Rising in the West and settling in the East, this tech-savvy outfit has become a national star without losing its West Coast shine. Just don't call it a lifestyle firm...
GROWING out of Seattle and boasting a strong Bay Area presence, it's little surprise that Perkins Coie's tech credentials are long-established. The firm has made its name servicing some of the most cutting-edge companies going, and its client roster now reads like a who's who of social media and technology companies. Household names like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix are all on the books, and the high-flying aviation practice – top ranked in Chambers USA – has been servicing Boeing for a century. Chambers recognizes a dozen other practice areas too, including general commercial litigation, labor & employment, IP, retail, and political law. For more on the latter, read our interview with Hillary Clinton's campaign lawyer and Perkins Coie partner Marc Elias.
It's been a prosperous year for Perkins Coie (pronounced coo-ey). Revenue is up by 5.4% and there have been some significant triumphs for the firm's esteemed political law practice. In Florida there was a big victory for voters when Perkins successfully challenged the lawfulness of the Sunshine State's congressional voting map. Head to Illinois, and Highland Park's ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines was upheld with Perkins Coie's help, a coup that rookies were “extremely proud of due to the ripple effect it could have upon gun control laws nationwide.” We join them in firing our metaphorical guns in the air with glee.
Juniors were also highly complimentary about the firm's culture. Though now a national presence, “Perkins' management has retained a considerate approach that many of our East Coast rivals lack.” Managerial transparency is pretty good, suits have made way for slacks, and weekends in the office are thankfully few and far between. “We're all extremely hard working and there are late nights,” reminded one interviewee, “but we also care a lot about supporting one another and working together to make our clients' problems disappear. The firm's approach just helps to facilitate that end result."
On arrival, a handful of new recruits are snapped up by smaller teams such as energy & resources (EER), political law and product liability, but most go into the business, commercial litigation, or IP practice groups. Fledglings in these three practices are assigned to one of a number of subgroups. Business has subgroups including: corporate governance/transactions; emerging companies & venture capital; financial transactions/restructuring; international transactions & trade; private equity; and tech transactions & privacy. Within commercial litigation, juniors join one of: antitrust; business litigation; construction; environment; insurance recovery; securities; or white-collar/investigations. IP folks choose to specialize in patent work or trademark & copyright.
"You feel increasingly integral with every month that goes by."
The subgroup allocation can be more a formality, because “scheduling is quite fluid.” In fact, juniors are “encouraged to scout out work from seniors and partners whose practices we find interesting. Once you've shown them what you can do, they'll usually keep you busy.” Associates fill in regular email surveys to help management keep an eye on utilization, and a career coach is on hand for those who feel they've got too much on their plate and to answer anything else related to career development. As one Seattlite chimed: “She used to work here before becoming a counselor, so understands what it's like to practice at a BigLaw firm. Having that safe space to discuss any anxieties is a huge resource.”
Juniors' development is “well managed,” and the consensus was that “they get you up to speed carefully.” To begin, rookies are accountable for more discrete responsibilities, which for litigators involves doc review and research, and for deal-doers includes diligence and disclosure. “We're always told to ask questions, no matter how stupid they may seem. As your understanding and experience grow, people become more open to giving you new responsibilities. You feel increasingly integral with every month that goes by.” By their second year most young litigators had taken depositions or drafted motions, whereas on the transactional side our more experienced interviewees had negotiated on smaller deals and handled ancillary documents. Often offering the chance to work one-on-one with partners, smaller matters were touted as “a good fast-track to higher responsibilities.”
“Whenever we've asked for improvements to be made, Perkins has really listened,” was the experience of one happy junior. In Seattle, for example, “there was recently some demand among associates for standing desks, and the firm happily obliged“ (though we should point out these don't come as standard in all offices). It's little surprise that those in the Emerald City like to be on their feet: whether they're dashing off to the “generously subsidized” cafeteria, hitting the free gym or taking in the “spectacular” view of Mount Rainier from their office, “there are no expenses spared to create an exciting and inspiring work setting.” But when it comes to views, Perkins' Anchorage outpost really steals the show. Sources had heard that “you can see Denali from your desk, and beluga-spotting emails circulate when a pod is spotted in the Turnagain Arm!”
"There are no expenses spared to create an exciting and inspiring work setting.”
Outside Seattle, Perkins Coie has 15 other offices spread around pretty much most of the country. With so many footholds nationwide, does Perkins feel like an integrated operation? “I don’t feel like the HQ bosses us around,” non-Seattlites agreed. Each January the firm's new associate retreat serves as “an invaluable tool” for promoting cross-office interaction, welcoming all new starters to Seattle for “breakout training zones, writing clinics, presentations on the firm's culture, and tutorials on how to reach out to other offices to get work. I've gotten work through contacts I made on that retreat.”
Training & Development
The new starter retreat is trailed by a succession of monthly CLEs and departmental training sessions, which are broadcast firmwide. The mini-MBA begun just over a year ago for deal-doers was just as popular in its second year, providing transactional hopefuls with tips on representing businesses over the course of six 90-minute sessions. “When I began I didn't even know what an income statement was,” sighed one rookie, “so the mini-MBA helped to map out a lot of gray areas.”
"The onus is on us to consult partners."
Guided by biannual appraisals in their first year, and annual appraisals from then on, rookies' learning is bolstered on-the-job. “We're busy folk, so the onus is on us to consult partners if we'd like feedback,” elaborated one. “If you ask partners to sit with you and talk through your progress they'd find a time to do it, without question.”
There are two firmwide diversity retreats every other year: one for women, and one for all other minorities. “It's not just a free vacation,” explained one minority associate. “The leadership comes out too, as there's a belief that these kinds of events can really help the firm to grow. When management asked us what the firm could improve upon, I really felt it was listening.”
On a more regular basis, “the firm stages internal discussions focusing on nuanced discrepancies like the difference between working with introverts and extroverts,” highlighted one Phoenix junior. Such considerations bleed into Perkins' hiring, where “a far-reaching range of geographic locations and law schools is represented.”
"A far-reaching range of geographic locations and law schools is represented."
Furthermore, Perkins' 1L diversity fellowship scheme “is also an important tool for recruiting students who ultimately become associates,” says director of recruiting and retention Mike Gotham. “The program offers a dozen or so paid summer associate positions per year, and recipients are also awarded a $7,500 scholarship to assist with their school tuition.”
“Around 35% of us are based in Seattle,” one second-year explained, “so the overall pulse of the firm really stems from here.” Interviewees in offices nationwide had felt the effect of this West Coast cultural lifeblood. They noted a relaxed dress code –“we're not here in shorts, but ties are a rarity. We'll wear jeans on a Friday” – a friendly working atmosphere, and the flexibility to dictate your own office hours as some of the key benefits. “It's a really pleasant environment to be in,” associates agreed. “No one seems to take themselves too seriously. There's a recognition that we're all a team that comes together to get the job done.”
“We're not here in shorts, but ties are a rarity."
Perkins may boast a “laid back West Coast feel,” but it's not all country retreats and mountain-gazing. In the words of managing partner John Devaney: “We manage with a real emphasis on collegiality, transparency and civility – we work hard for our clients, and we also work hard to make the firm a place where people want to come in each day, roll up their sleeves and do great work with people they enjoy. People here are extremely determined and devoted, and we want to reward that with a fulfilling work place.”
Hours & Compensation
Billing targets and salaries are linked to local markets, so whereas 1,800 hours will bag you $100,000 in Anchorage, for example, those in DC, Texas and California are among those expected to put in 1,950 to earn $160k. In Portland the figures are 1,850 for $120,000, the same hours as those in Seattle but for $30,000 less salary. “Different markets command different rates,” accepted one junior, “but our pay is on par with most of the larger firms in our respective locations.”
"Our pay is on par."
Portland's rise to hipsterdom has pushed up rents significantly, prompting some calls for a salary increase. Following their Seattle neighbors' recent compensation and billing target raise, Portlandians “couldn't have been more impressed with the way the firm handled it. Our managing partner held a lunch to inform us how our compensation would be reviewed, and let us know what we could do to assist the process.” Bonuses are awarded for every 50 additional hours that associates put in beyond their billing targets.
“The work/life balance is tremendous here,” said one happy caller. “Sure it's a lot of work, but people are incredibly considerate of your time. As long as you're getting everything done it doesn't matter where you are.” Most of our sources put in an average of ten hours a day, but “whether you clock in all your your hours in the office, or put in some at home is up to you.” Weekend work is “somewhat of a rarity,” thanks in part to partners' “accepting attitude of the need for a life outside of work.” As one respondent delighted, “if people send you an email on a Sunday, they'll often start it off with 'Sorry to bother you,' and 'Don't do anything until tomorrow!'”
Whether it's acquitting Osama bin Laden's driver of supporting terrorism or overturning Arizona's same-sex marriage ban, Perkins has earned a real reputation for taking on headline-hitting pro bono cases. More than just a mere ploy to hit the front pages, the firm's “dedicated approach to social justice” brings in all sorts. All pro bono hours count toward associates' billable target, so whether it's prisoners' rights cases, immigration work, or landlord-tenant disputes, “pretty much everyone has a pro bono matter on at all times.” One good Samaritan added: “When it comes to skills such as case management, drafting, redrafting, and even advocacy, it can really open some doors early on.”
"Pretty much everyone has a pro bono matter on at all times.”
Pro bono hours
Strategy & Future
When we asked associates what's on the horizon, the answer was almost unanimous: “Keep growing our national presence.” One elaborated: “We've been labeled as a super-regional firm for too long, and when you consider the locations and clients we cover, we feel that 'regional' misses the mark.”
"We feel that 'regional' misses the mark."
As Perkins' first managing partner outside of Seattle in over a century, DC-based John Devaney’s 2015 ascension “marked a real turning point.” As the boss himself continues: “Selecting a managing partner in DC shows that we're a firm with a national and global outlook.” Are there any further expansion plans in the pipeline? “We intend to continue our growth by further strengthening in our major markets: the Bay Area, Chicago, DC and NY," he explains. "We're still a bit weighted toward the western side of the Mississippi river, so though nothing is imminent, we are certainly interested in increasing our East Coast footprint.”
Like all top law firms Perkins is looking for intelligent hopefuls with a demonstrable interest in the legal world. Law review, moot court, or prior work experience were all cited as good resume-boosters, but “what sets our hiring apart is the emphasis placed on also finding a good match," said a someone in a medium-sized office. "A survival of the fittest mentality doesn't wash here. That's especially true if you're applying for a smaller office.”
"A survival of the fittest mentality doesn't wash here."
Recruiting chief Mike Gotham also shuns any sharp elbows, confirming “we hire associates with the expectation that they'll be here for the long haul.” And though the day-to-day dress code may allow a little more breathing space than at some rival firms, when it comes to interviews, Gotham has “never seen a student show up in less than a suit.” Read our full interview with him in the Bonus Features.
We speak with Perkins' head recruiter Mike Gotham
Chambers Associate: Have there been any notable developments in Perkins' entry-level recruiting plans over the past few years?
Mike Gotham: Our entry-level hiring has gradually increased. This is partly due to the growing economy and amount of work available, and partly because the firm has continued to increase its number of attorneys overall. Several of our offices that did not previously hire summer associates and entry-level associates are now large enough to do so on a regular basis. In recent years, this has included San Diego, Denver and Washington, DC.
CA: As a firm with a number of smaller regional offices, how important are geographical ties when recruiting?
MG: Candidates do not have to have already lived in a particular city to be considered for a position there. People have many different reasons to want to live and work in a certain market. As long as there is some reason, then it is a non-issue.
CA: What other considerations influence the firm's hiring?
MG: Of course, we interview at national law schools but each office also recruits from law schools in its local area. There are a couple of different criteria that we prioritise. Obviously academic accomplishment is a baseline requirement, but from there we look for a variety of different characteristics. We are looking for law students who do more than just go to school: people who have demonstrated leadership skills, or made contributions to their community. Law review or journal-writing experience is also critical.
We also look for students with some sense of where they want their career to go. It's encouraging to meet interviewees who have a sufficient understanding of themselves and the nature of certain practice areas to have formed a rough idea of where they think they might fit into the practice of law.
CA: What does Perkins do to promote diversity in recruiting?
MG: Perkins recruits at a wide variety of schools across the US, and we've really worked to increase our visibility with diverse law students. At some law schools, partners have met with faculty and students to talk about their practice areas, and in others the firm has sponsored careers services boot camps and other events for diverse students. Our 1L diversity fellowship is also an important tool for recruiting students who ultimately become associates. The program offers a dozen or so paid summer associate positions per year, and recipients are also awarded a $7,500 scholarship to assist with their school tuition.
CA: With offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei, are there any opportunities for Perkins' younger associates to try a stint across the Pacific?
MG: Not really. There are some practices that have ongoing working ties with our Asian offices and matters in Asia. Patent litigation is an example. But for most associates, travel and time in Asia would be rare.
CA: So what sets apart Perkins Coie from other large national firms?
MG: Students who are looking for a firm where they'll be valued as an important part of the enterprise should seriously consider applying here. We hire associates with the expectation that they'll be here for the long haul. A tremendous amount of effort is put into promoting communication and transparency between the firm and its associates, whether it's firm management issues, financial decision-making or strategic plans.
CA: On that note, interviewees were pleased with the firm's handling of recent compensation reviews. As a firm that offers subjective market rates, are there any further raises to report?
MG: Salaries were recently increased in Seattle, Bellevue and Portland. We continue to look at whether we need to do the same in other markets.
CA: And finally, we've heard that when it comes to dress code, Perkins is a little more relaxed than some of its competitors. Is it necessary to wear a suit at interview?
MG: Wear a suit to any interview: it's standard practice. I've never seen a student show up in less than a suit. We're not the type of people who'll expect you to wear a certain brand, or cut, or colour, but by not presenting yourself well at interview you'll do yourself a disservice.
Perkins Coie LLP
1201 Third Avenue,
- Head Office: Seattle, WA
- Number of domestic offices: 16
- Number of international offices: 3
- Worldwide revenue: $710,000,000
- Partners (US): 493
- Senior Counsel (US): 68
- Other Attorneys: (US): 24
- Associates (US): 407
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $2,200-$3,077/week
- 2Ls: $2,200-$3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 64
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 51 offers, 47 acceptances
Main areas of work
Perkins Coie’s practice areas include business; environment, energy and resources; intellectual property; labor and employment; litigation; personal planning; political law; product liability; real estate.
With offices across the United States and in China, Perkins Coie provides a full array of corporate, commercial litigation and intellectual property legal services to clients that span the range of entities in the business world – from Fortune 100 corporations to small, independent start-ups, as well as public and not-for-profit organizations.
• Number of 1st year associates: 29
• Number of 2nd year associates: 30
• Associate salaries: 1st year: Varies by office
• 2nd year: Varies by office
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Loyola (Chicago), Loyola (Los Angeles), Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Santa Clara, Seattle University, Stanford, Texas, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Arizona, University of Illinois, University of Oregon, University of Utah, University of Washington, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale
Summer associate profile:
Hiring criteria include demonstrated academic excellence, creative problem solving, leadership in and service to the community and dedication to excellence in the legal profession.
Summer program components:
Perkins Coie’s summer program provides wide-ranging work opportunities and social events designed to promote interaction among summer associates, attorneys and staff. Supervising attorneys provide informal feedback after each assignment and they submit written, formal evaluations to the office hiring committee. The formal evaluations become part of each summer associate’s midsummer and final evaluations. Summer associates have the opportunity for both informal and formal training throughout the program.