New Jersey stalwart Gibbons goes ape for judicial clerks who can hit the ground running.
JUST as fellow NJ native Bruce Springsteen said, you can't start a fire without a spark, and Gibbons' incoming litigators can't get hired without a clerk(ship). Yes, Gibbons is notable for recruiting seasoned judicial clerks into its litigation department. Hiring partner Peter Torcicollo tells us: “It's beneficial to the firm in a couple of ways. First, our clerks join us having already forged really strong bonds with judges and staff – they've got the keys to the courthouse! Second, and importantly, they come to us with an extra year of development on their path to becoming fully-realized attorneys.”
“They've got the keys to the courthouse!”
Our associate interviewees told us that their clerkships “were helpful in that they teach you how to conduct research efficiently and how to write as clearly as possible.” Armed with their newly acquired skills, juniors sought “a higher caliber of firm” and found exactly what they were looking for in Gibbons. “As a result of the clerkship model, they put immediate trust into associates. I was never doubted – during my first week here I was asked 'well, what do you think?'”
These eager newcomers flagged Gibbons' superb reputation for litigation work across a number of areas: Chambers USA bestows high rankings on the firm's general commercial, product liability and white-collar/government investigations expertise in particular. Yet it's not all dramatic courtroom showdowns at Gibbons: the firm also boasts noncontentious expertise in its corporate, employment, IP, real estate and government affairs practices. And while most juniors join Gibbons Newark HQ, a few each year can be found in the firm's other domestic offices, in Trenton, New York, Philadelphia and Wilmington.
Of the nine second and third-year junior associates on our list, five were in Gibbons' commercial and criminal litigation (CCL) group, while the rest were split between government affairs, employment & labor law, real property, environmental, and intellectual property. Despite being allocated to a certain group, associates are nonetheless free to sample work from other departments if they'd like to. Each practice group has an appointed 'manager' who oversees staffing: “You call them and let them know if you need any work, but as you progress at the firm partners will just come back to you and give you follow-on work. The partners are very accessible here – there's no fear of talking to them!”
“CCL is a 'jack of all trades' practice group,” associates told us. “Matters here run the gamut: I've worked on environmental, breach of contract, corporate, criminal, IT, construction and pharmaceutical cases.” It's safe to say that “there's always something new and interesting to learn about – you might be dealing with a dairy company one day, a fast food company the next, and a healthcare company the next.”
“...as I demonstrated what I could do my responsibility grew.”
So what do CCL juniors get up to? “My daily tasks include overseeing the discovery process and keeping the partner looped in on that, as well as drafting motions – the writing element has been intensive,” said one junior. Others agreed, and told of “drafting third party complaints and counterclaims,” as well as helping to prepare witnesses and taking depositions: “In my first year here I took depositions, and as I demonstrated what I could do my responsibility grew – now I'm making important decisions in cases on my own.”
Then there are the smaller groups. Gibbons' IP group covers litigation, patent prosecution and transactional work, and draws in clients from the pharma, tech, retail and leisure industries. The criminal defense group covers the likes of internal investigations and appellate cases, while real estate attorneys deal exclusively with commercial matters across three areas: environmental, land use and development, and transactional. An associate in one of these practices commented: “My group is small enough to allow me autonomy on many matters. I have direct client contact on a regular basis, and this week my boss said 'I think you should do the whole case' – he saw that I was running with it and doing well.”
Gibbons allows its attorneys to count 50 hours of pro bono toward the firm's billing target. However, associates found they had plenty of encouragement to do more: “The firm really impresses on us when we first join how important pro bono is – we're really expected to do at least 50 hours.” Juniors highlighted Gibbons' involvement in the Partners for Women and Justice program, which “assists low income and abused women through matters like restraining orders and child custody cases – it's extremely rewarding and the firm really encourages it.” Other sources had taken on prisoner civil rights cases and volunteered at the firm's clinics devoted to “expungement issues andsmall crimes – we take on matters and solve them there and then if we can.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 14,960
- Average per attorney: 81
Training & Feedback
A week-long orientation program welcomes juniors to the firm. “It gives you varied training on the computer and billing systems, certain polices, and the pro bono program.” From then on “the backbone of continuing legal education” is The Gibbons Academy, which hosts monthly training sessions for newcomers. “They get internal experts from various fields to deliver the courses, and sometimes they bring in external educators too.” The annual review process involves a designated attorney “collecting all the feedback submitted by the partners you've worked for. You then sit with them and another attorney of your choosing to discuss it. It's a beneficial process that gives you an idea of how the firm thinks you're doing.”
New starters at the firm share an office with a more experienced associate, “so you have that person there to ask really dumb questions and to get some informal training from.” This arrangement can also have social benefits: one junior told us their office mate “invited me to social events and connected me to other attorneys, so I didn't get isolated.” Eventually juniors get their own office, “but it's not clear how long it will take for that to happen. As nice as it is to make friends, it's much nicer to have your own office!”
“Newark isn't the thriving metropolis Manhattan is,” one junior sighed, “but it's nice to be here and know that you're in Gibbons' hub.” Associates were also keen to point out that the office is “linked to Newark Penn station by an overhead walkway,” making for speedy access to the bright lights of New York City (FYI: associates can get to the New York office without even having to step outside, as Gibbons' Big Apple base is perched directly above New York Penn station). On the whole, juniors wouldn't “characterize Gibbons' office space as architecturally remarkable, but it more than satisfies what you'd expect from a professional workspace!”
Juniors told us of a “fairly formal” surface to life at Gibbons: “There's a formal dress code – always suit and tie – for example, and also a formalized process for getting work as a new associate, which generally involves being called in to see the practice head, who then puts you in touch with a partner who needs you. It's a very professional place.” However, beneath this surface “it's not so stuffy – people are for the most part approachable and a pleasure to be around. I basically like everyone I work with!” Others flagged that “you wouldn't describe Gibbons as a place that hosts regular social events during the days and evenings.” There's “a bit of a disconnect between the groups, and people tend to mostly stick with their own.” The result is that the Newark office is “very quiet and very focused – we all know what needs to be done, and everybody wants to do well.”
“It's a very professional place.”
This doesn't mean that Gibbons' attorneys don't know how to slide into social mode at the appropriate time. We were told of annual inter-office events, including March Madness get-togethers and a full week of celebrations surrounding St. Patrick's Day: “There was a limerick contest and lots of other little activities that each office puts on.” In addition, we heard of summer barbecues and an Independence Day celebration.
“It's not incredibly diverse,” sources told us, “and we could hire more candidates of color in particular, but overall there's definitely an effort in the office to increase diversity.” Among those efforts is the firm's participation in the New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project: “Over the summer we have local kids come in to do placements. We're making an effort to start earlier, to go into schools and get kids interested in the law.” Gibbons' Women's Initiative (which recently celebrated its 20th birthday) was also mentioned, as “it looks at programming networking events and mentoring lunches: they have a dedicated interest in making sure female associates do well at the firm.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates aim to meet a 1,980 hours billing target, and reiterated to us that “there's no unspoken rule that you have to meet this, which removes some stress – if you're not going to hit your billables they'll make sure you're not just sat around doing nothing and staff you on pro bono matters.” Salaries start at $135,000, which was deemed “a decent amount for New Jersey – it's not as high as what you'd get in New York, but we don't have those insane expectations around billable hours. There's a tradeoff and it's worth it.” Bonuses are discretionary at Gibbons and aren't just tied to hours – “they also take into account your pro bono work and whether you've been a good corporate citizen.”
Most interviewees preferred getting into the office early (before 9am) and would leave by 6.30pm. “After that, you'll probably be the only person left on the floor.” Some associates do “plug back in at home: sometimes I’ll work for hours in the evening and sometimes I won't work at all – with litigation you go with the flow of the case.” The nature of litigation was, however, described as “fairly reliable – cases have schedules so you can predict when you'll be busy.”
Strategy & Future
This junior mirrored many when they said: “I would like some more transparency from the firm about its plans. There's no sense that the sky is falling, and I'm not overly aggravated by not knowing more, but I want to feed my own curiosity!” Chairman and managing director Patrick Dunican Jr. tells us that juniors have a lot to look forward to: “Over the next twelve months, I expect that Gibbons will continue to provide the tools our attorneys need to develop and advance professionally. We have high expectations for client service, skills enhancement, billable hours, pro bono commitment, and business development, but our more seasoned attorneys lead by example. Our newer attorneys can also rely on innovative platforms for leadership training, continuing legal education, and mentoring to help them advance their careers to partnership and beyond. In terms of results, we now have numerous non-equity partners with books of business of at least $1 million, and, in 2018, we plan to make several equity partners.”
So what kind of person is an ideal fit for Gibbons? “We're not overly academic, but we do hire very smart, nice and sociable people,” one junior told us.Another commented that “there are a lot of really good litigators out there that are very aggressive, but Gibbons manages to recruit strong personalities that aren't overbearing. In addition, being able to like the people you're working with is key to making Gibbons feel like a family.”
The interview process definitely allows both candidate and firm to make an informed decision: “The whole interview lasted for three hours, with an hour and a half allotted for each round. During those interviews, maybe five to ten minutes was about the legal profession.” This junior made the point that “a lot of people think the interview process consists of a one-sided desk, where they just ask you questions. That's not how we do it – it's truly a conversation.”
We asked hiring partner Peter Torcicollo for his view on what Gibbons is looking for: “I'll start with the obvious. We're looking for someone who looks good on paper – good grades, good law school. We are looking for the candidates from the top of their classes – the top 5-10%. It's not uncommon for us to be interviewing people who graduated first or second in their class. The next thing we look for is a meaningful clerkship; we're looking to hire clerks with experience in the jurisdictions in which we have offices. We also place high value on Federal and Supreme Court experience. These are the obvious credentials that get a candidate in the door."
Beyond that, “there are the intangible factors,” Torcicollo continues. “I'm looking for someone who I can connect with during the course of the interview. So much of what we do as lawyers comes down to making an interpersonal connection with another human being. My job is to be the gatekeeper when it comes to recruiting new associates: I need to make sure that they can make that connection with my colleagues, that they can be in a meeting with senior members of the firm and impress those people. I need people who are good objectively, with good references, but also those who have that skill in their tool belt that enables them to connect.
“That's really important,” Torcicollo emphasizes. “I'm looking for 'dynamic' personalities, which, when I walk out of the interview, make me think 'yeah, that's a Gibbons lawyer.' We pride ourselves from a cultural standpoint on having the type of attorney that makes you want to get to know them better and better as we work together – what makes them tick, their family lives, what they do in their spare time etc… We work hard, make no mistake, but we do so in a way that places extremely high value on family and commitment to family. That's just the way we are and have always been. It's great to watch younger attorneys grow and their families grow – we're seeing them develop personally and professionally. Everyone has their own story and we're mindful of that. If you can demonstrate excellence in your work while allowing people to be people, you can't do any better than that!"
One Gateway Center,
- Head Office: Newark, NJ
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $99,397,000
- Partners (US): 139
- Associates (US): 61
- Main recruitment contacts and hiring partners: Debra A. Clifford (email@example.com), Damian V. Santomauro (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Diversity officer: Robert Johnson
- Recruitment details
- Clerking policy: Yes
Main areas of work
Gibbons currently focuses its entry-level recruiting efforts exclusively on judicial law clerks for all of the firm’s five offices.
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 commercial and criminal 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Litigation: Products Liability (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)