How is it that Paul Hastings manages to offer "the best quality of life for its associates” while keeping up with the best of BigLaw?
SINCE opening its doors in LA in 1951, Paul Hastings has grown across the US and opened a string of overseas offices, most recently launching a base in São Paulo. The 21-office firm is prominent in the US legal scene and highly regarded by Chambers USA for its work in numerous disciplines and locales. Its New York office (now the firm's largest) performs well in areas such as litigation, corporate/M&A, leisure & hospitality, real estate, and labor & employment. The New York office, incidentally, made the news in March 2017 when it hired most of Boies Schiller's corporate department. The California bases also earn a nod for the latter two practices, alongside the likes of tax, finance, environment, and employee benefits.
It was recognition of a different kind, however, that attracted several of our interviewees to the firm: “It's revered for having the best quality of life for its associates,” one claimed.“It's like the worst kept secret that everyone here is happy!”
The Work & Pro Bono
The biggest groups for junior associates to join are litigation and corporate, then real estate. Smaller groups include employment and tax. Corporate and litigation are divided into subgroups and although newbies begin life as generalists, once they have a foot in the door they're able to pursue assignments in specific areas.
“They give you as much rope as you want.”
Work allocation is office and group-specific: associates in larger groups tend to fill in weekly status reports which are submitted to an assigning partner, although juniors are also able to reach out directly to partners. Smaller groups usually rely on the latter method. Sources were generally content with the systems on offer, with one junior stating: “As cumbersome and annoying as the forms are to fill in, they do ensure everyone has enough work and no one falls through the cracks.”
The many available corporate subgroups include M&A, private equity, investment management, project finance, and private investment funds. Most of the work rookie deal-doers take a stab at covers the usual junior associate tasks of due diligence, producing memos and schedules, running diligence calls and drafting ancillaries like a Secretary's Certificate (delivered when a deal closes). Sources were keen to stress that “they give you as much rope as you want. I said during my review that I wanted more substantive tasks. The response was that they trusted me and I was then given the reins to take on more.”
“A vital part of the team.”
Litigation encompasses numerous subgroups such as white collar investigations, complex litigation and arbitration, securities, and patent litigation. “We're sheltered from a lot of doc review as that's done by contract attorneys, so instead of being sat in front of a computer for hours we get to review documents tagged as important. Doc review gets a bad reputation, but when you're looking at relevant documents you become a master of the facts and therefore a vital part of the team tasked with writing documents for the clients,” or attending witness interviews.
Due to “the nature of real estate being leanly staffed, there is always a need for associates to show they're competent and capable for more” in this group. “Even in my first year I was trusted to either handle conference calls with clients or engage in email correspondence with them. I'm not thrown into the deep end and there's a lot of oversight, but the people I work under do recognize I can handle some things on my own,” one junior told us. Another noted that thanks to paralegals taking on lower level tasks, juniors can undertake “initial drafts of documents and get involved in negotiations.”
Pro bono was still considered by juniors to be “the best way to get even more substantive work." Aiding asylum seekers fleeing persecution, assisting tenants with housing claims and advising non-profit corporations are just some of the matters juniors can take a pop at. Everyone's given the target of meeting 20 hours of pro bono per year. Most tend to go beyond this.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 84,672
- Average per US attorney: 109
Hours & Compensation
Despite the firm's policy of unlimited vacation, associates were aware that trying to reach the 2,000 hours annual billable target “restrains what you can take.” Those busy enough to hit it early enough in the year “could take off all of December,” theoretically. While that situation might be a bit of an outlier, our sources had little qualms about failing to meet the 2,000 mark. They become bonus eligible once they've reached this threshold, with bonuses decided by a combination of performance reviews and number of hours past the target – 'productivity and merit', in the firm's official parlance.
"A few of us weren't going to torture this person by just leaving them to it, so we stayed and all worked together."
We came across few associates who'd pulled many all-nighters – where possible most tried to head home after 7pm to finish up anything which couldn't wait. Of course, there's always the unavoidable deadline which might keep you chained to your desk, but others usually try to pitch in: “I once stayed until the early morning to help out a colleague. A few of us weren't going to torture this person by just leaving them to it, so we stayed and all worked together. Everyone has their down moments so we said 'let's do this in the most efficient way possible'.”
Training & Development
First-years can get a boost toward reaching the firm's billable target thanks to the inclusion of 150 billable client readiness hours. “It's an opportunity to get credit for doing development activities like shadowing partners or sitting in on calls or an interview; it allows you to participate in meetings where you're new on the case and the client doesn't want to pay for you. I took advantage to sit in on a few things I'd otherwise never have had the chance to do in my first few months,” one fan of the scheme enthused.
Paul Hastings uses the catchy acronym PH DNA (it stands for Paul Hastings Developing New Associates) to describe its training program. It kicks off with the associates assembling at one location for a few days to discuss the firm's culture, offer practice group-specific training and “get you up to speed on the basics you don't get in law school. It teaches us about the structures of client businesses and how that affects deals, due diligence or an investigation. There's also a section on accounting for lawyers.”
Culture and Offices
“We don't think of ourselves as an old, established firm,” interviewees reported. “We're innovative in terms of answering questions for clients which have not been answered before, and we're encouraged to think outside the box.”
On a more tangible level, the firm decided to shake up its New York office layout after moving to the Met Life Building above Grand Central Terminal in April 2016. First and second-years now sit in an open plan layout while the firm's introduced 'collaboration spaces' so associates have an informal area to gather for group projects. “It's about the culture we're trying to shape,” managing partner Greg Nitzkowski explains, highlighting the desire to “emphasize flexibility and mobility.” Although the initial announcement on the layout was greeted with some grumbles, the juniors we spoke to believed the change had created “a more collaborative environment. In the old office we never used to have our doors closed and we worked through noise and chatter. We're just trying to develop that atmosphere” in the new digs.
“It feels like a coffee shop.”
The Big Apple base is Paul Hastings' largest office by far, followed by LA and Washington, DC. All the firm's other offices also take juniors in varying numbers: Atlanta, Chicago, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Diego, and Houston. There are a further 11 bases overseas.
Although DC hasn't shifted to an open plan layout it has recently introduced a 'collaboration space'. “It feels like a coffee shop with booths and couches. If you need a change of scenery you could take your laptop and put your feet up.” Another reckoned the new addition “helps people touch base. DC doesn't have a stuffy environment and you won't find everyone in suits. It might have more of a Californian vibe in that respect.” New Yorkers likewise credited the firm's LA origins with creating a kinder, collaborative atmosphere in their own office: “The attitude is not so much 'we're paying you money so suck it up' but more 'we're in all this together so let's reach our goal',” said one New Yorker.
“People aren't unnecessarily trying to up the stress level.”
Sources across the US referenced the firm's attempts to ensure that Paul Hastings is “not a daunting place to work. People aren't unnecessarily trying to up the stress level.” Among associates there's little “sense of competition,” felt one source. Others appreciated an environment which “treats you like an adult – that's earned depending on who you work with – but generally there's not a structure imposed to ensure you're in the office between certain hours. It's expected you're doing what needs to be done.”
Strategy & Future
Over the past couple of years the firm's M&A, private equity, finance, IP and white collar litigation practices have undergone a healthy amount of growth. Managing partner Greg Nitzkowski tells us the firm will continue to focus its efforts on developing these practices.
The firm's also pinpointed a few offices where it expects a bump in headcount – London, New York, Washington, DC and the Bay Area – but Nitzkowski's keen to highlight the growth of a different kind: “If you look at growth in terms of revenue you would have to note Asia and Latin America as big contributors to the success of the firm in both 2015 and 2016.”
Paul Hastings' gender split falls roughly in line with the national average (22% of the firm's partners are women and 42.6% of its associates are female) but when it comes to attitudes it gets a pat on the back from associates: “As a woman in this industry you're terrified that before you have a kid people will look down upon you or be annoyed, but no one treats me any differently here,” one mother told us. Another female associate believed “they're very good at making sure women can come back to work in whatever capacity they prefer. It's nice to see women with families in the partnership ranks.”
Sources were less loquacious when it came to discussing racial diversity but did express a general consensus that although “it could be better” the current make up was “reasonable” and “they try pretty hard” to recruit and retain diverse associates. There are several Paul Hastings Affinity Networks (PHANs) for women, Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, and LGBT attorneys. These all provide mentoring advice and networking events.
Recruitment tips and advice
Associates reckoned prior work experience “can only be a plus” for candidates to demonstrate these kind of attributes, but for many newbies Paul Hastings is “their first real job. We come from all over the board.”
One associate with recruiting experience expressed a preference for seeing “strong demonstrations of writing ability. I also like people with practice on things like mooting or journal editing.” However it's no good just saying you have the experience. Another source pointed out: “If something is on a resume, I will ask about it – people need to be able to articulate everything on there. It's also important to me that they're able to discuss a legal issue they've worked on.”
What else are recruiters on the hunt for? “I'm looking for the kind of traits that show inquisitiveness,” one junior told us. One way to illustrate a curious mind can be “doing your homework and arriving ready to ask specific questions about the firm” which has the added benefit of allowing you to interview Paul Hastings. As we're so often told by recruiters, fit is important. One key thing the firm looks for is what it calls 'achievement drive', reflecting its entrepreneurial culture.
While you're trying to work out if Paul Hastings suits you, its recruiters have a few things they look for when trying to asses if you fit them. “People here don't take themselves too seriously – if you want somewhere with that atmosphere then look elsewhere. We're laid back” and keen to “preserve the culture we have and promote our environment. You need to be able to work as a team and take feedback.” Another interviewee elaborated: “If I could give just one piece of advice to candidates, it's that they need to have really demonstrated a willingness to learn and develop their career and are on a path to improvement and bettering themselves.”
Managing partner Greg Nitzkowski on the firm's future and making the concept of innovation tangible
Chambers Associate: You opened an office São Paulo in April 2016. What was the reason behind the launch?
Greg Nitzkowski: It was really the outgrowth of a very successful Latin American practice. It was a compelling move for us considering the work we did in the region and we'd had lawyers there for some time on a temporary basis. Opening an office was a way for us to formalize our place in the market. At the same time last year we had also added a segment to our Latin American team when a project finance group joined us in New York, so it was a combination of the growth in that practice and the exciting practitioners in that area which drove the decision.
CA: Which practice areas have been particularly busy this year or experienced notable growth?
GN: It's very much a continuation of last year's story. M&A activity has been down in the market for the last twelve months but we saw a lot of growth in that area and in private equity. In part this was down to a lateral acquisition in San Francisco which added three partners to our M&A practice. IP has grown a lot through organic and lateral growth on both the tech and IP side. Growth in our pharma and life science practice has occurred in New York and Washington, DC and on the tech side in Palo Alto.
We've also continued to grow and be busy in finance, including leveraged and structured finance, which are again areas that continue to be busy and to which we've added people laterally. Our investigations and white collar practice has continued to be very busy too. We'll continue to focus on growing all of these areas in the future.
CA: Last year you indicated to us that the firm would see growth in London, New York, Washington, DC and the Bay Area. Are there any other locations you've since added to that list?
GN: Those are the areas where our headcount is most likely to grow but we're also absolutely growing in Asia and Latin America – not because they will see large additions to headcounts but because they've seen a growth in practice.Most of the Latin American and Asian work we handle encompasses UK and US law and is done by UK and US lawyers. Both are an enormous part of contributing to our practice. We often think of growth in terms of headcount, butif you look at growth in terms of revenue you would have to note Asia and Latin America as big contributors to the success of the firm in both 2015 and 2016.
CA: Paul Hastings often ranks highly in surveys on attorney happiness. What do you think is behind this?
GN: I think there are two aspects to our culture that are pretty compelling and elaborate themselves in tangible ways. If you look at the quotes from our associates, what they're really saying is that the culture of the firm is a cross between mutuality and embracing change. They're not saying it directly but if you try to find a commonality of themes and words, those are what come out. We have a mutuality of commitment, a mutuality of responsibility to each other and a mutuality of obligations to each other and respect. People in the firm at all levels from partners to staff feel the benefits and burdens of this so that mutuality is a very high standard.
Secondly, we have a culture which looks to the future and sees change as an opportunity, not a threat. Our New York office is significant for us as it presents the future of our offices; it's more than just about space, it's about the culture we're trying to shape. We want to de-emphasize geography and individual space and emphasize flexibility and mobility. That's very related to mutuality and respect too; if people are professional we should be less concerned about where they are in any moment physically or what space they occupy. We recognize we're in a world where people can work remotely and create the flexibility to be mobile. That creates a sense of mutuality, trust and respect for each other.
Another aspect of the innovative things we do is that we have mandatory video phones for all our lawyers and many of our specialists and staff members. We're trying to make it culturally unacceptable to turn the camera off – that may seem subtle but what it does is emphasize a sense of diluted space and geography. If you communicate with someone every day by phone, whether they're on the floor below or in Hong Kong, it creates a sense of connection and people experience the firm in a tangible way.
CA: Is there anything else you think students should know about the firm?
GN: On the much used word 'innovation', we're viewed as a place that embraces change. I think that's compelling to associates and we have done things that are tangible in that area. We opened an M&A due diligence center; the purpose was to be more efficient for the clients but also to ensure our associates not spending large parts of their career focused on more routine aspects of being a lawyer. By moving due diligence to a center in Atlanta, we're able to focus our associates on higher level work.
In the same vein we're investing a lot in knowledge management; it's a way to codify our own intellectual property and make it accessible for associates. We're also trying to professionalize the project management of matters in a way most professional services firms do.
We have a growing pricing group in reaction to a pricing model which is moving away from hourly rates. I want to have less conversations with clients about hourly rates; we're much more comfortable talking about value pricing. I think all of those things are part of the mix of why associates feel engaged with the firm and see the tangible results and their own professional development. That's how we're trying to make it innovative; it's not just a word.
Paul Hastings LLP
515 South Flower Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Number of international offices: 11
- Worldwide revenue: $1,74,500,000
- Partners (US): 246
- Counsel (UA): 55
- Associates (US): 461
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,500
- 2Ls: $3,500
- Post 3Ls: $3,500
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? In special cases, we may offer the opportunity to spend two weeks in one of our offices in Asia. The summer associate must have the appropriate language skills.
- Summers 2017: 84
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 132
At Paul Hastings, our purpose is clear - to help our clients and people navigate new paths to growth. With a strong presence throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America and the US, Paul Hastings is recognized as one of the world’s most innovative global law firms. In 2015, the firm ranked first on The American Lawyer’s A-List and Vault’s #1 Place to Work.
Main areas of work
We understand the imperative for innovation, efficiency, and breakthrough performance facing today’s leading companies - and what it takes to help them succeed.
Our practice areas include: anticorruption and compliance, antitrust and competition, complex commercial litigation, employment, finance and restructuring, global banking and payment systems, intellectual property, investment management, mergers and acquisitions, privacy and data security, private equity, real estate, securities and capital markets, securities litigation, tax, white collar defense and investigations.
• Number of 1st year associates: 60
• Number of 2nd year associates: 65
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgia, Georgetown, GW, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Stanford, UC Hastings, University of Houston, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, University of San Diego, University of Texas, UVA, Vanderbilt, Yale
Summer associate profile:
At Paul Hastings, it’s smart business to build diverse teams rich in talent, experiences, and creativity. We seek students who exemplify the hallmarks of our successful associates: innovative, strong communication skills, achievement drive, interpersonal savvy, client service excellence and ability to be collaborative team members. Students should be committed to work for a dynamic and entrepreneurial law firm on complex legal matters across practices and offices to help our clients overcome challenges and move their business forward. Law students with outstanding academic credentials, superior writing skills, Law Review, Journal, or Moot Court membership are preferred.
Summer program components:
Our Summer Program serves as a cornerstone for the recruitment of outstanding associates and the future success of our firm. We are fully committed to the professional development and advancement of each summer associate. Summer associates are given substantive and challenging work with a variety of lawyers and a realistic view of practicing law at Paul Hastings. Our summer associates observe and, when possible, assist in trials, hearings, depositions and negotiations, and participate in client meetings and closings. Summer associates can also expect mentoring in a collaborative work environment.