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In the words of Odyssey, Patterson Belknap is a native New Yorker. Long past its centennial milestone, the firm has maintained just a singular outpost right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, resisting the tides of rapid expansion. You might say that’s a testament to the strength of its practices: the firm’s strong focus on litigation and commercial law matters permeates more than 20 different practice groups, including a robust art and museum practice area which has been recognized by Chambers High Net Worth for three years running. This is something which hadn’t gone unnoticed by one of our interviewees: “Patterson has a reputable art law practice which was appealing to me.” All of this makes the firm a hot choice for nearby Wall Street dwellers and high-brow Art Museums alike and there are plenty of big-name clientele on Patterson’s roster.
“The exciting thing about Patterson is that it has strong work with non-profits, like museums.”
It’s crucial to note that although Patterson occasionally hires directly from law school, virtually all the new associates are hired laterally, or through judicial clerkships. This selectivity ensures the firm has a standout bench of high caliber, experienced attorneys. Indeed, one source told us that they were drawn to the firm by “the individuals who are leading experts in the fields and continue to develop their fields and practice.”
The litigation department covers almost anything you can think of, from securities, real estate and white-collar crime to IP and advertising. One associate explained that “matters are varied. We do complex commercial litigation, plus a bit of legal malpractice and white-collar work.” The types of clients walking into this department are typically high-profile corporations in pharmaceuticals, banking and finance and food and beverage. More importantly, associates were eager to note the more unassuming clients: “The exciting thing about Patterson is that it has strong work with non-profits, like museums.” The department has plenty to keep the associates on their toes. We were told that although “writing, research and discovery are the biggest tasks,” associates aren’t just replied upon to get stuck in to the nitty gritty: “I’ve drafted a couple briefs, spoken with opposing counsel, responded to interrogatories and helped prepare depositions.”
Litigation clients: Coca Cola, L’Oréal, Walgreens. Represented Johnson & Johnson in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit concerning the company’s acquisition of robot-assisted surgical device manufacturer Auris Health.
Much like the litigation department, the corporate group at Patterson encompasses quite a range of matters, including real estate, tax and trusts & estates. So it's no surprise that “you're given a lot of meaningful substantive work pretty early on.” Some of that work can include structuring public offerings and running through various security laws to drafting transaction document.
The usual suspects form the client base: “We deal with big companies all over the world that want to issue equity or raise capital in the USA.” Associates were impressed with the amount of responsibility they were given in this area, even as a junior: “If you're able to prove you can take on that responsibility, you're not going to be held back just because you're a junior associate.”
Corporate clients: Dow Jones, Avenues: The World School, Rent the Runway. Acted as local counsel to Demarest Consulting, one of the largest asset management companies owned by a woman, in its sublease of 375 Park Avenue.
Upon joining the firm, newbies are assigned a partner mentor and an associate mentor. One source told us that the partner mentor is particularly useful “They help us to get thinking about the next steps and what we want to get out of cases.” Insiders spoke highly of the partner contact available to them: “The door is always open and they’re always ready and willing to teach.” Another source added: “Partners really take an interest in your career. They’re super aware that not everyone stays at one law firm for their entire career, but that doesn’t stop them from guiding you."
“The firm wants people to stay at Patterson for a long time. They want us to improve.”
Supplementing this are training CLEs, and a writing coach who is available for drop-ins. In essence, “The firm wants people to stay at Patterson for a long time. They want us to improve.” When asked about partnership, the general mood was that it’s attainable. That said, “it’s not like just because you want it you're guaranteed it.” Associates generally felt that the specifics of timings and what’s required of you are becoming more and more clear at the firm.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Associates also spoke of the mentorship in the firm’s four resource groups – Women Lawyers at Patterson, Patterson Attorneys of Color, Out at Patterson and Parents at Patterson, praising the“various touch that are available.” When asked whether they believe the firm is doing enough in terms of DE&I recruiting, many interviewees confirmed the firm is: “We had three new hires on my floor in the office next to me who are all female.” Another source reported: “There aren’t as many people of color that there should be at the firm, but Patterson’s efforts are genuine. It isn’t just paying lip service.”
DEI initiatives were generally well-regarded by our interviewees. One source enthused “in the women’s group I attend, we had a kickoff-to-the-year lunch to talk about goals for the group going forward” We did hear that the Women Lawyers at Patterson and the Out at Patterson group “could do more programming” generally. The good news is thar “the Patterson Attorneys of Colour Group’s events are well attended.”
Attorneys are encouraged to take courses on DE&I, “We had a whole audit for diversity. We hired a consultant, then attorneys gave feedback in a focus group”. The firm also has a diversity Lab Manfield Certification Plus. The ‘Plus’ status recognizes that, in addition to meeting certification requirements, the firm has achieved at least 30% diversity representation in many leadership roles. In fact, Patterson is believed to be the first BigLaw firm to have a whole C suite executive team made up of women.
Friendly, intelligent and respectful: those were the common buzzwords our interviewees threw around when talking about the culture at Patterson. As one junior put it, “I can’t think of anyone who has a bad reputation. Everyone is kind. And smart.” The key to the vibe at Patterson lies in its smaller size compared to its counterparts. “There’s just one office so they really focus on building communities between associates and partners – we have lots of happy hours and lunches”.
Speaking of which, something of a novelty at Patterson is what associates affectionately call ‘teas,’ AKA, cocktail hours in the office. “They have teas for new starters, and we have a pro bono tea next week.” There’s also a tea if someone retires. Pass us the cookies! Alongside this, there are quarterly events which are holiday or anniversary-based.” One source spoke fondly of a recent wine-tasting event: “It was held a partners house for all the lawyers.” There’s clearly no shortage of fun to be had in the office, but it’s fair to say there isn’t a wild culture of revelry outside of work: “This isn’t a party firm, but I do hang out with people outside work.”
They say to give 100% in what you do, and for the last 19 years, Patterson has taken this literally: “They make sure we have 100% attorney pro bono participation in pro bono every year, which is unique and important to the firm.” One source explained, “when you first start everyone gets assigned one billable and one pro bono matter, so you automatically have something to work on.” Associates particularly liked how personal the pro bono projects were: “We do local New York or New Jersey pro bono; we don’t do a tone of big impact work. The philosophy is lots of people where we are located need help, so we focus on that.” The type of work associates work on is vast. We were told of asylum cases, veterans rights and voting rights cases, criminal appeals, social security hearings and disability related hearings.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 20,606
- Average per attorney: 125
Hours and Compensation
Billable hours: 1,850 billable hours target (2,100 overall hours target)
Associates told us that they bill around 7-8 billable hours a day, but this number varies depending on the department and the pace of the market: “I'll have some days where it’s 5 hours and another where it's 15 hours, so it varies day to day,” explained a litigation junior. In the corporate department, “I work till about 6/6:30pm and check a couple emails after that, but I'm rarely burning the midnight oil.” For some, the biggest adjustment to law firm life wasn’t necessarily the hours “I think honestly one of the harder things is having to be ready to be responsive at so many different times. That’s harder than the hours themselves.”
Associates can count 1,850 hours of the 2,100 target as billable. “The rest includes everything from recruiting and mentorship to professional development.” 50 hours of DEI activity count towards the target, but anything above that doesn’t. The target isn’t strict, and there is still potential for receiving a bonus even if you fall short of this number: “If you don’t hit it you get between 25% and 100% of full bonus, but its discretionary.” When asked about the viability of the target, associates generally felt that it was attainable: “It’s achievable but it's not an easy lifestyle.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed in 2021/2022 academic year: 20
Patterson Belknap focuses their OCI efforts on the East Coast, but also “strongly encourage and regularly receive” write-in applications from candidates throughout the US. H. Gregory Baker, partner in the firm’s litigation department explained: “As a firm with a single office, we’re interested in students who want to be in New York. We also typically limit our on-campus recruiting to students who are specifically interested in litigation.”
The OCIs themselves are usually conducted by two litigation partners, whilst either the Chief People, Diversity and Professional Development Officer or Senior Talent Manager are also on-hand to answer candidates’ questions. Given the interviews last around 20 minutes only, “We try to get a sense of the candidate as an individual and legal thinker to see if they’re a fit,” which means “intellectually curious, engaging, collaborative people who want early responsibility and are highly motivated to solve complex legal problems,” said Baker.
Top tips for this stage: “Be prepared to talk about a legal issue you have worked on. And of course, we like to hear why you are interested in Patterson Belknap in particular!”– Litigation Partner and Chair of Securities Litigation H. Gregory Baker.
This stage sees candidates meet with five partners or counsel and two associates, plus a member of the Professional Development & Recruiting department. Candidates are asked to speak about a legal issue from their resume, summer internship or law school classes: “We ask questions to determine intellectual ability and enthusiasm for litigation and whether they are prepared to take early responsibility for their matters,” explained Baker.
Throughout the process, Patterson ensures candidates are given the opportunity to connect with associates: “We find that our associates are often the most valuable resource for prospective candidates, so we make every effort to ensure candidates have the opportunity to speak with associates during the formal interview process,” explained Baker.
Top tips for this stage: “Ask questions that demonstrate you have thought about our firm and our clients. Show that you are motivated to work hard, think independently, and take ownership of your work.” – H. Gregory Baker.
"Be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions!”
Interview with Lisa E. Cleary – Co-Chair and Managing Partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler
CA: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
LC: I would start off by saying that we had an excellent 2021. We’ve got twelve trials and arbitrations scheduled for this year already, and several for the first six months of the year. Because we are primarily a litigation firm -- that’s our largest department in terms of partners -- litigation is a driver of our business success.
CA: What have been some of the firm’s highlights over the past year?
LC: Obviously, we had a strong financial year, but I would highlight a number of areas that really signify some of the core strengths of the firm. We were very proud that 2021 marked our 18th consecutive year of 100% attorney participation in pro bono activities. For 20 years, before I became managing partner, I was chair of the pro bono committee, and I’m happy to report that no other firm of our size is ever going to beat this record, because we started so much earlier than other firms. The early bird gets the worm. The other very significant highlights were that we were named Benchmark Litigation’s New York Firm of the Year, and the Pro Bono Firm of the Year. In January of 2022, we followed up on the very successful launch last year of a diversity pipeline program for diverse college students interested in a life in law, where we introduce them to the legal and business aspects of working at a law firm. The partnership with the TEAK Fellowship Program has been a huge success. TEAK is a fantastic mentoring program that identifies talented students at a middle school level and places them in private schools and supports those students through college. One of our lawyers came through this program, and I have had the opportunity to visit and see some of the fantastic work myself.
CA: Would you characterize the firm as being in growth mode?
LC: Yes, absolutely. The way this plays out is in actively recruiting in litigation and on the commercial side. We’ve also made some lateral hires in our white-collar and securities law practice groups, and they are really going to add to our white collar and enforcement practices. Our white-collar practice is also going to be deepened with a next generation of partners.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? (and how has it impacted the firm’s strategy?)
LC: I don’t think it’s really had an impact on the firm’s strategy, because our strategy has always been to build on the firms’ strengths. As a firm that specializes in litigation, with a particular strength in trials and a deep bench of trial lawyers, we haven’t changed our focus in those terms. But what I would say is that our actual trial docket, the things that are happening now with in-person trials and arbitrations, has changed the landscape. Real estate has also seen a significant rebound with the world normalizing to some extent. And finally - we like to call it the crown jewel of the firm - we represent tax exempt organizations, and they are going gang busters right now. We’ve also recently brought in a chief information officer who is continuing to modernize our technology infrastructure and keep abreast of the cyber risks that all law firms face. We have a clean sweep of female chiefs at the firm, with our female chief information officer, chief people officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief client service officer, and managing partner and co-chair.
CA: What are the main challenges facing law firms in general over the next few years?
LC: Obviously, all firms are trying to reflect and be adaptable to the hybrid work changes that are occurring across the country, and the challenges that this presents from a mentoring perspective. Law firms have always believed that apprenticeship; learning by observing more experienced lawyers do things like conduct depositions, have client interactions, and speak to a court or a jury, is a priority. And these things are best done in person. So it’s a question of how you marry that with a new generation of lawyers that are asking for more flexibility when it comes to working from home, at least when there is client flexibility to do so. But you always have to be thinking about what is critical from a learning opportunity standpoint. And our firm is like any and every other firm in this respect.
CA: How has the rise in legal technology had an impact on the firm?
LC: I guess what I would say is – if the pandemic had happened back when I started the practice of law, we wouldn’t have had a law firm by the end of the pandemic. I can analogise this with my own experience with cancer. When I received the diagnosis, as awful as it was, I thanked my lucky stars that I went through that experience at a time when the medical knowledge around cancer had developed so much in such a short space of time. It was a similar scenario with working from home during the pandemic. In many ways, and as much of a challenge as it was, we had the technology in place to make a success of working remotely. It didn’t prevent us from providing legal services to our clients. And we were very fortunate that was the case.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets around diversity?
LC: We’ve achieved Mansfield Certification Plus from the Diversity Lab in 2021, but as is the case at all law firms, we want to continue to improve our diversity numbers, our recruiting, and most importantly, retention, so that we can maintain a diverse workplace to continue to meet our clients’ business need.
CA: Any advice for those entering the legal industry?
LC: I would start by emphasizing the importance of apprenticeship -- learning by observing and seizing the opportunity to have daily exchanges with people who have had substantial years of experience as a lawyer. There’s nothing better in terms of advancing your career than making it a priority to value the working relationships that you have developed, and to make the most of those relationships. It’s important to understand that partners love to share their experiences about the practice of law, and in turn, to provide a learning opportunity for those with whom they work to learn from those experiences. And there is nothing that makes you feel better as a partner than helping an associate become their best self as a lawyer.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP
1133 Avenue of the Americas,
Main areas of work
Columbia, Harvard, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Patterson Belknap hires associates directly from judicial clerkships.
Diversity Fellowship for Judicial Clerks:
Patterson Belknap believes that a workforce made up of people from diverse social, racial, economic and cultural backgrounds results in a dynamic and supportive workplace for our attorneys and staff and enhances our ability to provide the highest quality representation for and service to our clients. As part of our ongoing commitment to recruiting, retaining and promoting attorneys who contribute to the diversity of our firm and our profession, we annually offer the Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP Diversity Fellowship to a current judicial law clerk planning to start practicing at the firm as an associate. In addition to our standard clerk bonus, the Fellowship includes:
• $25,000 as a financial award
• $5,000 contribution in the Fellow’s honor to a non-profit organization, recommended by the Fellow, that supports diversity
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)