Perkins Coie LLP - The Inside View

High-level work exposure and exceptional camaraderie greet associates at this ever-expanding Seattle-founded firm.

PERKINS Coie built its respected name on the West Coast but right now is seeing most expansion out East: “Our growth in New York has been fairly substantial,” DC-based managing partner John Devaney highlights. The almost 50-strong Big Apple office increased its headcount by a juicy 50% in 2016, and launched an emerging companies & venture capital group led by start-up guru Charles Torres, who joined from Lowenstein. A quartet of former Kramer Levin investment management pros gave a boost to that team, while the IP practice was bolstered by a duo of partners from Ropes & Gray and another pair of partners from WilmerHale. “I'm very pleased with the progress we've made in New York,” Devaney says. “We intend to continue to grow this office in different areas.”

Financially, 2016 was also “a good strong year, with a healthy revenue increase” of 4.3%.  Devaney credits the firm's political law practice as one of the key drivers of this growth. Perkins houses one of the foremost political law groups in the US and has a long association with the Democratic Party. You might have spotted Marc Elias's name around the time of the presidential election – the Perkins Coie partner was general counsel to 'Hillary for America', and you can read our interview with him on our website. Alongside political law, product liability, privacy and cyber security, and regulatory compliance are other areas which contributed to the revenue rise of the Seattle-headquartered firm, according to the MP.

Perkins Coie hauls in a considerable number of top-tier Chambers USA rankings, among them aviation, political law, general commercial litigation, IP, real estate, and environment. Many clients hail from the tech industry –  Facebook, Nintendo, Amazon and Microsoft are all on the roster.

The Work



Most Perkins rookies find themselves in the firm's business, commercial litigation or IP practice groups, though a handful slip into smaller teams like political law or product liability. The three largest groups are divided into subgroups, to which juniors are loosely assigned upon arrival. “You work on whatever comes across your desk but you're encouraged to make relationships with those working on things you're interested in,” one litigator told us. Juniors regularly fill out an email utilization survey so management can “gauge who has availability,” but rookies mainly tend to communicate directly with partners and associates to become staffed on cases.

“The primary point of contact for a client.”

Business has subgroups including corporate governance/transactions; emerging companies & venture capital; financial transactions/restructuring; private equity; and tech transactions & privacy. “One of the things I love about Perkins is just how small the teams are staffed for each matter,” one deal-doer told us. Combine this with juniors being handed the lead on smaller matters, and rookies “could be asked to handle any aspect of the deal. Even as a first-year I was negotiating directly with partners on the other side.” Another told of being “the primary point of contact for a client on day-to-day questions from the get go. I handled it to the point I felt comfortable and brought in supervisors or partners when I needed to.” Though rookies conceded this “can be intimidating at first, the partners are extremely encouraging and get that we make small mistakes.” Juniors are still expected to dig in on lower level work too though: “As a first through third-year you're generally expected to do due diligence, manage the workflow, close checklists, and draft ancillary documents.”

“The firm has an e-discovery group so juniors don't do a lot of doc review.”

Within commercial litigation, juniors join one of: antitrust; business litigation; construction; environment; insurance recovery; securities; or white-collar/investigations. Perkins has “an e-discovery group so juniors don't do a lot of doc review.” Instead, associates are more likely to be found “working with a team of discovery attorneys to help oversee the document production and analysis process. I've done a lot of legal research and writing – when I first started it involved researching diverse issues and writing a summary or memo, but I've now written a lot of briefs on my own at this point,” one third-year told us. Others told of taking depositions or putting together the first drafts of motions to dismiss or summary responses.

IP folks choose to specialize in patent prosecution, patent litigation, or trademark & copyright. Juniors believed that “if you're not getting quite as much responsibility as you maybe should or your professional development is low, there's an effort by group management to get you certain types of experience.” It appears to be working as one IP litigator quipped: “I've only done about five hours of doc review this year – I was hoping there would be more of it so I can switch off my brain for a bit.”

Offices



"It wants attorneys to work across offices and develop relationships.”

Cross-office working is well embedded at the firm. Many associates – particularly those in smaller offices such as Phoenix – often work with colleagues across the US. “We call each other all the time and interact on Outlook chat,” one member of a well-connected group told us. “It does depend on your team and what you're working on but the firm culture is such that people in other locations are open to working with you.” One associate reckoned “the firm's conscious that it wants attorneys to work across offices and develop relationships.”

Outside Seattle, Perkins Coie has 15 other offices spread around pretty much most of the country. While “it's pretty apparent that Seattle's running the show, it does feel like we have discretion and a fair amount of autonomy,” one California source told us.

Training & Development



Each January, the firm's newbies converge on Seattle for a new starter retreat. “We start around late September so having the retreat in the New Year means you've gotten your feet wet and know the lie of the land. I appreciated the balance rather than having everything front-loaded.” The get together's largely aimed at “meeting other first-years and acclimatizing to the firm and its resources. It's not as focused on work as some of the other retreats, but it's nice to meet your peers and keep in touch with them when you visit other offices.” On a more substantive level, monthly departmental training sessions are broadcast by video conference across offices.

Annual reviews are delivered by the associate evaluation committee and the firm makes “a deliberate point of ensuring you speak with someone who isn't in your office” or practice group, as well as someone who is. This allows associates to get objective feedback on their experience. First-years also receive a mid-year review.

Culture & Diversity



“At the first-year retreat I could tell that our office and New York have a more buttoned up culture than Seattle, Portland and Palo Alto,” one DC-based source informed us. “But on the whole the firm has a pretty laid back West Coast vibe.” There are a few exceptions: the Phoenix office was established by a merger with Arizona firm Brown and Bain in 2004, “so they have their own culture.” Meanwhile a Chicagoan felt their office was “definitely West Coast in terms of dress” but “has a more intense atmosphere.”

“There aren't any petty tyrants.”

By and large though, the Perkins Coie way seems to have flowed from the Seattle office: “Everyone is polite and respectful. I'm respected as a human being and not just an hours generator. If I have to work on weekends it is not because I feel it is expected of me, but because it is required. Whenever it's tough there's an appreciation for the work we do.” And where does Seattle get its vibe from? “Being able to see the mountains from the office is a daily reminder of things outside the law that are important,” one junior reckoned. “I get the sense that people care about the important things; we won't take a lazy attitude to completing a project or getting a result for a client – we're serious about that – but the people I interact with are fun and enjoy themselves and their lives. It's not really intense.”

Another reassured us that “there aren't any petty tyrants. Everyone just wants to get the work done and we get along.” Naturallyyou'll find “a pressure to perform but in a very supportive atmosphere. Even when I was interviewing here I noticed that people were walking in and out of each other's offices, feeling free to ask questions.” Others were keen to point out the supportive nature of their colleagues:  “I have a lot of people who have been looking out for me in an informal way since I started three years ago, and they don't have to do that.”

“Put pressure on management to do more.”

Juniors also believed the firm's atmosphere was driven by its strong political law practice and association with the Democrats: “We have a left leaning body of associates and I think that tends to put pressure” on elements such as “increasing diversity,” one junior surmised. “We have a very open and accepting environment where people feel comfortable and make an effort to be inclusive. Junior and mid-level associates constantly put pressure on management to do more than they're doing.”

Already in place are two firmwide diversity retreats every other year: one for women, and one for all other minorities. At the time of our calls our female sources were “really looking forward to the women's retreat. I've heard it's everyone's favorite as it focuses more on networking than training and has lots of interesting speakers.” The firm also has several affinity groups and offers a 1L diversity fellowship scheme. There's also a chief diversity officer, Theresa Cropper.

Statistically speaking, “there's always work to be done,” but many sources were keen to point out that “the numbers don't always reflect our attitude to diversity.” In Phoenix, for example, although there are “not a lot of women, we all do a good job of looking out for each other. Our committee is the most active in the office. We get together for lunch every month, discuss work and life challenges and celebrate wins, which really fosters the strong bond between us.” Across offices others talked of working with “a lot of strong women.” All that said, several did point out the need to increase the firm's racial diversity.

Hours & Compensation



Billing targets and salaries are linked to local markets, with the former ranging from 1,800 to 1,950 hours. Generally, our sources “didn't feel pressured to physically be in the office for obscene amounts of time. It's not like there's a big crowd here late at night. We do put in the time and the work, but in terms of offices hours I think the firm is understanding and accommodating,” reckoned one interviewee. “One thing I like about Perkins is that people don't keep tabs on when I come and go. I take my laptop home every night; I don't always use it but I check my emails regularly.”

Pro Bono



Whether it's immigration assistance, clemency petitions, landlord/tenant disputes or helping people draft their wills, there's “a strong sentiment toward” pro bono at Perkins Coie. Sources reported being actively encouraged to take on cases – “I've recently been told to make more time for it,” one pro bono-lacking source said. “It's true what they say about it being a good way to get more stand-up-in-court experience,” an avid pro bono fan enthused. “I'm working with a partner mentor on one of my cases who'll help me with my first oral advocacy experience.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 52,075
  • Average per US attorney: 51

Strategy & Future



Managing partner John Devaney identifies the firm's future growth areas as “regulatory and compliance, privacy and cyber security, private equity, M&A and fintech – financial technology transactions –  where we are a market leader in the US. There's a lot of demand among financial institutions in this area.”

Devaney also informs us that the firm will be “exploring our international strategy to decide whether to make investments.”

More on Perkins Coie associate hiring



Many of our sources were quick to point out that Perkins' attorneys tend to be “easy going people who have interests outside of work and a drive to keep those hobbies going” despite the pressures of Big Law life. “We don't see a lot of gunners – perhaps that's by virtue of being lower down the rankings. It means we get fewer of those types but more people who are interested in doing good work and put less stock in rankings.” Elaborated one associate: “I think those who get hired here are very intelligent and capable of doing work in an efficient and competent manner, but they have really good personalities- they are all very nice, laid-back and fun people.”

Connections to the region you're applying to work in are important and you can also impress by demonstrating you've done your research: “Every firm looks the same and Perkins prides itself on being different to the extent we can be. I like to see someone who is cognizant of the way we try to be different from other firms.” One source, for example, mentioned the attractiveness of the firm's diversity initiatives when they applied: “It was pretty apparent I'd done my research and it conveyed a reason about why I wanted to work there.” Perkins also looks for evidence of leadership skills, like some kind of community involvement.

Candidates can stand out for the wrong reason if they “clam up” during interviews: “If it's not easy to carry on a conversation with someone, it's a big red flag. We need attorneys who can speak with clients and be able to manage their expectations.” Several sources told us of the importance of business acumen, with one going so far as to look for candidates “with other interests outside of work which they can turn into business development opportunities.” So if you're currently on the hunt for a new hobby, why not investigate what's hot and on the up for some inspiration – cryptocurrency collecting anyone? No?

More on Hours and Compensation



Billing targets and salaries at Perkins Coie are linked to local markets. DC, California and Chicago, for example, aim to bill 1,950 hours. Hitting 2,000 hours in these locations affords associates their bonus. Sources in these markets viewed the targets as “absolutely reasonable.”

Seattle, Bellvue and Chicago now operate a two-tier system; juniors can aim for 1,850 or 1,950 hours. Reaching 1,950 affords juniors “the new New York compensation scale” introduced by Cravath in 2016. “If you choose to bill 1,850 hours you earn proportionally lower. Most people seem to be choosing to stay on the 1,850,” because, one source explained, “it's better to meet a target than miss one.” While some sources were “concerned the 1,950 scale seems to signal a move toward higher billing targets,” others maintained that by retaining the lower option “it reflects how the firm is a lot more humane than other places, when it comes to having work/life balance.”

Salaries were also raised in other locations; DC and the Bay Area fell in line with the New York scale ($180,000 for first-years) while the rest of the firm's offices saw increases in line with the local market. While most sources were appreciative of the boost, we heard a few gripes about the way the news was delivered. “It took Perkins a bit longer to announce than other firms,” one junior noted. “They need to work on providing more transparency around the compensations decision. The whole thing's very complicated and it takes them a while to make a decision but stuff leaks and then people get up in arms. It's hard to feel you're getting a straight answer when you're hearing conflicting things.”

Managing partner John Devaney talks us through rising revenue and international investments



Chambers Associate: What have been the firm's highlights over the past year?

John Devaney: Financially we've had a good strong year with a healthy revenue increase. We've also continued to grow in our major markets, having added a fairly significant number of lawyers in the Bay Area and New York. This is part of our strategy to continue to establish ourselves as a strong national player in the US and really build up our major markets. The third thing to highlight is that we've been able to expand and broaden our relationships with our clients and begin handling work for long standing clients in areas we've not previously done work for them.

CA: Last year you indicated that the firm would focus on building up its East Coast bases. New York has welcomed a lot of laterals this year. What about Washington, DC?

JD: Our growth in New York has been fairly substantial. We added a very well-known investment management group; they're one of the top investment management groups in New York. It's an important area of expansion for us and builds upon the strong group we have in DC. We have also added an emerging companies practice which represents start-ups in New York. The city has become a strong venture capital market and it's important that this part of our brand is as strong in New York as it is in Silicon Valley. We have also welcomed a couple of patent litigators from another firm. I'm very pleased with the progress we've made in New York and we intend to continue to grow this office in different areas.

Moving on to DC, we've thus far added one lateral partner to our real estate practice. We're really building DC more in the associate ranks and our political law practice has added quite a few associates due to really high demand in that group.

CA: Which practices drove your revenue increase in 2016?

JD: Our political law practice has been extremely busy because of the election. Our product liability practice has expanded – typically we've mostly operated in the aviation industry but that practice has now expanded to represent major companies on non-aviation products, which has increased the type of work and profitability of the group. Another area seeing very high demand and driving growth is privacy and cyber security. We have one of the leading privacy practices in the US and when I speak with general counsel around the country, privacy and cyber security is the first or second thing they mention that is important to them. The last area is regulatory compliance; generally regulatory compliance is an area of high demand and that has spilled over into a number of different practice areas and driven revenue.

CA: What's the firm strategy going forward?

JD: As we said last year, we'll continue to grow in major markets and further solidify our position as a premier national firm in the US. I would also add that we want to grow and maintain our dominant market position in Seattle. We are the biggest and most prominent firm in theSeattle market and Seattle has a booming economy right now; so many leading American companies are based there. We want to fortify our Seattle office to maintain our market position and expand relationships with the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow and Starbucks, all of whom we represent.

We're fortunate to have a great client list: Intel, Boeing, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Amazon and General Mills... the list goes on and on and we really want to strengthen our partnerships with clients. Part of that is really understanding their business so we can tailor our client services to them. We've devoted significant resources this year to meeting with twenty to twenty-five of our top clients, not to market ourselves, but to hear from them about where their business is going and what their priorities are so we can respond to them and have legal services really tailored to their needs. This remains a strategic priority for 2017.

We also will continue to grow in some practice areas where we see increasing demand. I would identify those as regulatory and compliance, privacy and cyber security, private equity, M&A and fintech – financial technology transactions – where we are a market leader in the US. There's a lot of demand among financial institutions in this area.

We will be assessing our international strategy. We are one of largest firms in the US without a presence in Europe and while I can't say we plan to open offices there, weare exploring our international strategy to decide whether to make investments.

CA: Is there anything else you think students should know about the firm?

JD: I would just emphasize in conclusion that one of my priorities, and it's a priority to us all, is to recruit and retain the very best talent in the market place. We feel like we've really made strides this year and like so many firms in the US we've increased our associate compensation in order to recruit and retain the best. This is a good place to work in terms of the quality of our talent and we will continue to place a strong emphasis on ensuring we get the very best people to provide top client service. 

 

Perkins Coie LLP

1201 Third Avenue,
Suite 4900,
Seattle,
WA 98101-3099
Website www.perkinscoie.com

  • Head Office: Seattle, WA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 16 
  • Number of international offices: 3
  • Worldwide revenue: $781,000,000
  • Partners (US): 519
  • Senior Counsel (US): 70
  • Other Attorneys: (US): 36 
  • Associates (US): 411
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $2,692-$3,462/week
  • 2Ls: $2,692-$3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 57
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 55 offers, 49 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.

Firm profile
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.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 33
• Number of 2nd year associates: 36
• Associate salaries: 1st year: Varies by office
• 2nd year: Varies by office
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Georgetown, Gonzaga, Harvard, Howard, Lewis and Clark, Loyola (Chicago), Loyola (Los Angeles), Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Santa Clara, Seattle University, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Arizona, University of Illinois, University of Oregon, University of San Diego, University of Washington, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Willamette, Yale

Summer details
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.