Norton Rose Fulbright - The Inside View

“An air of humanity” defines this giant firm as much as its appetite for merger-led global expansion.

[Please note: headcount and revenue figures reflect the data available as we went to press and prior to the merger with Chadbourne & Parke.]

NORTON Rose Fulbright has catapulted into BigLaw stardom over the past few years, thanks to a series of smart combinations with firms across the globe. In 2017 the firm welcomes in Chadbourne, bringing extra wattage to Norton Rose Fulbright’s already buzzing energy practice, and a shared enthusiasm for projects in emerging markets. It also helps this once Texas-focused firm gain a much stronger foothold in New York. The merger boosts headcount to  approximately 4,000 lawyers spread across more than 50 cities worldwide, and is likely to nudge the firm up to sixth place in the Am Law 100.

The firm’s long history of mergers is characterized by marrying-up complementary practice areas and amassing strategic locations for its globetrotting clients. But the merger that changed it all was in June 2013, when UK banking and projects heavyweight Norton Rose merged with Texas-based litigation powerhouse Fulbright & Jaworski. The firm's global headquarters are in London, but Texas remains an important command center for the firm. San Antonio-based partner Daryl Lansdale recently succeeded Houston's Linda Addison as the firm's US managing partner, and the Houston office stands strong as NRF's biggest US office.

‘Expertise in the driving forces of globalization has propelled the firm’s very own global expansion.’

In Texas, Chambers USA ranks Norton Rose Fulbright in areas including antitrust, bankruptcy & restructuring, healthcare, intellectual property, and labor & employment. Elsewhere, the firm wins plaudits nationwide for (among others) energy projects of all description, corporate/M&A, general litigation, product liability, retail, tax and aviation finance.

The Chambers Global Top 30 places Norton Rose Fulbright as the world’s seventh most capable global firm. Few firms can rival Norton Rose Fulbright's experience across the world's emerging markets – and with this comes a network spanning the Americas, Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa. Project finance has underpinned the firm’s success in helping  developing economies establish infrastructure: expertise in the driving forces of globalization has propelled the firm’s very own global expansion. The newest additions to the network are in Monaco and San Francisco, and a merger with Vancouver’s Bull Housser & Tupper. In spring 2016 the Houston office established a Latin America team to help support the booming projects and energy trade emerging from the firm's Rio de Janeiro, Bogotá and Caracas offices.

“All of our recent hires seem to have a very global perspective.”

Juniors here were attracted to the firm's reach and ambition, and had found that “all of our recent hires seem to have a very global perspective. The firm is actively trying to recruit people who are keen to work with offices around the world, and driven to further strengthen those ties,” an associate told.  The work “is consistently challenging,” but reassuringly, “people here are far from a bunch of automatons.” In fact, our sources found their colleagues “fun, interesting people who aren't afraid to go out for a drink every now and again.”

The Work



The 90 junior associates on our list of interviewees were spread across as many as 17 practice areas. The corporate, M&A and securities group was the most populated with 15 juniors, but now with the inclusion of Chadbourne, we expect more junior opportunities in New York for litigation and project finance. Before the summer program begins, participants are asked which types of work they'd like to experience. “We give them a true idea of what it’s like to be an associate,” says hiring partner Doug Wabner. Summers “very often have client contact and their work would be shown to clients.” The hands-on experience helps new joiners make an informed decision on the practice group they join.

NRF's assignment system functions as a managed market economy. “You get work by reaching out to partners and chasing up matters yourself,” explained one insider, “but partners will keep an eye on everyone's workload.”

For sources in Houston's corporate team “there's a steep but well managed increase in responsibility.” When first starting, juniors take on “a lot of research and due diligence, which helps you to flesh out an understanding of entire project and deal structures.” Once they've shown they can handle that, rookies begin to communicate with clients. In their first six months, juniors here had reviewed confidentiality agreements, drafted contracts, and even run their own deals. “It was a straightforward asset purchase, but I was understandably pretty nervous,” recalled one deal-doer. “Thankfully, whenever I was stuck my supervising partner would mark up my work and talk me through what needed changing. That helped a lot going forward.”

“A lot more collaboration with offices across the US, and across the world too.”

Aside from corporate, associates could also be found in areas including IP transactions and patent prosecution; other strands of IP; straight finance as well as financial institutions and insurance; and regulations, investigations, securities and compliance. There are various groups dedicated to the energy sector, such as energy and infrastructure, energy transactions, and power and alternative energy. Certain offices are best known for specific expertise, like Dallas with its litigation know-how. Since the big merger in 2013, associates had noticed “a lot more collaboration with offices across the US, and across the world too.”

The legacy Chadbourne practice in project finance was popular with our interviewees. “We do wind, solar, geothermal, a little non-renewable and a lot of gas deals. They could be domestic or international and if they're international they tend to be in Latin America or Africa." First-years are channeled toward “process-driven tasks” such as maintaining closing checklists and getting people in the right place to sign documents. Lean staffing on this team means “you get to build up broad expertise early on.”

New York litigation is split into subgroups such as IP, securities regulation, international arbitration and white-collar crime. Associates are “hired as generalists and it takes time to specialize. I didn't realize how much dedication I would have to show to an area.” But several interviewees had made the most of sampling the department's delights: “One of my favorite things about the group is being able to steer myself toward great work.” People had spent time doing “a lot of research and a ton of drafting.” One recalled: “A year and a half in, I was able to draft motions by myself, albeit with a senior's input.” 

Offices



Before this merger happened, each firm looked at the other’s US market and decided they could do with a better presence there. So energy-focused Chadbourne finally got a base in Texas, and global finance giant Norton Rose Fulbright got a significant boost in Manhattan. Conveniently, the two firms are based one on top of the other in the same tower in Midtown New York – the firm assures us this merger was more than just a chat in the lift taken too far. Integration in New York will be almost effortless, but in the other cities where there are now two offices – DC and LA – the firm expects a slower integration.

“A lot of the legendary partners are based here.”

Houston was the firm's biggest US office before the combination (now it's New York), and houses far more junior associates than any other base. “It's where Fulbright really made its name. A lot of the legendary partners are based here and the sheer amount of people in the office lends it that feeling too. We have three floors dedicated solely to litigation!” The firm occupies the top dozen floors of Fulbright Tower, and all partners and associates have their own window and offices. But despite Fulbright's long history in Space City, “there's no feeling that we're the command center and our other offices function as satellites. Our workforce is so global and the remote access technology is so advanced that big US meetings can be held anywhere really.”

Dallas, Austin, and DC are the next most junior-heavy offices, followed by LA, San Antonio, Minneapolis and St. Louis, which claim between one and three each. “It feels like all of our US offices are growing in importance as one,” another insider affirmed. “It used to be the case that the Texas offices functioned independently of one another, but now we work together a lot more regularly. There's a lot of interaction with DC and New York too.”

Diversity



“There's been a huge emphasis on bringing the firm into the 21st century,” juniors highlighted when questioned on diversity. “NRF is making ground in a way that you don't see among other Texan firms.” Spearheading this effort is the firm's 2020 vision, a legacy project first conceived by outgoing US managing partner Linda Addison. “The idea is that by 2020 we want 30% of our board and management committees across the globe to be female,” explained one source, “as well as 30% of our partners globally.”

“NRF is making ground in a way that you don't see among other Texas firms.”

Plans seem to be moving along well. Summer classes are “extremely diverse,” and “the firm also funds and supports a whole range of affinity groups and awareness events,” catering to demographics such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQ and female attorneys. Associates were proud to tell us: “If you come in my hallway you'll hear a lot of Spanish!” And this progressive culture looks in safe hands: “We’ve always believed in diversity, and we will continue to believe in it under my watch,” declares Wabner.

Pro Bono



“As a young associate you're encouraged to do a lot of pro bono work,” interviewees agreed. Litigators we spoke to had tackled divorce cases, death penalty appeals and asylum cases, while transactional lawyers had helped veterans draft wills and formed entities for not-for-profits. Chadbourne had thrown a lot of its pro bono muscle behind immigrant cases in recent years and enjoyed some “long fought battles.”  Sources felt “there are usually more litigious opportunities available, but the pro bono committee does its best to find opportunities that will interest you.” One rookie remembered their first case, where “I was too nervous to take it all on by myself. The pro bono team put me in touch with a partner who helped co-pilot the case, and that gave me the confidence to do my next one alone.” 100 hours of pro bono can be counted toward associates' 2,000 hour target.

Culture & Hours



“Fulbright's hallmark is its kindness.”

Charitable work also forms the basis of one of Norton Rose Fulbright's most exciting social opportunities. Every year a selection of attorneys from across the world make their way to Houston to compete in the MS 150. This two-day fundraising bike ride is organized by the National MS Society, and sources told us that “over seventy members of the firm turned up last year to make the big cycle from Houston to Austin. It was a great way to meet colleagues you may not otherwise get the chance to meet, and made me feel a part of a fully-integrated global organization.”

“Fulbright's hallmark is its kindness,” reflected one Houstonite. “Southern hospitality is alive and well here!” Interviewees across the board praised their colleagues for their “air of humanity,” with one adding: “We all work really hard but if a family emergency crops up you'll have loads of people willing to cover for you.” This isn’t always the case at the biggest global firms: “There's an understanding here that facilitating an outside life makes for better lawyers.” Insiders felt that office culture and working styles vary depending on which branch you're in. “Austin is a bit more relaxed than Houston,” claimed one Austin source. “It's a more casual working environment, and people don't wear suits every day. More people in Austin are on flexible schedules, or work remotely, and Dallas it’s the same. People are busy in waves here, but there's no expectation you'll be in the office if you're not needed.”

Over in Houston, “things are a little closer to the New York-style BigLaw culture.” Still, Houstonites didn't seem too aggrieved. “Things are a little busier here, and we all work hard to ensure the firm continues to compete at a global level,” one junior voiced. “But I really don't feel like I'm part of an all-consuming rat race. I have children, and feel I'm able to leave at five to spend time with them, before putting in a few hours' work later on.”

“We all work hard to ensure the firm continues to compete at a global level.”

The New York office of Chadbourne stood out for fostering independence in its junior attorneys: "There’s an emphasis on people going out and bringing in new clients. We have a lot of networking events geared toward it, including one where we invited peers graduating from business school.” We expect this culture to continue.

Irrespective of where associates are based, there's no billable hours requirement during their first year. When first-years bloom into second-years, a target of 2,000 hours kicks in, on which hangs standard bonus eligibility. “There's an expectation you'll make 2,000, but it's not a hard expectation,” associates reckoned. “If you don’t hit it it's unlikely you'll be fired!”

Strategy & Future



Norton Rose Fulbright's track record is set to continue in the coming years. “As Monaco proved, it's clear that the firm will continue to look for expansive growth opportunities,” associates maintained. The firm's key industries – financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare – are set to maintain their importance, though with Fulbright historically a Texas-based litigation shop, “we'll be looking to grow our New York and DC offices, and add more US-based transactional work within our key industries.”

Recruitment tips and advice



Languages are a plus point for those applying to Chadbourne. A quick glance at associate profiles on the firm's website reveals that Spanish and Portuguese are the most common second languages spoken by associates – handy for all the firm's work in Latin America – but there are also the likes of Mandarin, German and Italian speakers too. Living or working abroad stands as a good indicator for the firm that candidates have some understanding of the international market the firm works in, while prior work experience “of any sort” and demonstrated leadership skills also stand aspiring Chadbourners in good stead.

We asked associates with experience of the hiring process to tell us what impresses them in interviews. One associate put a lot of stock in “whether someone is willing to learn.” Several told us they “like to see candidates who can demonstrate a special interest in the firm, show they've read up on us and are actually interested in what we do, by reading the biographies of your interviewers or learning which practice areas we're strong in.” Another admitted taking a shine to those who “ask questions about my experience at the firm.” And when it's the current associate doing the asking? “Answer succinctly and tie your answer back to your own experience,” one advised candidates. 

People at Chadbourne tend to be personable,” one associate reckoned. “It's rare to find someone more reserved and bookish.” Otherwise, when it comes to personality traits, Chadbourne doesn't seem to go for a specific type: “If you have a big summer class you can recruit some people who are solely focused on the academic side of law and still have a mix of people, but in a small class like Chadbourne's you need to ensure that people are well-rounded,” one junior reasoned. So brush up on your people skills alongside polishing that resume.

Justice for Jara



In September 1973,  Chilean folk singer and political activist Víctor Jara was murdered in the wake of the military coup which ushered in Chile's 17-year dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. In the earliest days of Chile's military junta, Jara was arrested and incarcerated in a Santiago sports stadium alongside thousands of others who were suspected of having socialist or communist leanings. Here he was tortured for three days before being shot over 40 times by the Chilean military, then his body was dumped outside the stadium with others who suffered a similar fate.

The fight to bring Jara's killers to justice has been ongoing for 40 years, since Jara's widow first requested that the Chilean authorities investigate his murder, but it wasn't until 2008 that a suspect was brought to trial. Retired Chilean army colonel Mario Manríquez Bravo was the commanding officer at the sports stadium at the time of the killing; his position of authority meant he was found guilty of Jara's murder despite not having pulled the trigger himself. Following this conviction the case into Jara's death was quickly closed, prompting protests from the folksinger's family that the army was shielding numerous other offices who had been involved in his execution. When new evidence came to light several months later, the case was reinstated and almost a year after Manríquez was convicted, former army conscript José Adolfo Paredes Márquez was charged with homicide. Parades confessed to his involvement with the killing, claiming he was ordered to finish the job after Jara was shot in the head, but blamed commanding officers for murdering the folksinger. 

In late 2012 an arrest warrant for eight former army offices went out; six were accused of complicity to commit murder, and two for homicide. Among them was an international arrest warrant for Pedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez who had fled Chile for Florida in 1989. Barrientos was accused of torturing Jara and shooting him in the head.

It was at this point that Chadbourne stepped in on a pro bono basis in 2013. Pairing up with the human rights group Center for Justice and Accountability, the coalition of attorneys assisted Jara's widow and two daughters to file a suit claiming violations of the US Torture Victims Protection Act.  The act allows civil suits to be filed in the US against individuals who commit torture or undertake extrajudicial killings while working in an official capacity for any foreign nation. After three years of gathering depositions and evidence from both Chile and the US, Barrientos was brought to trial in Florida in June 2016 and found liable by the jury for the torture and extrajudicial killing of Víctor Jara. He was ordered to pay $6 million in compensation plus an additional $22 million in punitive damages but due to his financial situation, Jara's family are unlikely to see a cent. In the wake of the civil indictment, it's thought Barrientos could be extradited to Chile to face criminal murder charges.

Training & Development



“We give you the training and mentorship you deserve” says hiring partner Wabner.  Indeed, our interviewees gave shining reports of Norton Rose Fulbright’s training opportunities. All are enrolled into the firm's New Lawyer Academy, which offers tailored prep for both litigators and deal-makers. For litigators, this involves an introductory week of training in the Houston office, with “exercises to help contextualize what you learn at law school.” Common activities include mock arbitrations, summary judgments, and depositions, and “plenty of partners show up to have a go at playing judge for an afternoon!”

“Plenty of partners show up to have a go at playing judge for an afternoon!”

Transactional juniors tend to receive more periodic training during lunches and workshops on topics like M&A, securities and more general corporate transactional advice. In their second year, they are offered two hours a week of formal M&A school, which goes on for six weeks. Otherwise, attorneys' training tends to be more ad hoc. “On the job training is pretty big here and partners are generous with their time,” one source rated. Others felt “some partners can be a bit hit and miss, so it's worth taking the initiative to seek out help if you're unsure about anything.” Once a year, associates get a sit-down with their head of practice and a partner from the associate committee, who read out feedback from partners.

 

Norton Rose Fulbright

1301 McKinney,
Suite 5100,
Houston,
77010-3095

  • Head Office: N/A
  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 41
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,737,000,000
  • Partners (US): 296
  • Associates (US): 419
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: varies by market ($3,500 in CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
  • 2Ls: varies by market ($3,500 in CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
  • Post 3Ls: varies by market ($3,500 in CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
  • 1Ls hired? Varies by market
  • Split summers offered? Varies by market
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 31 2Ls; 15 1Ls
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 28 acceptances/ 40 associate offers; 6 pending judicial clerkships

Main areas of work
Antitrust and competition; banking and finance; corporate, M&A and securities; dispute resolution and litigation; employment and labor; financial restructuring and insolvency; intellectual property; real estate; regulations and investigations; tax.

Firm profile
rations and financial institutions with a full business law service. Norton Rose Fulbright has more than 3500 lawyers and other legal staff based in more than 50 cities across Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Recognized for its industry focus, Norton Rose Fulbright is strong across all the key industry sectors: financial institutions; energy; infrastructure, mining and commodities; transport; technology and innovation; and life sciences and healthcare.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 36
• Number of 2nd year associates: 47
• Associate salaries: 1st year: varies by market-$180,000 (CA, DC, NY, TX offices)
• 2nd year: varies by market
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Baylor, Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Houston, Howard, Loyola (CA), NYU, Penn, South Texas, Southern Methodist, The University of Texas, Texas Southern, Texas Tech, UC-Irvine, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Washington University. Job fairs include Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Law Interview Program, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Vanderbilt Career Fair and Sunbelt Minority Recruitment Program.

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
We recruit motivated, energetic and personable individuals with whom we will enjoy practicing law. Candidates should have high academic achievement, maturity, and initiative. We also value other indicators of likely success at Norton Rose Fulbright, such as demonstrated leadership skills and an entrepreneurial outlook.

Summer program components:
Essential to the long-term success of Norton Rose Fulbright, our summer associate program is the primary source of new legal talent. Our summer associates develop their skills by applying their education to active practice. From proofreading and drafting documents to carrying out legal research and attending meetings, our summer associates work on projects that sharpen their key legal skills. Summer associates participate in significant legal activities, such as client meetings, board meetings, depositions and court appearances. Summer associates also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of legal and business skills workshops and presentations. We offer team building and social activities that are unique to each of the cities in which we work and live. Our lawyers work hard, but they also enjoy spending time with one another and having fun. Summer associates and their families will find a wide selection of sports, cultural, artistic and other activities designed to appeal to a variety of interests.