A waterfront view and harbor-side deck: Boston's Goulston & Storrs is a prime location for real estate-hungry associates.
PREMIER real estate firm Goulston & Storrs has nabbed itself some first-class Boston real estate with its harbor-side offices situated in a retrofitted warehouse. Goulston is one of three firms that have dominated the real estate landscape in Boston for over a decade (the other two are DLA Piper and Goodwin Procter). “It feels like we've had a hand in most of the buildings in Massachusetts,” one associate reckoned. “Anytime I mention visiting a theater or restaurant, someone says 'we did the permitting on that!'”
Real estate may be Goulston's best-known asset but the firm is also noted by Chambers USA for its banking & finance, bankruptcy & restructuring, environment, and general commercial litigation work in Massachusetts. The 160-strong Boston office serves as Goulston's HQ, but outside of its hometown Goulston has offices in Beijing, New York and DC. New York predominantly handles commercial real estate, construction and development, retail and corporate finance matters. Meanwhile DC, which also gets a nod from Chambers USA for real estate work, tackles all things real estate including historic preservation and military housing privatization.
Real estate absorbs nearly all of Goulston's six or so annual new first-years, though the odd junior may sign up with another area like litigation, corporate or private client & trust. Each department has two work allocators who oversee the distribution of work, although we heard the system tends to be used less in smaller groups. Those teams that utilize allocators see associates fill out a roster every two weeks to “provide updates on the projects you're doing but what tasks you're doing within them, so allocators know what experiences you're getting.” Sources reckoned the system “works really well to ensure everyone gets a variety of work and has enough room on their plate.” Juniors can request repeat projects through the system, meaning “you don't have the pressure of hunting for things but at the same time there is flexibility to work with particular partners if you want to.” Speaking of partners: as they outnumber associates by roughly two to one, juniors in all groups “end up working directly with partners on basically everything.”
“You don't have the pressure of hunting for work.”
Transactions, financing, and permit & development matters make up the lion's share of Goulston's real estate work. Juniors are encouraged to gain “a high level of competency in all three areas” before specializing later in their career. Permit & development work (aka zoning) encompasses “large-scale commercial and mixed-use development projects both inside and outside Boston. We guide our clients” – local and national real estate developers and investors – “from the initial process of securing the land all the way through to helping them to secure city, state or federal approval on a building permit.” Research projects on land plots, drafting contracts and initial filings, and preparing clients for and attending community agency meetings all fill the days of juniors here. “I got to meet with city officials and attended hearings designed to promote projects and persuade officials to approve them,” recalled one source.
On the transactional side juniors “tend to work on leases and property acquisitions and sales” for both residential and commercial developments. “I've tackled everything from the initial drafting of purchase agreements to negotiating the exhibits, maintaining the checklist and taking care of closing,” one source outlined. Other interviewees had conducted due diligence and reviewed land surveys and title deeds. Goulston's financing attorneys predominantly represent developers, though you may find the odd lender here. Tasks are similar to those working on acquisitions; due diligence, checklists and drafting ancillary documents all fall within a junior's remit.
“You might not even know the work is pro bono.”
“The firm wants us to work on pro bono within our area of practice,” said one real estater. “Instead of being assigned to an immigration matter I may assist a real estate nonprofit in Boston with an affordable housing project.” Matters are assigned the same way as client billable work so “you might not even know the work is pro bono unless someone mentions it,” sources told us. “Typically we're doing the exact same stuff we would do for a paying client.” As all pro bono hours count as billable, there is little need to keep track of which is which.
Continuity may be encouraged but no barrier exists to practicing outside your practice area. Once a month juniors in all groups can swing on down by a local homeless shelter clinic to advise residents on issues like housing or benefits. The firm's diversity committee also invites associates to take on pro bono cases which deal with minority issues and communities in Boston.
Pro bono hours
There is more to Goulston's diversity committee than organizing pro bono matters; a speakers' program, social events and community outreach projects are all on the cards. The firm also brings in diversity educators Facing History and Ourselves for “cool training sessions; we watch a video and discuss the stereotypes assumed in it.”
“We're representative of Boston's culture.”
Despite all this sources did feel the firm was “not the most diverse. But Boston is not the most diverse place and we're representative of Boston's culture.” Interviewees reckoned LGBT and female attorneys were well represented but “the firm knows it needs to work on diversity when it comes to racial minorities.” Improvements have been spied in junior classes: “This year's summer class was six women, four of whom were diverse and they all got hired.”
Training & Development
Newbies are assigned a midlevel associate sibling –“We're very touchy feely here,” one source joked of the name – and a partner mentor. “Your sibling is more for your day-to-day 'hey what's the difference between a mortgage and a deed of a trust 'cos I'm a clueless first-year?' questions. Whereas your mentor is more likely to ask you, 'hey, you've not handled any zoning, where do you see yourself developing in the team long term?'”
“Your sibling is more for your day-to-day."
Goulston & Storrs University offers partner-led presentations on “specific areas of practice, insights on things to watch out for or issues which are distinct to the state of Massachusetts.” Business development topics such as generating new clients also fall under the GSU heading. Boston associates are often joined by their counterparts from New York or Washington, DC during trainee sessions as non-Beantown attorneys “try to get up every couple of months” for training or other events.
“It's very Boston chic.”
Boston's been home to Goulston & Storrs since its founding in 1900, and the firm moved into its current waterfront haven in 1985. The converted warehouse “is all exposed beams and bricks, it's very Boston chic” and also rather “mazelike: it takes new people a few days to figure out where they're going.” Hopefully those lost souls eventually find themselves occasionally on the firm's rear deck overlooking the harbour, where Goulston hosts summer associate and client events – DC and NY attorneys are all invited to these – including a lobster bake and games nights. We're assured it's also not bad for a spot of lunch in the summer either.
The firm is so enamored of its real estate that instead of relocating the entire office when it outgrew current digs, Goulston took over the seventh floor in a neighboring building. “The running joke is that they're two separate law firms” as there is not a historical feature in sight in the overflow office, which is decked out “with frosted glass and clean white marble.” Practically all Goulston's first-years are hired into Boston but as work allocators staff matters across offices, attorneys may find themselves sometimes working with colleagues in DC and New York.
Strategy & Future
Goulston's pretty happy with its national footprint so you won't be seeing new offices pop up any time soon. Washington, DC and New York bases are in for some development though as the firm tries to increase headcount here. “We're trying to expand our core practice of real estate but also other areas like corporate and tax,” associates understood. The firm's also expecting to see an increase in medical institutions and educational clients.
Associates are kept in the loop on firm happenings through a monthly associate lunch with the firm's managing partners. An “edited version” of the monthly partner meeting is relayed to associates here: “We discuss everything from new hires to new clients and the firm's financials.” Associates also get the chance to “discuss anything on our mind or ask questions about the state of the firm” which haven't already been covered. “It's very democratic here,”one interviewee deduced. “Our various committees are always run by a pair,” another explained, “so people have to collaborate to make decisions rather than have one person dictating their ideas.”
“It's not cool to be a jerk.”
“Management does a very good job to instill in associates an understanding of the firm's culture and how it ties in with strategy,” one associate stressed. “They're very concerned to preserve the ethic of our culture.” For example, “the partnership is not cut-throat or competitive as we don't have a system where people get more credit for bringing in more clients. Compensation is based on subjective factors. Partners ask how helpful other partners are, whether or not they've trained associates, and are they responsive when people ask them for help. I've found that when I send out a firmwide email I get back a whole lot of helpful responses rather than a few, flippant replies,” one junior told us.
Throughout the firm “you can see the people who might be jerks have to check themselves, as they know it's not cool to be a jerk at Goulston,” one source reckoned. “People take a vested interest in our development and care about your wellbeing as a person and an attorney,” felt another. “This is the kind of place where the highest-earning partners walk into the kitchen and ask the dude behind the counter about his kids.”
Hours & Compensation
Goulston doesn't stipulate a billable requirement. Sources reported being encouraged to aim for around 1,800 billable hours but felt the lack of a prescribed figure was genuine. Bonuses are also nonexistent at Goulston. “Years ago they made the decision that bonuses might advocate over billing or lead to a different culture where people were protective over matters. We don't get a bonus but that comes with the understanding that hours will be reasonable. If you're looking for a large bonus this is not the place for you,” a source stressed.
“The understanding that hours will be reasonable.”
Most interviewees reported leaving the office at around 7pm and put in a few hours from home if they have to. “The hours here are conducive to having a good quality of life,” one associate told us. “People are focused on the idea of families and lives outside of work.” Vacations tend to be uninterrupted, but even those who had received the odd email claimed this was down to people forgetting they were on vacation.
Associates involved in the recruiting process told us: “We want people who are friendly and appreciate the firm's culture. We'd rather hire someone we'd want to work with at 1am than someone who was number one in their class at Harvard.” Goulston's on-campus hiring tends to concentrate on the Massachusetts area though it also attends OCIs at Columbia, NYU and Georgetown.
Demonstrating a commitment to the law through work experience and extra curricular activities is a plus, but hiring partner Bill Seuch tells us, “we hire people with very diverse backgrounds. We have lawyers who have previously been writers or musicians. Some of our most successful attorneys have had very different career paths.”
We chat with co-managing partners Marty Fantozzi and Barry Green
Chambers Associate: Which of your practices have been particularly hot this year?
Marty Fantozzi: We've had a busy year in several groups. Real estate has been, and continues to be very active and strong, as do our mid market corporate M&A, private equity and corporate finance teams. We've also undertaken a major expansion of our private client and private wealth practice this year.
Barry Green: We brought around twelve attorneys and another dozen or so support personnel form Locke Lord into our private client group in Boston. This huge influx of people has given us one of the largest private client groups in Boston which we're very excited about. We have a great group of young partners in that area and are looking to expand it beyond Boston.
CA: Are there any client industries which are particularly active at the moment?
MF: For several years real estate has seen very strong activity from major development projects with long horizons.
BG: Our development practice in Boston has been through the roof, particularly in the Seaport area of the city where a lot of new development is taking place. Other types of transactions have all been fairly robust and although they're not reaching the levels we saw in 2006 and 2007, they've still been very strong.
CA: In the past the firm has indicated it wants to develop its New York and Washington, DC offices. Will this growth focus on any specific areas?
MF: In Washington, DC our primary focus is to expand our real estate transactional practice. We already have the leading real estate development practice in DC and we're keen to grow our real estate transactional, and investment, sales and financing practices to compliment the real estate offering in this office.
In New York we're looking to grow our real estate development and real estate transactional practices, alongside our corporate finance practice. We're potentially looking at expanding other areas here too, including private client, corporate M&A, bankruptcy and tax. We're aiming for our New York office to have the same service offering that we currently have in Boston.
CA: What else should we know about the firm's strategy for the next few years?
MF: Goulston will continue to be committed to identifying and developing the areas where we add the most value for clients. We're not trying to be all things to all people; we focus on areas where we do exceptionally well.
BG: We are trying to maintain our identity and strategy while the rest of the market does something very different. We're not trying to be a global player or have offices in every city but we are trying to create a community of colleagues who trust each other and whose primary focus is to work together to serve our clients, which results in a lot of team work. We don't have origination credits and we tend to share responsibility for our clients. We also don't have an arbitrarily narrow tunnel when it comes to elevate our associates to partnership. We have more partners than associates, which is highly unusual.
CA: Is the partner-heavy structure something you've deliberately worked toward establishing?
MF: The decision not to be a leveraged firm was an intentional one that we have consistently adhered to for a long time. We don't hire an awful lot of people coming out of law school because we don't want to establish a dynamic where we hire more people than there are long term slots for them to become directors at the firm. We don't want to create a set up where attrition is pre-programmed.
CA: What's the reason behind the firm's decision not to offer bonuses?
MF: It's part of a comprehensive approach to our idea of practising law. We don't have a minimum billable hours requirement; we believe clients benefit when lawyers are not financially rewarded for taking longer with work. We want to encourage people to think about practising law efficiently rather than focusing on a metric which results in a financial benefit. If we can do the work in two hours instead of four it's better for both the attorney and the client and, in the long term, the firm.
BG: Everyone in this industry is talking about efficiency but how to you create efficiency if you incentive people to bill longer hours related to the work they're doing?
We've spoken to the associates about it and they're very content with our system. Having a bonus creates some competition for work and an uneven playing field; associates have shared with us that they don't want that burden or pressure. They don't want to have this need for a bonus hanging over their heads and feel that they need to do more to achieve it when they're already totally busy. It's a two fold process looking at what serves clients best and what creates the best morale and environment for collegiality.
CA: Associates told us that management is effective at ensuring they understand the firm's strategy. How important is it to keep associates in the loop?
MF: Very. In addition to monthly meetings Barry and I hold small group lunches with around eight to ten associates on a monthly basis. It has an open agenda and we discuss whatever happens to be on associates' minds. Associates are the future of the firm and for a business like ours which wants to keep people long term we need to motivate them to dedicate their professional career to the firm. Bringing them into the loop and making them aware of what's going on is very important.
BG: When I joined Goulston from another firm, those meetings were a very welcome surprise to me. Everyone expects a lot from their associates these day; they expect great client work, they expect them to start developing clients and also to understand the business but not every firm gives associates the tools to succeed in these areas. We want our attorneys to feel they have a sense of ownership over the firm and to understand what we're trying to accomplish. Ultimately we want our associates to be committed to Goulston and feel like they're owners of the firm before they're elevated to partner.
CA: Is there anything else you think it's important for students to know about the firm?
BG: We've found that people at Goulston have a long term commitment to practising law and a level of maturity to succeed well here. We don't have the same turnover as other firms. Many of our people come to us after having spent time with another firm and finding it wasn't what they wanted; when they come to Goulston they realise this is what they actually wanted. That was certainly true of my experience. If you're looking for a place to develop your skills and really grow with the firm you will have a wonderful opportunity to do so here.
Hiring partner Bill Seuch talks us through hiring at Goulston & Storrs
Chambers Associate: Most of your attorneys are based in Boston but you've also got offices in New York and Washington, DC. Geographically, where do you tend to focus your recruiting efforts?
Bill Seuch: We've been interviewing at schools in New York and Washington, DC before even opening offices in both those cities. Each year we attend On-Campus interviews at Georgetown in DC and Columbia and NYU in New York; hiring from these institutions will become even more important to us now that our offices in both locations are growing.
In Massachusetts we interview at Boston College, Boston University, Suffolk, Harvard and Northeastern. We also invite people from other schools to send us their resumes and host a law school reception at our Boston office for students from other schools, from which we've hired people in the past.
CA: The firm takes on most of its entry-level associates in Boston; is that going to continue or will you start taking on more in DC and New York?
BS: In the longer term our strategy is to increase the number of entry-level associates in New York and DC. We've just hired someone into our DC office for this summer and we're having discussions about the possibility of hosting a summer student in New York in the near future.
CA: Will that be through increasing the size of your hiring class or will you change distribution among offices?
BS: We'll probably increase the size of the class through incremental growth; for the last several years we have taken on five students, this summer it will be six and we're contemplating seven for the summer after.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
BS: It's a real priority for the firm; our diversity and hiring committees are both very focused on increasing the success of our efforts in this area. We attend the Boston Lawyers Group Job Fair and have a number of contacts at different law schools who have helped to connect us with diverse students and raise the profile of the firm among diverse candidates.
CA: How many students do you see at each campus and what percentage are called for a second interview?
BS: Typically we see about twenty interviewees at each campus and between forty and fifty percent of those are called back to interview at our offices.
CA: Who conducts OCIs and callback interviews?
BS: For On-Campus interviews we tend to send partners or senior associates with a connection to the school. When students are called back to interview with us they meet with members of our hiring committee. We try to ensure a regular group of attorneys conduct these interviews so they become familiar with the range of candidates and can make a judgment about who stands out.
Students generally meet at least two partners and up to four associates; these are all individual interviews – we don't put students up against a team – and interviewees also typically have lunch or a coffee with a couple of associates. This last part works very well; it allows us to get an idea of what a candidate is like outside of the office and allows the student the chance to sit down with an associate in a less formal setting.
CA: What questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?
BS: Anything and everything is fair game. We focus on professional backgrounds or prior job and academic experience but things can take an interesting turn along the way. Sometimes we have these great conversations with candidates on topics which we never expected to discuss when they sat down.
CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?
BS: We encourage candidates to know a bit about the firm and ask questions about us. It's really hard for candidates to differentiate between law firms; they meet a lot of nice people and sit in a lot of nice offices but find it hard to distinguish one firm from the next. We encourage them to ask us tough questions – any questions – about the firm so they can make an informed decision.
CA: What type of person thrives at the firm?
BS: Many personality types do well here but we tend to look for those who are interested in remaining with us long term and tend to be team players. We pride ourselves on our collaborative culture here and we sell ourselves to our clients on that culture. We think people who work well in that atmosphere do well in the long term.
CA: Are there any extra-curricular activities or types of work experience which impress when you see them on resumes?
BS: Someone who has concrete work experience and who really knows they want to work in a law firm is attractive. As our summer class is so small we really do hire people who want to stay here and become long term players. It's refreshing to see folks who are very focused on what they want to do and feel this is where they want to be but we hire people with very diverse backgrounds. We have lawyers who have previously been writers or musicians. Some of our most successful attorneys have had very different career paths; one person was actually on the stage before deciding they wanted to become a lawyer. We're very open to diverse backgrounds and don't just employ people who have come straight through law school. Some of our lawyers have arrived via more of a zigzag path than a straight line.
CA: Can you very briefly outline your summer program?
BS: One of the benefits of being part of a small program is that we really get to know our summers and we can provide a variety of assignments in different areas of the law. If someone comes in and tell us 'I was born to be a litigator; it's all I've ever wanted to do', for example, we still ensure they have the chance to experience corporate and real estate transactions. I can't tell you how many times people come in with an expectation of the kind of work they want to do and have then changed their mind once they've been exposed to different areas. We give them a variety of assignments which include the areas they want to experience, so they can have a well rounded summer experience and make an informed decision.
CA: How can someone really stand out as a summer associate?
BS: By being a team player and willing to try new things but the most important thing a summer can do is to do the best they can and hand in high quality work.
CA: Is there anything else students should know about the firm?
BS: I always emphasize our partner to associate ratio; we now have more partners than associates and the size of our program allows us to provide excellent training because we don't have squadrons of associates waiting to work on matters. Partners and associates work very closely together and it creates this environment where mentoring becomes very natural. Our associates are able to gain more experience because partners know what they're capable of taking on; they know when associates are ready to conduct a hearing by themselves or oversee the next stage of a transactional process.
Goulston & Storrs
400 Atlantic Avenue,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $157,000,000
- Partners (US): 113
- Associates (US): 65
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,100 per week
- 2Ls: $3,100 per week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case basis
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 7
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 6 offers, 6 acceptances
Main areas of work
Real estate, litigation, tax, private clients and trusts, capital markets, bankruptcy, corporate, employment, banking and finance, environmental, intellectual property.
Goulston & Storrs is an Am Law 200 law firm, with offices in Boston, New York, Washington, DC and Beijing. With nearly 200 lawyers across multiple disciplines, Goulston & Storrs is nationally recognized for its real estate practice, leading-edge corporate, capital markets and finance, litigation, and private client and trust practices. Our lawyers employ a proven team approach that values client outcomes over individual recognition. The firm’s dedication to providing prompt, practical legal advice, cost-efficiently and tailored to our clients’ business needs, has resulted in Goulston & Storrs being acknowledged for excellence by Chambers USA, BTI’s ATeam for Client Service, Best Lawyers in America and other leading industry rankings.
• Number of 1st year associates: 4
• Number of 2nd year associates: 5
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Harvard, Georgetown University, Columbia University, Northeastern University, New York University, Boston College, Boston University, Suffolk University
Summer associate profile:
We attract and hire people who: seek a sophisticated and challenging legal practice; are concerned about team success; are willing to work hard.
Summer program components:
As a summer associate, you have a unique opportunity to learn about the legal profession and the Boston area. Expect to live the law firm experience with direct partner and client exposure. Work assignments are substantive and include research and writing assignments, client meetings, conference calls, depositions and attending hearings. Your summer with Goulston & Storrs offers amazing work opportunities throughout several practice areas, assisting the firm’s attorneys.