As Chicagoan Mayer Brown keeps spreading across the map, its associates get to plot their own path.
“I THINK the firm is in a very impressive stage of growth right now,” one of our junior sources told us. We'd have to agree. Look beyond the historic Chicago HQ and muscular US network which spans from East to West, and you'll still see Mayer Brown's influence stretching over the horizon. Chambers USA ranks no fewer than 25 practice areas nationwide, plus many more state-by-state. The latest addition is a new Dubai office, opened in 2016 to become its first Middle East base, only a year after the lights were switched on in Mexico City. Mayer Brown also has numerous well-established offices in Asia and Europe. Back on US soil, the DC office not long ago hired an entire consumer financial services team – over 30 lawyers – from K&L Gates.
"People are appreciative, and intelligent.”
However, neither the recent growth spurt nor the go-getting free market system of work allocation alter the fact that “people here are genuinely nice,” associates told us. “People here work hard, but I've appreciated the recognition I've got for working long hours. After a late night, or a weekend of work, partners will reach out. People are appreciative, and intelligent.”
The two most populated groups are finance and litigation, each taking roughly a quarter of the cohort on our interviewee list. Not far behind was the corporate & securities group, while the remainder were scattered sparsely through real estate, IP, tax transactions & consulting, government & global trade, tax controversy, bankruptcy & insolvency, financial services regulation, and employment & benefits. During their summer program, newbies can try work from any of these practice groups, after which they make a decision on which practice area to join full time.
Most of our interviewees accessed work through a free market system. “You have to be willing to ask for what you want. But you also don't get stuck with assignments you're not interested in.” Our sources were quick to note that “there's zero negative energy” around the search for work: “There's no competitiveness.” The system provides associates freedom to choose who they work with, though “you can get trapped quite quickly. When you're good at something, people want to keep staffing you on it.” Furthermore, associates tend to “find who they like working with in the first year and stick with that.” Being less regimented, the system also had associates telling us that often the “work is not evenly distributed.” An exception is the finance group in New York, where “the firm implemented a system with an assigning partner who will manage your workload so that one person isn't overloaded and the work is spread more evenly.”
“You have to be willing to ask for what you want.”
Finance associates described “primarily representing large financial institutions: banks, private equity funds etc. It's very broad: acquisition finance, securitizations – that's one of the shining stars of our practice – also project finance. As a first-year you start with closing checklists, edits and stuff like that. Once you show you can do that you can start drafting primary transaction documents or investor memos.” Associates had also taken part in client calls and deal negotiations.
Over in litigation, the work can be anything from mortgage-backed securities cases and fraud to breach of contract, antitrust and environmental matters. The work also threw up international travel opportunities for quite a few associates, regularly flying to Paris or taking a working sojourn to Singapore. “There's absolutely no jealousy about people going to France or Spain!” one associate joked. When on US soil, associates are certainly familiar with doc review, though one believed that “every time I've had to do it there are mid-levels and seniors doing it too.” More interestingly there are tasks “going from research and brief writing to trial and witness preparation.”
Training & Development
Training is tailored to junior, mid-level and senior associates. To start with, there's an initial 'Fast Track' training series offering weekly sessions for six months, “usually at lunch on a Monday.” These cover “skills which are applicable to anyone at the firm, like timekeeping and how to deal with partners.” Each practice offers more specific training too: “I get invited to litigation's sessions. They will have one on how to write a motion or a research memo. Some partners will also give talks on very specific issues,” often covering recent legal developments.
“You need to be proactive.”
At the six month mark, associates reach a “check in point” to talk over progress with a partner. Normally the formal reviews take place only once a year – a little too infrequent for some associates who felt “they should check in more than once a year to see that we are getting enough opportunities.” More informally, associates told us they “get a good amount of feedback on a day to day basis from senior associates and partners,” though some felt “you need to be proactive. If I reach out for feedback everyone has been good.” Juniors get assigned an associate and partner mentor, but we heard that “because of the free market system everyone starts to look to the people they work for instead.” The firm also provides an internal career coach.
Offices & Strategy
Our list of junior associates showed that nearly half of them had joined the firm's original – and largest – office in Chicago, while around a quarter were in New York. DC takes the next largest number, and the remaining few associates are spread between posts in Charlotte, Palo Alto, LA and Houston. Chicagoans told us the office is “in the process of renovation,” including “replacing the internal walls with glass.” One told us their “favorite feature is the fact we have desks which you can automatically raise or lower. In terms of renovated space, they are trying to encourage more areas for people to hang out, so the lounge area is much more open. It's almost done!” They've also got a cafeteria and a gym in the building, though lawyers' fitness fanaticism isn't subsidized.
“New and very modern.”
New York's lawyers have only recently settled into their home, having switched to a spot on Avenue of the Americas in 2015. The office is “connected to the Rockefeller Center, and we have a tunnel underneath with plenty of food options. It's nice not to have to leave the building when it's snowing or raining.” Inside, “it's new and very modern,” said one source. “We have four floors and each floor is the size of an avenue block so it is quite big. One floor is just dedicated to client space, so we have a lot more events here.” Like Chicago, “everything inside is glass – so you know who's in.” Unlike Chicago, however, where associates get their own office from day one, New Yorkers are in the sharing game for a year or two. Elsewhere, DC is notable for being “very architecturally interesting.” We hear that “everyone in DC knows it as the building with the night club lobby as it's always changing color.”
“The night club lobby.”
Mayer Brown's timeline has of late been dotted with office opening after office opening – Mexico City and Dubai being the most recent. Another trend has been the “steady stream of laterals,” including the K&L Gates hires. Managing partner Ken Geller comments: "From our standpoint it was opportunistic. We had lawyers who knew people over there, and we heard that they were thinking about a move. We got on their radar, they talked to us and we're really happy they came here." The firm also recently added the ex-GC of Fiat Chrysler to its Chicago office.
“I'd say people are quite relaxed here,” said one associate. “They're not snobby or very uppity. You can talk to anyone at a social event. People are understanding about your personal situations, but at the same time people take work quite seriously and people are pretty hardworking.” Another called it “friendly but professional.” However, many associates fell short of anything concrete, telling us “it's just a bit of a grab bag: there's not a unified culture here. It's a collection of smart individuals who are maybe a little more introverted – but they're all traits common among lawyers. We're a little more introverted, a little more of the smart, intellectual type, but other than that I'm not sure.” Others put it this way: “The firm embraces its nerdy persona. People here are smart and love what they're doing. There's a sense of camaraderie around the work itself.”
“Friendly but professional.”
Amid “plenty of different types of people” and the cornucopia of lawyerly styles, associates “hit it off with certain partners.” While “some are a lot more old school and want to sit down and talk things through; others are much younger – so we text a lot.” In fact, “it can be as simple as whether a partner likes to get their work done in the morning.” Ultimately, “you end up gravitating to who you vibe with.” How better to sense someone's vibe than in a videocall? “Our office phones have a camera in them,” associates informed us. “It's nice to be able to see the person you're talking to, especially people in other offices.” Aside from regular happy hours in each office, a social highlight in Chicago is “the annual attorney outing in the summer. It used to be at a country club years ago, but it was at a rooftop bar this year with a casino, a raffle and games.” Most associates agreed, however, that “by and large most people's social life exists outside the firm.”
Hours & Compensation
Compensation is calculated using a rather complex system. In order to remain in good standing at the firm and advance to the next level in the pay scale, associates need to bill 2,000 working hours. That also includes pro bono, business development and recruiting work, and training sessions. However, there is a subset of the working hours – which the firm refers to as 'creditable hours' – which almost exclusively consists of billables and up to 200 pro bono hours. Associates have to rack up 2,100 creditable hours for a bonus in all offices apart from New York, where the hours threshold is not set in stone. It's “a different system with no written policy – that can be worrisome.” In general though, associates found their targets achievable – “it's not something that haunts me.”
“It's not something that haunts me.”
In all offices, days lasting from 9am to 7pm were the norm, while the longer stretches synonymous with BigLaw also feature. “The firm is not big on facetime,” but exceptionally busy periods had required all-nighters from some associates. “Here's the thing: everyone was still here at three in the morning,” recalled one associate. “It was a team atmosphere, all hands on deck. If you're up, I'm up.” Thankfully, most associates told us they felt entirely comfortable taking a couple of weeks' vacation: “You just have to make sure it's not inconvenient.”
Mayer Brown is signed up to the 'Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge,' which means it dedicates at least 3% of its billable hours to pro bono. Junior associates are expected to bill at least 60 hours, while “the cap is at 200 hours – but I know people who do more than that.” A fair few of our interviewees had reached that cap, but most hovered around the 60 hour mark. “I think it's huge, especially in litigation,” said one associate. “It is a way for the firm to get me involved and get me good experience early on.”
“We have a pro bono coordinator and she sends out opportunities from time to time,” explained associates. Juniors had worked on a variety of matters, including “working at an organization to help pensioners be able to access Medicare,” working for Lawyers for the Creative Arts, tackling immigration cases, writing appellate briefs and helping people learn election laws.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 52,608
- Average per US attorney: 60
“I think it's becoming diverse,” said one associate tellingly. “Everything starts from the beginning.” While they struck a tone of optimism, juniors stressed that the firm “needs to do more on retention and promotion,” telling us “the partnership skews pretty heavily male.” Across the board, the firm's figures are fairly average compared to the rest of BigLaw – but a diversity committee, headed up by Jerry DeBerry is in charge of amending that. Associates mentioned several “affinity groups” for minorities including a “women's forum that has been around for a very long time. They have monthly meetings as well as splitting up into smaller mentoring groups.” There's also “a diversity retreat every two years,” held most recently “in a Chicago hotel: people from all the offices flew in for three days. There was a program of events and lots of speakers, plus workshops on leadership issues.” The firm also offers four $15,000 scholarships to diverse members of its summer class.
Interview with managing partner Ken Geller
Chambers Associate: You had double digit growth last year office openings in the works – how has this year compared, and have you kept up that momentum?
Ken Geller: Yes, we have continued to grow. We have about 80 more lawyers than we had a year ago. In 2016, we opened offices in Mexico City and Dubai and we had record levels of revenue in most of the regions in which we operate. Europe was a bit of struggle for us partly because of Brexit.
CA: Are there any more office openings in the pipeline?
KG: We don't have any imminent office openings, but we are looking very closely at Tokyo. That's probably the one location where we don't have an office where we should have one. But we plan to wait for the right time.
We represent a large number of Japanese clients, and many have told us that we could expand our opportunities if we were to open an office in Tokyo. For our large finance and insurance practices particularly, serving banks and financial institutions in Tokyo, it would be much easier if we had an office on the ground.
CA: This year you took a large number of consumer financial services partners from K&L – was that planned, or just opportunistic? Can we expect to see similar expansive moves going forward?
KG: They are based here in Washington – about 35 lawyers. They are the pre-eminent consumer financial services, regulatory and enforcement group in the US. They've got an extensive list of clients and they’ve bonded better than we could have anticipated with our existing practices. We could not be happier – it has been very successful.
From our standpoint it was opportunistic. We had lawyers who knew people over there, and we heard that they were thinking about a move. We got on their radar, they talked to us and we're really happy they came here.
In terms of future expansion, we'd like to be larger in New York. We need to be larger on the west coast of the US, where we have strong but relatively small offices in Silicon Valley and LA. In Asia, as I said, we'd look at Tokyo, but would also like to expand in Singapore.
CA: What is the long term vision for the firm? What are you trying to achieve?
KG: Our strategic plan states that we want to be one of the top ten international business law firms, in terms of talent, practice area expertise, client representations and scope. That goal means we need to be a certain size and have real depth in core capabilities in every region. One thing we are most proud of is our size on four continents. Other firms are large in one or two but we have several hundred lawyers on four separate continents. That opens up a lot of opportunities.
CA: We did hear about litigation associates occasionally travelling abroad for work. Do you encourage that sort of international experience?
KG: Yes, but it's easier said than done and it's very expensive. We second associates to our offices around the globe and to clients in many locations. In addition, the global nature of much of our business allows associates to travel. Right now, we've got a large group of associates from Washington who are working on an arbitration in Paris. That’s one of the advantages of going to a firm such as ours -- 45% of our lawyers are based outside of the US.
CA: How do you think Trump's presidency is going to affect the wider legal industry and your firm specifically?
KG: I think that the new Administration will be good for legal business because there will be uncertainty and changes in many laws, and clients will need advice understanding the new framework.
CA: What's one piece of advice you'd give to students trying to enter the legal profession?
KG: The path to success in the next twenty years is going to be in specialization – having a very strong expertise in relatively narrow areas. And in particular, there will great value in having a knowledge of new technologies, regardless of your area of practice. A hundred and fifty years ago, it was helpful to know about railroads. Today we have very few railroad lawyers, but we have our own new technologies that will spawn many new legal issues.
Interview with national hiring partner Brad Keck
Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?
Brad Keck: We definitely have a national approach. We have school teams, cross-office, cross-practice teams that focus on our key schools. We also have a strong tradition of recruiting not just at top law schools but also through regional pipelines. So there is a balance there. Some of the national schools that have school teams are Berkeley, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Stanford and University of Chicago.
The other thing I'll mention is that part of our mission is to have and hire really good diversity, both with a 'small D,' meaning eclectic folks from different academic backgrounds, but also focusing on being really engaged with folks that are diverse. In order to achieve that you need to widen the scope, you can't just focus on the top 14 law schools.
CA: Does each office control its own recruiting drive? Do you think different offices are looking for different kinds of people?
BK: We're a very autonomous and decentralised firm. All recruiting is done autonomously with the overlay of school teams. I help if there are particular issues that arise but each office has a recruiting committee and a hiring partner and each executes its own plan. As for the qualities and type of people, we try to be consistent. We work well across offices and there is slow growth organically – we've never merged with anyone domestically – so we have a consistent identity. What changes is the mix of practice area needs. DC is heavy litigation but Chicago is tipped towards transactional, but the attributes are fairly consistent.
CA: What is the firm's approach to lateral hiring?
BK: We do a pretty good job with entry level hiring, getting people on successful paths and ensuring they stay. That's not typical. Our lateral hiring is more based on practice area need. As we do a good job on law school recruiting, when we're looking for laterals it's in the fourth or fifth year or above. We don't have much demand for junior laterals except that our litigators have a strong pipeline from the Federal judiciary.
We tend towards the bold claim that people are being hired to become partners. Obviously it's hard, and in no way a science, but even on campus, one thought in our heads is: 'is this a partner to be some day?' It's a hard task, but we are upfront that we are hoping they will be successful in the long term. We're not hiring with the model that half will be gone in three years. We hope everyone gets traction and onto a trajectory to be successful as a partner or in another senior position.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting? Do you feel as though the firm is making progress on this front?
BK: We have a full time Director of Diversity and Inclusion as well as a committee so we have strong infrastructure. We do targeted outreach to affinity groups at all schools we recruit. We also have our scholarship where a handful of people get what amounts to a stipend. But I think what we do very well is that in our recruiting meeting, it's always the first and last thing we talk about; it's the thing we focus on more than anything. It's not slogan-ism or optics – people are very engaged and know it is a big part of our goal.
CA: Who conducts OCI and callback interviews?
BK: It's a mix of partners and associates on campus – it depends on the school. Sometimes it's one-on-one but only if we send a partner or veteran recruiter on the recruiting committee. For a lot of schools we do two on one where it is someone like me and somebody who is a third to sixth year associate. Back in office, it is a mix of partners and associates. Among five interviewers it is often 2:3 partners to associates.
CA: How’s your summer program looking next year compared to previous years?
BK: We are trying to change tack slightly, but the theory of our summer program is fairly consistent. In many of our offices we're not recruiting for a specific practice area so the biggest goal is that they meet a bunch of people and have the resources to learn what practice areas people are interested in. That drives everything: the social events we do, the educational programs. That hasn't changed. Size-wise, we're somewhere in that 30-50 associate number nationwide. Our attrition is nice and low, so we don't need to bring in 100. People are coming and staying which is what we like.
CA: What does the firm offer that is unique?
BK: We are one of the truly international firms with a consistent brand based in the United States. We have as many lawyers here as we have abroad. We're a fairly unified firm. A lot of US firms have the verein model, and are more of a loose confederation, whereas we are tightly knit.
CA: If you could have one quality in an associate what would it be?
BK: I think engagement: being present and thoughtful and caring about their work. Maybe it's not the best word but it's the most important thing. We will get smart people that are motivated, but are they engaged with us and our work and with clients?
More on hiring from associates...
Quite a few associates we spoke to had been involved in recruiting, telling us “they want everyone involved.” So what insight could they give us into the interview process? “For the first interview it's about how you can talk intelligently about your experiences and how interested you are in Mayer Brown. We're not a huge sweatshop so they want to know that you want to work here, that you've done your research and feel you could fit in. The callback is about personality. We just want to know if your personality will fit in.” To find out, interviews with associates “have no list of questions. It's more of 'here is their resumé, now talk to them for 30 minutes. Then there's a general questionnaire I [the interviewing associate] have to fill out afterwards. I felt I was just checking for them to be social enough to be a good fit.” Another confirmed that in their experience, “you're not given a set of criteria – what it comes down to is how likeable are they.”
This is of course based on the assumption that candidates have excellent academics: “grades are pretty critical.” Of the people associates met when they were being recruited, their greatest impression was of them being “interesting and smart.” But our sources' best advice? “Be a good person to work with. That's what it really comes down to.”
Mayer Brown LLP
71 South Wacker Drive,
- Head Office: N/A
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 13
- Worldwide revenue: $1.26 billion
- Partners (US): 401
- Counsel (US): 104
- Associates (US): 417
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,461/week
- 2Ls: $3,461/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,461/week
- 1Ls hired? Varies by office
- Split summers offered? Case by case, office by office basis
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Atypical
- Summers 2017: 60
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 187 offers, 56 acceptances
Mayer Brown is a leading global law firm with offices in 20 cities across the Americas, Asia and Europe. The firm’s presence in the world’s key business and legal centers enables it to offer clients access to local market knowledge and depth combined with a global reach. The firm’s practice areas include: banking and finance; corporate and securities; litigation and dispute resolution; antitrust and competition; US Supreme Court and appellate matters; employment and benefits; environmental; financial services regulatory and enforcement; government and global trade; intellectual property; real estate; tax; restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency; and wealth management.
• Number of 1st year associates: 47
• Number of 2nd year associates: 68
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 plus significant market bonus opportunities
• 2nd year: $190,000 plus significant market bonus opportunities
• Clerking policy: Yes, the firm encourages clerkships, has pre-clerkship summer associate opportunities and pays clerkship bonuses
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, Houston, Howard, Illinois, Loyola, Michigan, North Carolina, NYU, Northwestern, Penn, Stanford, Texas, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee, Yale
Summer associate profile:
Mayer Brown seeks to hire associates of exceptional promise from a variety of backgrounds. Because Mayer Brown seeks to hire associates with the potential to become partners at the firm, its hiring standards are rigorous. Above all, Mayer Brown is interested in candidates who share the firm’s dedication to providing high-quality legal services and who have demonstrated superior academic ability and personal achievement.
Summer program components:
Summer Associates at Mayer Brown are not assigned to practice areas and there is no formal rotation between groups. The firm’s goal is to expose summer associates to as many practices areas and attorneys as possible during the program. Each summer associate is assigned at least two attorney mentors and receives written reviews on every assignment. Each summer associate will attend development meetings with partners at mid-summer and at the end of summer.