This “traditional Texas firm” celebrating its 130th birthday gives young associates “lot of responsibility,” they told us.
OPENING its doors long before the invention of the pocket calculator, liquid paper, Fritos and Dr Pepper (all Texas inventions), Jackson Walker has a long history in the Lone Star State. With age comes experience, and the firm earns plaudits from Chambers USA for practices in Texas including real estate, energy, construction, environment, and healthcare. Unlike many Texan rivals, JW has stayed firmly within the boundaries of its home state – all seven offices are based here.
Several of the associates we interviewed felt the firm “reached out to me more than the other way around,” and welcomed the personal touch. This reinforced their belief that Jackson Walker isn't “an associate mill that will burn you out – they care about your advancement.” As you might expect at a firm with a strong Texan character, almost everybody we spoke to had personal ties to the Lone Star State.
Most juniors join the litigation, corporate & securities, and real estate groups, while a handful head to smaller groups including wealth planning, finance, and labor & employment. The majority get work through “a mix of both allocation and seeking it out ourselves. That comes with challenges, as when partners don't always communicate,” although ordinarily “they do ask me how busy I am and don't want to overload me.” Experience makes things easier to manage as “you've established relationships with certain partners. But there's not a ton of control in the first and second years.”
“There's not nearly as much document review as we were led to expect!”
Litigators “represent all kinds of clients, mostly mid-sized companies. We're a traditional Texas firm so there's a lot of oil and gas work.” Associates found it hard to identify mainstay tasks because “it varies a lot week to week,” but narrowed it down to “writing briefs and memos, pretty informal research. There's not nearly as much document review as we were led to expect!” Many got plenty of opportunities to get to know the clientele. “I'm on two or three phone calls with clients or opposing counsel everyday. There's not a ton of courtroom time, that's the nature of the beast, but I think there's more than at other firms.” The overall workload was “about right on balance,” litigation's fluctuating nature taken into account.
“In corporate, our bread and butter is mid-sized clients,” and a booming mid-market in Texas left associates with full bellies. Starting out with “closing checklists, drafting ancillary documents and due diligence, you get more stuff on your plate as you move up.” One interviewee had “helped negotiate main agreements. The lean structure of the firm means you take on major roles in deals a lot faster. You need to become a Swiss army knife of business law.” A sweet-toothed corporate junior described the variety of work as “like Baskin Robbins – there's loads of flavors to try!”
“Swiss army knife of business law.”
Lean staffing models provided similar opportunities elsewhere. Real estate associates “do a lot of drafting – that comes with the territory. What I didn't expect was a good amount of time on the phone with clients.” Acknowledging that “you'll never have a perfect amount of work, you'll always be fast or slow, it does balance out,” most interviewees were happy to lean toward the busier end. The finance team tackles things like “amendments to different loan agreements. For loans under $5 million I'll just handle the whole thing on my own.” Fortunately for high-flying newbies, there's a safety net: “We're given a lot of responsibility but there are always people there to answer questions.” Most were “absolutely happy” with their responsibilities.
Training & Development
All new starters in the fall congregate in the Dallas HQ for a two-day bootcamp which kicks off two weeks of training before they start practicing. They also return throughout their junior years, and get regular opportunities for CLEs and NITA programs. Corporate associates felt they got less training than litigators, although since our calls the firm has appointed a coordinator here to focus on corporate training. For both litigators and transactional associates, “it's mostly trial by fire. You get the best training just by doing.” Annual and mid-year reviews are “not a big formal ordeal. You chat to the practice leader and get a rating from 0-5 for how good you're doing.” Though all interviewees were happy with their feedback, some reported that the amount is “very practice group-dependent: some are a lot more structured than others.”
Dubbing Jackson Walker “laid back for a law firm” – though of course, it's all relative – juniors were relieved to find “there's no demonic slave-driver partner like in Suits! We really pride ourselves on being kind to each other. I'm yet to find anybody who's really unreasonable.” The firm's conservative culture came in for praise (“you don't have the same worries as at other firms”), but some interviewees were less glowing and thought “it's a bit of a Texas boys' club.” They reasoned “everyone's good natured and nice, but for better or worse they only know one way to run the firm, so you see an attitude that 'this is the Jackson Walker way'.”
“You definitely meet people you wouldn't at other jobs!”
Happy hours are a weekly occurrence, the core of “a pretty good workplace social life” that is admittedly less well-engrained in offices with fewer attorneys. A firmwide retreat every 18 months helps balance this, and “summer is a good time, with bigger events where people from different sections meet and mingle.” The firm Christmas party brings festive cheer, and other events may even provide unique experiences: “At one I sat next to the general manager of the Dallas Mavericks and got to chat to him. You definitely meet people you wouldn't in other jobs!”
Different offices exhibit different cultures: Fort Worth is “old-fashioned, but the city's like that in general,” compared to the “really laid-back and familial” Houston and “quieter, very open” San Antonio. Similarly divided when asked about transparency, certain juniors implied “because there are so many partners and offices run semi-autonomously, it takes a while for decisions to be made and explained.” Others felt they could “talk to the managing partner any time I want. Nobody's hiding the ball.” Interestingly, contrasting views came from within offices rather than between them.
Upping sticks to the Dallas's Arts District, the brand new HQ was taken over by the firm in 2015 and provides an “absolutely stunning space in a better location. Everybody has their own room, and the technology is really advanced.” Similarly popular, the Houston base is in a “good downtown location, right by a mall with lots of food options,” while Austin interviewees loved the social side of their city: “There's a ton of stuff to do, a lot of bands come through here.” The smaller Fort Worth and San Antonio offices only take in one or two newbies a year. Collaboration was prevalent “to an extent: some offices talk to each other more than others.” Videophones provide the chance to “feel like you're meeting the people there even if you don't in person,” and are used in monthly meetings between some practice groups and to link smaller outposts to the mothership.
“Some talk to each other more than others.”
Hours & Compensation
The associate salary hike of summer 2016 sent waves of excitement through BigLaw; delays at Jackson Walker in matching Texas rivals stirred some consternation at the time, though everything's fine now. Many interviewees felt “when all the firms raised they pretended it didn't happen. It created a lot of angst about why they took so long – they could have handled it better.” In hindsight, some associates “liked that they took the time to consider if they could afford it, and it's good they can give people a boost.” Despite “some vagueness about how compensation will now work, it's great that they did raise salaries with the market.”
“You have to be self-motivated and lucky.”
However, alongside the increases, the associate bonus eligibility target has climbed from 1,950 to 2,000, including 100 citizenship hours that can include pro bono. The number to remain in good standing and get a salary rise remains at 1,950. Juniors thought their chances of hitting the goals were “hit or miss depending on business. You have to be self-motivated and lucky depending on what cases you're on.” Some were “resigned to never getting raises or bonuses” as a result, criticizing “rewarding quantity of work over quality,” but more optimistic associates felt the push will “make us better attorneys” in the long run.
Pro Bono & Diversity
The increase in the citizenship hours requirement from 50 to 100 is partly “how they encourage people” to do pro bono. Associates felt that otherwise “there hasn't been a huge push. Those opportunities exist if you want but you have to make the effort.” Cases tend to be close to home, such as “a friend of a friend having divorce or insurance problems, who the firm would like us to help out.” Transactional juniors found it relatively more difficult to find time for pro bono.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 6,253
- Average per attorney: 16
“The firm tries hard to attract minorities.”
“I notice every year that summer attorneys are heavily women, and they try to include minorities.” Initiatives including the JW² women's network are in place to address diversity issues, but Texas-based juniors usually comment on the region's overall struggle, and this year was no exception. “It's a sea of white. They have initiatives, but in our office I see less of that in action,” according to one associate, while another acknowledged that “the firm tries hard to attract minorities, but it can be difficult to keep them.” More positive sources pointed out “we're really good with women in our office,” suggesting varying success at achieving diversity overall.
Strategy & Future
Assured associates “have a lot of faith in the firm because it's pretty stable, there's not going to be a big global merger. Over 200 years the dedication to staying in Texas hasn't changed.” They echoed managing partner Wade Cooper, who suggests “the economic advantage of staying in Texas is we don't have the higher overheads of New York or elsewhere. That gives us rate flexibility so we can straddle different markets; clients from out of state are often happy to hire us because of that. We want to continue to be the go-to firm for issues in Texas whether they be transactional, litigation or government-related.”
With a distinctly Texan culture to maintain, it's no surprise that Jackson Walker desires new recruits to have connections to the Lone Star State. Associates we spoke to “can't really say why, but it does seem important. We're very big on geography, it's a very Texas-oriented firm and we hire a lot of natives, but we do compete on a national level.” More so than local links, most important is a real desire to work in Texas specifically. “You've got to be able to explain why you want to be here. The firm has been burned before with people from out of state coming then leaving quickly. As long as you can articulate an interest in Texas, you can overcome geographical obstacles.”
“Some view this as a generic firm: that really doesn't play well at interview.” Beyond typical questions about interests, background and “why this firm in particular,” JW wants to know which area of the law a wannabe associate is interested in. One junior advised “you really need to know whether you want to do litigation or transactional,” while another suggested “a big thing we're looking for is any past experience that would lend itself to a particular practice area.” It also helps to be “a functioning social human being who you want to be around for ten hours a day,” and to “look to have a long-lasting practice. Caring about the local community is a big thing we stress on top of academic performance.”
When it comes to the crunch, the best advice our sources had was “be yourself! They're not super worried how much you know about the law, but that you're a hard worker.” When considering firms, “don't sell out to what everybody else is doing. Look on a firm by firm basis to find a long-term place where you like working, rather than just going for prestige. Just because you can get 20 interviews, it doesn't mean you should take them all!”
JW, Oprah Winfrey and mad cow disease
Cows, as the vast majority of people know, are herbivores. But that didn't stop cattle farmers in several countries from feeding their herds meat and bone meal, including the remains of other cows. Scientists still don't know all the gory details of how bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) came to exist out of this, but the disease devastated the British cattle industry from the late '80s to the turn of the millennium, and caused 77 human deaths in the UK. While BSE was far less prevalent Stateside, fear of it was enough to threaten the already struggling American beef industry.
In 1996, talk show legend Oprah Winfrey aired a segment in which she declared she'd never eat another burger again, prompting cattle farmers to sue for libel and violation of the False Disparagement of Perishable Foods Act. They alleged that her comments had destroyed the confidence of their customers and cost the plaintiffs $11 million. The initial case prompted Oprah's show to relocate temporarily to Amarillo, Texas for a month, and a gag order prevented the host from mentioning the proceedings on air.
One suit ended in 1998 in Winfrey's favor, but part of the litigation dragged on until 2002, when it was dismissed. The lead attorney who defended Oprah against the litigation? Jackson Walker's Chip Babcock. He subsequently worked for the talk show host several more times on First Amendment matters, as well as high-profile clients ranging from Warren Buffett to George W. Bush. His work is one example of the Texan firm's ability to operate on a national level.
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
- Summer Salary 2017
- 2Ls: $3,461/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,461/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
- Summers 2017: 28
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 16 offers, 12 acceptances (2Ls only)
Main areas of work
Bankruptcy; corporate and securities; energy; ERISA; environmental and legislative; finance; healthcare; intellectual property; labor and employment; litigation; land use; real estate; tax; wealth planning.
Jackson Walker is a Texas-based law firm with a national presence and global reach. With more than 350 attorneys, we’re one of the largest firms in the state and we provide comprehensive services in a broad range of practice areas. Our practice now spans the globe and our corporate clients include some of the biggest names in business. We represent approximately 237 of the Fortune 500 companies and 69 of the Fortune 100. But we’re also a good fit for smaller companies and our clients include family-owned businesses, local and regional government agencies, individuals and nonprofit groups.
• Number of 1st year associates: 17
• Number of 2nd year associates: 19
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Baylor, Chicago, University of Houston, Notre Dame, 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
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 rotate through two practice areas 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.