Texas favorite Jackson Walker offers a tasty draft of varied work, decent responsibility and culture that bestows a pleasant afterglow.
COULD Jackson Walker be the perfect Texas Tea cocktail? Mix one unit of “very strong Texas presence” with two units of “genuine, salt of the earth people,” incorporate a generous spoonful of “family-friendly vibe,” and shake well. Serve with a “boutique feel” and a “sense of financial stability,” but not 'on the rocks.' Known for serving a loyal clientele of Fortune 500 companies, multinationals and leading financial institutions, this spirited Texan is one of the largest law firms in the state, but it doesn't abstain from national and international work. Chambers USA raises its glass to JW's achievements in the energy sector and real estate in particular, and hands it a round of celebratory shots for practices including construction, environment and healthcare.
Associates we spoke to had joined this Lone Star State fixture for its strengths in these and other areas. A labor & employment junior explained: “There are boutique labor firms, but at Jackson Walker there's the potential to connect labor work to other legal issues across a broad spectrum, rather than be pigeonholed forever.” It's worth noting that most interviewees were either born and bred Texan denizens, or had some strong connection to the area.
“One of the best things about Jackson Walker is that you get to try up to three practice areas during summer before picking one.” Most interviewees had taken up this opportunity, and a few who already had an area in mind were able to spend the full summer in that department. In these cases, “some experience showing commitment to this type of work” was helpful. Most admitted that “while they take your preference seriously, it's ultimately down to business need.” At the time of our calls, 14 of our list of second and third-year interviewees were in litigation, ten in corporate, a handful in real estate, and half a dozen dotted in energy, IP, labor, finance and wealth planning.
Once they get started, new juniors must contend with the “entrepreneurial” free-market system in order to get work. Some sources warned that this could be stressful: “You find yourself working for several partners at once. They don't always communicate with each other, they all think their work is the most important, and there's no online system to monitor work.” But others found it empowered them and gave good early experience: “The system is a great way of controlling your own destiny and not getting stuck repeatedly working for the same person.” It's worth noting that not all offices or sections use the free-market system; in labor in Dallas for example, associates are “simply handed work.”
“It's a sink or swim mentality here, which is daunting at first.”
Some insiders had the impression that JW experienced an “exodus of litigation associates” in past months (though the firm points out that attrition was low in 2015). They put this down to “general attrition in the profession,” and pointed out that “hardly any have gone to competing firms.” One ventured that “perhaps there's a frustration with the ups and downs of that kind of work.” Those who stuck it out in litigation concurred that “the work is varied: eminent domain work, condemnation matters, defamation, personal injury work, oil and gas disputes, and partnership disputes.” On certain cases sources were able to “draft and occasionally even argue motions,” but even when they were “mainly in charge of doc review, you become the person who knows the facts of a case better than anyone else, making you indispensable. Sometimes you're the only associate working with a partner so you really get your hands dirty. That kind of dynamic and exposure are priceless.” One reckoned that “it's a sink or swim mentality here, which is daunting at first. They say that by your second or third year they want you to be able to handle a case from start to finish.”
Corporate rookies were pleased that “there's been a lot of activity recently – we've done well financially.” They put this down, in part, to the fact that "we focus on midsized deals. We're a large firm but don't charge New York rates because we're not in New York." Because "we have a lot of M&A where we're working with the owner, we have to do handholding but get direct contact with the client." Lean staffing on Jackson Walker's side, often just "a partner and one or two associates," also increases responsibility for juniors. Tasks include “drafting all the purchase agreements, ancillary documents and due diligence. You never sit around feeling frustrated that you're not doing meaningful assignments.” One proudly told of “becoming the resident firm expert on a certain type of agreement after spending a few months on one as a first-year.” Clients can vary: "Occasionally we have really big institutional clients, where we'll be the local counsel."
“It's encouraged until it starts becoming too time-consuming.”
While all interviewees conceded that “the firm does encourage pro bono,” most nonlitigators had “found it hard to find time.” Associates are required to complete “50 citizenship hours, but these can include things such as shadowing a partner at trial.” Transactional attorneys did find time to “do some finance for Habitat for Humanity on behalf of a banking client,” and a source in labor “got to do an actual labor case where the client's employees were unionizing.” Litigators were more effusive, having “handled a divorce alone from start to finish," an international adoption, contract disputes and a guardianship case. Still, a number of disputes respondents noted that “the push for pro bono is more driven by certain individuals than by the firm as a whole. It's encouraged until it starts becoming too time-consuming.”
Pro bono hours
Hours & Compensation
That's not to say that the vital importance of racking up billable hours is inculcated into associates as the be-all and end-all of their life at JW: “One of the best things the firm does is to not count your hours in first year. It takes the stress away and acknowledges that your workflow can be out of your control. All first-years get the same bonus.” From the second year onwards, the target to be bonus-eligible is 1,950 and all agreed that “if the work is there, it's definitely achievable.”
“They want you fresh, with your batteries charged.”
The typical day of a Jackson Walker junior starts around 9am and finishes “either around 6pm, plus a few hours at home, or at 8pm at the office. They say there's no face time requirement but there kind of is. They also say that they value our work/life balance and that's true: we don't usually work on weekends, unless it's an extremely busy period. They want you fresh, with your batteries charged.”
Most interviewees chose the same words to describe the culture of Jackson Walker: “It's Texas-focused, and the people don't take themselves too seriously.” One added: “We take pride in being laid back, but that's not at the expense of sharpness. JW isn't one of those firms known for being friendly but doing subpar work.” Insiders also spoke of a “lack of tension or negative energy” in the offices, and observed that “we're the kind of lawyers that clients actually want to have lunch with after a meeting: they've told us!”
“It's not like I expected it to be like a sitcom...”
This didn't detract from a focus on hard work, and some did admit that “it can be a stressful environment. It's not like I expected it to be like a sitcom, where I come in, put my feet on the desk and say something witty. Even so, workload issues and the attitude of certain longstanding individuals can get frustrating.” Still, associates admitted that “longevity is a measure of the health of a firm, and you definitely see longevity here.” Fun things include weekly happy hours “with hors d'oeuvres, a holiday party at the George Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, an attorney retreat every two years, a hired-out sailboat on a lake, and a family party at the Arboretum Botanical Gardens.”
“It's hard not to be a little jealous!”
The brand new Dallas HQ, taken over by the firm in 2015, is “more modern, bright and tech-friendly than our previous digs. The location is also much more up-and-coming, closer to cultural events and restaurants, and there's a parking garage.” Associates get their own offices “with the option of standing desks.” Houstonites were happy with their “amazing views and nice chairs,” until they “saw Dallas's new space, so it's hard not to be a little jealous!” Apparently Austin is next for an upgrade (though the office isn't moving). Austin attorneys were actually pretty pleased with their current setup, praising “the beautiful downtown location overlooking the water, right in the thick of it, and the limestone building. Everyone has their own office with outside-facing windows, and we have a gym downstairs.” JW also has lodgings in Fort Worth, Texarkana, San Angelo and San Antonio.
Training & Development
There will be plentiful opportunities for upcoming rookie cohorts to check out Dallas's new crib: everyone is flown to the HQ for an initial training bootcamp, but they also return throughout their junior years for specific sessions like “making ejections and authenticating documents for litigators.” On top of this, JW offers CLEs and NITA sessions, but many felt that “you can't rival on-the-job training, and the onus is on you to seek that out.”
Similarly, while the JW junior calendar does feature a six-month and twelve-month review, participants commented that “when you've done a piece of work, and you could have done it better, it's useful to know right away. Informal feedback is the best way to learn, and partners usually oblige.”
"Partners and senior associates we've naturally bonded with.”
Relationships with their assigned partner mentors tend to vary from individual to individual, from someone who “goes to lunch with my mentor all the time,” to another more temperate account of “an interesting relationship, where some things are better left unsaid.” Generally, though, “we can all depend on one another when we're stressed, and on other partners and senior associates we've naturally bonded with.”
Texas-based juniors usually comment on the region's overall struggle with diversity, so how does Jackson Walker fare? “They don't do a great job, but not through lack of trying,” came the consensus opinion. Most female respondents hadn't felt ostracized, and enjoyed taking part in “tons of women's initiatives such as JW².” The majority of sources however pointed to the “firm's poor retention of female lawyers, and its failure so far to come up with a flexible arrangement for mothers that actually works.” The firm has both salaried partners and equity partners, and one added: “The women who do stay often fail to make equity partner. I want to see that the time I sacrifice will result in a payout.” An associate in Austin observed that “everyone I work with is white,” and another in Dallas more leniently explained that “there were no African-American students at my college in Texas either, so the firm does what it can given those circumstances.”
“I want to see that the time I sacrifice will result in a payout.”
The firm comes back with some hard facts: “In 2015, nine lawyers were made equity partners – five of those were women, all mothers. One of those women, Debbie Robinowitz, was not only promoted to equity partner but also named the head of our finance practice group, all while on the firm’s Alternative Work Schedule. Over the past five years, our new associate classes were split evenly between men and women and were nearly 30 percent diverse. Of those new associate classes, more than 70 percent are still with the firm today.”
Jackson Walker visits ten schools for OCIs, asking questions “aimed at identifying independence, intelligence, motivation, engagement and other characteristics that translate into performing well with our firm and our clients,” hiring partner Jim Ryan says. Additionally, the firm visits “some minority job fairs, consistent with our emphasis on diversity.”
“You can be confident without being arrogant.”
After this initial round, shortlisted hopefuls are invited to their office of interest for “an in-office interview that lasts roughly three hours, with eight to ten associates and partners.” HP Jim Ryan elaborates: “Most students who visit our offices are highly qualified but we keep our summer program fairly small so we have to identify candidates who are our top targets. What ultimately sets people apart is academic performance, the ability to interact in a confident and mature way, the knowledge of the firm that they are able to demonstrate, and cultural fit. We have a no-jerk rule, so we automatically eliminate someone who is abrasive or difficult to get along with. You can be confident without being arrogant.”
Strategy & Future
“In the short term,” managing partner Wade Cooper tells us, “we will continue to be a firm that is financially conservative and that invests in its people. While continuing to be responsive to the marketplace, we will also hold on to our way of doing business, which emphasizes the hiring of small classes. We're not renting associates, we're investing in them for the long term.” And what can future partners expect in the long term? “We see changes in the legal markets taking place and new client demands and we'll have to respond to them. We see the opportunity for growth within Texas and nationally, but we have no immediate plans to expand to New York or LA, or try to become different."
Wave your right
In late 2015 a team of Jackson Walker lawyers were successful in dismissing a civil rights lawsuit brought against Houston's Dynamo Stadium. When, during a Honduras v. Israel soccer game, a fan waved a Palestinian flag, she was asked to stop by stadium security. They called the banner a “racial slur,” suggesting it might offend the Israeli team and their fans. The attendee then sued Dynamo Stadium, the security manager, and four unnamed Houston Police officers, and was represented by lawyers of the Texas Civil Rights Project. She alleged that her civil rights had been violated during the incident, and hoped that the case might lead to a change in stadium policy.
The JW team took depositions from the plaintiff and the stadium security manager and moved for summary judgment. The unidentified officers were subsequently excluded as defendants. The judge then granted the motion, dismissing the case, on account of the fact that the plaintiff hadn't provided evidence that the defendants' reaction was brought on by the soccer fan's race or ethnicity. The defense argued instead that the stadium authorities had approached the woman because of her flag, not her own nationality. Furthermore, there was no evidence that the government was involved in the stadium's actions. In order for a civil rights case to go ahead, both of these elements – actions on account of race or nationality, and government involvement – need to be proven by the party bringing the case forward.
Jackson Walker LLP
2323 Ross Avenue,
- Head Office: Dallas, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Worldwide revenue: $221,500,000
- Partners (US): 243
- Associates (US): 99
- Summer Salary 2016
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
- Summers 2016: 25
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 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: 12
• Number of 2nd year associates: 19
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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.