The Texas market may be getting crowded, but Jackson still walks the walk.
MANY a firm has started with a homestead in the South, but few have shown the dedication that Jackson Walker has. For 130 years the firm has kept its lawyers based in the Lone Star State; today JW has over 380 of them, working out of seven offices across Texas. Its loyalty to the region has paid off, as JW snags a top Chambers USA ranking for its real estate expertise in Texas, as well as nods to its capabilities in areas such as general commercial litigation, labor & employment, corporate/M&A, healthcare and energy (with regards to electricity work). JW's investment funds practice is also gaining traction in Chambers USA.
Much like the firm itself, associates also demonstrated an unwavering loyalty. Many hoped to hunker down and “work hard in order to make partner – the people that come here very much want to be a part of this firm.” Others added that JW “shows a high degree of interest in its own people. They really invest in the associates here, and it was made clear early on that if I was hired it would be on the partnership track.” Most of our sources had roots in Texas, either through their upbringing or later education, but managing partner Wade Cooper tells us: “We're open-minded about a candidate's connection to the state. It's easier to hire people from Texas, but we wouldn't foreclose on somebody who demonstrated what we look for.” Intrigued out-of-towners should therefore read on too.
Strategy & Future
“There has been a lot of consolidation in the Texas legal market,” continuesCooper, “but we have remained true to our strategic plan.” That plan involves “maintaining our independence and continuing to grow within the state of Texas. We're not looking to merge with another large firm just to get bigger.”
“...maintaining our independence and continuing to grow.”
In an increasingly crowded market, Cooper tells us that JW isn't “a competitor to the Wall Street firms with respect to capital markets work, but in areas like real estate, funds, power, regulatory and labor we think we can compete with anybody. A lot of Texas firms are backing out of those areas to focus on high-rate energy and capital markets work, which we think means there is a great opportunity to be the go-to firm is those aforementioned areas.”
Most of JW's juniors were based in its litigation, corporate & securities, and real estate departments. The odd outlier found a home in smaller groups like ERISA, labor & employment, healthcare, and land use. A free market system of work assignment is in place across most groups. Sources explained that “the system doesn't work perfectly every time, but it's better than just being allocated to an attorney. You get to have a say in who you work for, and that contributes a big part to job satisfaction.”
“Across the state we handle pretty much any type of business dispute you can think of,” litigators told us. In particular, our sources had come across cases in the media, construction, energy and aviation industries, and their practice had covered the likes of fraud, negligence, IP, securities and white-collar matters. “What I like about JW is that we have a number of clients that range from small to large, so associates gain a variety of perspectives,” said one satisfied source. “I've worked on large cases where I'm the fourth chair for a media outlet, but I've also gone out to the Justice of the Peace courts to represent small clients, which has been great for my development.” Doc review and handling discovery responses are unavoidable on those larger matters, but smaller cases can mean “working with just a partner: you get to go to hearings, take depositions and write several dispositive motions.”
“...our role is to mitigate any economic risks.”
The corporate & securities department handles a plethora of transactional and regulatory matters. Juniors here said that half of their work was “straight-up M&A where we represent the buyers and sellers of public companies, while 30% of it revolves around private equity matters – the rest is taken up with SEC compliance advice and miscellaneous contract work like employment or consulting agreements.” On the investment funds side, “we represent institutional investors during various deals, but often primary investments: our role is to mitigate any economic risks.” With “around 100 investor clients all around the world,” sources here dealt with “multiple time zones every day – once I had a call at 4am!”
Over in real estate sources described three main streams of work: “There's a finance side that handles deals where real estate is being used as collateral; there's leasing work; and there's also an energy arm – we have a pretty substantial group that does due diligence for wind and solar farms in Texas.” The nitty-gritty work involves producing initial drafts of contracts, sitting in on calls, and “playing a key role during the closing stages of a deal to make sure all the documents are good and the buyers are all up to date.”
Training & Development
A week of “pretty extensive training” gathers all new associates in Dallas and quickly orients them to navigate life at the firm.Corporate and litigation juniors then go through a series of formal sessions that are tailored to their practice. For deal doers, the series is called “the life-cycle of a company, and the sessions are really enjoyable.” Litigators were also pleased: “They teach you the different tools you need as a trial attorney. They go over deposition and oral advocacy skills, as well as motions and evidence objections – it's absolutely fantastic.” Those in the smaller groups get more informal, hands-on training, with one telling us that “each partner has taken it on as their responsibility to teach and guide me.”
“One of the mottoes that they like to use is: 'we take our work seriously but not ourselves,'” associates revealed, and in practice they felt that “the firm does hire people that fit into such a mindset and environment.” On the work side, “you can't be the type of person that just wants to have assignments handed to them; you need to have a big personality and be willing to go out and mingle with clients. We are all results-oriented people who are dedicated to their clients.” On the less serious side, “this is a firm where if it gets to 6pm and you want to go out for a beer with your colleagues, you can. A lot of people are laid back, and when it comes to stepping away from the desk and the phone, it's clear that people enjoy spending time with each other.”
“We take a lot of pride in our longevity.”
A close-knit vibe therefore dominates at JW: “The firm has been around for 130 years, so we take a lot of pride in our longevity, which is reflected in our culture.” The tendency of JW's lawyers to stick around for the long haul means that there's “a bunch of attorneys who have only ever worked here – they're all friends and have been coworkers for 30 years or more. They're successful and effective – the top dogs in Dallas.” This led some to suggest that there's a slight 'old boys club' feel to the firm: “It's not insidious but it's there, and is evident when only certain people are taken to lunch or appear to get preferential treatment.” Others agreed that “that sentiment lingers with the older partners,” but dismissed the potency of its effect.
The associates on our list were based in JW's Dallas, Austin and Houston offices. The Dallas HQ housed the most, and residents here told us that “we moved around two years ago to a brand new building that's 1,000 times better than our old offices! It's all glass and open spaces, and we have top-notch technology: everyone has tablets, the desks rise automatically to accommodate standing positions and there are some super fancy coffee machines.”
“We have top-notch technology.”
The Austin base is located downtown, “right on the river overlooking the State Capitol building.” Also on the plus side is the fact that “there are lots of affordable apartments and condos nearby, which is great as you can walk to work.” Houstonites revealed that “most of the offices are fairly small, but overall there's a nice mix of openness and privacy in the design, which I appreciate.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates must bill 2,000 hours in order to be considered for a bonus, but to keep up with your peers 1,950 is the basic billable requirement. This figure doesn't include a required 100 hours of firm citizenship work, which covers pro bono, and all the various tasks that fall under firm citizenship, such as business development and CLE. The 2,000-hour figure was dubbed “a general expectation – a decent number of people do not hit it, and failure to do so is more accepted in some groups than others. Corporate & securities, for example, tends to be a lot more intense about hitting it.” Thoughts on how bonuses are calculated were mixed, with some Austin-based juniors telling us that “it seems a little subjective – it's not completely transparent,” while those in Dallas said: “It's very clear and fair. The system is tiered, so if you hit certain hours benchmarks your bonus goes up. They also pay associates a percentage of their originations, which is a nice little perk.”
“Thankfully nights like that are rare.”
“Every person is different,” when it comes to working hours. Some of our interviewees were early risers and got into the office by 7am and left at 5:30pm, while others preferred to work between 9am and 7pm.On the whole, “if you work at a large law firm you can expect to work a lot,” and busy times saw corporate & securities juniors working until 2:30am on occasion, while litigators had pulled the odd “all-nighter – we had a very tight turnaround, and there's just nothing you can do about it! Thankfully nights like that are rare.”
Some juniors felt that “they really encourage us to participate in pro bono” via the 100 citizenship hours requirement, while others didn't think that figure provided enough motivation: “We would do more of it if we were incentivized to do so.” A partner on the pro bono committee sends out emails once a month, and many opportunities come through Texas Legal Aid and local entities. Sources had worked with schools and churches, attended advice clinics on starting up businesses, handled divorces, and filed petitions during international adoption cases.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 7,671
- Average per attorney: 20
JW's efforts were deemed most effective when it came to gender diversity, and many interviewees mentioned the firm's women's group, JW², which “meets once a quarter: there's always a great turnout, and they bring speakers in to discuss the issues that women face in the workforce. I feel they have really empowered me by giving me the tools I need.” There's “not much racial diversity” but juniors did tell us that JW has “put an emphasis on it and has prioritized it through formal programs and committees.” These include participation in recruitment events hosted by the Dallas Consortium on Minority Hiring and the University of Houston Black Law Students Association.
Get Hired: Interview with Jackson Walker’s chief recruiting officer, Bridgette Stahlman.
Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?
Bridgette Stahlman: We do really well in the Texas market, so we tend to target law schools in Texas. We hire the majority of our new fall associates from University of Texas School of Law, SMU Dedman School of Law and Baylor Law School.
While we focus in Texas, we participate in over 20 on campus interview programs, job fairs, and interview programs from across the country.
CA: Does Jackson Walker have a grade cut off?
BS: JW has a grade cut off that is specific to each law school where we recruit based on the ranking of a particular school. For example, at a top 20 school like the University of Texas we’re looking at students who fall within the top fifty percent of their class. Occasionally we hire a candidate who does not meet our grade cut-off, but this requires approval from our management committee.
CA: What can you tell our readers about the interviews at Jackson Walker?
BS: We are really focused on cultural fit during our interviews. We ask a lot of questions that prompt the candidate to tell us about how they’ve dealt with certain issues or problems in the past, as we want to get a sense of how they have handled adversity and conflict.
From a work ethic standpoint, being a junior attorney is a time commitment, so we want a candidate to be able to provide examples of situations where they persevered and worked diligently through a problem. We’re also interested in previous work experience and how that can be utilized in a law firm setting. It’s great to see a candidate who has taken on leadership roles in the past, like running their own business, for example.
We spent a year and a half with a recruitment task force, who looked into and analyzed who was successful at Jackson Walker, and we found that part of an attorney's success at JW comes from having an entrepreneurial spirit.
CA: How important are local ties to the markets Jackson Walker operates in?
BS: We like to see candidates with some type of tie to Texas, and have realized through our task force that the folks who stay at our firm tend to be people who have connections to Texas.
I think what convinces me is a candidate having family ties or some type of educational background – something that allows us to feel that they do have a fairly serious connection to Texas. Aside from that, it's good to see that a candidate has done their research on why Texas would be good for their practice and/or family and can explain the connection. Maybe the candidate wants to move from New York because there is a lower cost of living here with comparable salaries. Or, a candidate is interested in the growth industries in Texas, and can demonstrate his or her background knowledge.
CA: What else makes someone stand out at interview?
BS: Those who are prepared and have read up on who they will be talking to do well – it’s a successful strategy. It’s so easy to get information these days, and getting it will allow candidates to have a decent conversation with us. Those who come in and don’t have any background knowledge of Jackson Walker are unlikely to impress.
A good example of a standout candidate at JW this year was a first year law student who was dynamic and engaging, and had also started her own business. She had an interesting, entrepreneurial background that made us remember her.
CA: Can you tell us a bit about Jackson Walker’s summer program?
BS: We have a nine-week program that starts in the middle of May and runs into the second week of July. Typically each summer associate will be assigned a partner and an associate mentor, who are open to communicate what it is like to be a lawyer at JW.
Our system of work allocation is free market, but over the summer we have several work and project coordinators who assist the summer associates to make sure they are getting a variety of assignments from several lawyers.
As with any comparable law firm summer program we have a number of social events, which allow our summer associates to meet lawyers from various practice areas on a more casual basis.
We encourage pretty immediate feedback between attorneys and summer associates and have a formal mid-summer evaluation, so summers can receive detailed feedback and rectify any issues that may have arisen. At the end of the summer we host a closing dinner, and then send out our offer letters at the end of July.
CA: What do you think Jackson Walker can offer to those looking to start their legal careers?
BS: Jackson Walker is a phenomenal place to begin a legal career. Most importantly, Jackson Walker puts people first. Our culture is very important to us and the growth and care of all of Jackson Walker employees is a primary goal of our management team. I think that makes us a pretty remarkable place, as we really want to retain talented, great people. We’ll look at work/life balance for individuals, and have flexible options for those who need them.
Beginning a career at Jackson Walker results in a large breadth of experience and opportunity in the early years of an attorney’s career. We’re not the kind of firm that has lots of doc review and regimented entry-level work that young associates do at some of the larger firms.
OCI applicants interviewed: 702
Interviewees outside OCI: 726
Applicants invited to 2nd stage interview: 81
Notable summer events: Astros game, partner dinners, Top Golf, volunteer events, cooking classes, associates night out, escape room.
Notable pro bono opportunities: Jackson Walker attorneys have received recognition for their dedication to pro bono services from Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program and the San Antonio Bar Association Community Justice Program.
Jackson Walker LLP
2323 Ross Avenue,
- Head Office: Dallas, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Worldwide revenue: $246,647,013
- Partners (US): 243
- Associates (US): 99
- Main recruitment contact: Bridgette Stahlman
- Hiring partner: Jim Ryan
- Diversity officer: Bruce Ruzinsky
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 13
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 13, 2Ls: 14
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Austin: 7, Dallas: 10, Houston: 8, San Antonio: 2
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls and 2Ls: $3,461/week
- Split summers offered? Yes|
Main areas of work
Baylor, Chicago, University of Houston, St Mary’s, Southern Methodist University, South Texas, Texas Southern, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Texas on Tour Interview Program (Duke, Georgetown and Northwestern Universities), SUNBELT Minority Job Fair, Vanderbilt Job Fair, Notre Dame Texas Interview Program, SWBISA Job Fair, Washington University in St. Louis.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We collect resumes from the following law schools’ career services offices: Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University
Summer associate profile:
Candidates with leadership capabilities, academic excellence, strong interpersonal skills, community involvement and dedicated to practicing over the long term.
Summer program components:
We have a first half of summer program. Summers typically are placed in a practice group and work on two or three projects at a time. Feedback is provided from the assigning attorney on each project and each summer has both a partner and associate mentor. Summers have the opportunity to attend client meetings, closings, negotiations, depositions, trials and courtroom hearings.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial Recognised Practitioner