“If you're in Boston, Ropes is the highest you can get,” but a broad presence and strong reputation in areas like private equity make this firm worth the climb elsewhere too.
THE Disney Channel's Boston-based The Suite Life of Zack & Cody made the city look like an exciting place to grow up. Perhaps the show helped inspire wannabe lawyers who were keen to get a taste of the sweet life at Ropes & Gray? This junior certainly felt clear on the package being offered by Ropes: “After talking to a lot of people it seemed that there was no better deal in terms of the prestige and the work/life balance.” Others highlighted that “Ropes is the standout firm in Boston” and that it's “one of the few firms with private equity/M&A in the city.” Private equity is certainly one of Ropes' strong suits: in its home state of Massachusetts the firm picks up top Chambers USA private equity rankings for both its fund formation and buyouts work. The firm picks up a further eight top rankings in Massachusetts, while its healthcare, antitrust, IP, life sciences, litigation and privacy and data security work pulls in high praise in other domestic jurisdictions.
Having long since outgrown its home state, Ropes also has domestic offices in Chicago, New York (which takes almost as many newcomers as the HQ), San Francisco, Silicon Valley and DC, plus five more overseas. While partner departures have hit the headlines in recent times, Ropes has also been filling its ranks of late: among recent laterals you'll find an antitrust specialist from General Electric who will boost the DC office, as well as a partner from King & Spalding, who will be growing the firm's M&A work in its California offices.
Strategy & Future
Ropes' Boston home is one of America's healthiest markets, and more and more international firms are opening offices there. "The addition of new competitors certainly keeps us on our toes," managing partner David Chapin confirms, adding: "The influx also gives us a great opportunity to differentiate ourselves with regard to the cross-practice, cross-office collaboration that is central to the way we work." As for growth elsewhere, Chapin reveals that "New York and Chicago have had especially strong momentum." Find out more about the firm's future by clicking on the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read our full interview with David Chapin.
Almost all newcomers join one of the two 'supergroups' – litigation and corporate – and start as generalists. A handful go directly into private client, restructuring, labor or tax. Ropes does “a lot of cross-office work, so every team or assignment tends to have people from multiple offices involved.” To get an idea of each associate's workload, the firm asks them to pick a colored button each Friday to signal their availability – green for open, yellow for relatively busy, red for fully loaded. “There's a formal system but it's not always used to its full extent,” as partners often recruit juniors for matters directly. Some juniors in corporate get staffed on client teams and get the bulk of their work from them. Associates here previously had to join a specific corporate subgroup after two years, but we heard that requirement has now been phased out.
Corporate newbies list two 'buckets' to draw work from, and pick from general corporate; private equity; investment funds; and healthcare, real estate and life sciences. “I wanted to do private equity because it's what Ropes is known for,” one said, and almost all the corporate juniors we spoke to had done fund-related work. Healthcare is particularly competitive – “the worst kept secret is that you need to rank it first or you won't get any work from it; it's a very tight-knit practice.” Boston is the best bet for getting in the healthcare door; down in DC “it doesn't make sense to pursue life sciences but if you want to do antitrust the office is great.” As for Chicago, there are “a lot of mid-market deals in the $50-150 million range,” reflecting the selection available at the firm's smaller bases.
“Ropes doesn't want you to be a junior forever.”
First-years in corporate “start out doing a fair amount of diligence, which is good for building your experience. Going into the second year you graduate to a more supervisory role.” Junior tasks vary by deal size and investment structures: “I've done everything from coordinating with specialists to drafting ancillary documents,” reported an interviewee in San Francisco. One Boston-based source summarized their role as “managing up: the partners and lawyers above me are task-saturated so one of my duties is reminding everyone what we need to be keeping on top of. I'm also on a lot of client calls and meetings but should be seen and not heard!” Amid mixed reports on responsibility levels, most felt their growth was well managed. “Ropes doesn't want you to be a junior forever, and you're encouraged to go beyond your comfort zone.”
Corporate clients: The Blackstone Group, Bain Capital and Deutsche Bank Securities. Represented TPG Capital during its $4.2 billion takeover of security software developer McAfee from Intel.
Litigation used to be broadly split into business and government investigations groups, “and you'd have to commit to one by the end of your second year,” but this division has since been removed. Mutual fund advisers make up a lot of Ropes' biggest clients: Boston juniors had worked “a few different securities cases,” including “SEC investigations which required a totally different mindset.” Litigators in DC had “spent a lot of time managing inbound and outbound document productions, but I've also been able to participate in depositions; I'm really looking forward to the next case as I know I can take and defend depositions.” In Boston our sources found that on some matters they were “doing research and not always having a great sense of what that's going towards; I'll get a discrete question with little context and spend a day tracking down answers!” However, on other matters they were helping to draft motions and writing reports, and one had been able to work with “just a bunch of partners, so I got to talk to the client and draft answers to responses.”
Litigation clients: financial services company LPL Financial, adidas and Samsung Electronics. Acted for Boston Children's Hospital in a drug research data theft dispute brought against a former employee.
When it comes to showing juniors the ropes (*ba-dum-tsh*), few firms are more thorough than Ropes. Associates agreed that “the firm invests heavily” in formal training, sometimes to the point where “there's almost too much! They send you calender invite after calender invite for all of it!” One Chicagoan suggested that the trainings are “probably more helpful initially; you subsequently get repeats and at a certain point you may have already learned things on the job through different mentor relationships and training on a matter.” However, in Boston associates did feel that the firm is “very responsive to feedback on training; if people agree that something's a bit of a waste of time then it's re-evaluated.”
All of this learning made interviewees optimistic about their career prospects, as did quarterly check-ins with associate development partners: “They're geared toward our happiness and our time with the firm long-term.” Bostonians had mixed views on broader career opportunities, with a corporate junior telling us that “there are other things that give exposure beyond your practice group that are good for long-term development, like leadership opportunities.” A litigator, meanwhile, expected access to further opportunities to be “more firm-run; it's important that you find good people who are interested in what you're doing.”
“I look for someone who's been thoughtful about the process – why do you want to work here rather than at the million other jobs you could do with a J.D.?” Get more insider info on how to get hired at Ropes & Gray by clicking the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
“Everyone here is almost too nice!” exclaimed a Boston-based junior. That may not accord with the stereotypical vision of BigLaw, but time and again we heard that “nobody at Ropes is going to raise their voice or be confrontational. I don't know if it's a New England thing or just part of the culture here.” As a testimony to that culture, “even the office managing partner calls us colleagues rather than associates.” It would take a lawyer to find a problem with all this, and right on cue sources told us “things can be pleasant, but sometimes there's an environment where not everyone's being honest with feedback for fear of upsetting you.” Even in New York, home of peak BigLaw, “partners at Ropes aren't as out to get each other. That trickles down to the associates.”DC is “sometimes a little less formal, we'll do things like jeans Fridays,” and there's “maybe an old wives' tale that San Francisco is the most relaxed office. That might just come from a skewed impression of California though!”
"A partner said 'take your significant other out for dinner on me.'”
Boston is perhaps the most social of the bases; it hosts “big floor gatherings every couple of months, a big holiday party and trick or treating around the offices for kids on Halloween. That was a great event for me – it humanized me to my colleagues!” Interviewees nonetheless made it clear that “Ropes is as social as you want it to be. Lots of people have families so we're not all getting drunk at bars on Friday nights.” Some sources had partners encouraging them to spend more time with loved ones, with financial incentives: “I love the smaller things, like after an arduous closing, when a partner said 'take your significant other out for dinner on me.' Things like that make it easier when you're working the long hours.”
Hours & Compensation
There's no hard hours requirement at Ropes, but attorneys aim for a 1,900 billables target each year. Noting that “as a first-year it's more difficult to reach,” sources said: “It doesn't matter too much early on and they take things like training into account.” Second and third-years found reaching 1,900 far easier. In the Boston HQ “most people get in around 9am and leave between 6 and 7pm,” and after heading home “won't normally be working later than 10pm, even with a break for dinner.” The outlier is “private equity and M&A – you hear some nightmare stories of people up all night working.” During busy stretches “mid-levels reach out to make sure you're not burning out; people are grateful when you're sending them something at 2 or 3am.”
“Mid-levels reach out to make sure you're not burning out.”
Reassured that “they'd never try to screw us out of our bonuses,” juniors were confident as market salaries rose that their firm would follow the herd. “Transparency's not one of their strong suits and there wasn't too much discussion,” but the majority “had no issue with their timing. Ropes is prudent and financially responsible so when they matched the salary increase we knew they had done so thoughtfully.” The purse strings aren't so tight that juniors don't get any perks: a $500 dividend to set up a home office after a couple of years service was particularly well received. “Working remotely is becoming more popular here” one Chicagoan commented, adding: “It was common in New York and Boston and it's becoming more the norm elsewhere.”
All pro bono hours count toward the billing target, which first-years in particular took full advantage of. “Some didn't get as much paid work and did more than 500 hours of pro bono – nobody at the firm had problems with it,” reported a DC-based junior. Each year Ropes sets a 20-hour pro bono target for all attorneys, and in 2018 the firm posed an additional challenge: a charity of the associate's choice would receive $100 if they billed half of the specified target by June. “Pro bono is clearly a priority here and it's one of the best parts of the firm,” a Bostonian cheerily declared.
Immigration and asylum cases are commonplace and attorneys were on the front line during the Texas border family separation controversy. Additional efforts at Ropes include Project Validate, a program that assists transgender individuals with name change registrations, and “a lot of clinics that take up a more manageable half- or one-day commitment.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 160,000
- Average for all US offices: 110
Diversity & Inclusion
In 2019 Julie Jones takes over as the first female chairperson in the firm's 152-year history. “It's been a long time coming,” interviewees acknowledged. “There aren't as many female partners as anybody would like – it's sad that ours is a high percentage for the legal industry.” Around a quarter of partner are women, which is indeed better than the average, and with “quite a few high-level female senior associates” rising through the ranks, that statistic should hopefully climb.
Interviewees added that diversity – especially with regards to gender – “varies a lot by practice group” with private equity in the Boston office flagged for being “very male-dominated.” The city of Boston itself was deemed “mainly white” and “less diverse than New York or Los Angeles” – a make-up that was felt to inhibit some of the firm's good intentions on the recruitment front. Over in Chicago associates were happier to report that the gender split between partners was roughly 50:50, while “in terms of minorities it's fairly diverse.” Among the firm's various initiatives, the Roscoe Trimmier Diversity Scholarship provides five 2Ls with $25,000 each.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosedInterviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Ropes visits more than 40 law schools and jobs fairs as part of its recruitment campaign, and most interviewees are taken into consideration for all six of the firm's US offices. Finding the best potential associates is part one of the process, and which office they'd best fit into follows that.
Who's got the best chances of making the cut? Well, Ropes is “looking for students who have shown an early mastery of the practical skills of the legal profession and who embrace the firm's priority of working as part of a team.” They realize that most candidates won't already have practical legal experience, so academic records and enthusiastic participation in extra-curriculars are taken into consideration. Interviewers will also encourage candidates to learn more about the practice and people at Ropes & Gray.
Top tips: “Ropes very much emphasizes team players and working together, so a super-competitive person wouldn't fit in well. The staffing system is quite independence-driven so a shy person might need more of a push.”
“To make a good first impression, think about why you're passionate about the law and about the environment in which you want to practice it. Make it clear you've really thought about why you want to come here.”
Applicants invited to second stage: undisclosed
Four to six interviewees will assess the applicants who make it to callbacks, focusing on five key criteria: intellect; personal drive; problem solving; interpersonal skills; and culture and collegiality (including diversity considerations). The baseline for successful candidates is being able to get on well with both the firm's attorneys and its clients.
There might also be an informal lunch or coffee with junior associates, where these criteria will be further assessed. It's important by this stage that candidates have picked up on certain elements of the firm's strengths and character, and can take that knowledge to ask pertinent questions.
Top tips: “Ropes looks for a level of professionalism and maturity which is a big factor in who I consider would be a good fit.”
“The firm really appreciates commitment to pro bono work and wants candidates to be interested in that part of the firm's culture.”
Offers: undisclosedAcceptances: undisclosed
The ten-week summer program gives prospective associates the chance to sample the firm's practice and its pro bono program. Work assignments come from both the centralized system and 'off-the-cuff' interactions with partners. Feedback comes through informal channels across the course of the process and culminates in a formal review in the final week. Spread throughout are the social events you'd expect.
One of the main functions of the summer is to give associates a chance to learn as much about Ropes & Gray as they can, so they “get a real feel for the pace, environment and culture of the firm.” As at every firm, the process is as much about summers getting to know the firm as vice versa.
Notable summer events: cooking classes, theater outings, baseball games and museum trips.
Top tips: “We don't expect anybody to be workhorses and nothing else – it's a social summer and we want people to enjoy their time.”
“When I got back to the firm as a full-time associate I was looped back onto cases I'd worked in summer: when you get back people will be excited to work with you again so try to take on interesting assignments during the summer.”
Summer associates get to sample a few of the firm's practice areas during their time at Ropes & Gray – the final decision of where they'll end up is agreed by both applicant and the firm at the end of the process.
Interview with managing partner David Chapin
Chambers Associate: The firm has as a 2020 plan in place – how has progress towards that been?
David Chapin: The firm had a strong year in 2018 on all fronts, and we are heading toward 2020 with good momentum. We continued to receive high practice and individual rankings from Chambers and continued to attract elite attorneys from other top-tier firms, and recently had the largest round of partner promotions in the firm’s history, nearly half of which are women, minorities or both, meaning we are extremely well positioned for the years ahead.
CA: Which of the firm's practices have been performing especially well recently?
DC: 2018 was another banner year for our global M&A, private equity and other corporate transactional practices. On the transactional side the firm handled deals of global significance: Bain Capital in its $18 billion acquisition of Toshiba’s chip business, one of the largest leveraged buyouts ever to take place in Asia, Advent International’s acquisition of a majority stake in Walmart Brazil, and the UK’s largest ever software buyout: we advised Intermediate Capital Group on its £1.3bn joint partnership investment – alongside HG Saturn Fund – into IRIS, an innovative software company.
Demand for our litigation and enforcement practice was also strong in 2018. The US government’s continued focus on pharmaceutical and life sciences enforcement is driving the need for litigation counsel that can handle complex, large-scale investigations and multidistrict litigation around the globe, and we are a go-to firm for these types of matters. Additionally, regulatory pressures drove demand for our healthcare services, and the heightened focus on workplace harassment issues and #MeToo has increased the need for labor and employment counseling.
CA: Boston is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, and more international firms are opening new offices there. What opportunities and/or challenges do you see arising from this?
DC: Ropes & Gray is a marquee name in Boston, we have over 150 years of history here. We have platinum brand recognition in Boston and are proud of that. It derives from our commitment to excellence, our integrity, and our history of engagement with our clients and community.
Boston is a highly desirable, global city, so it’s no surprise that firms are coming here. The addition of new competitors in Boston certainly keeps us on our toes; we view their presence as even more incentive to keep delivering at the high level we always maintain, both in terms of the quality of our legal services and in our commitment to uncompromising client service. The influx of new firms also gives us a great opportunity to differentiate ourselves with regard to the cross-practice, cross-office collaboration that is central to the way we work. We offer clients not only unsurpassed understanding of the local Boston market, but also access to attorneys with the specific legal knowledge and experience a client needs, whether those attorneys are in Boston, any of our other US offices, London or Asia.
CA: Do you see the firm's own footprint expanding in the near future?
DC: Obviously, we will need to continue to grow and evolve in response to the demands of our business, but we are happy with our current geographic footprint. Our culture of collaboration enables us to seamlessly bring the necessary legal knowledge and experience to clients virtually anywhere in the world.In fact, we are already regularly involved in matters in regions where we do not currently have offices, such as Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
CA: Which offices have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
DC: We will continue to grow each of our 11 offices, building on the momentum we have established over the past several years. That momentum has been especially strong in New York and Chicago where our offices have seen tremendous growth over the last few years.
CA: How do you ensure the firm maintains its distinctive culture as it grows?
DC: There are several reasons why we have been able to maintain our firm culture even as we have grown significantly. For one thing, our culture – with its strong emphasis on collegiality and collaboration, diversity, and pro bono service – is one of our widely recognized firm hallmarks. Individuals who are interested in joining us, whether as summer associates or as laterals, often cite our culture as a reason for wanting to practice here, so we tend to attract people who fit our culture. At the same time, when we make hiring decisions, we look to bring on board people we think will work well within our culture.
Another way we ensure the continuity of our firm culture is by installing firm leaders who exemplify the values of our culture. Julie Jones, who will become our new firm chair at the beginning of 2020, and David Djaha, who will become managing partner at the same time, are both strong proponents of high-level practice, and also encouraging our attorneys to apply their knowledge to solve pro bonochallenges. We call it practice with purpose and Julie and David will become the new stewards of this proud tradition.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?
DC: The environment in which lawyers practice today, and in which our clients do business, is more global and is evolving more rapidly than ever before. That combination places new demands on lawyers. We not only need to develop top-notch legal skills – we also need to combine those skills with a global perspective, and a client- and business-oriented one, to ensure that we can work seamlessly across geographies and cultures.
Lawyers also have to innovate and differentiate themselves in a very competitive market. To succeed, we need to be nimble and able to adapt to clients’ evolving needs quickly and effectively; but while there are new pressures on lawyers, there are also more opportunities. One of the biggest changes since I was an associate is that there are so many exciting career paths open to associates now, whether they take the straight path toward partnership or choose one of myriad other routes to a satisfying legal career – at a firm, in-house at an organization, in government, or wherever their skills and interests might lead.
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
DC: The dynamic global business environment to which I alluded in my prior answer makes law an extremely attractive profession today. The rapid evolution of technology creates a host of legal issues that might have been difficult to imagine only a few years ago. Just think of how quickly social media has created new issues around privacy, free speech and intellectual property rights, for example. Change of similar scope has occurred in finance, with the emergence of new financial instruments and the merging of finance and technology in areas such as digital currencies. In addition to legal issues intrinsic to the instruments and technologies themselves, these developments have spawned a range of new regulatory considerations for lawyers to address. The ongoing globalization of commerce is also continuously creating new legal issues around transactions, anti-corruption, regulatory compliance and privacy, among other areas.
All of these factors now give lawyers unprecedented opportunities to handle cutting-edge work and forge rewarding legal careers however and wherever they choose. I found law an attractive profession back in the day – I think it’s significantly more compelling today, especially at a firm like Ropes & Gray, where we combine a proud tradition of excellence with an eye on the future and the ever-evolving needs of our clients.
Ropes & Gray LLP
Prudential Tower ,
800 Boylston Street,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 5
- Partners (US): 255
- Associates (US): 936
- Main recruitment contact:
- Amy Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Peter Erichsen
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 167
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 11, 2Ls: 171, SEOs: 4
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Boston: 76; NY: 64 Chicago: 14; DC: 16; SF: 8; SV: 4
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,653
- 2Ls: $3,653
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
From the boardroom to the courtroom, Ropes & Gray represents the world’s leading companies on their most critical matters. On corporate transactional issues, the firm has been recognized as having top-ranked practices in private equity, M&A, finance, asset management, bankruptcy, healthcare, life sciences and intellectual property, among others. The firm also has been cited for its litigation experience and successful track record, including antitrust, appellate, complex business litigation, securities litigation and regulation, government enforcement and white collar criminal defense, and IP litigation.
Ropes & Gray, an international law firm with more than 1,400 attorneys and professionals in 11 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia, provides comprehensive legal services to leading businesses and individuals around the world. Clients benefit from the firm’s unwavering standards of integrity, service and responsiveness. The firm is ideally positioned to address its clients’ most pressing legal and business issues. In 2017 and 2018, lawyers, paralegals and other Ropes & Gray professionals worldwide logged about 160,000 hours assisting our pro bono clients.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
American, Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Northeastern, Northwestern, Notre Dame, NYU, Penn, Santa Clara, Stanford, Suffolk, UCLA, USC, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington University in St Louis, Yale. The firm also attends various job fairs.
Roscoe Trimmier Jr. Diversity Scholarship:
Award: This scholarship provides a $25,000* award to five outstanding second-year law students and includes a paid summer associate position following completion of the second year of law school. *payable in installments, less all required income and payroll taxes
Outstanding undergraduate and law school academic achievement; member of a historically underrepresented group in the legal profession; 2L, enrolled in an ABA-accredited law school; US citizen or authorized to work in the United States. To find out more about this scholarship, please visit: www.ropesgray.com/en/legalhiring/The- Culture/Commitment-to-Diversity/Roscoe-Trimmier-Jr-Diversity-Scholarship. Additionally, Ropes & Gray’s 1L Diversity Summer Program offers a select number of highly qualified and diverse first-year law students the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the firm’s 2019 Summer Associate Program.
Summer associate profile:
Ropes & Gray chooses summer associates based on academic performance, personal skills, motivation, work and leadership experience, practice area interests and the ability to work well in a highly collaborative environment.
Summer program components:
Our goal is to provide summer associates with a realistic sense of what it is like to work at the firm by having them work on actual client matters and by giving them opportunities to get to know our attorneys through a variety of social events, activities and lunches. Our attorneys provide meaningful and timely feedback on work assignments and offer additional perspective through an end-of-summer formal review. Summer associates also benefit from our highly regarded training program.
Recruitment website: www.ropesgray.com
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A: Private Equity (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Public Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Hedge & Mutual Funds (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Representation Recognised Practitioner
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 3)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- FCPA (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Investor Representation (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Privacy & Data Security: Healthcare Spotlight Table
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
- Securities: Regulation Recognised Practitioner
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)