Apart from good writing skills and analytic capabilities, the people that stand out are the proactive ones, the ones with fire in their bellies.”
Chairman and CEO Peter Kellett, adds that “every firm you talk to will tell you that you need to do well in law school, but we go beyond that. We want people who take the initiative, who are enthusiastic. Obviously academic performance is important, but show us that you can collaborate and work well with your colleagues.” That ethos of collaboration and inclusivity filters through into Dykema's hiring pool outreach as well. Typically OCIs take place at schools near each office location. So that means a lot of people are plucked from Michigan, Chicago, Texas and California Universities. However, the firm does try to incorporate a bit of flexibility and differentiation. Lisa Brown assures us that the firm is doing what it can to enrich and diversify their candidate intake. “We are always looking for diverse candidates. So we have several institutional programs that help us to do this. For several years, we have offered a program in partnership with the Universities of Michigan and Illinois, where we pay a proportion of the candidate's tuition and give them the opportunity to work with us in the summer of their second year at law school. We also work in partnership with the Wolverine Bar Association, which allows 1Ls to come in and work with us too.”
Dykema Gossett PLLC
400 Renaissance Center,
- Head Office: Detroit, MI
- Number of domestic offices: 14
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 276
- Associates (US): 141
- Summer Salary 2017
- 2Ls: $1,900-$2,700/week
- 1Ls hired? Occasionally
- Split summers offered? In Texas
- Summers 2017: 32
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 14 offers, 8 acceptances
Main areas of work
Dykema provides legal counsel to clients ranging from Fortune 500 corporations and middle-market businesses, to financial institutions, governmental entities and nonprofits. Our practices include antitrust; appellate; automotive; banking; bankruptcy; class action; lending; litigation; construction; corporate; e-discovery; education; employee benefits and executive compensation; energy; environmental; estates and trusts; gaming; government policy; government investigations and compliance; healthcare; immigration; intellectual property and IP litigation; infrastructure; insurance; privacy, data security and e-commerce; private equity, venture capital and mezzanine finance; labor and employment; life sciences; mergers and acquisitions; product liability; public finance; real estate; securities and taxation.
With more than a century of experience and nearly 500 attorneys and other professionals, Dykema is one of the top law firms for business in the United States. Serving clients from our 14 offices in California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, DC, we help clients address their most complex and sophisticated issues. We provide the highest quality legal counsel and exceptional client service from a work environment that thrives on cooperation, diversity and inclusion. Many of our attorneys and staff have made Dykema their home since the start of their careers. We consider this to be the highest compliment and one of the reasons for our ongoing success.
• Number of 1st year associates: 8
• Number of 2nd year associates: 18
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $120,000-$150,000 (depending on office)
• 2nd year: Not lock step
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Baylor, Detroit-Mercy, Illinois, Michigan, MSU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, OSU, St.Mary’s, Texas Tech, Uof T - Austin, Southern Methodist (SMU), Wayne State
Summer associate profile:
A successful summer associate candidate will show 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.
Summer program components:
Dykema’s summer associate program offers challenging assignments and a real life law practice experience with opportunities to participate in client, court and other formal settings. We integrate our summer associates into the firm via practice area and professional development activities, including a writing workshop with a professional writing instructor. We host social activities for summer associates to become better acquainted with us and our culture. We also provide summer associates with a senior and junior advisor. These advisors, together with our training, social activities and the substantive practice experience, have greatly contributed to the success of Dykema’s summer program.