Jenner & Block LLP - The Inside View

Its HQ rises like a green shoot from Chicago's concrete jungle, watered by Jenner's passion for public service, fertilized by its longstanding reputation for litigation, and blooming with new ideas.

IF Benjamin Button syndrome involved getting larger as well as younger (and fresher, fitter and more fanciable), it might be the perfect way of describing Jenner & Block. Once you free it from the image of Brad Pitt as a giant baby, wrap your head around this: Jenner recently turned 100, and while it retains a firm grip on its age-old reputation as Chicago's litigation hotshot, it is also growing dynamically. Inside sources repeatedly describe their employer as “progressive” for its pro bono prowess and diversity efforts, and its headcount and revenue are continually on the up. Add that its Windy City digs are in a state of the art, environmentally certified building, and further factor in that Jenner recently spawned its first international office, in London.

Its established prestige is as much of a reality as its passion for progress. Chambers USA awards Jenner top rankings in all kinds of litigation, from media and entertainment to insurance, and white-collar and government investigations. Its attorneys also distinguish themselves for their work in areas including corporate/M&A, tax, bankruptcy & restructuring and real estate. What's in the water at Jenner? “Terry is big on innovation,” chief talent officer Charlotte Wager says of fairly new managing partner Terrence Truax, “and he has pushed us all to think about ways we can be innovative in our practice. We're also focusing more than ever on technology and how to leverage our tech to enhance client service. We've upgraded all our internal computer systems.”

Associates were open about their motivations for joining Jenner, and one reason in particular kept coming up: “I was interested in pro bono work.” They agreed that “Jenner blunts the edges of joining a big law firm.”

The Work



In keeping with Jenner's pie chart of prowess, the overwhelming majority of associates can be found in the litigation department. Many litigators had gone through the firm's summer program, during which summers can try transactional work or focus purely on contentious. Seasoned summers then “apply to the firm in general, not a specific department, but we never hear of someone who wants to be a litigator being put in corporate.” Once accepted into the ranks, junior litigators “don't have to specialize until the fourth year,” and even then many still pick up work from various practices. Participants appreciated the system: “It would be intimidating to have to pick straight away. This way you get a chance to build relationships first.” First and second-years were involved in criminal and government investigations, media work, white-collar matters and civil litigation, among other cases.

“There's none of the subordinate hand holding I expected.”

From the get-go, litigators get work via “a free market system with a back-up: there is an assignment coordinator but generally speaking you shouldn't need them.” Referring to the work, one put it frankly: “There's none of the subordinate hand holding I expected. Most cases are leanly staffed which means you can get stuck with a lot of work, but a lot of it is substantive.” Doing your share of doc review initially is to be expected, but “the documents become more complicated and you're able to have a hand in drafting motions at critical stages of litigation.” Others had been “supervising discovery, taking part in strategy sessions, getting in contact with clients, attending a two-day arbitration and preparing witnesses.”

“Jenner is a sweet spot to be a corporate associate,” one reckoned, “because the department size means you work directly with partners. We've got some major clients as well: we're General Motors' primary lawyers. You're trained as a generalist, which means you don't get pigeon-holed and it makes you a better candidate to go in-house if that's what you want to do.”

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Some felt differently. A disgruntled insider whispered that “associates essentially get sponsored by certain partners and it makes it hard if you're not in one of those circles. It's not unheard of after a year for associates in the same class to have vastly different levels of experience. Sometimes if there's a big litigation case it's all hands on deck and corporate associates are asked to step in. Some people are protected from that by their partner mentors and others aren't. It's a crapshoot.” Ultimately though “the experience you get from pro bono makes it a worthwhile trade off, and the corporate department is growing. There is possibility for development here.” Charlotte Wager adds that Jenner is growing its corporate practice and "it can be challenging in the smaller departments like corporate to ensure that everyone is getting the same experience. In the end, we are a team here. Sometimes we need to pitch in to help others – we do what we need to do to serve the client.” 

Culture



Sources brought their courtroom aspirations to their description of Jenner's culture. Exhibit A: “I summered at other big firms and Jenner stood out for being more inclusive and transparent; they showed us stats and figures that other firms would consider confidential.” Worthy points for consideration, backed up by hard proof: “It's clearly a firm that values your personal life. Recently several women were made partner while working reduced hours.” Concrete evidence: “Huge value is placed on respect, to the point where if certain partners aren't living that out, other partners step in to fix these situations.”

“There's no Wolf of Wall Street happening here.” 

Interviewees also commented that “we all share the same values, which doesn't necessarily mean similar personalities or political views, but rather similar priorities, like pro bono. Also, we're not flashy.” Not being “flashy” extended to the social scene, which stood out from the usual fancy BigLaw calendars. “We have happy hour in the upstairs conference room,” Windy City wanderers explained, adding quite cheerfully that “it's rather subdued though. There's no Wolf of Wall Street happening here.”

Pro Bono



“There's no question that Jenner is committed to pro bono,” came the consensus. “It's expected of everyone, it's a huge part of why people join the firm, and they really don't put a limit on hours.” Sources also reckoned that because of its rep, Jenner gets the juiciest public interest gigs. They reeled off their experiences so far: “I'm on an asylum case and an innocence case, and I'm driving both. Partners let you do that.” Another “was the primary drafter on a huge lawsuit involving a number of citizens who were being sued under the Administrative Review Act in Illinois.” A third rookie wowed: “I worked on a murder case.”

“I'm on an asylum case and an innocence case, and I'm driving both.”

Interviewees explained that “Jenner pays attention to associates hitting the benchmarks necessary to get on the Trial Bar in Illinois – skills such as drafting major discovery, taking depositions, drafting motions for summary judgment – and pro bono work allows you to work through those, so it's critical.” While all pro bono counts as billable, “you can get over-involved in it: they won't be happy if you're turning down real work for pro bono work. If you're on a death penalty case and it takes 500 hours that's absolutely fine, but they don't want people taking lots of small projects to avoid doing billable work.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all associates across all US offices: 54,455 
  • Average per US attorney: 108

Hours & Compensation



The 2,100 bonus eligibility target wasn't a source of concern for most associates. “There's some leniency anyway. You're meant to roughly bill 2,000 and have 100 hours of pro bono or other firm-approved activities on top of that, but sometimes you can have more pro bono and still get a bonus.” The working day of a Jennerite “starts on average at 8.30am and ends around 7pm,” but most “log back on at night for a few hours.” Some weekend work from home was frequent. Even so, all responded that “yes, we do have time for a private life away from work, and the firm has been accepting of that.”

“It's a prima donna attitude.” 

At the time of our research last year, associates were still slightly miffed after the unveiling of what they considered disappointing bonuses. “This year we got a memo explaining what the bonus would be for each class year. They clearly listened and made an effort to be more transparent.” All agreed that “we are compensated generously for what we do here.” The point though, according to one, is that “we are not Davis Polk, so complaining you didn't get a Davis Polk bonus is like complaining your Acura isn't as flashy as a Rolls-Royce. It's a prima donna attitude.”

Offices



The Chicago HQ certainly sounded diva-worthy. We heard tales of a “beautiful building with insane views,” that sources “couldn't say enough nice things about.” Every attorney gets their own office, “there's a kitchen on every floor stocked with coffee and tea, and there's a gym you can join.” A chirpy foodie was a fan of the “in-building cafeteria which sets up an amazing omelet station in the morning.” The firm also has bases in LA, New York, and DC.

Diversity



While not all saw things quite as positively as the interviewee who exclaimed “is it diverse? Up to your eyeballs,” all sources had praise to dish out. “Jenner is a liberal place, more open than other law firms. It's apparent from the interview process all the way up the firm. There are a lot of powerful women to look up to, and generally there's a robust program focused on gender.”

“Jenner is a liberal place, more open than other law firms.”

Jenner is also 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. With regards to ethnic minorities though, interviewees were more phlegmatic: “It's an area they can work on. It's less apparent.” Still, all in all Jenner juniors had faith in the firm's commitment to diversity, and frequently described it as a “progressive” place.

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Get Hired



One source did feel the need to specify that diversity also means diversity of backgrounds, and they were hoping to see more schools represented in future associate classes. We spoke with chief talent officer Charlotte Wager, who said: "We've stuck with the same law schools, but we've expanded our outreach a bit in order to target students more interested in transactional work. The strategy was very successful. Our 2016 summer program is a little bigger, and more of the summer associates have expressed an interest in transactional work."

"If you don't talk about pro bono in your interview with us, it shows you don't know us."

Wager also shares some tips on how to succeed at interview: "We're looking for people who understand what Jenner & Block is about – who understand and believe in our core values. Not everyone is truly driven by the opportunity to do pro bono, engage in public service, and give back. We know some law schools discourage students from talking too much about pro bono because it sends the wrong message, but if you don't talk about pro bono in your interview with us, it shows you don't know us. On the other hand, we're not trying to attract people who only want to do pro bono. We'd all like that, but it's not how it works."

Training & Development



“I don't always know how I've done after a task.”

Jenner offers “orientation at the beginning, plenty of weekly CLEs, and some very helpful NITA deposition training,” but on-the-job training and “the experience you get doing pro bono,” were equally if not further appreciated by sources. Six-month and 12-month reviews were another way for juniors to be confronted with their progress. Most felt these were useful, although several commented that feedback was a bit hit and miss: “I don't always know how I've done after a task. Some partners give you a call after your review too, to talk things over, but others leave it up to you.” On the other hand participants spoke positively about their relationships with associate and partner mentors: “I feel I can ask them anything.”

Strategy & Future



Is Jenner on the road to change, or is it holding on to its old identity? "I would say it's a combination. Our success comes from our commitment to core values, which are client service, pro bono and growing our people. Those things won’t change. But to achieve success, we have to be nimble, to be open to change, and to find new ways to execute those core values. But we hold firm to our core values. We don't grow for growth's sake; we look at opportunities to see if they fit with our overall strategy. A commitment to growing our transactional side is key. We had ten lateral partners join us in 2015 and half were transactional, and we've added a further two there in 2016. We want law students and clients to recognize us not just as a litigation powerhouse, but also as a premier firm for transactional work."

Interview with chief talent officer Charlotte Wager



Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you like our readers to know about?

Charlotte Wager: The year's gone really, really well. We opened our London office, that was a big highlight, and we're very excited about it. We viewed it as an opportunity to push into new markets, especially in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We are looking to develop our international arbitration, disputes, regulatory and white collar practices. We hired two UK lateral partners, who are very busy leading a small but growing team. We understand the London legal market is highly competitive, but we're excited about how our first year has gone.

CA: Are any practice areas growing or shrinking? Which areas of litigation are busiest?

CW: 2015 was certainly busy for our investigations practice, because we had several significant monitorships and investigations. We were busy in our complex commercial, media and entertainment, patent, and corporate groups, and our transactional team had some terrific high-profile, complex deals.

We have a fairly new team we call the cybersecurity working group, formed in response to the many privacy issues that arise from online communication. It's focused on privacy and insurance. We're working together to prevent and investigate data breaches and to respond to state-sponsored threats. That's a unique area for us because we have this fantastic core group of privacy lawyers. They've been a great asset, growing this practice and cross-marketing it to try to anticipate these new issues facing the business community.

CA: What's changed most over the past few years since Terence Truax took over as managing partner?

CW: Terry is big on innovation, and he has pushed us all to think about ways we can be innovative in our practice. We're also focusing more than ever on technology and how to leverage our tech to enhance client service. We've upgraded all our internal computer systems, and we are focused on how client service can be enhanced through legal project management.

CA: What's the firm's strategy going forward? Is Jenner on the road to change, in terms of its global presence and its areas of expertise? Or is it holding on to its identity?

CW: I would say it's a combination. Our success comes from our commitment to core values, which are client service, pro bono, and growing our people. Those things won’t change. But to achieve success, we have to be nimble, to be open to change, and to find new ways to execute those core values. But we hold firm to our core values. We don't grow for growth's sake; we look at opportunities to see if they fit with our overall strategy.

A commitment to growing our transactional side is key. We had 10 lateral partners join us in 2015 and half were transactional, and we've added a further two there in 2016. We want law students and clients to recognize us not just as a litigation powerhouse, but also as a premier firm for transactional work.

CA: Speaking to associates this year, we heard they all felt like the firm took their bonus-related concerns into consideration and acted to rectify any problems. Do you think associates were right to compare their compensation to that of firms like Davis Polk? Some thought it a pointless comparison due to how different the culture and lifestyle of the two firms is.

CW: It's so interesting, and I love hearing that associates recognize that we're unique and different. Our pro bono practice is unrivaled, and that has an enormous positive impact on the way we practice law and on our community. It differentiates us from other firms that are more focused on profits per equity partner.

On the other hand, we are committed to being a highly profitable law firm and paying competitively. Our associates worked very hard in 2015, and we couldn’t deliver our caliber of client service without them. We were delighted to share with them our strong financial results, but we are also committed to growing people via promotions. We promoted 18 lawyers to partner this year. I think it shows real commitment to our people, and ultimately, we have to pay market.

CA: Is there anything new in the scope of your recruitment, or in your hiring process, that we should be reporting on?

CW: We've stuck with the same law schools, but we've expanded our outreach a bit in order to target students more interested in transactional work. The strategy was very successful. Our 2016 summer program is a little bigger, and more of the summer associates have expressed an interest in transactional work.

CA: During interviews, how do you work out if someone is a good cultural fit for the firm?

CW: It goes back to the person who said not to compare us to Davis Polk. We want to attract people who get it and who understand our core values. They're smart people who enjoy legal research and problem solving with clients.

But that's not necessarily a differentiator from other firms. The differentiator is this: We're looking for people who understand what Jenner & Block is about – who understand and believe in our core values. Not everyone is truly driven by the opportunity to do pro bono, engage in public service, and give back. We know some law schools discourage students from talking too much about pro bono because it sends the wrong message, but if you don't talk about pro bono in your interview with us, it shows you don't know us. On the other hand, we're not trying to attract people who only want to do pro bono. We'd all like that, but it's not how it works.

CA: What should young Jenner associates do to ensure they follow their desired career paths within the firm, in terms of the area they end up specializing in? Realistically, how much agency do they have in determining this?

CW: Lots of agency. Junior associates drive this themselves. We talk with them from day one to encourage them to look at the practice group list, introduce themselves to the relevant people, attend meetings informally, learn as much as they can, and lay the path themselves. We also encourage them to consider their preferences along with market demand. They should be strategic but also driven by passion.

CA: You do well with hiring and retaining LGBT attorneys. Is this a deliberate effort? What do you do to ensure you attract LGBT candidates and how focused are you on hiring, for example, ethnic minorities?

CW: We are committed to diversity and inclusion within the profession as a whole and within our firm, across all offices and all practice areas. This applies to many types of diversity - gender, ethnic minorities, sexual orientation, and social economic backgrounds. And it's regardless of political opinion or religious affiliation.

For us, LGBT diversity and inclusion is as much a part of what we are as pro bono. It dates back a long way in Jenner & Block’s history, and we have been at the forefront of the same-sex marriage lawsuits and lawsuits advancing the equality of the LGBT community for many years. We also committed to racial and ethnic diversity – we have a scholarship program for ethnically diverse law students and active affinity groups for our lawyers. We're strongly committed to gender diversity too; our last managing partner was a woman. This year, we have three women on the senior governing committee, and we have a high percentage of women in leadership and management positions. Terry is surrounded by women!

Jenner & Block LLP

353 North Clark Street,
Chicago,
IL 60654-3456
Website www.jenner.com

  • Head Office: Chicago, IL
  • Number of domestic offices: 4
  • Number of international offices: 1
  • Worldwide revenue: $464,891,012
  • Partners (US): 213
  • Associates (US): 221
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: N/A
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Summers 2016: 37 2Ls, 2 Pre-Clerks
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 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 2016:
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.