With plenty of transactional work to get your paws on, associates say this Chicagoan is very much the Katten’s whiskers.
If Chicago is your kind of town, then Katten's a firm that won’t let you down. Settled as it is in the the windy city, this firm packs a punch both nationwide and internationally. Beyond its Chicago HQ, Katten has offices in Charlotte, Dallas, LA, New York, Orange County, and DC, plus two extra international bases in London and Shanghai. “We’re people-focused, hard-working and progressive,” CEO Noah Heller explains, highlighting how finance work and the financial services sector are at the core of the firm’s practice. It’s been a busy period at Katten of late, as Heller explains: “We’ve grown our New York office significantly and relocated to an exciting building in Rockefeller Plaza. We’ve also just launched an ESG practice group, which will focus on establishing programs and assessments to impact client racial equity, civil and human rights, workplace culture, and gender pay parity.” When it comes to longstanding practices, Katten picks up plenty of praise from Chambers USA, which commends the firm’s nationwide prowess in areas like bankruptcy/restructuring, healthcare, and various streams of capital markets work. Other highlights for the firm include the Chicago office’s IP and real estate expertise, as well as the New York base’s capabilities in white-collar crime and government investigations matters.
Katten’s accolades might look purrfect on paper but, as one associate reminded us, choosing a firm “really boils down to the people I could see myself wanting to come into the office to see on a daily basis.” The firm's still hybrid (so don’t expect to be in the office every day), but sources mentioned that “it would be impossible to come up with better humans” than those at Katten. The firm’s warm atmosphere was evident to one junior from the interview stage, when “it was obvious to me that people enjoyed spending time with each other.” Although attorneys take the work seriously, sources described Katten as being “a lot less buttoned-up,” both metaphorically and literally, as there's a business-casual dress code in the mix, too. It’s “relaxed and nerdy,” which was a winning combo for this source, who declared that“everybody says it’s a great firm, and a great place to work.”
Strategy & Future
“The firm strategy is really to focus on providing the highest levels of client service, as well as handling sophisticated matters on both the transactional and litigation sides,” Heller summarizes. Katten has remained active on the deal side over 2022, and Heller is happy the firm has “been able to do so when other firms have had a different experience.” Heller is also clear that Katten’s leadership is interested in taking a people-first approach and investing in the wellbeing of their lawyers. “Leaders of a firm have to lead by example and take care of themselves,” he tells us. “If you talk about your own struggles, you create an environment that allows people to truly feel like they belong.”
KattenFlex – the new policy that allows the firm’s lawyers to coordinate in-office working with their colleagues – is one example of how Katten has been investing in getting its people together with intention. Investing in individuals has meant that Katten hasn’t turned to mass layoffs to survive shifts in the economy: “For us, steady, consistent growth and the opportunity to expand our client base in a measured way allows us to perform better when ‘trendier’ work dies down,” Heller tells us. “For 2023, we’re looking to provide increased opportunities on our litigation and enforcement fronts. We’re also heavily invested in bankruptcy work in both the US and the UK.”
Most juniors at Katten are located in the firm’s Chicago HQ, but a significant number on our list were also in the New York, LA, and Dallas offices. Practice group-wise, private credit took on the highest number of second- and third-year associates in our sample, followed by the financial markets litigation and enforcement and M&A and private equity groups. Across practices, work assignment is typically in the associate’s hands, with one junior telling us how “a lot of mornings start by sending out emails to partners to ask for work.” Partners also reach out to associates with available matters, and some relished this system, as “it allows me to control my workload and say yes or no to work depending on what I have on my plate.”
“We are part of the team as much as the partners and senior associates are.”
Katten’s private credit department deals with “the midmarket funding of transactions, and we represent the lenders. We’re a big department within the firm!” On deals, juniors are typically in charge of checklists and project management, but it was the speed of the transactions that juniors found particularly exciting. What’s more, “you’re not relegated to certain junior tasks once you’re comfortable with the work and show initiative,” so sources felt there were opportunities for them to get creative work. As well as trying out some drafting tasks, there’s “a ton of client contact, to the point where I have a good relationship with lots of clients who reach out to me directly with questions.” However, associates added that “if you need guidance you’ll get it, but you’re trusted to be independent and proactive with your work.” No matter the size of the team, we were told that there’s plenty of partner contact, so juniors can get as much senior exposure and hands-on experience as they need.
Private credit clients: Twin Brook Capital Partners, Ares Capital Corporation, NXT Capital. Advised Twin Brook Capital Partners on its role in a $500 million-plus credit facility for a midmarket private equity firm.
Work in financial markets was described by juniors as an “interesting blend of regulatory work and litigation,” which involved conducting internal investigations and representing large international banks and investment firms in disciplinary hearings. “Katten extends a lot of trust if you reach for it,” one junior gushed. “We are part of the team as much as the partners and senior associates are.” This integration means that juniors get some hefty writing assignments, as well as opportunities to participate in hearings and take depositions. There's more than just doc review to sift through, with juniors explaining that they can do “the first draft of basically anything” and become the “fact master” on matters. All the litigators we spoke with enjoyed the different parts of the job, with one enjoying piecing together the bigger picture via legal research, while another preferred being part of large-team strategizing sessions.
Financial markets litigation and enforcementclients: BMO Capital Markets Corp, Anaplan, Inotiv. Representing Inotiv during a class action that alleges violations of the Securities Exchange Act.
Juniors in M&A explained how the department deals largely with private equity firms. There’s lots of cross-office collaboration, so associates get to work with a variety of clients. In fact, one source explained that there’s a ton of client-facing work, with many trusted to run client calls. “That’s the best part,” an associate explained, “as I love educating myself on a topic and then converting that into something usable for clients.” On top of that, juniors managed the diligence process, wrote issues lists and drafted a variety of ancillary documents. Interviewees were impressed by the level of trust they were given from partners, who reportedly let juniors have a go at negotiating with opposing counsel. We were also told that partners sit down with associates to discuss feedback: “I learn a lot from that and get to see how things differ from transaction to transaction, and between industries and clients.” Another big draw here was the opportunity to get involved in the department's sports-related work.
Corporate clients: Granite Creek Capital Partners, Shorehill Capital, Ronin Equity Partners. Advised Ronin Equity Partners on its $100 million acquisition of several manufacturing companies.
“It’s a choose-your-own-adventure setup,” a source commented on the topic of pro bono. There’s an official 100-hour billable cap, but insiders let the cat(ten) out of the bag and revealed that an email to the pro bono coordinator explaining why you want to dedicate more time to a matter can get you approval for more billable credit. This was more common among litigators, who appeared to take on more pro bono than their transactional counterparts. Some surmised that this was a result of activity in the transactional departments picking up again, while others reflected on how contentious pro bono work might be easier to slot into your schedule. Although some transactional attorneys try their hand at litigation, the variety of available opportunities means "you can find just about any type of pro bono case you want.” Coordinators match associates with relevant opportunities that suit their interests, and we heard that there’s even been niche white-collar, IP, and M&A matters on the pro bono side. Immigration work seemed to be the most common type of pro bono, but many juniors had also worked with nonprofits, on veterans' rights cases, and in environmental law. These matters come with more responsibility than everyday billable matters, as “they really let you take the reins.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 27,322
- Average per US attorney: 40
Hours & Compensation
Billable target: 2,000
“The billable target is great because it is exactly that: a target,” one interviewee mentioned right off the bat. “You don’t feel guilty if you don’t meet it!” There is, however, an “all-or-nothing” setup where associates need to hit the 2,000 target to get a bonus (which is market-rate, like the salary), but there’s no punishment for missing it. Transactional associates told us that the target was achievable since their departments have remained busy even during the market-wide slump of late. “We’re in a really good spot in the market,” one private credit junior explained. “We deal with middle-market clients and that hasn’t slowed down as much. We look out for clients, and they look out for us – that makes a difference when things get slow.” For some litigators, on the other hand, the 2,000 target was described as more challenging, with a fair few supplementing their hours with pro bono matters.
“The firm recognizes that an attorney’s life is more than just being an attorney.”
“Consistency is not the hallmark of the M&A associate life!” one associate quipped. Sources agreed that day-to-day hours really vary but working from around 8/9am to 6/7pm seemed somewhat typical. However, in the run-up to a deal closing some were working up to 16 hours a day and through a weekend if a deadline was coming up. We were told that it can be “tough to find a normal balance,” but that’s to be expected across the industry. To alleviate this, the firm has been flexible with its work-from-home policy, and there are a variety of wellbeing schemes and stipends in place. For example, “if you work a full day and beyond 7pm on a weekday, you’re given $35 of credit to order food.” Another associate explained that there’s an additional wellbeing stipend to put towards anything that helps your mental health, whether that’s a gym membership, therapy, or even exercise equipment: “The firm recognizes that an attorney’s life is more than just being an attorney.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Juniors explained that progress was being made on the diversity front. “We have a group for almost every minority group you can think of,” an associate explained, with many highlighting the growth of the LGBTQ+ Coalition network and the Women’s Leadership Forum. Affinity groups were praised for providing a “sense of community” and communicating any issues directly to firm management. Sources noted that there’s still a way to go in terms of representation at the firm – particularly when it comes to racial diversity – but one commented on how Katten’s approach to diversity “feels more genuine.” Another told us how the firm seems to be focusing on bolstering diversity across all levels and “not just in the easier-to-reach first-year through to third-year levels." Generally, juniors felt that Katten doesn’t shy away from the topic, and diversity is discussed positively: “I’ve never felt as if I am different, but there’s also no color blindness or ignorance of diversity.”
Associates valued the lack of a one-size-fits-all culture, with the firm described as one that “treats each associate as an individual with their own strengths, interests and quirks.” Interviewees added how approachable people are and found that “even big-time partners aren’t intimidating and will make time for you.” The hierarchy was described purely in relation to work responsibility levels, as “people aren’t wearing their positions on their sleeves.” One junior described how they’d had a good experience not just with senior lawyers at the firm, but with fellow associates who “have your back and will pick up the slack if you’re slammed.” Sources agreed that the culture was teamwork-driven, with one noting how the “work culture and social culture are intertwined, which is great because people work better when they’ve had opportunities to connect socially.” This meant that office conversation at Katten went further than just the pleasantries of small talk.
“...the emphasis has been on getting to know each other more and connecting rather than being in the office every day.”
With hybrid working here to stay, Katten and its lawyers have been figuring out what that means for the culture going forward. “They’re increasing events,” an associate observed, “so the emphasis has been on getting to know each other more and connecting rather than being in the office every day.” Remote working was deemed to have strengthened the firm’s inter-office network, leading to a consistent sense of Katten’s culture across locations. Smaller offices, such as the Dallas base, were described as having a more intimate feel, with one associate explaining that everyone there “knows your name and the work you’re doing.” LA is apparently the most chill location but associates here were keen to point out that it’s no satellite office and is a driver of its own work stream.
“...making sure we’re getting client interaction and developing our own book of business.”
“Katten wants its juniors to stay – that’s the goal,” declared one associate, echoing the thoughts of others who also pointed to the number of homegrown partners at the firm. Although there are formally assigned partner and peer mentors (for first-year associates and laterals), our sources generally preferred the natural mentor relationships that developed as they progressed. “The best mentorship always comes from a place of authenticity,” interviewees agreed. “People here are willing to volunteer their time to mentor you on an informal basis.” One junior noticed how the firm does a particularly good job of “making sure we’re getting client interaction and developing our own book of business. At events, dinners, or meetings, we’re introduced to clients by our names. I’ve never had that feeling of being just a junior, or an obscure person that’s there to ask for signature pages in the background!” Making partner wasn’t something that our junior sources typically discussed, but they nonetheless felt that it was an option available to them: “Senior people want to see you grow here and do well. Partnership can come later if that’s what you want.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 512
Interviewees outside OCI: 45
In 2022 Katten attended OCIs at 24 schools and participated in three job fairs and recruiting programs, including Lavender Law Career Fair, the Southeastern Minority Job Fair, and the Cook County Bar Association Minority Law Student Job Fair. OCI locations include a mix of top schools such as Northwestern, Columbia and NYU, as well as regional schools such as University of Texas School of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law, and Loyola Law School.
Partner/associate pairs typically conduct interviews, and the firm sees roughly 20 students at each campus, although that number increases to more than 40 for the University of Michigan Law School, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and The University of Chicago Law School. According to hiring sources at the firm, questions are open-ended and allow the interviewers “to assess, among other things, each candidate’s interpersonal skills, motivation, applied intelligence and entrepreneurial qualities.”
Top tips for this stage:
“We hire outgoing people because it means they are likely to build business at some point. I do think that the firm does tend to look for people who can have a normal conversation.” – a third-year junior associate
“I would advise students to prepare, but not be over-rehearsed, as we appreciate authenticity. It is beneficial to present yourself honestly to the interviewer, in a way that communicates enthusiasm for legal studies/the practice of law, motivation to achieve success, and a strong intellect.”
Applicants invited to second-stage interview: 192
Four interviews with a mixture of partners and associates await those who get to the callback stage, though this can vary by office. According to hiring sources at the firm, “our interviewers tend to ask more behavioral questions than we ask at the OCI stage. Interviewers will continue to assess the candidate’s interpersonal skills, motivation, applied intelligence and entrepreneurial qualities. Additionally, interviewers will try to determine the candidate’s interest in the firm and the particular office.” Those we spoke to didn't find the experience too taxing: “For the most part you just have a conversation – they’re thinking about how you would work with this person or this group.”
Top tips for this stage:
“I would advise candidates to research the firm, our practice areas, and the attorneys that they will meet, and candidates should be prepared to discuss why they are particularly interested in Katten.”
The summer program runs for ten weeks. Summer associates can try work assignments in different practice areas, and an assignment coordinator is on hand to help them with the assignment process. Summers are also assigned mentors as an extra layer of support. Hiring sources at the firm encourage summers to “work on assignments with a variety of partners and associates across various practice areas, particularly during the first half of the summer,” as this gives them a chance to “experience the different practice areas at the firm and then hone in on what truly interests them for the latter part of the program.”
Depending on who summers end up working with, they may get to tag along to client meetings, closings or court hearings. The firm also offers learning and development programs that have included topics such as legal writing, communication, wellbeing, and diversity, equity and inclusion, in addition to presentations introducing the firm’s practice areas. “Almost all of our summers return as junior associates,” the firm tells us. “When a summer associate receives an offer to return as a first-year associate, the offer typically is for a specific department, based on their department preferences and the hiring needs of our departments.”
Notable summer events: a day trip to Disneyland, a boat cruise and baseball games (Cubs, Mets or Yankees, Rangers, Dodgers, Nationals).
Top tips for this stage:
“If you show great communication and organizational skills, that goes a long way. Bring all the documents you need for a call and keep up to date with all the calendar invites. Those small things are the main things that will impress.”– a third year junior associate
The firm encourages interested students to connect with Katten attorneys at events hosted through their law schools and by the firm: “They should also follow up with students who participated in our summer program. Our recruiting staff and attorneys are happy to speak with law students to share information on Katten.”
525 West Monroe Street,
Main areas of work
Brooklyn Law School, Cardozo School of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Columbia Law School, Cornell Law School, DePaul University College of Law, Fordham University School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, New York University School of Law, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, Texas A&M University School of Law, University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, The University of Chicago Law School, The University of Texas at Austin School of Law, University of Illinois College of Law, University of Michigan Law School, University of North Carolina School of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Southern California Gould School of Law, Vanderbilt Law School, Wake Forest University School of Law, Washington University in St. Louis
Recruitment outside OCIs:
In addition to OCI, the firm participates in the Lavender Law Career Fair, the Cook County Bar Association Minority Law Student Job Fair, the Southeastern Minority Job Fair, and the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair.
Summer associate profile:
Katten’s summer associate classes are comprised of a diverse group of individuals, who have demonstrated academic achievement, leadership experience and oncampus involvement. The firm seeks candidates who are motivated, entrepreneurial, and possess a high level of critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Katten looks for candidates who are reflective of our culture and values, which includes exhibiting professionalism, commitment to client service and team work.
Summer program components:
Our Summer associate program offers participants a realistic preview of a first year associate's experience. With our diverse client base, summer associates have the opportunity to work on a broad spectrum of assignments in many of our practice areas. Summer associates work directly with our attorneys on client matters as part of their training experience. We provide learning and development programs designed specifically for summer associates. Recent program topics have included legal writing, communication and professional skills, in addition to presentations introducing the firm’s different practice areas. Mentorship is also central to our summer associate program. Summer associates are paired with an associate and partner mentor.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Public Finance (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 5)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Finance (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 5)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: RMBS (Band 2)
- Derivatives (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Hedge Funds (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Sports Law (Band 3)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 4)