Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP - The Inside View

Associates here went nuts for "a place that invests in its associates with the intention of wanting them to stay.”

“ANY managing partner you talk to who isn't trying to figure out how to make the historic law firm model responsive to 21st century business needs won't be in their job much longer.” Such is managing partner Deb Manus' response when asked about Nutter's extensive 2016 rebrand. “We want to be sure that the market’s view of Nutter is in alignment with who we are.” Associates too were clear about Nutter's identity as a strong smaller firm: "I think that to law students all firms can look the same," said one, "but Nutter has a unique history being founded by Louis Brandeis, and also commitment to public service. There are other firms outside the biggest names."

Its makeover aside, Nutter – founded in 1879 by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and a pal – is one of New England's best law firms. Although it only has 150 lawyers, Nutter boasts Chambers USA rankings in banking & finance, environment, labor & employment, litigation and real estate. Clients include Johnson & Johnson, Boston Children's Hospital and Dunkin' Donuts. Nutter always does well in associate satisfaction surveys, and has a reputation for “good people, good work and an office where everyone knows each other,” juniors told us. “I wanted to go to Nutter because it was a Boston firm without offices everywhere,” a litigator shared. “It's much easier to get things done when the entire office is physically in the same place.”

The Work

Juniors begin their career at Nutter in one of the following practices: real estate, trust & estates, tax, IP, litigation or business (Nutter's word for corporate). Associates must fill out weekly reports for an assigning partner to check their availability for work, but we were told the process is a little more “organic” as partners regularly contact associates they'd like to work with. 

Litigation is Nutter's largest department and, at the time of our calls, housed the most juniors. Commercial litigation offers the chance to work nationally on matters such as “implications of discovery in four different states.” International products liability – for example, work with faulty medical devices – is also a subgroup that provides opportunities to “work with lawyers all over the country" and overseas. Other litigation groups include securities, IP and labor & employment. Typical junior work in litigation tends to be standard “researching legal issues” and “writing the first draft of a brief or any other legal document.” Cases vary, and we heard of government investigations into “possible kickbacks” as well as defending “a bank in a supposed ponzi scheme.”

“A lot of deals take place in Boston, we have a national presence."

The generalists in trusts & estates are “exposed to every stage of estate planning,” including “abstracting wills, powers of attorney, trust administrations, terminations of trusts, tax returns and court probate.” Typical junior tasks might be “drafting documents, tax administrations and tax returns.” Trusts associates also work in the much smaller Hyenas office in Cape Cod on the "third Friday of each month" to cater to the wealthy “Martha's Vineyard community.”

Real estate associates work in dual practices: commercial finance, which works with banks, borrowers and lenders; and land use, which focuses on zoning laws and representing cities. Commercial finance deals relate “to refinancing, acquisitions and sales of property.” While “a lot of deals take place in Boston, we have a national presence. We've done deals in Texas, California and Oregon. There aren't any typical clients here. It's developers, business entities, borrowers, supermarkets and municipalities.”

The smaller business department busies its associates with “basic junior BigLaw tasks” like “forming different types of business entities, drafting regulatory compliance documents” and “drafting amendments to credit agreements for start up companies.” As one associate put it: “I'm usually preparing something!”

Culture & Offices

Associates said that Nutter's small headcount is “part of our culture.” In fact, “if we got bigger we'd lose that.” The Nutter spirit is exemplified in what associates dubbed a “supportive culture” where everyone “is willing to help each other out.” MP Deb Manus pinpoints a “culture of respect and friendship” that “people at every level appreciate.”  On the social side, the summer months are busiest and happily include “associates-only” events for juniors and summers. Come late fall, Nutter hosts a networking event where “you invite at least ten professional friends or classmates to a cocktail party overlooking Boston Harbor. It's a fun networking event for young lawyers and potential clients.” After this, firmwide events are scarcer, but associates did mention a weekly cheese and wine do in the cafeteria. “Boston doesn't seem to have happy hours! It just doesn't seem to be a huge deal like it is in other cities.”

"Everyone here does important work."

From day one, “each lawyer has his or her own office” that's the same size as everyone else's. “It's very egalitarian,” one comrade enthused. “It's not like partners have corner offices or one that's bigger.” Others believed that the office system was “a testament to the fact that everyone here does important work. I wanted to be at a place where people know each other and I'm not just another cog in the wheel.”

Training & Development

Nutter's training development begins with the aptly titled Nuts and Bolts program which associates said “struck the balance between giving formal instruction and recognizing the need to teach associates how to do things themselves.” The program is tailored to fit the different departments through “presentations by partners on specific subjects they specialize in,” such as “how to conduct discovery in a case.” Litigators recalled learning “information on federal practices, state practices, different steps of litigation, taking cases to trial and tackling ethical issues.”

"I can see myself being on track for partner.”

According to interviewees: “The firm invests in its associates with the intention of wanting them to stay.” Not only that, associates believe that making partner is a realistic target: “They have been very clear to me about progress and how I've performed in comparison to associates historically to give me a sense of where I am in the pack.” Another confided: “I'm committed for the long term. They'd have to drag me out! I can see myself being on track for partner.” Deb Manus insists that “advancing to partner is not a political process.” She continues: “I love our partner elections, because I look at the candidates and see individuals who have succeeded and I feel proud of the investment we’ve made in them.” She says that those “who do leave Nutter don’t typically go to work for competitor law firms.” Moreover, “we have had a number of people leave and then return to the firm. I think that says something.”

Diversity & Get Hired

According to Deb Manus, Nutter is always “looking to add great people who will join Nutter and really blossom.” We asked associates what blossoming at Nutter means. After “good grades” at law school, they said it's all about being “invested in the Boston community and wanting to put roots down here.” The key to dazzling in an interview is “knowing why you want to work at Nutter and what your life is going to be like. I know I was asked why I wanted to work here.” Go online for advice from hiring partner Matt Bresette.

"I know I was asked why I wanted to work here.”

In 2015, Nutter recruited an outside diversity consultant to “look at Nutter through the lens of diversity” (in the words of Deb Manus) and implement a “Diversity and Inclusion strategic plan.” Manus hopes that plan will create “a culture of inclusion” by talking “about issues in a way that isn't about culpability or blame.”

The firm is female friendly and most “junior associates coming through are women," associates pointed out to us. There are also "lots of female partners.” Female associates also told us about the women's mentoring circle which holds “quarterly breakfasts and luncheons” for “partners and associates to talk and catch up.” But there are still “hurdles to overcome,” especially regarding ethnic diversity, and associates conceded that “when you just look at the numbers it doesn't look like we've done a good job at being diverse.”

Pro Bono

Nutter has an historic connection to pro bono – the firm's cofounder Louis Brandeis was a big fan. Flash forward 130-odd years and pro bono is still very much “part of the Nutter experience.” It “counts toward your billable hours and there's no limit to how many you can bill.” To encourage associates to take it on, the firm holds “an annual pro bono recognition ceremony” in October where it “recognizes associates who contribute a large bulk of their billable hours to pro bono.” Depending on their practice, juniors tackle things like “immigration cases involving children, tax exempt forms for non profit organizations, and wills for people who don't have much money but want to leave certain things to certain people.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 6,142 
  • Average per US attorney: 42

"An annual pro bono recognition ceremony.”

Hours & Compensation

Interviewees sounded content with their lower salary than at bigger Boston firms – $145,000 as opposed to $160,000 – and better quality of life. One representative associate told us: "I know it's under market rate but I knew there is a trade off between working at a big firm for big money and having a life. I didn't pick a firm based on the salary because it's way more than I've ever earned. Boston is an expensive city but it's plenty of money."

It can be tricky for newbies to reach the firm's 1,900 billing requirement as “we have so much training in the first year and, unfortunately, many of those hours aren't billable.” A possible consequence of not meeting the billing target is missing out on the annual bonus. “I've never gotten a bonus!” one associate laughed. “If I'm honest I'd rather work a little less hard and not get one.” On top of the required 1,900 hours are an extra 100 "commitment to the firm hours" which can include anything from “CLE courses” to “community outreach programs.”

"I multi-task while watching box sets and doing emails!”

Speaking of having a life outside work, "I don't know many people who work on the weekends,” one trusts & estates source said. “When I do it's always self-imposed and from home. Luckily, in this department there aren't a lot of hard deadlines so there isn't that psychological pressure. I multi-task while watching box sets and doing emails!”

Strategy & Future

While associates would welcome "a little bit more transparency" over the firm's decision-making (what associate anywhere wouldn't?), they did feel more involved than they might be at larger firms. “Partners are part of the business strategy," one explained, "and because we're a small firm if you're working with a partner you know it's something important. Whereas at a large firm you could be working with a partner on something not to do with the overall strategy.”

Managing partner Deb Manus says the firm's strategy in a nutshell is "about an emphasis on excellence, not just at lawyer levels – because that's the table stakes – but at all levels of the organization. I'm so proud of the strides that we've made in the last year through really thinking about how we develop our business and practices. We've been tackling every initiative in a team-driven and organized way. One of the great things about the younger people coming up is how they approach work: they are purpose driven, they want to work toward common goals. I think we do a good job with our junior lawyers. They are fantastic lawyers and their level of career satisfaction matters to us – it makes us a stronger organization." 

Interview with managing partner Deb Manus

Chambers Associate: What have been the firm's focuses for this year?

Deb Manus: This has been a great year for Nutter. The Boston real estate industry is booming and Nutter is very active in that space. Our IP litigators have also been extraordinarily busy. Internally, we have been focusing on making the Nutter client experience the best that it can be. I have invested a lot of time in meeting with key clients about client service – and have learned a lot from them. Another area of focus is diversity and inclusion. Historically, Boston is not known for being a diverse place, especially in the professional services. We're on a mission to change that! We're taking steps to ensure that our organization accurately and genuinely reflects the demographics of our community. This initiative is not just about diversity, it's also about inclusion and how we can make everyone who works here comfortable.

CA: What is the firm's strategy going forward? 

DM: Any managing partner you talk to who isn't trying to figure out how to the make the historic law firm model responsive to 21st century business needs won't be in their job much longer. We are really trying to listen to our clients about what they are looking for from outside counsel. We are making it a priority to truly partner with our clients. We're also working on a branding process that I’m excited about. We want to be sure that the market’s view of Nutter is in alignment with who we are. To be successful, brands have to be genuine. When we roll out our campaign, I’ll think we’ve achieved success if our existing clients see it and say, 'Yes, that's the firm I know' and potential clients it and say, 'Huh… that's interesting!' Internally, it's going to be our guide-star and the model we base everything we do around.

CA: What strategic measures have you put in place this year?

DM: We're focusing on client facing plans and everything that goes into that. It's about an emphasis on excellence, not just at lawyer levels – because that's the table stakes – but at all levels of the organization. I'm so proud of the strides that we've made in the last year through really thinking about how we develop our business and practices. We've been tackling every initiative in a team-driven and organized way. One of the great things about the younger people coming up is how they approach work: they are purpose driven, they want to work toward common goals. I think we do a good job with our junior lawyers. They are fantastic lawyers and their level of career satisfaction matters to us – it makes us a stronger organization.

CA: The firm has recruited several lateral partners in the last year, what's the reason behind this? 

DM: When you hire laterally you're looking for one of two things. It's either to fill an expertise “hole” or to respond to a changing market. This year, Nutter has added a trademark and copyright partner, a tax partner, a trusts and estates partner and an IP litigator. We do have a strategic approach to lateral hiring – there are people we look for, but we also respond to market opportunities. That said, I'm of the mindset that, generally, you shouldn't let yourself get distracted by just any opportunity. It’s important to have a plan and make it a priority to execute on it.

CA: Litigation is the firm's biggest practice but are there any plans to expand other departments?

DM: Life sciences is something I expect to see grow – when you unwrap it you find it's IP, healthcare, corporate law and litigation! On the corporate side I think fund formation is something we'll want to see grow.

CA: How important is prior work experience when looking for potential candidates?

DM: The level of experience is important, but we often look at candidates with different experience levels, depending on what the need is. Overall, we're looking to add great people who will join Nutter and really blossom – it's all part of our focus on developing our people and their careers. It's about adding the right people, and they often come from different places. Experience is important, intelligence is important, but alignment to the job is extremely important. If we bring in the right “tigers”, whether baby or mature, and nurture them well, then the firm and our clients win.

CA: What are you looking for in a junior candidate?

DM:There are only 150 lawyers at Nutter so fit is very important; this is no place for big egos. We want people who are intelligent, engaged, interested in clients and problem solvers. The cult of 'you' isn't going to work very well here.

CA: What steps is the firm taking to make sure its workplace is as diverse as possible?

DM:Over the last year we brought in an outside consultant to look at Nutter through the lens of diversity, who presented her findings. Since then we have been working on a Diversity and Inclusion strategic plan. This has been a very broad based effort involving not only lawyers but also staff from all levels. We have focused on issues such as unconscious bias, creating a culture of inclusion , and how we hire and mentor. We are trying to talk about issues in a way that isn’t about culpability or blame but about who we are and how we treat people going forward. A big part of the project involves heightening awareness. We are going to roll the plan out before year end. If we’ve done our job right, it will be a plan we live by. We have a duty to every employee who comes here, to our clients and to the community to be diverse and inclusive. I welcome and embrace this because that's the only way that change can happen.

CA: Interviewees praised Nutter for the fact that progressing through the ranks is a genuine possibility. How highly do you value that as a firm?

DM: Very highly. I think everyone who works at Nutter genuinely likes being here. There is a culture of respect and friendship people at every level appreciate. When someone isn’t succeeding, it’s an organizational failure on some level. People who do leave Nutter don’t typically go to work for competitor law firms—they leave to do something else: they become judges, take other government posts or join in house legal departments. We have had a number of people leave and then return to the firm. I think that says something. I love our partner elections, because I look at the candidates and see individuals who have succeeded and I feel proud of the investment we’ve made in them. If you take smart, motivated people and you tell them what you want and what it takes to advance, they'll succeed. Advancement is not a political process.

CA: What differentiates Nutter from other Boston firms?

DM: We are Boston-based, but we practice nationally and in some cases internationally. We have resisted the impulse to become part of a 1,000 lawyer firm. We don’t have the same overhead those firms have and we don’t use the same leverage model. This enables us to serve our clients in a way that is efficient, practical and value and values based. At Nutter, we all know each other. If I recommend one of my partners to a client as being someone who can help, the

Interview with hiring partner Matt Bresette

Chambers Associate: How do you pre-screen those who have bid on your firm?

Matt Bresette: We're looking for a mix of qualities. Number one is people with a certain level of excellence, which typically means good schools and good grades. We usually look at the top 25 schools in the country, but that's just the first look. We're also looking for a candidate who can show good judgment through hard work and a successful law school career no matter where they go to school. I'm always interested in people who have prior work experience because they often understand the importance of client service and pragmatic problem solving. We're also trying very hard to emphasize the importance of having a diverse workforce at the firm. We think it's important to reflect the demographics of our community and the clients we serve. We strongly believe that we’ll deliver better, more creative advice for our clients if we increase diversity in our ranks.

CA: Which schools does the firm typically visit? How many students do you see or does it vary depending on the school?

MB: For the past few years, the most common places we've successfully recruited students are Boston College, Boston University, New York University and the University of Virginia. We've had some success at the University of Chicago and Harvard too. We're focused on the geographical Boston area because there are so many good schools there. This summer (2016) we have students from Boston College, Berkeley, Harvard, and Georgetown. We usually see about 15 to 20 students at each school where we interview. We also eagerly encourage write-in candidates from schools where we do not recruit through OCI.

CA: How many (or what percent) get called in for a second interview?

MB: Last year we screened close to 500 students and we called back 63 candidates. It's a significant drop off but that's because we're picky. We like to see as many candidates as we can and we trust our recruiters because they are so committed to picking great talent. It's very hard to get revved up about an eight hour day made up of 20 minute interviews but our recruiters are so enthusiastic about picking people who they want to work with that it’s a great success.

After the interviews our recruiting attorneys come back to meet me or our director of legal recruitment, Katie Thatcher, to discuss their top two or three choices. They're basically pleading the candidate's case, which allows us to focus on the very best choices and the people that we think will be the best additions to Nutter.

CA: Roughly how many associates do you take on each year? Are they distributed evenly between offices?

MB: Our goal is five to six summer associates. Our yield last year, was almost 75% yield. It's not a numbers game with us. We connect with the people we make offers to and we want them to stay at the firm for a career, not just a few years. The amount of hours that goes into our interviews makes no economic sense in the short-term, but in the long-run we’re interviewing people who we envision as future partners and leaders of the firm. Our client service model is a such a highly personalized approach, that all members of the team are working with our clients to deliver excellent advice, timely and efficiently. That means that the hiring committee needs to make sure that we’re hiring people who are up to the task.

CA: Has the recent appointment of a diversity officer affected the firm's recruitment process? If so, in what ways?

MB: In the past two years every single conversation that we have had at the hiring committee or firm management level has included a significant amount of energy dedicated to diversity. Bringing in a diversity officer is part of that process and a practical step towards a more diverse group of lawyers at Nutter. The recruiting process requires us to identify diverse candidates we'd like to work with; introduce them to Nutter if they're not familiar with us and make every effort to bring them on board. We want to familiarize them with Nutter in a way that says 'you're welcome here, we want you here because we think you'd love it here and we think you would be an outstanding addition to our client service teams.' I'd say we currently work harder at diversity than any other recruiting initiative.

CA: Who conducts OCI and callback interviews?

MB: We have a team of about 40 who are then divided across OCIs and the callback process. The interviewers are typically mid-level associates and partners but we have had some juniors as well. It’s an absolutely terrific team who are doing the hard work that is required in our process to identify and recruit excellent candidates.

CA: What questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews? What makes people stand out during an interview?

MB: I tend to give a lot of leeway to folks conducting interviews to ask questions that will resonate for them. However, we do have common questions like 'why do you want to come and work for us?' It's a softball question in one sense, but it is designed to test the candidate’s ability to do research and articulate why they want to work here.

The other question we ask is what they want out of their legal career – good candidates have thought deeply about this question and not just in preparation for the interview but in preparation for a long career as an attorney. These are the people who have thought about the best places for client interaction or the kind of work they want to do. The best candidates offer resonant answers for us: they want to be in a place where they can see a long career as opposed to just three years then out. We want to be the right fit from the candidates' perspective; that they have been thinking about us as a possibility; and that we fit their career plans in the long term.  

CA: Is there anything candidates typically say in an interview that constitutes as a red flag?

MB: When they haven't taken the time to research the firm it's pretty obvious. It's such an easy thing to do, so that when it happens, I have to wonder 'why are you wasting your time and ours?'

CA: How important is prior work experience to a resume?

MB: A candidate with legal work experience gets our attention, and we’re also very interested, perhaps more so, in candidates with business experience. We recently hired a candidate who worked in the financial sector at an entry-level customer service position. The candidate was smart and had good judgment, and, importantly, they had experience of how a business in the financial sector works with direct client service. They applied that experience to the business needs of our clients to provide pragmatic advice. That’s a win for our clients and us as a firm.

CA: Will the firm's rebrand change the hiring process?

MB: I think it's going to change everything we do at the firm, to a certain extent. One of the things I think the rebranding will do is carefully and intentionally align our brand image with who we are. Our brand will express to our clients and prospective clients the values of the firm and we expect to maintain and attract clients who are aligned with those values.

CA: Which firms do you see as your main competitors?

MB: This past recruiting season we lost great candidates to Ropes & Gray, Shearman & Sterling, and WilmerHale.

Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP

Seaport West ,
155 Seaport Boulevard,
MA 02110-2604

  • Head Office: Boston, MA
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Partners (US): 76
  • Counsel (US): 20
  • Associates (US): 49
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $1,500/week
  • 2Ls: $2,788/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 7
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 7 offers, 4 acceptances

Main areas of work
Business, intellectual property, litigation, real estate and finance, tax and trusts and estates.

Firm profile
Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP has deep roots in Boston and a long-standing reputation for business savvy and pragmatism. Nutter advises clients across a wide range of industries, including life sciences, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, banking and financial services, real estate, energy, and technology. The firm regularly represents major US global corporations and financial institutions, research universities, high technology and emerging companies, investors, developers, foundations, and families that select Nutter for the quality of its lawyers and its depth as a multi-service firm. Nutter was co-founded by Louis D Brandeis, who later became a renowned justice of the US Supreme Court. The founding partners’ rich legacy continues to inspire and set an example for the firm. Today Nutter upholds the same standard of focused dedication, innovation, and unwavering commitment to client service that they set over a century ago.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 7
• Number of 2nd year associates: 6
• Associate Salaries: 1st Year: $145,000
• 2nd Year: Not lock step, based on a core competency system
• Clerking policy: Case by case

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, New England School of Law, Northeastern School of Law, and Suffolk University Job Fairs: Boston Lawyers Group Job Fair (diversity fair) and Patent Law Interview Program

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Strong academic record. Intelligent, enthusiastic, confident and results-oriented team players with demonstrated interpersonal and communication skills.

Summer program components:
Our approach to the summer experience at Nutter is to provide our summer associates with as complete and accurate a view of the firm and our practice as possible. Summer associates divide their ten weeks between two departments. For those who desire exposure to other areas, assignment coordinators endeavor to provide them with projects tailored to their individual interests. Each summer associate receives two formal reviews, one at midsummer and the other at the end of the program. These reviews are intended to provide the summer associate with guidance and are based upon written evaluations by supervising attorneys. We expect attorneys to provide individual, ongoing, informal feedback to summer associates and encourage summer associates to solicit feedback directly from attorneys. Each summer associate is assigned mentors, from each department to which he or she is assigned. By the end of the program, our goal is for summer associates to have a thorough understanding of our client-base and the work environment they will encounter as full-time associates.