Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP - The Inside View

This 200-lawyer, one-office litigation expert scrapped its summer program in favor of hiring judicial clerks and a few lucky 3Ls...

WE'D just watched the new Star Wars movie when we were researching Patterson this year, so forgive us for making a slightly unusual (but highly complimentary) comparison. It struck us that Patterson is a bit like Yoda: they're both smaller than their rivals yet pack a mean punch. They are both mighty duelists, Yoda with a lightsaber and (bear with us) Patterson in courtroom spars. While no one at the New York firm has ever lifted a starfighter with the power of their mind (as far as we know), like Yoda they boast formidable intellects. And finally, while Yoda's expertise comes from studying the Force for 900 years, Patterson takes the quick route and hires brilliant scholars straight from judicial clerkships. Refreshingly for BigLaw, not one of the associates we spoke to referred to the firm as the Death Star... quite the opposite, in fact.

Although mainly known as a litigation firm, Patterson also has a noncontentious offering. This includes a corporate department which does M&A work for small to medium sized companies, plus real estate, tax, employee benefits, trusts & estates, and a group serving tax-exempt organizations. Litigation takes the lion's share of new recruits, and 3Ls take note: the firm hires a handful each year into various practice groups. 

The Work

Worried about getting pigeonholed early? Patterson takes the view that “being a generalist is a good thing,” and here you'll find everything from false advertising to contract disputes to residential backed mortgage securities work. Associates juggle several different cases at a time, dipping in and out as their schedule allows. “When one case is quieter, there's another getting busy, so there's always something I can jump into.” The variety “can make your head spin,” admitted our sources, but everyone we spoke to found it preferable to “working on a single case for two years.”

"You can do up to 20 depositions in a week."

Assigning partners are on hand to ensure that work is doled out fairly and associates are kept busy, and although one associate found that “cases are usually staffed by people raising their hand,” they still have to ultimately go through the assignment person. Associates “meet with the assigning partners every couple of months to let them know how busy they are.” It's also possible to express an interest in a particular type of work at these meetings. Other than that, there's not much else to it – when work comes in, the partners send an email around the office to see who has capacity, and “there's nothing stopping you finding your own work” by contacting the assigning partners yourself.

All attorneys are “informally required” to do a two-week externship with the City of New York's law department. Here, they generally handle personal injury work – New York's a big city, with a lot of sidewalks to trip over – and they find themselves conducting and defending depositions. “We're kind of thrown in the deep end,” recalled one former participant. Another added “you can do up to 20 depositions in a week.”

Hours & Compensation

There's a billable hours target of 1,850, and a target of 250 hours' worth of relevant nonbillable work. The latter can include CLEs, marketing and all-important pro bono work. “It works out as 35 billable hours a week,” calculated one source, “which is very reasonable for a New York firm.” Others agreed: “There's no chance of missing it if you work five days a week.” The firm's position is that associates need to hit both the billable and non-billable hours targets to be eligible for a full bonus, but associates who fall short on one or other of those goals but who still hit 2,100 overall will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Patterson is open to “splitting the baby” and “giving half-bonuses and other percentages,” or even full bonuses, depending on an individual's performance.

"On a dollar-per-hour basis, we probably make more than people at other firms."

In the legal world, 'work/life balance' is traditionally something that happens to other people, but Patterson's lawyers seem to do all right. Day-to-day, most Pattersonians show up around 9-9.30 am and finish at 7pm. “95% of the time I've left the office before 8 o'clock,” said a not untypical associate. When trials loom it's sometimes necessary to stay late or work over weekends. “When I do work weekends, I'm usually only working for a few hours at a time,” said one. “Unless there's a pressing trial, I'm loathed to stay past 10pm,” added another. We were told that at the senior associate level, salary is a little below market, but juniors are on a par with their counterparts in other firms. “In fact, if you look at it on a dollar-per-hour basis, we probably make more than people other firms,” said one, referencing the more humane working hours. And, for recent parents, it's possible to work flexibly – for example, working a reduced schedule for a reduced salary, although there are various different options.  

Pro Bono

A lot of firms claim to take pro bono seriously, but few can match Patterson for pro bono bragging rights. 2016 is the twelfth year running that the firm has achieved a 100% participation rate. “If you're falling short on your pro bono hours you can expect to receive a phone call,” said one associate, “because they really want to get 100% participation every year.” Opportunities range from “individual cases where you represent someone who's about to be evicted,” to big, time consuming projects, to representing clients at mediations. Not only are there “lots of different opportunities,” but “the firm is open to you bringing stuff in.”

Pro bono hours  

  • For all attorneys: 25, 261
  • Average per attorney: 135


While “litigators are supposed to be aggressive,” there's more of a “gentle, bookish culture” chez Patterson. This isn't to say that the firm's courtroom brawlers can't throw down with the best of them when their clients' interests are at stake – merely that people feel like “respected professionals” rather than “billable hours machines.” Having all the firm's lawyers under one roof definitely helps the atmosphere. “Partners are never walled off,” said one, “and everyone sees everyone in the cafeteria and in the hallways.”

“You literally just go and talk.”

The firm's inviting culture is due, in part, to the efforts of cochair and managing partner Lisa Cleary. “She really sets the tone,” said one source, while another described her as a “driver of the firm's culture.” Cleary personally meets every associate every two months to make sure they're happy and getting the work they want. “There's no real agenda,” a spy tells us, “you literally just go and talk.” And she's not the only approachable bigshot; partners aren't “walled off,” and the entire place is just “a little less hierarchical” than your average law firm.


"Near Times Square, not in Times Square..."

Associates raved about Patterson's location, saying “any firm in Midtown is going to have a great view, but we're right by Times Square, Bryant Park and Grand Central station.” One source gave it top marks for being “near Times Square, but not IN Times Square.” The firm seems to be wasting no time getting ready for the Internet of Things; a recently completed facelift has left “iPads on meeting-room walls and teleconferencing technology everywhere.” It also means that “all associates have window offices to themselves,” allowing for some glorious views. For associates who can't face the lunchtime crowds, there's a subsidized cafeteria, as well as an associates' lounge with an assortment of snacks, coffee machine, TV and video games on offer. Plus, for those who haven't had time to grab breakfast on their way into the office, the firm provides a free bowl of fruit every morning.

Get Hired

“One of the main things we look for in a candidate is fire in the belly,” hiring partner Bob Lehrburger tells us. This, of course, is in addition to the usual things like legal reasoning, leadership, and communication skills. Where might one go to find such a candidate? The firm thinks the ranks of the nation's judicial clerks is a good place to start. In fact, if Patterson made novelty mugs, they'd probably say “you don't have to be a judicial clerk to work here – but it helps!” Although it hires a few candidates straight out of law school, Patterson focuses most of its efforts on wooing judicial clerks. The seduction begins in January with clerks receiving an invite to a clerks' reception in Tribeca. The subsequent hiring process is refreshingly uncomplicated; applicants submit a resume, cover letter and transcript, and go through a single round of interviews. The interviews themselves run from January to June each year, but places are filled on a first come, first served basis.

"Why don't we hire them when they're done clerking?”

There are obvious advantages to hiring clerks: it guarantees a ready supply of clever people with inside knowledge of how the courts operate. But why focus almost exclusively on hiring clerks? “People would summer here, work here for a year, and then go off to clerk,” hypothesized one source, “so the firm said 'why don't we hire them when they're done clerking?'” Another thought the firm's motives might have been financial: “I think it's because the summer program was expensive and unnecessary.” Hiring partner Lehrburger tells us that the truth is closer to the former. “We were getting more and more of our associates from clerk ranks,” he says. All of those recruited through this pipeline go into litigation, with noncontentious roles filled either by laterals or through special recruitment campaigns.

Training & Development

As is traditional, new Pattersonites are treated to a week of orientation, covering everything from “filling out tax forms to setting up your email account.” Sources described it as “sitting in a room being trained, which sounds annoying but was something I reallly appreciated.” Then there's a series of one to two hour long CLEs called 'nuts and bolts', which teaches lawyers how to manage a case from beginning to end. Associates praised the firm's willingness to pay for outside consultants and professional coaching. “There's a writing coach who comes in once a week,” one told us, “and you can run any of your briefs or memos past her.” Most memorably, the firm helps associates prepare for hearings by staging a full moot, with partners “playing the role of a hot bench” and putting the associates through their paces, giving feedback at the end. It isn't just the high value, two week long jury trials either. Small oral arguments “that aren't really a big deal” and even pro bono cases get this treatment.

Instead of pairing partners and newbies, associates join 'Associate Learning Groups' or ALGs. These are groups of six associates and one partner which meet three or four times a year for educational and team building outings, which can vary from “going to a musical or the symphony” to “wine tastings and nice dinners.” There's also a more formal, and “very thorough,” review process. Every six months, partners collate feedback on associates' performance and present it to them. What's interesting about the process is the feedback is not anonymous. “They tell you how each partner rated you,” although our agents at the firm tell us that the first one is off the record.


"More than half our associates are women."

“Diversity is valued here,” said one associate, “but I wouldn't say our ethnic makeup is commensurate with our desire for diversity.” Another was less diplomatic: “Everyone I work with seems to be white.” To improve the variety of backgrounds, the firm offers a $25,000 diversity fellowship each year. In addition to that tidy sum, the fellow, who must be a diverse judicial clerk, sits on the firm's diversity committee and gets to name a nonprofit as the beneficiary of a $5,000 donation. Happily, the firm does considerably better at recruiting female attorneys. “More than half of our associates are women,” boasted an attorney, “and we're above the national average when it comes to hiring LGBT lawyers.” That said, we heard some grumbles that “we haven't made a woman partner in a few years,” although the firm did actually promote a female partner in 2015.

Strategy & Future

Residential mortgage-backed securities [RMBS] litigation has kept many of the firm's best and brightest busy in the last few years, but many of the insiders we spoke to thought that line of work was coming to a natural end. Hiring partner Bob Lehrburger agrees, telling us "that team is doing extremely well; of course, RMBS work will start to wane as the cases go through their life cycle.” Patterson's not a one-trick pony though, and is already beefing up its expertise in other areas. The firm's false advertising practice has been “going gangbusters” according to Lehrburger, and Patterson has also expanded its cybersecurity offering.

Interview with hiring partner Bob Lehburger


Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you like to flag for our student readers?

Bob Lehrburger: I'll mention just a few. Several of our practice areas had a particularly active year. For example, our false advertising group had a number of competitor vs. competitor cases as well as class actions, involving a variety of industries. The mortgage backed securities litigation group has been recognized for recent litigation victories and settlements. We have also seen a significant uptick in our patent litigation work, which has broadened with the arrival of two new lateral partners who focus on electronics and other technology.

Our corporate practice had an exceptionally strong year, advising on mergers and acquisitions as well as private equity transactions. We also launched our Privacy and Data Protection Practice Group with the addition of a lateral partner Craig Newman is a recognized leader in the field. He also brings significant hedge fund litigation experience to the Firm.

Last but not least, we logged another year of 100% participation in pro bono, continuing our long streak of doing so.

CA: For the last few years, Residential Mortgage Backed Securities litigation, or RMBS, has been a major source of work. Where do you see the firm's next big opportunity?

BL: We are seeing very strong growth in a number of our practices, including false advertising and patent litigation mentioned above. It's hard to identify anything specific as the next one big thing but, as noted, cyber-security prevention and fallout is a growth area for us, as are corporate investigations and white collar work. And we've actually been able to broaden the type of work we do for our structured finance clients. One key to our success has been the development of longstanding relationships with clients, which cut across several different practice areas depending on our clients’ needs and business objectives at any particular time. We expect that to continue.

Of course, like every firm, we have to work at making sure that there is new work coming in, and we've already seen a substantial increase in the work coming from other areas. Litigation and most all legal work of the type and caliber we handle ebbs and flows, as it does at other firms. Twenty years ago, when our patent litigation practice took off, it absorbed a lot of work from other areas that were cycling through.

CA: What would you say are Patterson's core practices?  

BL: Over half the firm and almost two-thirds of our time is devoted to litigation. The litigation group is one of the most prominent based in New York City. We are well-balanced on the commercial side as well. Our commercial group is made up of several different practice areas, with our exempt organizations group, repeatedly recognized for their expertise. Our Corporate group focuses primarily on small to mid-cap companies with some specialized areas such as cross-border transactions. We also have a nimble real estate group that has particular strength in leasing matters. These are rounded out with our Trust and Estates, Tax and ERISA groups. One of our strengths is the ability of lawyers from our different groups to work together to solve clients' problems that require attention from multiple disciplines, such as assisting a non-profit client with an issue that calls for tax and real estate advice, or the way our corporate attorneys and litigators have collaborated on the RMBS work.

CA: How would you describe the firm's culture? 

BL: We strive to be one of the best professional homes a private practice lawyer can have. We are committed to our clients and to high-quality work. We're a collegial place that has a strong balance of values, as exemplified by our pro bono accomplishments. We pride ourselves on both our collegiality and the professional quality of life we offer.

CA: What do you look for in a candidate? 

BL: One of the main things we look for is fire in the belly. This isn't just about being eager and driven, but about taking ownership of what you're working on and moving it forward. We want people who will take ownership of their work. Identifying a problem or stumbling block is good, but proposing a solution is even better. We also look for keen legal thinking, communication skills, leadership and the ability to work well with clients.

CA: What can students do to increase their chances of impressing in their applications and at interview?

BL: It's not unlike what students needed to do to get into college or law school: demonstrate your intellectual chops and perform well. Take law school courses that are consistent with someone who wants to practice law in the private sector. Pursue leadership opportunities and experiences outside the classroom that enhance your skills, such as interning for the U.S. Attorney's office, or interning for a judge.

For the interview, make sure to be prepared; come in to the interview knowing the firm and avoid questions that are easily answered by looking at our website; be prepared to discuss matters you've worked on; and keep the interview moving.

CA: Your recruitment process is a little different to most firms. Can you outline it for us?

BL: We were one of the first firms to focus its new associate hiring on judicial clerks. We've always hired judicial clerks, and they've always been interested in working at Patterson Belknap. We eventually decided that it made sense to focus our recruitment on clerks and not on a traditional summer program.

The process begins in December, when we send a letter to law clerks introducing ourselves and inviting them to apply. In January, we hold a reception (most recently in Tribeca) where clerks can get to know us. Around that time we start considering applications. Our in-office interviews run from late January to June. We extend offers on a rolling basis rather than waiting to the end of all interviews.

CA: What was the reason behind your decision to cancel the 2L summer program?

BL: We increasingly were getting more and more of our new associates from the ranks of the judicial clerks, so it was a natural progression. That, combined with changes in the industry (such as outsourcing work more typically done by junior attorneys, and changes in client needs) reduced the demand for very junior associates.

Keep in mind that over half of our firm's activity is in the litigation field. It made sense to concentrate on the clerks, particularly given their familiarity with the litigation process and the unique insight gained by clerking. Meanwhile, our commercial departments fill positions with lateral hires or through targeted recruitment, so we didn't see a need to continue with a summer program.

CA: Patterson Belknap also takes a small number of non-clerks each year. How does the process differ?

BL: Most of these applications will come from interested 3L candidates. 3Ls can submit applications at any point during the school year. We also periodically take in staff attorneys to handle more routine discovery-related work.

CA: What's the scope of your recruitment drive?  

BL: We recruit nationally and send letters to clerks throughout the federal courts. We naturally get a lot of our hires from the New York area, but we draw highly qualified clerks from district and appellate courts across most all the circuits.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

BL: We are involved in a number of pipeline initiatives. It's even more of a challenge when the recruitment pool is limited to judicial clerks rather than the larger population of law students. We advocate increased diversity in the clerk ranks, and the federal judiciary has been very responsive.

In our summer program, we solicited interest in and awarded a diversity fellowship for several years. We've now retooled that for our clerk hiring. This most recent recruiting season we had the good fortune of being able to award two diversity fellowships. Each fellowship recipient receives a monetary stipend, a donation to a diversity-related organization made on their behalf, and the opportunity to participate on our Diversity Committee and other diversity initiatives.

CA: Who conducts interviews? 

BL: Candidates typically are interviewed by both partners and associates. A candidate usually will see between five and seven attorneys depending on whether they're doing a morning or afternoon interview session. Each candidate will meet with at least one or two members of the hiring committee.

CA: What sort of questions do you ask during interviews? 

BL: While there's no set format or list of questions our interviewers have to ask, we do want our interviewers to discuss a legal issue with the candidate. They'll try and get a sense of how the candidate thinks, how deeply they can engage with an issue, and how well they can explain it. We also will ask questions aimed at ascertaining the candidate's interest in the firm and the work we do, as well as how the candidate deals with challenges and working with others.

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

1133 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10036

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 1
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Worldwide revenue: $187,900
  • Partners (US): 50
  • Associates (US): 112
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Summers 2016: 0
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: N/A

Main areas of work
Patterson Belknap’s practice combines skill in both complex litigation and transactional matters, including corporate, real estate, media and entertainment, intellectual property, sports, art and museum law, employee benefits and tax practices. The firm is regularly recognized in industry publications as a leader in litigation areas including intellectual property and false advertising. In addition, the firm has the leading personal planning and tax-exempt organizations practices in New York City.

Firm profile
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, founded in 1919, is a law firm based in New York City with more than 200 lawyers committed to maintaining its independence, its diversity and its focus of providing superior legal advice and service to clients. The firm delivers a full range of services across more than 20 practice groups in both litigation and commercial law. The National Law Journal has included Patterson Belknap on a list of firms which it considers to have “the nimbleness and adaptability that come from lean operations and strong client ties.” The firm highly values public service and has consistently ranked at or near the top of The American Lawyer’s annual pro bono survey.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 6
• Number of 2nd year associates: 9
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: The firm values clerkship experience and actively recruits judicial law clerks.

Program details
Patterson Belknap hires associates directly from judicial clerkships. We may also recruit in August 2016 to hire a select group of 3L law students graduating at the end of the 2017 school year. We look forward to meeting with outstanding law students through both clerkship and 3L recruiting.

Associate profile:
Patterson Belknap looks for smart, collaborative, intellectually curious people who desire early responsibility and are highly motivated to solve complex legal problems.