Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP - The Inside View

In a nutshell, this Bostonian is uncommonly good.

FOLLOWING a rebrand in 2016, Nutter now has a slogan: uncommon law. Several of the firm's select group of associates explained to us that they were attracted by Nutter's 'uncommon' reputation compared to larger firms: “The buzz was that it's a different place, really collegial, it fosters associates, and staffs leanly so you get substantive work early on. It was incredibly nice and welcoming. Firms can seem the same, and it came down to atmosphere.” Others spoke of “feeling valued” and how “they hire people with the expectation they will become partners at some point.” Managing partner Deb Manus was equally enthusiastic: “People are truly energized by the new Uncommon Law brand. The 'discovery phase' of the project involved all of the members of the Nutter community: clients, attorneys, staff and industry experts with whom we work. We unveiled the brand in May with a major internal brand launch event."

Nutter also has unique history – it was co-founded by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, no less, in 1879. Deb Manus adds that "the other thing about a good brand is that it is a way of reminding people that we have to constantly aspire to delivering on the brand promise. A good brand inspires people to do that.” Today's 150 or so lawyers still operate from Boston, plus a small Hyannis office. Chambers USA ranks the firm highly for banking & finance, litigation, real estate, environment, and labor & employment work.

The Work

Juniors begin at Nutter in one of the following practices: real estate & finance, trusts & estates, tax, IP, litigation, or business (Nutter's word for corporate). Associates must fill out weekly reports to their department chair so that their workload can be assessed, and new work assigned. “That's the formal system,” associates revealed, “but it's not uncommon that partners you've worked with will talk to you or the chair and give you work themselves. There's the formal process and then some of it happens more organically.” The system's loosest in the smaller departments, but everyone reported that “the firm has been very receptive to the types of work I've enjoyed doing.”

Litigation is Nutter's largest department and handles “anything and everything,” making forays into business and commercial, product liability, environmental, IP, white collar and employment and labor law as part of its wide roaming practice. Associates handle doc reviews, discovery requests, brief writing and research, but they were positive about how “we leanly staff deals so you do get more opportunities.” These include “progressing to manage the people doing doc review,” witness interviews and drafting memos. “I think it's a nice balance of some core junior tasks, which you know come at a law firm, but also of more interesting, substantive work.”

“I've worked with every lawyer here already.”

Nutter's real estate department throws commercial finance matters into the mix too, involving financing, acquisition and lending on the one hand, and development, leasing, land use and zoning on the other. They do this for a mixture of banks, developers, investors, property owners and public sector clients. For associates it's a case of being “exposed to every part of the department – in a kind of utility role. I've worked with every lawyer here already, but you specialize after a few years.” They'd met with clients – “absolutely key to an associate at my level” – and saw their fair share of drafting ancillary documents and leases.

In the petite business department, associates can find work which is “wide ranging.” As well as providing corporate and regulatory services to banks and other well-established clients, the department also picks up work from emerging companies: “It's nice to get experience with both the investors and the start-ups – it's good, pure corporate work, and you're seeing it work on the ground.” Juniors can get up to their necks in drafting: “Things like the financing documents and the term sheet: I'm usually in charge of drafting them in the first instance.”


One associate spoke of Nutter's more relaxed “liberal arts” vibe, and most explained the culture in terms of the firm's smallish size: “Everyone knows you, nobody is a stranger – I like that. I didn't want to be an anonymous person, I wanted a community.” Associates also felt “partners and associates are treated as equals – partners will ask you questions and really value your opinion, maybe on research or on strategy. They actually want to hear from you.” Hiring the right sort of people is key: “Everyone gets along with each other, partly because the firm is mindful of hiring people who get behind the Nutter vision of being client-focused and respectful of each other. You can end up making good friends.” Moreover, “because people want you to stay here and become a partner down the road, you feel like you're given a high level of responsibility – that trust goes a long way.” Fewer associates also means less competition: “All these partners are invested in you and so you work to make sure you give bang for your buck.” To help with their development, juniors get two formal reviews a year plus an associate and partner mentor.

“We have what the firm calls 'wine down Thursdays'.”

As for socializing, “we have what the firm calls 'wine down Thursdays': they put out wine and cheese for us and we hang out for a bit, then it might spill over into something more...” A holiday party at the end of the year and a summer attorney outing give further cause for mirth. “Nutter does a good job of hiring people who are funny, kind and personable so you tend to be able to get a drink with other attorneys in the department.” However, even the best of friends need a little separation: “The reality is that while everyone has a strong relationship here, they maintain lives outside of work. It's very family-friendly, the younger associates might go out around Boston, but others use the free time to spend it with their families.” 

Offices & Training

Nutter goes as far as bricks and mortar to enshrine its culture, giving associates and partners alike the same sized offices: “It's just a small example of how they treat you but I think it's a good demonstration of their commitment.” Several juniors told us they were “in and out all the time. Rarely am I just in my office. We're encouraged to work on our assignments but at appropriate junctures go and ask a partner some questions for a minute – I'm very comfortable doing that.”

“They are devoted to developing us.”

More structured training begins with the aptly titled Nuts and Bolts program, consisting of “maybe six or seven training sessions over a few months to give an overview of the big things you'll work on as a junior associate – it's pretty comprehensive.” Some praised a 'critical skills curriculum' the firm is putting in place: "The fact they're willing to develop an entire series shows they are devoted to developing associates.”

Pro Bono

Nutter has an historic connection to pro bono – cofounder Louis Brandeis was a big fan. Flash forward 140-odd years and you'll still find “the overall attitude toward it is very positive. You can just pop up to talk to the people from KIND [Kids in Need of Defense]” – the charity is based in the same building. Associates had also worked on things like immigration, helping people gain tax exempt status, and residential landlord-tenant disputes: “It's a great chance to get some autonomy.” The firm lets associates loose by allowing unlimited pro bono in their billable hours.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 6,106
  • Average per attorney: 46

Diversity & Get Hired

Good female representation aside, associate opinion was unanimous: “There is a lot of work to be done.”  But “the firm is making the investment it has to to make any strides.” Deb Manus explains exactly how: "Another thing I am very proud of is the progress we have made in making diversity and inclusion a priority at Nutter. We spent a full year developing a Diversity and Inclusion strategic plan." The proof is in the pudding, and against a backdrop of 97% white partners, she highlights that "of the lateral attorney hires we made in the past year, 83% were diverse candidates. That represents real progress for us. We're making it a priority."

For anyone applying to Nutter “the biggest question that they ask is why Nutter?  And more so, why Boston?” Candidates should prove their Beantown commitment and “be a good fit.”  And Nutter's policy of minimal hiring, maximum development? MP Deb Manus says "Nutter will continue to make very significant investment in the professional development of our people. We have no plans to change that model. Hiring the right people, and then watching them succeed is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job."

Hours & Compensation

Interviewees were content with their salary, which went up from $145,000 to $160,000 following the Cravath scale raise to $180,000. “Although it's very important that we responded to the recent hikes, we aren't trying to be a '180' firm – nobody wants associates working that hard!”

“Nobody wants associates working that hard!”

Associates' billing requirement is 1,900 hours with an extra 100 of “additional firm accountable time” too: a number both first-years and those in quieter departments found tough. “You're given some flexibility in first year about hitting that,” as training sometimes intervenes, but it didn't have associates too concerned either way. “Not getting a bonus is a small sacrifice for having a life through the year.” People tend to leave the office around 7pm on average, though they spoke of working occasional weekends.

Strategy & Future

“I'd like to know a little more about the fundamental aspects of the firm,” some juniors told us. “I'm glad you mentioned that," MP Deb Manus tells us. "After we spoke last year, I decided to start giving the associates periodic State of the Firm presentations. I did one in the fall and am doing another later this month. Organizationally, we continue to make an effort to involve associates in our formal client teams and internal committees, such as Hiring and Diversity and Inclusion. From a professional development standpoint, it's important that our up and coming talent understand how the firm works. After all, some day it will be up to them to run it."

One junior had this to say on the firm's strategy: “Nutter does a great job at doing what it does best, recognizing that, and being profitable. It's not going to be making humongous decisions like acquiring firms: it's more of a conservative approach.” Deb Manus notes that "we don't rule out increasing the number of lawyers or opening offices in other jurisdictions, but the fit would just have to be right for us and for our clients. Given how vibrant the Boston economy is, it's a little hard to make an urgent case for diversifying out of this market."

Interview with Deb Manus, managing partner at Nutter, McClennen and Fish

Chambers Associate: What's happened at the firm in the last year that you think our readers should be aware of?

Deb Manus: Nutter continues to thrive.  The Boston economy is white hot and Nutter is well-positioned --and fortunate--to share in that.  The Greater Boston area is home to colleges and universities, technology, a vibrant research community, financial services and so many other great institutions.    Unsurprisingly, there is also a lot of real estate development.  The City is literally rising all around us.  We have a really robust real estate practice that covers all phases of permitting, financing, leasing and development.  We are privileged to be partnering with clients who are doing unbelievable projects not only locally, but nationally.  Nutter's IP litigation practice and life sciences practice are also doing very well.  It's  a great time to be a Bostonian. 

Another thing I am very proud of is the progress we have made in making Diversity and Inclusion a priority at Nutter.  We spent a full year developing a Diversity and Inclusion strategic plan.  We looked at every aspect of how we do business. We can by no means declare victory, but merely by advancing the conversation and by having the whole organization focus on it, we are starting to make progress.  Of the lateral attorney hires we made in the past year, 83% were diverse candidates.  That represents real progress for us. We're making it a priority. We still have a long way to go but we know it's important.

CA: Was it something of a gamble to have your office in an undeveloped area of the city?

DM: Not really.  The Seaport is on Boston Harbor.  There just isn't a lot of waterfront property available for development.  So, the question really wasn't "Will it be developed?"  It was a question of when. To the extent that we gambled it was on timing.  We were one of the first big tenants to come to the Seaport.  It has really worked out for us.  With the benefit of hindsight, the timing really could not have been better.  Today, the Seaport District is the place to be.  The Seaport has become an innovation center, a tourist destination, and is home to many of Boston's trendiest dining destinations.  Many of our attorneys live here because it's such a fun and trendy neighborhood. 

CA: Have there been any effects of your recent re-brand internally?

DM: People are truly energized by the new Uncommon Law brand.  The "discovery phase" of the project involved all of the members of the Nutter community:  clients, attorneys, staff and industry experts with whom we work.  We unveiled the brand in May with a major internal brand launch event.  It was a great opportunity for everyone within the organization to remember what it is that differentiates us and to reaffirm the commitment to serving clients in a way that is excellent, practical and--for want of a better expression--human.  Parts of the launch were "produced" but some of the best moments were completely genuine--there was a more or less impromptu video take off of The Office, that was both irreverent and very, very funny.  I'm still smiling about it. 

Overall, I would say that the brand launch went extremely well, internally.  I heard a number of comments along the lines of, "This feels like a re-commitment ceremony to my career.” The other thing about a good brand is that is a way of reminding people that we have to constantly aspire to delivering on the brand promise.  A good brand inspires people to do that.

CA: Has the firm grown in the last year? And are new offices a possibility?

DM: We have seen solid profit growth in recent years.  That's extremely important for what it says about the health and stability of the organization.  Our headcount is stable, but revenue per lawyer and profits per partner are both up.  We don't rule out increasing the number of lawyers or opening offices in other jurisdictions, but the fit would just have to be right for us and for our clients  Given how vibrant the Boston economy is, it's a little hard to make an urgent case for diversifying out of this market.

CA: Have you picked up on any trends in the legal market over the past year?

DM: The pace of change has been  meteoric – it's almost a perfect storm of factors combining to impact law firms:  Technology and demographic changes  have combined to produce changes most of us would never have predicted 20 years ago. 

One challenge is trying to bridge the gap between the way different generations in our work force work and communicate.  Baby Boomers are different from Generation X and they, in turn, are different from Millennials.  Baby Boomers are constantly available because they are always at their desks--and wearing a suit.  Millennials are also constantly available--you just have to text them and be OK with the fact that they are probably not wearing a suit.  Those differences take some getting used to. 

Technology also affects client demands and expectations.  Clients expect and deserve increased efficiency and responsiveness.  The changing landscape makes it more important than ever for us to spend time with our clients to be sure we are meeting expectations and to be sure we fully understand how expectations may change over time.  I've made it a very high priority to spend time with clients to find out exactly what outstanding service means to them.

CA: Your hiring strategy is to not take on many more people than you hope to be partner – is that not a little risky?

DM: Well, it means that you have to hire smarter. It used to be the case that  law firms (including Nutter)  went to certain schools and extended a lot of offers; There was little or no focus on whether the candidate's professional goals were aligned with the work of the firm. Today, we are much more focused on how the actual job of being an associate at Nutter matches up with a candidate's vision of the future. We make very significant investment in the professional development of our people.  The good news for us is that to some degree people select Nutter because we make these investments, because they are interested in an environment where development matters to the organization, too.

Nutter will continue to make very significant investment in the professional development of our people.  We  have no plans to change that model.  Hiring the right people, and then watching them succeed is one of the most satisfying aspects of my job.  We have excellent, excellent, excellent, quality associate support.  Partner elections are my favorite day of the year, because it is a chance for the organization to reflect on the amazing success of our attorneys.  Great attorneys don't just happen.  It takes some organizational effort.

CA: What is the firm doing about increasing transparency, since this is something associates were critical about?

DM: I'm glad you mentioned that.  After we spoke last year, I decided to start giving the associates periodic State of the Firm presentations.  I did one in the fall and and am doing another later this month.  Organizationally, we continue to make an effort to involve associates in our formal client teams and internal committees, such as Hiring and Diversity and Inclusion.  From a professional development standpoint, it's important that our up and coming talent understand how the firm works.  After all, some day it will be up to them to run it.

Interview with Matt Bresette, hiring chair at Nutter McClennen and Fish

Chambers Associate: What's the scope of your recruiting drive?

Matt Bresette: Our primary focus is the top 25 schools in the country, with additional focus on the Boston area. The way we've developed our recruiting is that most of our OCI resources are devoted to Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Harvard, New England and Suffolk: schools in the Boston area. Most of our interview teams are focused on Boston law schools.

We have trimmed back some of our traveling schedule outside of the New England area to focus those resources on directly connecting with candidates at the top 25 law schools outside of New England. We developed an outreach program to the Career Services Offices at the top 25 law schools, to identify and develop relationships with candidates who are seriously interested in coming to Boston. Through that program, we receive about 160 resumes from non-OCI schools and we typically put them through a remote screening process (using GoTo Meetings or other video call link).

We want to match our resources to highly qualified candidates who are as excited about Boston and Nutter as we are about them.  If you are a student at UC-Berkeley, maybe you don't have connections to Boston, but we want to meet that student who can sincerely express directly or through their Career Services Office, “I'm really interested!”

CA: Roughly how many students do you see at each campus?

MB: At BC and BU we see 40, and at other schools we do a full schedule of 20. Typically we have a larger demand of people who want to apply from those schools.

CA: What are some key things you are looking for in those OCI interviews?

MB: We prepare our interview teams with a focus on the characteristics we are looking for:  Judgement, hard work, intelligence, and being a team player. It's hard to hit all of those. But we try to get at some of these categories by looking at things like, what did they choose in their first year summer of law school or time between college and law school? What was their decision path to get in front of us?

It's preparation too. Students need to come well prepared, knowing a lot about the firm, and come with questions. They need granular knowledge about Nutter which shows they have thought about it carefully. It's good judgement and demonstrates hard work.  It's just smart and a good approach to interviewing and shows how they might approach a client project, with analysis ahead of time.

We're also looking for examples of how they work in teams. So much of Nutter client service is working well in a team both with each other and with our clients –complementing each other’s skills. Our goal is to hire future Nutter partners so they do have to be team players.

CA: And what about the write in applicants, those who you don’t see through OCIs – how can they impress?

MB: First and foremost, they need to express why they are excited about Nutter and Boston, and that means demonstrating a thoughtful and detailed approach, with detailed research.  It needs to be more than “I think Boston is a great city and Nutter has a long history that interests me.”  A much better cover letter might say something like “Boston’s reputation as a leader in the biotech industry, with a start-up culture set in the back-drop of rich history is the place where I want to develop my career.  Nutter’s work with start-ups and venture capital programs like “Launchpad” seem like the best fit for where I want to start my career.”

CA: What's different about the callback interviews? Does anything change about what you're looking for?

MB: We structure each interview team to consist of different level lawyers, from partners down to first year associates. How does the candidate interact? How do they tailor their message in the interview questions? We are looking for a flow and the ability to interact well across a cross section of the firm, just as if they were working for us. We're also hoping they will ask questions that show research and real interest in what we do. They interview with six different individuals. Four are in the office and they have lunch with two junior associates.

CA: Last year we spoke to you about your attempts to address diversity, have you seen the effects?

MB: Absolutely, no question that we are seeing progress.  There's been steady progress and we feel we're picking up speed. Of lateral hires in 2016, five represented diversity. For entry-level hiring, it is incredibly helpful to point to a growing cadre of diversity at several levels of associates as part of the diversity recruiting effort. In essence, we’re walking the walk as well as talking the talk. 

We continue to make diversity a very high priority across the firm. There is no conversation on hiring that does not include how it matches up with our diversity goals. We structure all of our recruiting around that.

CA: We got very good feedback about the supportive and friendly culture, how important is it to find candidates with suitable qualities?

MB: I would say that it is of primary importance because our culture is so important to how we serve clients. It's a values-driven place. We think it's important that we serve our community and that attorneys have rich and exciting lives in addition. They resonate with clients and it makes us better as lawyers. We are looking for those who have that type of attitude. It's really important for us. We hire those who share our corporate values –it serves clients best.

I try to convey to our interview teams that it's not about hiring someone like yourself. It's more about the values of who we are as an organization. We are hiring people that we want to run the Firm one day.  In a dynamic marketplace, we need to always be thinking about hiring future leaders that are also dynamic, diverse and represent the next version of Nutter, but staying true to our corporate values that is the basis of strong relationships with our clients and ourselves. 

We used to be embarrassed about that reputation, people thinking that maybe we're a lifestyle firm. What we found out from our strategic planning process was that clients know that we work hard, clients know we are dedicated, and the values we think are important, including having lives and community interests in addition to our work,  are why they like to work with us. We want to reflect that in our hiring.

CA: We heard that a commitment to the firm or area were important criteria – how can a candidate demonstrate this?

MB: I think this is tricky for candidates who are not at school here. Those who are  in Boston have some tangible proof of ties to Boston.  When we used to go farther afield, when we sent people out to University of Virginia, Georgetown, NYU, University of Chicago, Texas and the west coast it was impossible to determine whether people wanted to come to Boston. As we have shifted our recruitment resources, we know that people sending us resumes from non-New England schools are far more interested than if they sign up for an OCI. It's self-selecting. We already know that they have more than a passing interest. We then talk about 'why did you pick us?' If they've done research or know what they want, that will come through.

CA: Do you feel that you expect more than some firms from your candidates because of the firm's strategy of hiring fewer people and making sure they develop to become partners? Are you confident that you can spot partner material that far in advance?

MB: I think so. Do we have an appreciable advantage? I don't know. But every interviewer knows that's what we are looking for, whatever their criteria is for looking for that.  We explain to our interviewers that you want a successful candidate to be your boss one day, now build your interview style around that.


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): 75
  • Counsel (US): 20
  • Associates (US): 53
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $1,500/week
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 7
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 7 offers, 6 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: $160,000
• 2nd Year: Not lock step, based on a core competency system
• Clerking policy: Case by case

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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.