Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP - The Inside View

These days, litigation hotshot Patterson Belknap mostly fills its new associate classes with judicial clerks.

FOR the last few years, this pint-sized New York litigation ace has been hiring most of its associates from the ranks of judicial clerks (although it also takes on a handful of 3Ls each year). “Everyone told me to look at Patterson Belknap,” said one former clerk, now a Patterson associate. Another chimed: “I just seemed to know loads of people who all spoke very highly of the firm. They take mentoring very seriously and its size means you're not in danger of falling through the cracks.”

Two-hundred-lawyer Patterson is best known for its litigation work. Chambers USA gives it a top tier ranking for advertising litigation, while the media & entertainment, securities and IP litigation groups also come in for praise. There's also a noncontentious side – home to practices like corporate, real estate, IP and tax – although usually all new junior associates are litigators.

The Work

Most juniors head into Patterson's litigation department. The firm's generalist approach to dishing out contentious matters proved attractive to many of our associate sources: “After clerking I was used to the wide variety of cases and being able to do all sorts of things. I really wanted to go somewhere I wouldn't be slotted into one specialty straight off the bat.” Juniors can take up anything from false advertising to antitrust matters, white collar investigations, products liability or patent disputes, or just plain old contract bust-ups.

“Gives you a buffer.”

Two assigning partners are on hand to allocate matters to juniors. Rookies check in with them every six weeks to talk about availability, “what we're working on and what we want to work on. It's a great system which also gives you a buffer. It would feel hard to say no directly to a partner but here you won't find someone banging down your door saying they need you at the weekend. You have an advocate in the assigning partners.”

Judicial clerking experience stands associates in good stead to jump right into matters. “For the most part I've gotten a lot of substantive legal writing, research and drafting” – such as motions to dismiss – “and I'm increasingly participating in client or co-counsel meetings,” one third-year told us. Many of our sources had second-chaired depositions and we even heard of a few juniors being tasked with leading them: “The first time a partner asked me to go and take a deposition I was like, 'I appreciate the compliment but I am scared shitless'," one source laughed. “I've been take aback – in a good way – about the responsibility I've been given.”

“Talking about strategy with partners.”

In the run up to trial sources had “drafted witness outlines and pulled together evidence. I've also read depositions and come up with ways to cross-examine witnesses. I'm not reviewing thousands of documents – my role is much more helping with strategies for pre-trial hearings and the trial.”

Doc review is still on the cards, especially for some of the larger cases, though juniors were relatively upbeat about it: “I know a lot of people loathe discovery and doc review but I think it's good to learn about e-discovery. You have to think of it as your vegetables and dessert: the doc review is my vegetables and the legal writing is my dessert.” 

Training & Development

There's plenty of work for associates to chow down on, but how easy is it to swallow feedback on progress? Reviews occur every six months and “give everyone a chance to comment on a wide range of skills. They put names to comments so there are no anonymous pot shots. People are honest too,” one source appreciated. For entry-level associates (but not laterals), “our first ever review is off the record, which is cool,” another told us. “It's not circulated to the partners, so you have an opportunity to make corrections.”

A whole buffet of easy digestible training is available from the get-go.  A week of orientation covers things like using the IT systems and how to work with paralegals. 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. Writing and public speaking coaches are on hand to deliver “really helpful individual sessions.” Attorneys also undertake a two-week externship with the City of New York's law department “taking depositions for cases against the City of New York.”

Juniors are each assigned to an 'Associate Learning Group' consisting of a partner and five or six associates. Each ALG comes together around three times a year for team building events like “going to oral arguments or debriefings” or “doing something fun like attending a concert or going to a pizza-making class. It's fun but it can feel like enforced fun when you're really busy,” one source admitted, before conceding “it's a fairly new program and they're still figuring it out.” Actually, the ALG is driven by associates and optional rather than "enforced."

Managing partner Lisa Cleary also meets with each associate every couple of months to make sure they're happy with their experiences at the firm: “She's fantastic and a big reason why Patterson's culture is the way it is. She gives everyone an outlet to have a conversation with her and I feel very comfortable doing so," one source exclaimed.  

Culture & Offices

Patterson's juniors characterized the firm as “a quiet, nerdy place. They only hire clerks and people who are attracted to clerkships are on the nerdier side,” one ex-clerk believed. Other sources described Patterson as a “fairly reserved place” where people “can be quite buttoned up.” That said, many were keen to stress “it's very easy to have a conversation with someone and build a relationship. People are incredibly friendly.” There's not much in the way of a social scene: “We don't have weekly happy hours and there isn't a sense of work hard/play hard. It's work hard and go chill with family and friends. I think that takes off a lot of stress.” Another added: “I think it's a little bit more businesslike than some firms. People work hard during the day and go home at night.” This probably explains why none of our sources had seen people make use of the TV or video games in the firm's associate lounge. More in demand, however, were the lounge's “free snacks and drinks – they tend to run out pretty quickly.” Everyone's given their own office at the firm “except for a handful of first-years who haven't clerked – they share but get their own in the second year.”

“A pretty positive place.”

One interviewee characterized the firm as “a throwback” clarifying: “We take a lot of pride in lawyering. We are very cordial in the office, people take being kind and respectful seriously. Partners don't have the stereotypical New York law firm partner 'holier than thou' attitude.” Instead, “everyone is very level-headed. There's an emphasis on being nice to people and respecting your work and time. We consider ourselves humane when it comes to hours. It's a pretty positive place.”

Hours & Compensation

Juniors shoot for a billable hours target of 1,850, and a target of 250 hours' worth of relevant nonbillable work, including pro bono. We heard the latter is “very attainable as a lot of things count toward it; CLEs, Bar Association matters, client development, writing blogs for the firm.” A colleague joked: “Almost everything except for vacation counts as non-billable.” As for hitting the billable target, “you don't have to kill yourself to meet it.” Most of our sources reported spending time in the office between 9-9.30am and 7pm. “It's not the kind of place where calls for a 10pm meeting would fly.”

Associates become eligible for a full bonus upon hitting both targets, but anyone falling short on one or other of those goals but who still hits 2,100 overall will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Junior attorneys had heard rumors that the salary for senior associates was “below market” but were pleased to find their own pay was raised to stay in line with the recent market uplift.

Pro Bono

Who says 13 is an unlucky number? Probably not Patterson; the firm's just achieved a 100% pro bono participation rate for 13 years running. Everyone's handed a pro bono case among their first batch of work assignments and if you happen to “go a month or two without one, you're often asked to take on a project.” Landlord/tenant negligence cases, challenges to housing benefit assessments and “a veterans' law initiative to improve the discharge status of those who are dishonorably discharged from the military” are just some of the opportunities on offer. The firm recently successfully represented a group of New Jersey Muslims who challenged their town's decision to ban them building a local mosque.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 23,749
  • Average per attorney: 135

Strategy & Future

“We're happy with our size and our practices and do not anticipate many changes,” hiring partner Bob Lehrburger tells us. “Over the past several years one of the predominant forms of litigation we've handled has been residential mortgage-backed securities litigation. That cycle is slowing.” Lehrburger goes on to tell us that “false advertising, one of the areas we are particularly known for, has seen a tremendous uptick.” in recent years. He also highlights patent litigation, antitrust, white collar investigations and cybersecurity as areas undergoing growth.


Getting hired at Patterson Belknap

Patterson hires most of its associates from the judicial clerk pool. After taking on increasing numbers of clerks, the firm made the decision three years ago to focus its hiring efforts in this area, although it still takes on a few 3Ls straight from law school. “It was a natural evolution,” hiring partner Bob Lehrburger tells us, adding that since the official switch, “the quality of people we see is outstanding. The turnout we get through our recruiting events has increased every year. We're very grateful that we have a bounty of riches; we feel it's been a very successful move.”

The seduction begins in January with clerks receiving an invite to a clerks' reception in Tribeca. According to Patterson associates the reception's “the best one out there.” The informal event is held at the Bouley Test Kitchen where “the intimate setting and very good food are very conducive to people getting to know us,” Lehrburger explains. “Our director of professional development & legal recruiting Robin Klum and her team give a lot of personal attention to the applicants,” ensuring they the attendees are strategically introduced to Patterson attorneys.  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.

Most of the interviews  before an offer is made are conducted by partners;  juniors felt it was “nice to be able to speak with them; it shows they're interested in bringing in good talent.” Associates often meet candidates after the offer stage, like for lunch. Although they weren't involved in interviewing, our interviewees did have a few insights into the kind of people the firm employs. “I think we like people who don't need a lot of hand holding and direction,” one rookie reckoned. “We tend to be on the quieter side. We're gregarious but there are no large personalities,” claimed one interviewee, adding that Patterson “tends to attract a bookish intellectual type. We're interested in law but we don't want it to consume our life.”

Diversity at Patterson

Associates pegged diversity as “one place the firm struggles, but they do recognize that.” Juniors reckoned the switch to predominantly recruiting juniors from clerkships – “which is smaller and normally a lot whiter and male than law school” – had added to the difficulty of bringing on board diverse associates. “I don't feel there's a dearth of diversity in terms of my everyday experience,” one interviewee told us. “I'd like to see more diverse faces in leadership but the tone of support is there.”

Among the higher ranks “there are no female partners of color. That is not my favorite fact,” one associated stressed. 15% of the partnership is female and attorneys of color make up only 10% of it. At a lower level just under half of the associates are women and 22% come from ethnic minorities.

All that said juniors were at pains to point out that “although the firm has a way to go, they are making a lot of efforts.” Many of these focus on the importance of mentorship, which drew support from our sources: “I think the only way to increase diversity is to create more exposure between younger lawyers that are diverse and people in the partnership,” one interviewee believed. “It's not just about hiring diverse people but giving them the opportunity to do important work for the firm and giving younger attorneys the time to shine.”

The Patterson Attorneys of Color group has recently overhauled its meetings to incorporate this – instead of monthly get-togethers, the PAC now congregate en masse every other month while during the 'off' months members meet in smaller mentoring groups consisting of around five associates and a partner. Women Lawyers at Patterson also offers the chance for attorneys to get together in small mentorship groups. A few sources did point out the time commitment to attending sessions can be difficult, especially for those attending both PAC and women's mentoring groups. “It adds up in the long term so that women lawyers of color spend the most amount of billable time a year attending these events, which doesn't help,” one source noted. Logistics aside, however, the concept itself was roundly praised, with juniors pleased that “there are people in the partnership investing in and advocating for diverse attorneys.”

We speak with hiring partner Bob Lehrburger

Chambers Associate: Which practices have been real drivers of activity at the firm over the past year?

Bob Lehrburger: With respect to litigation, we have a good balance of cases from different areas.  This provides stability when one practice area ebbs and another expands.  For example, over the past several years one of the predominant forms of litigation we've handled has been residential mortgage-backed securitieslitigation.  That cycle of litigation is slowing and following its natural course.  It's been a very soft landing, and other types of cases have picked up.  We have a strong patent practice which is on the rise. False advertising, one of the areas we are particularly known for, has seen a tremendous uptick over the past year, and I would also say our white collar practice, antitrust and law firm defense groups have been doing very well too.  On the commercial side, cross-border transactions and representation of non-profit organizations are examples of two of the notably robust areas.

CA: What have been some of the highlights from the past 12 months at Patterson?

BL: I'll offer a few examples.  We had a very successful result in a major false advertising trial in California on behalf of Coca-Cola against Pom Wonderful, which had sued for false advertising about the content of one of Coca-Cola's juice brands. The case was remarkable in that it wound its way through federal district and appellate courts, then the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against our client's position but remanded the case for trial. Thanks to our talented lawyers led by Steve Zalesin and T.J. Tu, the jury returned a verdict in Coca-Cola's favor. 

Another example comes with a string of trademark counterfeit successes in a series of landmark cases involving an energy drink, and another involving knock offs of diabetes test strips. Geoffrey Potter has led those efforts, and with the help of a wonderful team of associates, achieved numerous seizures of counterfeit goods and averting potentially harmful counterfeit supplements and medical products from flooding the market. 

I'd also like to highlight a case brought to the firm by partner Adeel Mangi.  We represented a Muslim group in New Jersey that wanted to build a mosque in their town but met with relentless and unprecedented opposition, which we challenged as unconstitutional. The team achieved a great result, obtaining summary judgment in our client's favor.  We expect this case may set the tone for other cases across the country.

Another notable highlight is our having achieved 100% pro bono participation rate by our attorneys for the thirteenth year running. As far as I am aware, we are the only firm to have achieved that. 

CA: What's the firm's plan for the future? Is there anything we should keep an eye out for?

BL: Yes and no as always. The "no" aspect is that we are very lucky to have had steady successes and  results over the years, and while the mix of our practice areas ebbs and flows, we have been very consistent overall so on that front there are no major changes.  We're happy with our size and our practices and do not anticipate major changes.

In terms of future growth, we expect to see continued strength in false advertising, patent, antitrust, white collar and investigations, and complex commercial litigation. We also have been at the forefront of the cybersecurity area, and as those matters continue to surface we will see increasing development in that practice area.

CA: Three years ago you changed your hiring policy to predominantly take on judicial clerks. Has that had much effect on the junior ranks of the firm? Have you noticed any differences?

BL: The transition was not difficult - we always recruited clerks, even when we had a summer program, and over time clerks came to dominate our new hire ranks.  Accordingly, it was a natural progression to focus on the clerk hiring process.  That of course does thin the most junior class or two, but to offset that we hire a modest number of 3Ls to be first-year attorneys.  Their work also is supplemented by a cadre of staff attorneys.  As for our transactional practice groups, they most always have hired laterally, so the transition to all clerk hiring has not had them.

CA: Do you think the shift has been a success?

BL: Yes. As noted, it was a natural evolution. The quality of people we see is outstanding, and the turnout we get through our recruiting events has consistently increased. We're grateful that we have a bounty of talent; we feel it's been a very successful move.

CA: Your associates tell us that Patterson's reception for clerks is “the best one out there.” What does it involve?

BL: We just hosted our reception last night. Every year we seem to get more and more turnout; the event was packed, and it was terrific. I think its success comes from a combination of a few things that are all equally important. First, we have held it at Bouley Test Kitchen, where the intimate space and excellent food provide an enjoyable setting for getting to know us. Second, there's a considerable amount of buzz about Patterson Belknap in the courthouses.  We have many alumni who have clerked in the courts, and many clerks have gotten to see and experience the firm in their judges' courtrooms. The third ingredient is our Director of Professional Development & Legal Recruiting, Robin Klum and her team, who give a lot of personal attention to the applicants in ways some other firms may not be able to or may not choose to do. The clerks see that and appreciate it. Finally, I think the firm has great people, and I have gotten the sense over the years that the clerks enjoy meeting our folks and hearing about what we do.

CA: What do you think junior associates should really take advantage of during their first few years at Patterson Belknap?

BL: On any matter that they are assigned to take on, we look for our associates to assume ownership of that matter and take a client's interests to heart. We want them to be proactive in how they handle matters.  We believe in passing experience down, and we make concerted effort to give associates real world experiences. Our partners are attuned to giving opportunities to associates. So, if the associate thinks they may have to stretch his or herself in terms of commitment to take on that opportunity, they should do it as they will be likely to get some rich experiences and develop professionally. 

Specific programs that we offer for junior associates include two weeks of deposition taking and defending at the New York City Corporation Counsel; a year-long Nuts-and-Bolts series on the how-to of most all phases of litigation; and a 3-part business development program.  We also provide both small-group and one-on-one mentoring opportunities with partners and other associates.  At the same time, an associate should feel free to reach out on their own and not be shy about asking a partner, say for example, to give some feedback or to go to lunch.


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: $185,500
  • Partners (US): 51
  • Associates (US): 117
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Summers 2017: 0
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 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: 2
• Number of 2nd year associates: 10
• 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 will also recruit in August 2017 to hire a select group of 3L law students graduating at the end of the 2018 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.