Gibbons is a huge legal brand in New Jersey that welcomes judicial clerks.
FOUNDED in Newark in 1926, Gibbons has spent the best part of a century on its feet honing its advocacy prowess for clients across a multitude of different sectors. Almost all juniors at this litigation hothouse are based in the Newark HQ, though at the time of our calls there was a lone junior associate in Trenton too. Further afield, the Jersey stalwart's network extends out of state to offices in New York, Wilmington and Philadelphia. Across its network, Gibbons' big earner remains its top-ranked litigation team, but Chambers USA also recognizes other practices including corporate/M&A, IP, healthcare, real estate, and bankruptcy.
As a PC [professional corporation] rather than an LLP, Gibbons' partners are referred to as 'directors', though all the associates we spoke to called them partners anyway. The firm's litigious “pedigree” has helped it to develop and attract a garrison of directors that includes some of the Garden State's finest litigators. Take James Zazzali, who formerly served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Or Edwin Stern, who is acting justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court. All in all “if you're studying law in New Jersey – hell, even if you're not – you can't miss Gibbons!”
At the time of our calls most juniors were in the large business & commercial litigation (BCL) group; a couple were in product liability; and there was one apiece in criminal defense, employment & labor law, and government affairs. Other options in past years have included corporate, financial restructuring & creditors' rights, IP, and real property & environmental law. All incoming associates are assigned a staffing partner to help them manage their workload. “Each department has a dedicated attorney,” but “after a few months they act as more of a safety net. Once you've established a few relationships with partners, you're set.” Associates are also welcome to try out work from other departments: “It's not uncommon for people to explore another interest area based on informal conversations they've had with partners,” we heard.
“Business and commercial litigation (BCL) is the firm's largest group,” mentioned one litigator. Work here varies from class action defense in consumer protection work, to general business disputes, like breaches of contract. For first-years, “the likelihood is that you'll initially try out a bit of everything.” Gibbons' clerkship-honed juniors are rarely swamped with paperwork: “Most people land here with polished legal research and writing skills already, so it's not long until you're really getting into the nitty-gritty practical tasks. By the end of my first year I'd already taken depositions, written briefs and had lots of regular client contact.”
Over in product liability, clients include pharmaceuticals companies – of which there's a high concentration around Trenton and Newark – oil & gas, and telecommunications corporations. On big litigations, juniors had been entrusted with “research and investigation tasks,” but had also “participated in internal strategy conversations, and drafted motions.” On smaller cases, “it's very often just you and a partner, so you get first crack at everything that comes in the door! I've held several one-to-one calls with clients and general counsel, without my partner supervising.” Still, juniors did stress that “while there are lots of opportunities to pick up and run cases, partners make it known that they're there as a safety net if you need it.”
Client meetings and court trips are common in the criminal defense team, which mainly covers federal, white-collar and government investigations cases. Over in employment & labor meanwhile, rookies are straight in at the deep end. “From the very start I was attending witness interviews, discussing strategy with the supervising director, and helping devise cost-effective solutions to settle claims,” we heard.
Gibbons has around 210 attorneys firmwide, with the vast majority of associates based in Newark. “Newark gets a bad rep, but it's come a long way even since I was at law school,” we were told. “There's a tremendous amount of opportunity appearing, and tons of companies are getting in on it. There are a lot of start-up accelerators, and we've even got a Whole Foods now!”
As for the office itself, “we're well positioned to take advantage of this uptick, as our office is attached to Penn Station – a major transportation artery.” The firm's proximity to Seton Hall and Rutgers “makes us feel like we're part of a network of excellence,” particularly as “we do a lot of events with them.”
Gibbons' other offices are much smaller than Newark's: New York, with just over 30 attorneys, and Philly (with around 15) have a similar spread of departments; Trenton handles a lot of lobbying and other government-related work; and the Delaware office focuses on bankruptcy.
Training & Development
Fresh starters are automatically enrolled into The Gibbons Academy, which delivers monthly presentations to help juniors flesh out their on-the-job learning, while also bagging their CLE requirements. “It's great that we can do that on-site,” said one. “It saves a lot of trekking about!” Past talks have included 'Corporate governance 101' and 'Protecting your license from litigation landmines.'
There's also an annual review process. “The feedback you receive isn't tied into whether or not you've made hours; it's more about the quality of your work.” In most departments juniors submit a self-evaluation, and further feedback is provided by any partners they've spent over 50 hours working with. “A neutral partner then puts together a comprehensive evaluation measured against certain key competencies, such as writing or interpersonal skills. It helps you to target in on certain areas in the year ahead.”
St. Patrick's Day is a big deal at Gibbons. “Last year the firm put on a big spread, and there were games too. We're mostly litigators here so the limerick contest was pretty competitive!” The firm also marked its 90th anniversary in 2016. “A big birthday party was thrown and all of the other offices turned up,” said one Newark local. “But on a day-to-day basis I wouldn't wouldn't say Gibbons is a super social place. There certainly isn't a regimented party plan you have to adhere to.”
Informal socializing is far more common, and “it's really easy to making friends and connections here. I've done that with a few partners, and they all seem really keen to pull me along in their endeavors. That could mean the opportunity to write an article with them, or to accompany them to trade events and interact with lawyers at other firms. I've had so many opportunities come from informal streams that have helped deepen and broaden my industry knowledge.”
There are also a number of social events put on at an early stage to facilitate these interactions. “The welcome reception for the new associate class was the one I found most beneficial,” another junior recounted. “It lay the foundations for future relationships with colleagues more senior to me, and from different practice groups.”
“Gibbons has made real efforts to invest in pipeline diversity schemes,” associates agreed. Since 2008 the firm has worked alongside the New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project, running week-long work placements for young urban students. It also offers internships to upcoming minority scholars, as part of the United States Higher Achievement and Advancement Foundation Fellowship.
Attorneys can also attend “regular” presentations on diversity issues, provided by Gibbons' Diversity Initiative Program. Consequently “there's a lot of positive sentiment about diversity and equality at the firm, particularly for female attorneys.” Family life seems particularly well-supported: after parental leave, attorneys have the option to return on a 60% basis, and after a year they can remain on an 80% schedule for as long as they need.
Associates can count 50 hours of pro bono toward their billable target. “It's not necessarily a requirement,” pointed out one caller, “but it's certainly highly encouraged. It's a litigation-heavy firm so pretty much everyone surpasses that mark. As a young associate it's a great way to get onto a deposition, own a case, or stand on your feet.”
The firm provides pro bono support to a catalog of different organizations. Associates in the Newark office had drafted wills for first responders through the Wills for Heroes program, offered advice on child custody at a domestic violence clinic, and helped push asylum applications for undocumented children from South and Central America.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 13,109
- Average per attorney: 70
Hours & Compensation
Though associates' billable target is set at 1,980 hours, “it's not necessarily a strict requirement. I won't hit my target this year, but the firm has explained that as long as I fill my time with other activities – writing, doing research for partners, participating in business events or pro bono – this shouldn't be an issue.”
Few interviewees regularly worked later than 7pm, with most clocking off at 6.30pm at the latest. “The nature of litigation means that this can fluctuate,” but the latest night we heard of ended at around 10.30 pm. During these periods “you're welcome to tailor your schedule to fit with your life outside of work. If you've got kids you can get home for dinner, and then put in a few hours remotely in the evening if you need to. That balance is encouraged.”
Strategy & Future
Associates tipped the lobbying-focused Trenton office as one to watch over the coming years. “The firm is really looking to grow in the political sphere, particularly when it comes to working with lobbyists. Our goal is to expand that offering beyond New Jersey to become a national presence in the field.”
Managing partner Patrick Dunican confirms that “for the past nine years Gibbons has been named the top lawyer-lobbying firm in New Jersey. We have long-established relationships with elected politicians and policy makers and are known for producing the state's best work in the political field. We believe the next step will be to expand our reach to Washington, DC. This isn't a new aspiration – we have many long-standing relationships with members of the US House of Representatives and Senate – but now we're actually putting the wheels in motion and setting up in DC. We've been actively exploring opportunities for about six months, and expect to have an office open within another six.”
Applying to Gibbons is similar to bagging a clerkship: you send off your resume, references and writing samples then wait for a phone call. The next stage is an interview with a partner and senior associate, which “is a good opportunity to emphasize your soft skills. Be relaxed and engaging, and mention the aspects of the firm's work that interest you.” Offers are extended a month or so later, and “you'll find out your practice area about a fortnight before starting.”
It's important to realize that “once you've bagged an interview you can rest assured your academic record is up to scratch.” Juniors revealed that “the firm is very vocal in its desire to hire nice people. The environment here isn't full of shark-type personalities, and although the legal sector doesn't have a great rep for attracting nice people, Gibbons is full of them. It's a collegial place and a welcoming environment. We're looking for people that fit that mold.”
It's also important to have a few anecdotes banked that show your ability to work hard. “The firm does great work and there will be times when the hours are long. We need people who can rise to that challenge whilst maintaining attention to detail. People are proud to work here, and when a piece of work is sent out they are proud to put their name on it. Gibbons has built its reputation by providing legal services of the highest quality. We all work hard to maintain that reputation.”
Gibbons' top bananas
Gibbons' status as one of New Jersey's litigation stalwarts has helped the firm to develop and attract some of the Garden State's finest litigators. Here's a little more about some of the firm's top hotshots, past and present.
When we asked about Gibbons most revered practitioners, one of the first names on juniors' lips was Lifelong Jersey resident Judge John J. Gibbons (who the firm is named after today). Gibbons began his career here in 1950 and returned in 1990 following a stint as Chief Judge of the Third Circuit. Sources also directed us to career of James Zazzali, a director at the firm who formerly served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. As acting justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court, Edwin Stern is another firm director who trainees were keen to mention. So was David Marston, who besides founding Gibbons' Philadelphia office, was once appointed by President Gerald Ford to serve as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Over the past year this big-name magnetism has shown no sign of slowing down. In June 2016 business & commercial litigation directors William Frey and Robert MacPherson were two of 25 lawyers chosen by the by the American Arbitration Association to sit on its Master Mediator Panel for construction cases in the Northeast, and in July, Natalie Mantell – a director in the products liability team – became president-elect of the New Jersey Defense Association. Gibbons also snapped up Steven Sanders in September 2016, who served for ten years as deputy chief of the Appeals Division in the US Attorney’s Office for New Jersey. With white collar, appellate, and complex commercial litigation expertise, Stevens' installation “will help reinforce and grow our criminal defense offering,” juniors enthused.
One Gateway Center,
- Head Office: Newark, NJ
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 140
- Associates (US): 65
Main areas of work
The firm’s main areas of practice include business and commercial litigation, corporate, criminal defense, employment and labor law, financial restructuring and creditors’ rights, government affairs, intellectual property, products liability and real property and environmental.
With more than 200 attorneys, Gibbons is a leading law firm in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, ranked among the nation’s top 200 firms by American Lawyer. Gibbons is one of only 20 law firms nationwide to be named to the National Law Journal’s inaugural “Midsize Hot List”, which recognized firms with fewer than 300 lawyers that have found innovative ways to position themselves and demonstrated creativity and success in recruiting and retaining top talent, developing practice areas, managing operations and generally navigating the economic downturn more effectively than did many larger firms. A 2009 winner of the prestigious Catalyst Award for its innovative Women’s Initiative, Gibbons is ranked one of the top 50 firms nationwide for working women by Working Mother magazine. The firm has also been recognized among the Best Places to Work in America by the Society for Human Resource Management and Great Place to Work Institute, as well as in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania by NJBIZ, Crain’s New York Business, Philadelphia Business Journal, and Central Penn Business Journal. Gibbons maintains offices in Newark, New Jersey; New York, New York; Trenton, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Delaware.
• Number of 1st year associates: 0
• Number of 2nd year associates: 9
• Associate salaries: 1st year: N/A
• 2nd year: $135,000 + clerkship bonus
• Clerking policy: Yes
Summer associate profile:
Since eliminating the firm’s Summer Associate Program in 2003, Gibbons has focused on hiring new associates who have completed a judicial clerkship. Fully 70 percent of the attorneys in the Business and Commercial Litigation Department served for federal or state judges. These attorneys provide first-hand insight into the preferences and practices of federal and state judges, in addition to a well-developed knowledge of the inner workings of the courts, adding value for the firm’s clients.