Jenner & Block LLP - The Inside View

Born in the Windy City, this litigation powerhouse's commitment to pro bono is more than just hot air.

IMAGINE if Jenner & Block were a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Built on a crust of tolerant values and “a much friendlier culture than other firms,” it's filled to the brim with the pleasingly pungent cheese of litigation excellence and a nutritious tomato sauce of pro bono fame. This latter juicy practice was a huge draw for associates, who described “an unparalleled reputation” for charitable work that “tends to attract unpretentious people with an inclination for social justice. It's not a firm of robots!” Then there are the toppings – pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms, or whatever you feel like – which correspond to other appealing staples on the menu at Jenner like its excellent diversity (not least LGBT), strong mid-market transactional practices, and technological innovation. 

Our associate sources stressed that “Jenner is one of the top litigation firms in Chicago,” and Chambers USA agrees – the firm gets top rankings for general commercial and white collar litigation in Illinois, not to mention an array of accolades in other practice areas including environment, corporate/M&A, intellectual property, and bankruptcy/restructuring. Jenner also picks up rankings in New York, DC, California, and nationwide. Complementing its quartet of US bases, the 113 year-old Chicagoan opened a London office in 2015.

The Work

The overwhelming majority of newcomers can be found in litigation, but a few head into smaller groups like corporate and IP, and the DC office takes a couple for government contracts work. Juniors get tasks through an open market system “so you can seek out partners to work with,” though there are assignment partners who “allocate you based on need if you don't get enough work.” During the firm's summer program, newbies can try transactional work or focus purely on contentious, and it's not uncommon for associates in smaller groups to get work from the larger litigation practice.

Entry-level litigators are generalists for four years before choosing where to specialize. The group covers “complex commercial cases, and quite a lot of white collar investigations – some are ginormous, others are smaller and take a couple of weeks.” Each office has unique specialties: media & entertainment is one of the larger sub-sections in New York; DC tackles “a lot of appellate and Supreme Court stuff;” and Los Angeles deals in soft IP (copyright and trademarks). Juniors typically take on “a fair amount of document review” as well as “drafting outlines and preparations for witness interviews.” One explained that “if there's work to be done, it almost doesn't matter what level you're at.” Client contact comes more quickly for juniors on smaller cases. “They put me on a small matter where I was the primary contact. The partner did it specifically so I could get client exposure.” Some described the workload as “more than I'm comfortable with, but they're pushing you to grow. It's not heaven, but it's not hell either!”

“It's not heaven, but it's not hell either!”

Jenner's patent litigation and counseling group is “pretty heavy on petrochemicals, life sciences and biotech, but we also have a robust computer sciences practice.” Assigned based on their technical expertise, newbies found themselves “typically working through discovery and general document review.” Restructuring & bankruptcy “represents a lot of creditors, and several partners are court-appointed trustees in Chapter 7 cases [in which a company ceases all operations]. They'll send me to court on routine matters two or three times a month.” When not in court, associates were deep in research or motion drafting.

Other smaller groups including private wealth and government contracts put “a lot of responsibility on associates to step up and be an important part of the team.” Government contracts covers “many internal investigations, so there's a lot of document review. I'm doing grunt work but also making major, substantive contributions – it's a good challenge.” Across the board, associates declared “the expectation is to be proactive, and take control of your own destiny.”

Click here to read what three Jenner associates say about daily life in the corporate practice

Pro Bono

Coming in with the knowledge that pro bono is “a major selling point for the firm,” newcomers had high expectations, but were relieved to find “Jenner is awesome about letting you do whatever you want.” All pro bono hours count toward bonus targets. One source felt they “might have abused the system a bit,” but their colleagues reassured us “partners see pro bono as a time for associates to gain substantive experience.” Several juniors took on “Section 1983” work (enforcing the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment) as well as social security and veterans' appeals. Acknowledging “this is a business,” interviewees concluded “pro bono is very much part of the culture.” Jenner recently hit the headlines by taking on a case challenging Mississippi's 'unnatural intercourse' law, which remains despite the Supreme Court striking down homophobic laws like it well over a decade ago.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 75,419
  • Average per US attorney: 141

Training & Development

Following an initial orientation there's “a lot of training in place, especially for first-years. There are CLEs for everything under the sun, and quite a bit targeted at the nitty-gritty.” On top of that is deposition training and NITA programs, as well as a mentorship scheme. Most juniors, however, preferred to cut to the chase and “a lot of people get training while practicing because of pro bono.”

Six-monthly reviews for first-years and 12-month reviews thereafter keep juniors clued in on their progress: “Partners you've worked with fill out reviews, address any issues, discuss goals and provide tips for meeting them. It's fairly comprehensive and helpful for knowing where you stand.” Most felt that “informal feedback is more important,” even if it came at varied levels because “while some partners are fantastic about offering feedback as you go, with others you have to initiate the conversation yourself.”

Culture & Diversity

Acknowledging “the firm is pretty liberal,” interviewees clarified “it's not in the sense that we're socialists, but that everyone's very tolerant here.” One cheerful associate revealed they'd “imagined BigLaw culture to be kill or be killed, but we don't have that at all.” That's partly because “the firm is a bit smaller than some others, so we're more tight-knit,” albeit with some differences between offices. Those outside of the HQ considered it “a bit more intense” than elsewhere, but Chicagoans countered “the feeling here is 'nice nerds', there's no ruthless competition. Everyone takes work seriously but it's a pretty laid back environment.” Several credited the cheery mood to the firm's pro bono propensity.

It's unsurprising then that volunteer work is part of the social program for associates. As well as the typical summer events, the firm also hosts a weekly happy hour in every office; in Chicago it takes place in the “beautiful top-floor conference room.” A ring of donut shops around the office kept those with a sweet tooth happy; more savory palettes relished the information-meaty “monthly associate meetings, where they literally present all the financials.” Satiated juniors dubbed the firm “shockingly transparent” as a result.

“I joke that the only thing not tolerated is intolerance!”

Through “workshops and training to educate partners and associates alike on issues,” the recruiting committee “has made great inroads” promoting diversity in associates' eyes. Jenner is known for doing a sterling job with hiring and retaining LGBT attorneys, and is consistently at the top of our charts for its success in this area. “The policies for LGBT lawyers and women are especially strong – they've elevated a lot of women to partner, including those on reduced schedule,” and female associates appreciated “that sends a really good message about the firm's values.” Two-thirds of Jenner's 2017 partner class were women, LGBT or ethnically diverse. Juniors identified the latter as an area for improvement: those in smaller offices reported less diversity among their colleagues by virtue of size. They were nonetheless confident in Jenner's inclusiveness “I joke that the only thing not tolerated is intolerance!” – and ability to improve in the future.

Hours & Compensation

Jenner's official associate annual hours target is 2,100. However, insiders revealed that “people see the 2,100 and think it's more than other firms, but that includes pro bono and firm-approved hours like CLEs and article writing.” Averaging ten hour work days with “a couple of hours on weekends,” juniors found “2,100 is fairly easy. What's more difficult is the 2,000 billable hours goal.” Several identified this additional benchmark, but were quick to add “I didn't hit the 2,000 billables target and still got the normal bonus and raise.”

Bonuses aren't strictly lockstep, which stirred mixed feelings among associates: some argued “they're really upfront about the information ahead of time,” but others “wished it was lockstep and everyone got the same. It's supposedly merit-based, but it's difficult to know what quantifies that.” Associate salaries are more consistent, and rose in 2016 in all offices to match the Cravath scale.

Offices & Strategy

The Chicago mothership is “fancy in the sense that we work in a gleaming skyscraper in a hip part of downtown.” Associates get cozy with their colleagues, noting “they're trying to pack more people onto each floor,” but few minded as “things are livelier now.” Jenner New York sits in midtown east with “convenient access to subways,” while the DC base “has a very modern vibe, right in the city center.” Angelenos are housed in the US Bank Tower, which has “just gone through a massive overhaul. They're trying to make it a big tourist attraction.” Those who fancied a bit of work tourism found “working fluidly across offices is completely normal. Each has its own strengths and culture.” Chicago may be the focal point, but nobody outside the hub complained: “I never feel like we're a satellite, we're valued in our own right as we should be.”

“Working fluidly across offices is completely normal.”

So where does Jenner go from here? “There are no immediate plans for new offices or moves into new practice areas,” according to chief talent officer Charlotte Wager, but the firm will be “focused on London, Los Angeles, New York and DC for continued growth.” Firmwide revenue soared by nearly 15% in 2015, although it dropped a smidgen in 2016 to $457.6 million. Charlotte Wager notes that “pro bono numbers were significantly up even during growth.”

Interview with chief talent officer Charlotte Wager

Chambers Associate: As an introduction, what's been the most exciting thing that the firm has done over the past year?

Charlotte Wager: There are two I'd like to highlight. The first is our outstanding achievements for clients, and the recognition we've received based on that. For example, a trial team in Los Angeles recently won a $920 million dollar jury verdict in a trade secrets case, which was a significant victory for our client Epic Systems. The firm as a whole has been recognized by various publications including Chambers USA, and our chairman has been recognized for his outstanding contributions in law. Several practice areas including litigation, food and beverage, government contracts and environmental have all had significant achievement for our clients.

The other thing is internal. We're extremely proud of our growth. We promoted 18 of our attorneys to partner effective January 1, and among them 66% identified as ethnically diverse, women or LGBT. That's testament to our commitment to diversity – we’re seeing our partner classes getting more diverse and we're very proud of that. I think it differentiates us. Those partners are part of a variety of practice areas, some of which we're focus on growing. Two joined the appellate practice, five are in transactional – those are two practices we have a real commitment to growing. The other growth we're particularly proud relates to our lateral recruitment in key areas including government contracts.

Finally, when you're growing it's important to maintain your culture and core values. We're proud of the way we integrate people and make sure our core values are embraced even in periods of change. One of those values is excellence, and a strong focus on efficiency through technology, as well as training lawyers to better understand that. Interestingly, our pro numbers in 2016 were significantly up even while the firm has been growing, and the percentage of lawyers doing more than 20 hours has increased. We've made a very conscious effort to continue to identify pro bono opportunities where we can to deliver excellent service to those in need and help lawyers across the firm participate in this important initiative. A long answer to a short question, there!

CA: How do you see Jenner evolving in the near future?

CW: We have no immediate plans for new offices or to move into new practice areas, but we do have plans for continued growth in our newer offices in particular – we'll be focused on London, Los Angeles, New York and DC. Key practices going forward include white collar, patent litigation and transactional. Alongside that growth, it's important we continue our commitment to our culture and core values.

CA: So how do you maintain those core values in practice? And how can applicants to the firm demonstrate they will fit into the culture that Jenner has established?

CW: I'll address that second part first – it's important for law students to really understand our core values. My comment on this is that you can't fake the sort of stuff we're talking about. When we see law students who have really dug deep and not just looked on our website or Chambers Associate, but gone beyond with their own research, that speaks very well for their candidacy. As well as an ability to connect with our core values, preparation and genuine interest in them is important. That doesn't stand in for an excellent academic record, writing ability etc., but we need that commitment.

How do we maintain the culture? An important point is that when we're recruiting students we're very clear about our core values from the start. But it's equally important, and perhaps more challenging to ensure laterals are also a good fit. We've developed what we think is a very good integration program, focused on collaboration across practice areas and offices. The orientation process is interactive and involves a lot of getting to know the firm, our practice areas and our attorneys. We're not so big that we can't achieve that goal, and we still come together regularly for various lawyer meetings in which we focus on the process of integrating people and maintaining our culture.

CA: What's distinctive about the firm's summer program, compared to those of other firms?

CW: Our summer program is intended to provide summers with a mini Jenner experience, which is very challenging as we need to jam in an awful lot. Like any summer program, it is a somewhat inaccurate picture but we try our hardest by exposing summers to a variety of work, some training programs plus social events so they get a feel for life here. Leverage is pretty lean here so summers get excellent experience. Training is such a short period, but we jam a large number of programs into that.

Everybody comes to Chicago for our annual diversity dinner, and during that time we have a hands-on program which is always very well received. The dinner is an opportunity to bring everybody together to meet their colleagues and peers – internal network is critical to maintaining the culture here. It's always an inspiring evening, and we've had some extraordinary speakers including Barack Obama when he was Senator for Illinois.

CA: We heard last year that summers apply to the firm generally rather than a specific department. How is it decided who goes where?

CW: There's dialogue about it throughout the summer, as early as during recruitment we ask candidates their preferences. We encourage summers to try a variety of areas and keep in regular communication about their experiences. Towards the end of summer we ask where they'd prefer to be and make sure it's synergistic with our needs, which it almost always is. An advantage at Jenner is that most associates only specialize in their fourth year, so they get broad experience in a lot of different areas before narrowing down. That's an advantage for us when we're recruiting, and an advantage for clients – all our trial lawyers will hopefully have done appeal work, and vice versa.

CA: If you could give one piece of advice to our readers looking to join the firm, what would it be?

CW: Work really hard at law school and figure out a way to walk away from your legal education with a strong ability to research, write and analyze complex issues. There's no replacement for an outstanding legal mind, and an ability to problem solve. We look for people who love and understand the law, that's the foundation. After that, my advice would be that if you believe Jenner's core values are for you, be prepared in interviews to explain how and why they speak to you. Familiarize yourself with our clients and our attorneys, our contributions to the communities we work in and our areas of strength and expertise. working here would be a good fit for both you and us.

Get Hired

More than most BigLaw firms, pro bono will be a big topic in any interview for Jenner. “If you don't talk about pro bono, you haven't done your homework” according to associates. “Saying you have no interest in it would raise a red flag.” In other ways the process is more similar to the norm: “We're interested in people who will fit – do we want to sit on a plane with them for 20 hours?” Moreover, “if you don't explain why you're interested in Jenner that's bad,” but lack of work specialization in the early going means “the firm isn't necessarily looking for someone who knows exactly what they want to do here.” Commitment to pro bono aside, “we're not looking for a specific type of person, as we're a pretty diverse set of people with different views and desires.”

Candidates can prove that commitment through volunteer work or general non-profit experience, and “they place a premium on that at Jenner,” but sources felt “if you're really interested, that will show, you don't have to force it. I have friends here who came in with no non-profit experience.” Some singled out clinic involvement as a big advantage, as well as journal membership on the academic side, but “any type of public service helps, it doesn't have to have a legal bent.” It can however count against you if your only experience has been in business or finance, as “we're not just another BigLaw firm. If that's what you're looking for, this place is not for you.”

One Jennerite who'd helped assess candidates remembered “when I interviewed I was scared to ask about hours, but now when people do it I think it's smart, it's appropriate to talk about what's expected of you.” Ask yourself not only what Jenner can do for you, but what you can do for Jenner: “Be prepared to talk about how you can contribute to the culture. A lot of people here see the practice of law as more than just a job, and we think it's important to give back to society.”

Lawrence v. Texas

On September 1998, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Houston, Texas and charged with violating the state's anti-sodomy statute. Nearly five years later, on June 26th 2003, a 6-3 majority decision by the United States Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional and effectively rendered homosexual activity legal in every state of the nation. The case, which had been taken up to the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals and then the highest legal authority in the land, has since been recognized as one of the most important breakthroughs for LGBT rights in US history. It's also been a bone of contention ever since, having overruled the prior Bowers v. Hardwick ruling (which had allowed states to maintain anti-sodomy laws.)

The Lawrence verdict was based on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents the deprivation of “any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Careful to note that “our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy explained that “we conclude the rational of Bowers does not withstand careful analysis. It ought not to maintain binding precedent.” Will the new precedent set by Lawrence hold? Even after a Donald Trump nomination to the Supreme Court, the Obama-era appointments should maintain a majority backing behind the ruling for the near future.

Jenner's attorneys were crucial to this game-changing ruling. A team lead by Paul M. Smith, joined by William M. Hohengarten, Daniel Mach, David C. Belt and Sharon M. McGowan, represented Lawrence in the Supreme Court. Smith, who told us last year that “the sense of history was unlike anything I'd ever experienced,” has recently left the firm to join the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit aimed at strengthening campaign finance law. The Lawrence lead lawyermay have moved on, but Jenner's commitment to LGBT rights is still going strong, as proven by its recent involvement in similar cases as well as their unmatched internal record for LGBT inclusiveness.

Jenner & Block LLP

353 North Clark Street,
IL 60654-3456

  • Head Office: Chicago, IL
  • Number of domestic offices: 4
  • Number of international offices: 1
  • Worldwide revenue: $457,587,742
  • Partners (US): 213
  • Associates (US): 221
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: N/A
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Summers 2017: 44 2Ls, 2 Pre-Clerks
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 27 offers, 25 acceptances; 8 former summer associates will be judicial clerks

Main areas of work
Appellate and US Supreme Court; communications; complex commercial litigation; content, media and entertainment; copyright; corporate; election law and redistricting; employee benefits and executive compensation; environmental and workplace health and safety law; government contracts; government controversies and public policy litigation; insurance recovery and counseling; international arbitration; media and First Amendment; mergers and acquisitions; patent litigation and counseling; privacy and information governance; private equity, investment funds and SBIC formation; professional responsibility; real estate; restructuring and bankruptcy; securities litigation and enforcement; tax; trademark, advertising, and unfair competition; white collar defense and investigations

Firm profile
Jenner & Block is a firm with global reach, comprised of more than 500 lawyers and offices in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC. Our lawyers are widely recognized for securing significant litigation victories from the trial level through the US Supreme Court as well as producing results in sophisticated and high-profile corporate transactions. We are a firm with a conscience, committed to pro bono and public service, and to creating an unrivaled environment for superior talent. In 2015, The American Lawyer named us the number one Pro Bono firm for the sixth time in eight years.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 25
• Number of 2nd year associates: 30
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Columbia University, Harvard University, Howard University, New York University, Northwestern University, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, Yale University

Summer details  

Summer associate profile:
We seek summer associates who have excelled in law school, and have exceptional oral and written presentation skills, leadership experience, and strong interpersonal skills.

Summer program components:
Summer associates work with our lawyers and firm clients on a wide variety of complex cases and transactions. Among other things, our summer associates attend court hearings and closings, observe depositions and participate in strategy sessions with firm lawyers and clients. We also offer extensive training programs on a wide range of subjects. Summer associates are encouraged to attend department meetings, firmwide monthly associate lunches and weekly lunch-and-learn sessions. All summer associates have mentors and receive feedback from lawyers with whom they have worked.