This entrepreneurial Katten got the cream.
IF you want proof that you can still look the cat's whiskers at 42 then look no further than Penelope Cruz, Christian Bale, Leonardo Di Caprio or Katten Muchin Rosenman. It's not expensive dentistry or lucky genes that got the last of these looking so alluring but a healthy bottom line and careful growth: revenue was up 6.2% in 2014 and 4.5% in 2015. So what's behind this steady expansion? Chairman Vince Sergi replies: “Corporate deals and private equity were up significantly and our particular expertise in environmental and workplace safety was booming last year. Our structured finance and securitization group has had a phenomenal year,” says Sergi. “We're doing very well; we're growing carefully and deliberately and we're very excited about it.”
The Chicago-born firm built its name servicing growing, entrepreneurial clients, but as the (relatively young) law firm matured, an increasing number of larger, institutional clients joined the books. We've wondered in the past whether the firm's shift toward larger clients will dampen some of its famed entrepreneurial spirit; a few associates we spoke to are pondering too: “Katten seemed like a more nimble firm when I applied. Now I don't know what will happen with these feathers in the institutional basket.” However, Vince Sergi assures us: “We're still very entrepreneurial. Any juniors who join us are not going to be on a low track, they will be on whatever track they can handle.” This, at least, still rings true for associates: “I interpret our entrepreneurial spirit as 'if you have an idea, go for it, and we'll support you',” one told us.
Litigation takes in the largest proportion of Katten's 30-odd new first-years, followed by real estate and corporate. The remaining quarter are littered through areas like insolvency, financial services, commercial finance, trusts & estates, and environmental.
The size of each department (and office) typically determines work allocation. Larger groups, like Chicago's litigation, real estate or corporate practices, tend to have an assigning attorney: “For the first couple of years it gets you through the system,” but juniors felt the best work to be had was found by “expressing an interest to partners who will think of you when a project comes up.” Another added: “I found only the worst work goes through the system; if there is any interesting work, partners approach associates directly.” Without an assigning attorney acting as a back stop in smaller groups, the onus is very much on being “entrepreneurial” with the spoils often going to “those whose hunt things down.”
“Hunt things down.”
Bankruptcy, healthcare, white-collar, consumer disputes, class actions and general commercial litigation are just some of the areas junior litigators can get their paws into. Interviewees were generally pleased with their responsibility, with one clarifying: “I've slowly been getting more and more. It evens out to an appropriate third-year level. There are still times when I'm doing basic first-year stuff but I've had opportunities to do more senior tasks. It's a function of being a midlevel law firm; the distribution of work is not as regimented as it might be elsewhere. We fill in and do what's necessary on a case.” This can range from doc review – “I'm definitely still at that stage for general projects,” one third-year told us – to writing substantive briefs or drafting mediation statements.
Real estate rookies also start off as generalists, touching on “joint ventures, financing, straight acquisitions. We do a bit of everything for the first few years. After that there is no formal specialization but people might veer toward one area.” Katten's juniors take the lead on smaller sales and acquisitions but slip further down the responsibility ladder for larger transactions: “On financing, for instance, I work with the partner, draft the first take of loan documents, push the transaction forward but don't negotiate anything.”
Training & Development
"Not a lot of formal training.”
Formal training sessions are department-specific, resulting in mixed opinions from our interviewees. A corporate source revealed: “There are lunchtime trainings or presentations. We've not had those in a while and they aren't tremendously useful. It's an area we could definitely improve.” Real estate fared slightly better. Although we heard “there is not a lot of formal training” here, associates can clock up monthly CLE sessions and those in Chicago “typically attend the practice area orientation for first-years to refresh everything.”
Litigators were the happiest with their lot, citing “ongoing sessions which are specific to the type of work we're doing during the first three years.” Tasks such as brief writing, answering depositions or responding to subpoenas are all covered. All junior litigators convene in Chicago every other year for deposition training and every year for a mock trial.
Hours & Compensation
Putting in ten to twelve-hour shifts a day was the norm among most of our interviewees. “Katten talks about being a lifestyle firm but I don't think it's like that,” one source reflected. “The reality is BigLaw always requires extensive hours and it can be difficult."
“Anyone working at a big firm has to juggle.”
Generally, sources accepted this lifestyle as “something anyone working at a big firm has to juggle. Katten is definitely a place which emphasizes being able to work at home. No one has an issue if you're not here at night.” Or sometimes the afternoon: “If there is nothing on I have no problem leaving at 3pm,” but before you start dreaming of regular early exits take note that this same source had notched up numerous 10pm finishes.
Katten doesn't stipulate a billable requirement but 2,000 hours earns rookies a class level bonus (1,950 in Charlotte), although they need to bill more to get a market-level bonus or more. “It's definitely achievable,” sources agreed. “But many people feel it's not exactly competitive with the market.” Hitting 2,100 gets you market rate, and bonus amounts increase every 100 hours beyond that. “There is a large swing between the class and market bonus,” but a smaller step up for every increase beyond the 2,100 to emphasize that “we're not driving for those crazy hours of 2,300.”
Chicago rookies detected a “genuine Midwestern niceness” among their colleagues, with one telling us: “People genuinely enjoy being around each other.” Juniors had no concerns about approaching partners for advice or taking time to shoot the breeze. “I don't feel uncomfortable laughing in the hallway; what brought me here was the feeling I wouldn't need to censor myself.”
“It's not a small dog either, it's a German Shepherd!”
The DC office “struck me as very friendly,” offered one out-of-towner, with a DC native confirming: “It's very communal and relaxed. We wear jeans on a Friday and a partner sometimes brings their dog into the office. It's not a small dog either, it's a German Shepherd!” A similar atmosphere permeates LA. “I've heard this office is much more laid back than the Chicago HQ; the dress code and personal interactions are a bit more relaxed.” Non-New Yorkers suggested the firm's second largest office, in NYC, swung the other way: “Maybe it's just my Midwestern bias. The people are nice but something feels different; New York is more fast-paced than Chicago.” A Big Apple junior maintained that although “people here understand the work needs to get done and we're going to do whatever it takes to do that, I don't see a lot of the unrealistic expectations or silly timing issues I see with peers at other firms.”
And what about juniors' thoughts on the firm's famed buzzword, 'entrepreneurial'? “I think it's true. Everyone is encouraged and urged to find their own work and develop their own clients.” Others reckoned the reputation had attracted “a certain type of person looking to work hard and get ahead.” But that drive doesn't come at the expense of their colleagues. Although the firm is “scrappy because people fight for what they want, it's not ultra competitive. Fellow associates will help you if you have a problem.”
Anyone for ping pong?
The Chicago HQ was recently revamped to make it “more modern; it's not a dramatic update.” Plans for glass office walls were nixed by associates, but the “browny-green” color scheme has been replaced by a “lighter, cleaner, greyish look.” The “word on the street” is that an associates' lounge may be on the cards, so now's the time for people to put in their request for that ping pong or fussball table.
Katten's Chicago office is full-service (just like its cousins in Century City, New York and Washington, DC) but several of the firm's smaller bases have more of a specific bent: Austin serves clients in the energy and chemical sectors. Fellow Texas base Houston tackles environmental compliance and workplace safety matters. Environmental clients can also be found in abundance in San Francisco while Charlotte, which overlooks the Carolina Panthers stadium, focuses heavily on real estate and litigation.
Strategy & Future
The East Coast is where the action's currently at. “We've added some new people in Washington, DC and are on the verge of adding more; I think that office is really poised for some very good growth,” chairman Vince Sergi tells us. “We're also really targeting New York for this fiscal year for more lateral growth and more bottom-up growth from law schools. We need more help as our New York business expands and we're very excited about that.” Read our Bonus Features for more from Sergi on Katten's future plans.
“...end up in court on truancy charges.”
Juniors had worked on a variety of pro bono matters from aiding domestic violence victims to assisting on asylum applications or helping “low-income youth who end up in court on truancy charges; we provide representation otherwise they'd be in a courtroom by themselves not knowing what's going on.”
Once a month, Chicago attorneys hold a legal clinic “which meets at a school. Parents and locals can come and run their legal problems past us, and we'll give them an assessment of whether we can help.” And while not strictly legal work, attorneys can also bill pro bono hours for teaching lessons on law and the Constitution to students of the same school. A hundred pro bono hours are automatically credited as billable. “After that you have to request permission for more, but from what I've heard it is pretty much always approved.”
Pro bono hours
Sources believed that like most of BigLaw Katten “doesn't feel that diverse. I think they could be better at retaining women and recruiting and retaining minority attorneys.” One interviewee added: “I've heard from women in litigation that it's hard for them not to have as many equity partners to look up to as role models.” Things might be about to start changing, though, as we heard the Women's Leadership Forum (WLF) has been “relaunched with a new emphasis on attracting and retaining women.”
“New emphasis on attracting and retaining women.”
An LGBT coalition, a Minority Associates Committee and a Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity are also active at Katten, but does their reach extend beyond the firm's headquarters? “The WLF is pretty big in New York and holds regular meetings,” but as other affinity groups “are generally run out of Chicago, New York associates don't participate so much.” Elsewhere, juniors were aware that affinity groups existed at the firm but not always entirely sure “what they do.”
Time and again when we asked about interview tips, juniors told us “the firm really likes personality.” Any kind in particular? “An interesting personality.” Suffice to say, recruiters will probably “ask a lot about your interests outside of work and see if people are willing to engage on a variety of topics,” so ensure you demonstrate that your life doesn't completely revolve around the law.
“Collaborative successes the student has had.”
National hiring partner Howard Rubin offers a bit more detail: “We don't practice law individually so our interviews are trying to capture who is going to be a great teammate. We want to gain an insight into collaborative successes the student has had, either in prior work experience or in the law school setting. We're trying to gauge whether the student is someone who anticipates issues and has a confidence which will help them thrive in such an entrepreneurial environment.”
Chairman Vince Sergi chats to us about Katten's past year and its future plans
Chambers Associate: Katten's trying to increase the number of larger clients it services, how is that going?
Vince Sergi: It's going very well. We've had really good success since we put together our strategic plan about a year ago. We're focused on growing our core practice area and trying to grow our largest clients. We want to make $1 million clients into $2 million clients, and our $3 million clients into $5 million clients. We've increased the number of our $5 million clients by focusing on our existing clients and building client teams that continue to offer exemplary client service with great technical expertise. We've seen some success in focusing on other business units within our larger clients so we can conduct more business with them but we're also seeking out new clients too.
In 2015 we increased our revenue by 4.5% to $561.6 million, our profits per equity partner were up by 7.9% to $1.5 million and our revenues per lawyer from $850,000 to $900,000. We're doing very well; we're growing carefully and deliberately and we're very exited about it.
CA: Associates felt there was an increasing emphasis on cross selling the firm's practices this year. Is that the case?
VS: Yes, we've really moved into trying to grow our existing clients by cross serving our practices. In building our client teams we are moving away from any siloed effect and building multi practice teams; we're seeing a lot more collaboration among our partners and lawyers. This was one of the goals on our strategic growth plan.
CA: What have been the hottest practice areas this year?
VS: Commercial finance has been very busy. Corporate deals and private equity were up significantly and our particular expertise in environmental and workplace safety was booming last year. If there is an accident at an oil refinery or chemical plant, all types of state and federal regulatory agencies fall on the company and conduct investigations. We've been hired on a number of these types of matters for major oil and chemical companies.
Our structured finance and securitization group has had a phenomenal year. Our securitization transaction in China for Ford Automotive Finance was recognized as deal of the year by the China Business Law Journal.
Some firms have been saying that litigation was down last year but it wasn't for us; it's not up tremendously but financial services litigation was very busy. I would guess there has been more growth on the transactional side than litigation.
CA: You mentioned last year that you'd like to see yout Austin, Houston, California and Washington, DC offices grow in 2015, has that happened?
VS: We added two new partners to the Houston office – Gregory Dillard in workplace safety and Daniella Landers into our environment practice – so in Houston we've definitely seen some good growth. In Southern California we've welcomed a few extra folks. We've added some new people in Washington, DC and are on the verge of adding more; I think that office is really poised for some very good growth.
We're also really targeting New York for this fiscal year for more lateral growth and more bottom up growth from law schools. We need more help as our New York business expands and we're very excited about that.
CA: Tell us about diversity at the firm.
VS: We were recognised again this year by Working Mother magazine as one of the '50 Best Law Firms for Women' and one of the '2015 Working Mother Best 100 Companies'.
We've recently added two more women to our compensation committee. The compensation process and compensation decisions are critical at any firm and a good twenty five to thirty percent of our committee is female. It's really important to the firm; we're dedicated to diversity.
One of the things we're introducing is a sponsorship program instead of traditional mentorship activities. Our sponsorship program is more intense and allows our associates to spend a lot of time with their sponsors, receive help to get to the next level, learn about their clients and meet their contacts. We think that's really helpful for someone's career. We started this with our minority lawyers, now we're rolling it out to all of our women and we'll eventually roll it out to all associates.
CA: Any advice or words of wisdom for law students as they try to enter the legal profession?
VS: I think it's important to be all in and show you're really dedicated to learning your craft and are interested in serving clients. Becoming a good listener is very important. You need to learn to listen to clients' concerns and needs rather than walking in and saying how great we are and what we can offer them.
It's still a good time to be in this profession; another area the firm is interested in growing is cyber security. I think that's a way to get younger people involved in the legal profession. Instead of getting an MBA and a degree in computer science and moving to Palo Alto you can combine law with very interesting technological changes in our world.
We speak with Katten's new national hiring partner Howard Rubin
Chambers Associate: Which of your offices do you hire entry level associates into?
Howard Rubin: We run summer programs in our Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Charlotte offices. We also have Leadership Council on Legal Diversity [LCLD] for 1Ls in those bases as well as in our Washington, DC office which is focused on providing a rich law firm experience to students but is not connected to permanent hiring.
CA: Who conducts your OCI and callback interviews?
HR: In most instances our partners will attend OCIs. In our largest office Chicago, around 35% of interviewees are invited to call backs and in smaller offices it's closer to 25%. At callbacks students will meet with both partners and associates.
CA: What kind of questions do you ask at callbacks?
HR: You have to understand what's at the core of Katten; we are a firm that's built on entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to being true business counsellors to our clients. That means interviews are not aimed at merely assessing a candidate's academic strength; questions such as 'tell me about the note you're working on for a law journal' or 'what is your most interesting class' candidly tell us little about a candidate's commitment to client service, their level of creativity, their entrepreneurial spirit or their collaborative intelligence.
We don't practice law individually so our interviews are trying to capture who is going to be a great team mate. We want to gain an insight into collaborative successes the student has had, either in prior work experience or in the law school setting. We're trying to gage whether the student is someone who anticipates issues and has a confidence which will help them thrive in such an entrepreneurial environment.
CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?
HR: Someone who brings an energy and enthusiasm to their work, both through prior work experience and their work in the law school community is someone who excites us. Work in the law school community doesn't just mean the work sitting at a desk. Someone who has demonstrated leadership skills and talks about how they have made a team better is someone who excites us and stands out at interview.
CA: Outline your summer program for us.
MR: I'm passionate about our summer program. We treat our summer associates as associates during their time with us and that means they are getting real work on real client projects. It also means that they are working directly with partners and associates at every level of experience. We pride ourselves on staffing our matters across practice groups, leanly, and that is very exciting for our summer associates – and most junior associates – because the contributions they're making are real contributions that will matter.
Another one of the things which is fairly unique about our program is that we have a very meaningful midsummer review. We don't wait until the back end of summer to let our summer students know how they've been performing. We want to know what they're looking to get out of the experience all the way along. The mid summer review is a really important part of establishing that.
CA: How can someone stand out on your summer program?
HR: We're always looking for the highest quality work product and attention to detail – that is a given – for our program. But every bit as much as that, we place a premium on identifying summer associates who are going to get along with their team mates, not just with the partners and associates they're working for. Much like our assessment of our full time associates, we are looking for summer associates who anticipate needs and take a proactive approach to the projects on which they're working.
CA: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the firm or the recruiting process?
HR: I was a summer associate twenty five years ago and, while it was a long time ago, I can still remember what it was like to be part of a team and treated as a colleague doing meaningful work for clients. I cannot imagine a better place to be a summer associate than Katten, truly because we take law students and we make them our team mates. We show them not what a summer associate experience is like but what an associate experience is like. On top of everything it's a great place to work with super people. I come back to the importance of our looking for smart, engaging, collaborative team mates. That's what our program is about.
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
525 West Monroe Street,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of International offices: 2
- Partners (US): 309
- Associates (US): 256
- Summer Salary 2016
- Chicago/ Los Angeles/ New York/ Washington, DC: 1Ls/2Ls: $3,077
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- Charlotte: 1Ls/2Ls: $2,692
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered: Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 40 (32 2Ls, 8 1Ls)
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 34 offers, 26 acceptances
Main areas of work
Corporate, financial services, litigation, real estate, environmental, commercial finance, intellectual property and trusts and estates.
Katten is a full-service law firm with approximately 650 attorneys in locations across the United States and in London and Shanghai. Clients seeking sophisticated, highvalue legal services turn to us for counsel locally, nationally and internationally.
• Number of 1st year associates: 24
• Number of 2nd year associates: 31
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 (Charlotte: $155,000)
• 2nd Year: $190,000 (Charlotte: $160,000)
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016: Chicago-Kent College of Law, Columbia, Fordham University, Harvard, Howard University, Loyola Law School Los Angeles, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, New York University, Northwestern University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall, The University of Chicago, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California Gould, University of Virginia, Wake Forest University
Summer associate profile:
Our Summer Associate Program is our most important recruiting activity. The program offers participants a realistic idea of what life is like for a first year associate. With our diverse client base, summer associates have the opportunity to work in each of our practice areas on a broad spectrum of assignments.
Summer program components:
We provide programs designed specifically for summer associates, including legal writing, negotiation, drafting and trial skills workshops, in addition to presentations introducing the firm’s different areas of practice. Summer associates have the opportunity to directly observe lawyers and interact with clients as part of their training experience. We also encourage—and expect—our summer associates to participate in all of the attorney training and development programs presented by the firm and our various departments.