After years of mergers, Nixon Peabody is looking to consolidate its base and keep up the good work.
2015 was a bumper year for the ever-expanding Nixon Peabody. Fresh from adding Chicago outfit Ungaretti & Harris to its growing family, managing partner Andrew Glincher explains: “Our strategic plan was to expand in Chicago, California and NYC, and we've achieved all three.” Expansionist moves have been accompanied by what Glincher describes as “our best ever fiscal year.” Lateral hires included 22 associates. Further afield, he highlights growth in China.
He also singles out for special mention Nixon's work in food and beverages – for example, it recently advised on the largest craft beer acquisition, Ballast Point Brewing – and healthcare, which Chambers USA ranks highly in Massachusetts, Illinois and New York. Other highly regarded practices include corporate/M&A, litigation, banking & finance, energy, franchising and environment. Search for Nixon on chambersandpartners.com for the full rankings breakdown with commentary.
Nixon Peabody offers incoming associates a plethora of practice area possibilities. Summer associates are taken at eight offices (Boston, Rochester, LA, Chicago, Long Island, NYC, Rochester and San Fran). They have the opportunity to “work generally throughout practices,” after which they are asked to select their “top three choices.” Many incoming first-years opt for the area into which they were first assigned, and "if not your first, they definitely try and give you one of your top three.” Most juniors end up in one of the firm's beefy corporate or litigation teams, while others go to groups including healthcare, labor & employment, and real estate. Nixon continues to be hot on housing, with one associate declaring: “The firm is known for having the best affordable housing practices in the country.”
After lower than normal recruitment in some key locations since the financial crash, Nixon is steadily increasing its associate pool. Nonetheless, a number of offices are still “very partner-heavy” and this can affect the way work is assigned. One junior opined: “A lot of the time partners are super busy so they don't have time to explain it. Rather than explain it they will just do it themselves.” However, others insisted: “You knock on doors, you get work.” Some groups, however, have a formal workflow assignment coordinator. In the smaller offices, like Long Island and Providence, assignment is very informal and associates are often called upon to ease the workload of their colleagues in Boston or NYC.
“I'm doing due diligence and I'm barely a second year!”
One thing that locale does not affect is the responsibility juniors are given. All of those that we spoke to were given substantial work from the outset. Typical tasks included “turning over documents and research assignments,” while one associate excitedly exclaimed: “I'm doing due diligence and I'm barely a second year!” Associates are trusted early on: “Even when I was a summer associate, I was doing really high-level work.”
Training & Development
There is, of course, orientation for new attorneys, and while all “first-years go off to Boston and get trained on background,” most early training comes through non-compulsory programs and conferences. Sources found “one-on-one advice with a mix of encouragement” was the most useful training they received.
In the first year, reviews take place in “six-month cycles,” then occur annually. “You submit the partners and senior associates you want to review you. Then they send you what the partners wrote about you.” These assessments are preceded by a “self-review,” during which the reviewee is asked to rate their performance in different areas on a scale of one to five. They are then told to “list some goals for the next year.” Most of those we spoke to echoed one source who described the process as “mature and rewarding.”
"The firm is definitely behind the effort.”
Like the review process, pro bono is another firmwide policy on which Nixon's 13 offices sing from the same song sheet. Up to 60 pro bono hours can count toward the 1,850 billable requirement –“a strong indication that the firm is definitely behind the effort,” according to associates. The importance of pro bono is emphasized right from the start of your Nixon career: “When I joined they asked me what I was interested in, then they gave me some similar work and put me in touch with like-minded people.” Most of the work is very region-specific as local pro bono is another way the firm strengthens its community ties; this has included land use cases in Rhode Island and property evictions in New York City. Nationwide, the firm's lawyers have worked on the 'Transgender Name Change Initiative.'
Pro bono hours
Hours & Compensation
“I know some firms where they keep their financials closed," one associate reflected. "Here, they're pretty forthright with the bonus info at present.” Nonetheless, this relative transparency does reveal a somewhat complicated system: “There are two types of bonus – an hourly bonus and a percentage calculation.” Which in layman's terms means “there's basically a weird percentage based on every 50 hours above 1,900 you bill. It stops at 2,400, when you get 15%.”
As well as the 1,850 requirement (and 1,900 target to be bonus-eligible), there's an additional 400-hour requirement for stuff like “personal and client development.” The latter is officially mandatory but opinion differed from office-to-office on how strictly it was enforced. Of course, if you don't hit your billables you don't get a bonus but “you won't be shouted at or shown the exit.” In Rochester, where the firm's roots date back over a century and there are strong ties with the local community, “there is an effort made to make clear what the firm's expectations are – and that extends to the 400.”
“Technically you can take off as much time as you want.”
Unlimited vacation means that “technically you can take off as much time as you want.” But before you start stockpiling the tanning oil, most associates agreed that “while it might seem liberal” this policy is “actually pretty constrictive.” We spoke to some who'd only taken a few days' annual leave. Those long months of work aren't without firm socials, though, including monthly “wine and Martini tasting events.” Further perks are available via an “internal shopping system” called 'NPerks' that employees can use to get discounts from restaurants and stores.
With 13 locations spanning the US, it can be hard to ascribe Nixon Peabody a single culture. Nonetheless, a few things kept popping up when talking to associates. These included the “organic approach to training and mentoring younger attorneys,” rather than a rigid training program. This approach extends to the emphasis the firm puts on developing its lawyers. Partners often “encourage you to get involved in your local area” and “push younger associates to get their names out there by writing in law journals.” One thing that is “really frowned upon” is “internal competition.” And one source observed wryly that “people here are humans. They work really hard but they are people. They have lives and they have families.”
The 13 US offices have their own idiosyncrasies and traditions that survive from their past lives belonging to legacy firms that merged with Nixon Peabody. Boston is very clearly “Nixon HQ” and lawyers there spoke of its “pleasant Old World charm,” a feeling enforced by its proximity to the city's historic harbor.
“When I called my grandma and told her I was going to Nixon, she whistled.”
The Rochester office is “particularly engaged in the local community” where it has existed in one form or another for over a century. “A large percentage of Rochester's attorneys sit on non-profit boards,” and one proud Rochesterian told us how, “when I called my grandma and told her I was going to Nixon, she whistled.” In the smaller offices of Providence and Long Island, juniors spoke of having “the resources of the empire but with a small town feel.” Over in DC, excited attorneys could not stop telling us about their new “very green home” in which “all the offices are see-through, because there's an emphasis on transparency!”
When it comes to diversity, Nixon experiences similar issues to its BigLaw rivals. "They definitely have groups," associates told us, mentioning the women's and LGBT initiatives, and an Asian group. We heard that some associates had met with the new diversity and inclusion specialist "to talk about getting money for diverse events and opportunities. I've heard from associates who tried to get the funding that it's bureaucratic." In 2008, the firm was one of the first to offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. The LGBT affinity group regularly hosts 'Out and Equal' events and the firm attends the Lavender law fair each year. Over half of associates – 51% – are female, and at partner level this figure falls to 21%.
Generally, there was the view that recruiters “look for people with a variety of experiences and viewpoints.” Hiring partner John Snellings gives his insight: “This is a great generation, a generation that has traveled and done things. It is one thing to learn in a classroom but if an individual has learned building a house or helping with water irrigation in Africa, there is a different perspective when speaking to them.” In other words, it's important to show there's more on your resume than just good grades.
"We ask everyone to keep an eye out for talent.”
Aside from law school hiring, which sees 22 summer associates and 21 first-years join in 2016, Nixon Peabody places great emphasis on informal lateral recruitment. According to John Snellings: “I always say that every person at Nixon is deputized in our recruitment efforts. We ask everyone to keep an eye out for talent.” In terms of retention, managing partner Andrew Glincher is keen to stress that “in this industry we have one of, if not the, lowest in unwanted departures.” For those definitely not looking to leave, he has these words of encouragement: “We owe it to our people that if they do what they are supposed to do and have worked well for clients, they have the opportunity to take it further and become partner.”
Strategy & Future
When asked what's next for Nixon, Andrew Glincher replies that the firm's strategic plan for 2015 was fully achieved, and highlights growth in California: “We've had a lot of growth in LA – in real estate, entertainment and IP,” he says. After years of expanding its US operation, the firm is now setting its sights further afield. It recently combined its Hong Kong office with leading Asian business firm CWL Partners to form Nixon Peabody CWL and is now looking to increase its presence in the Chinese market, as well as helping its Chinese clients gain exposure worldwide.
Interview with managing partner Andrew Glincher
What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
Its been a very exciting time for the firm this past year. Our fiscal year just ended and it was our best year ever. We merged with Ungaretti & Harris – one of the biggest firms in Chicago. This rewards one of our key aims from the 2015 strategic plan: expanding in Chicago. We also aimed to expand in California and NYC.
Everything that we do is from a strategic standpoint and based on client demand. One of the key things I've seen in the business of law – I feel like you have the most success when you play to your strengths. We recruited 100 lawyers in Chicago and therefore we are able to offer our clients more services. If you base your strategy on your clients you are to be successful. It is very difficult is you want to just build it and hope they come.
We've also had a lot of growth in LA – in real estate, in entertainment and in IP. The other thing in NP is that I want to get input from people on all levels of our organisation: when we had our 'partner retreat' a year ago, it was an all-attorney meeting.
Another significant moment was gaining market presence in China. We had a relationship with CLW going back six years. Its now known as NPCLW – we had ten lawyers then, we now have over 40. We did this because we had client demands in China and we are also advising clients about the country in the US. We had a real estate practice that is 100 lawyers nationally and we represent one of the biggest real estate operations in China – China Oceanwide. We have a big presence in the alcohol, food and beverage industry. We worked on the $1billion acquisition of Ballast Point Brewing by Constellations Brands – the largest ever acquisition in the craft beer industry. We also won a favorable ruling in a copywright claim brought against the estate of Notorious B.I.G.
What's your long-term vision for the firm?
So for a number of firms, the strategy at consultant-level is just to get bigger and bigger and bigger – but we've resisted that. My goal is to become a better firm. We are only in business because we are fortunate to have great clients. We've grown, but only to service our clients. If we were looking at mergers, it would only be to make the firm better. We have global capabilities, alliances and networks but its clear the industry has changed a lot. What we encourage folks to do is look outside the box. We've tried to make our offices more collaborative spaces. We've done that in DC with glass offices emphasizing a much more inclusive and collaborative workplace – our associates, partners, everyone works better together.
The other things we've done is we're trying to focus and extend our commitment to be an even better, more diverse environment and capitalize on the unique value that diversity gives our organization. We are trying to put people in leadership positions far earlier in their careers – really, to be successful today and in the future, you need to be predictive and proactive in what you see happening in your client's business down the road. You have to think: how can we create value in our client's business? What can we do better to achieve them down the road? Maybe advocate to change laws that affect real estate and affordable housing. I encourage people at all levels of the organization to air their views. We want to be current – I've been out there with millenials, spoken with Google and on the radio to really try and understand the workforce of today and how that workforce can better serve our clients. And that has worked better than I ever thought it would. People aren't judged for what they suggest – in history, a lot of great ideas have initially been rejected and then accepted later down the road. So those are the type of things we look for. In law firms, as opposed to maybe tech companies, that's a big change. You've got people in this industry who are very traditional and perhaps stuck in their ways. Of the BigLaw firms we have one, if not the, lowest in unwanted departures. People come, and they stay, and they want to be here. One of the things we notice with our clients – they like us because we like us. We love working together and I'm just beginning to realize how important that is.
I know there's still a partner-associate deficit in some offices – is this something that you are looking to change? Are there any plans to increase associate recruitment – lateral or entry-level?
Yes, we are still hiring the same number of NYC associates as we've always hired. I would like to grow and invest more in NYC based on the needs of our clients. I definitely see more investment there in terms of hiring. A lot of people are facing retirement – most offices will be losing 20% of their partners in the next five years. There is definitely an approaching transition. I definitely don't see us cutting back in New York. We have over 200 lawyers there – when we're talking about size, as I mentioned before, sometimes getting big isn't always better. However, in New York, our goal is to be bigger and be better.
Has 2015-16 changed the game in making partner?
I don't think the standards have gotten harder. I look at our numbers that are making partner each year. Its usually between nine and thirteen. This year we had eleven new partners – seven of which are ethnic minority or female. We have not cut back. We've been making the same number of partners – we owe it to our people that if they do what they are supposed to do and have worked well for our clients; we give them the opportunity to take it further and become partner. Not everyone is going to be drawn to the profession in the same way as, for example, I was. We are making the same number of partners, but not everyone has changed. They are all very talented but some want to do something outside the law, some want to spend more time with their families – we endeavor to accommodate both.
How has the firm changed since you first joined?
So you need to be a lot more nimble and flexible today than when I was starting out. The world is changing at a very rapid pace – and as a lawyer you need to be adaptable. You need to have superb communication skills – people don't pick up the phone anymore, and its very hard to have a client relationship when you aren't actually talking to people. We didn't have email or fax in my day. I bought a fax machine that spewed wax paper and was a monstrosity.
The good news today is that you can work from anywhere, and the bad news is that you do. You have to be flexible with your work force and allow them more freedom – you can't be as rigid as when I practiced as an associate. The type of work you do might mean you swap phone calls for two weeks before you even agree to meet – but you need to be very careful that you don't eliminate the human contact. Sometimes its very hard to know what someone wants just by emailing them. As legal advisers we don't want to slow our clients down. Its easy to communicate but its hard to communicate well. Its not a 'one size fits all' profession and how people adapt is different. You've got to be more than someone who just cranks out paper. You have to give them advice that's valuable to their business. I've been fortunate, I taught at Boston College. We're educating as well: we've got a program with Northeastern University – they come in and teach business to our lawyers.
I've been at the same firm for 28 years, but its been many different firms. We represent over 60 of the Fortune 100 companies but we do a lot of middle-market work too. People who work here feel like they work at a small firm and we're proud of that.
Interview with hiring partner John Snellings
Roughly how many associates do you take on each year?
Our entry-levels are somewhere in the range of 20-25. We have eight different offices in the US that have summer programs, and we use these as primary gatekeeping for our entry-levels. And then we'll have a couple extra that will come on through co-op and diversity programs. The number does fluctuate but its usually 20-25. With laterals, its usually by need and attrition. We've had really strong growth in our real estate area and so have been recruiting directly there.
We've also promoted eleven individuals to partner this year – and four of those eleven actually started as first year associates. Our retention rates are really something.
Do you have any plans to increase the scope of your recruitment drive?
I think that we are trying to be more and more creative as to how to approach law schools. We are broadening our scope and targeting particular job fairs – especially ones that focus on diversity. We are also looking at very particular types of programs e.g. for IP and patent lawyers, and there are particular job fairs for that. On top of this, we are also recognized as one of the leading healthcare firms and so we naturally attract those type of lawyers. In this sense the traditional OCI methods are somewhat limiting and time-consuming so we have created smaller more organic recruitment programs.
What does increasing the scope of your recruitment drive give you?
It just gives us a different look. We're not just making a decision to invite someone into a summer programs based on a 20 minute interview at their school. If we can get someone excited about NP because they came to one of our spring seminars, then that's all part of getting to know who they are. You want to find those students that are academically sound; you want to find those people that are maybe having more experiences.
This is a great generation, a generation that have traveled and done things. It is one thing to learn something in a classroom but someone who has learned stuff building houses or helping with water irrigation with the peace corps in Africa – well, its just a different atmosphere when talking to them.
What are you looking for in a candidate?
The important thing is to make sure that they use their experience. We want people that have worked in teams, who have problem-solved and who are practical. It is one thing to have great thoughts and another thing to have great solutions.
Do you have any plans to change the structure of your summer program?
I hope so. Its difficult, there are severe limitations. Really the beauty of the summer program is this – I tell associates that they are here for an eight week interview. I tell them: we are interviewing them and they are interviewing us.
There's a lot of competition but every one of our major markets has a summer program. In the smaller offices we do outreach in different ways. Some of them will do internships but to actually have a summer program there is not cost effective.
A lot of associates in your smaller offices are laterals who have been approached informally by the firm. Is this a specific policy?
Yes, I always say that every person at Nixon Peabody is deputized in our recruitment efforts and we need to keep an eye out for talent. We also have a number of internal referrals and a number of our clients have identified folks that they think will work well for us. We've got quite a few offices all over the land and we're always interested in finding some young lawyer that wants to come home. For example, we've had a lot of lawyers working in DC or Connecticut who want to come to upstate New York. We've had success in finding those people, both through word of mouth and through headhunters. And we reward associates and headhunters in kind. I mean, what's a better recruiting tool than someone you know and love recommending a new job?
What does NP offer that's unique?
First of all I would say that we're a very forward-thinking firm. We're embracing the future of our profession and that's been recognized. We're doing it through our approach to the practice of law – its very client-focused and based, and associates have an opportunity to be a part of that rather than just another cog in the wheel. Every one of our offices have that welcoming small office feel where you know that you can have a very long and prosperous career. One of our goals is for everyone who works here to feel satisfaction both personally and professionally. This is just really a great place to work!
Nixon Peabody LLP
100 Summer Street,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 13
- Number of international offices: 3
- Partners (US): 333
- Associates (US): 229
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,080/week
- 2Ls: $3,080/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 22
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 24 offers, 22 acceptances
Main areas of work
Business and finance; litigation and dispute resolution; real estate; intellectual property; private equity and investment funds; M&A; securities, public finance; tax; labor and employment; tax credit finance and syndication; affordable housing; government investigations and white collar defense; estate, trust and financial planning; health services; life sciences; energy; food and beverages; gaming and government relations.
We see the law as a tool to help shape our clients’ futures. Our focus is on knowing what is important to our clients now and next so we can foresee obstacles and opportunities in their space and smooth their way. We ensure they are equipped with winning legal strategies as they navigate the exciting and challenging times we live in. The qualities that drive Nixon Peabody are extreme understanding of our clients and their industries, a future-leaning orientation, and a culture that taps collective intelligence to create value for clients. We provide counsel on the full range of corporate transactions, disputes and regulatory challenges.
• Number of 1st year associates: 24
• Number of 2nd year associates: 21
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: varies
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Nixon Peabody recruits from top tier law schools throughout the US including UC Berkeley, Cornell, Harvard, University of Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, UCLA and USC. In 2016, we expect to conduct interviews at various leading national and regional law schools.
Summer associate profile:
We seek candidates with excellent academic credentials, solid research and writing skills, demonstrated leadership ability and sound judgment. We value innovation and collaborative work styles. Prior work experience and diversified outside activities are a plus.
Summer program components:
Our summer program lays the foundation for your career at Nixon Peabody. The program is intended to introduce you to as many opportunities as possible. We believe the more you learn over the summer, the better career choices you will make. You will be exposed to a range of practice areas and take part in billable client work and pro bono projects. In addition to exploring the practice of law, we also encourage our summer associates to get to know the Nixon Peabody attorneys in the cities in which we work. We provide formal and informal mentorship, various group training sessions and substantive feedback through our evaluation process.