Ropes & Gray LLP - The Inside View

Associates learning the ropes get just enough slack at this Boston-HQ'd go-getter.

TWO years into Ropes & Gray's five-year growth plan – which culminates in 2020 – managing partner David Chapin is sensibly “focused on executing plans” right now. Chief among them is “a real focus to beef up our New York presence and profile.” We should point out the NYC office is already pretty beefy, with over 300 lawyers. Ongoing lateral partner hires are an effort “to build historically strong areas like private equity, bankruptcy, M&A, and investment funds, as they all complement the practices we have around the world.” The firm is investing in the financial centers of London, Hong Kong and New York in particular, “the logical nexus for the financial institutions practice” and where “historic clients are clustered.”  In March 2016, the firm announced the spin-off of its IP rights management practice, headed by several Ropes partners.

Unusually at Ropes & Gray, “for the second year in a row, we didn't open any new offices,” David Chapin explains. Instead, the goal is to “make offices as integrated as we can.” Associates discerned a level-headed vibe at Ropes in general: “There's none of that craziness you expect in BigLaw,” they told us. “The energy level is never low, but the stress level is also not huge. It's far from a frantic pace: it's more respectful.” All this is achieved while winning many Chambers USA rankings, not least for investment funds, M&A, banking & finance, healthcare, IP, tax, and litigation clients.

The Work

A strong work assignment system lies in wait for arriving associates. “An ADM [associate development manager] is assigned to a practice group, and each week they assess everyone's availability thanks to an online system, and their knowledge of people's skill levels.” It's then down to the ADM to dish out the work; but as associates progress, ADMs play second fiddle to a more human approach. “It's a good hybrid. Through networking and cultivating relationships you can build the work that you want to do. But there's still the built-in level of support with ADMs. When you're unsure of your next step or are a little slow in networking, that's a perfect time to go to the ADM.”  Most junior associates are in the litigation, tax & benefits, and corporate groups. Within corporate, subgroups include private equity, investment management, and IP transactions, and people tend to specialize in one by their third year.

Corporate provides plenty of transactional work for associates, with private equity a particularly heavy presence. Juniors explained that “you will do due diligence –  that comes with the territory and it's necessary to have a solid understanding of the contracts before you take the lead on drafting anything. But our contract attorneys ensure you won't be staffed on 50 hours of DD in three days – the firm understands you won't develop that way.” Opportunities to draft ancillary documents come associates' way, along with the possibility of a project manager-esque role. “Someone explained it as being the quarter-back of the team, communicating to make sure everyone is on the same page and the process is flowing.”

“There's nothing rote about it.”

Healthcare is a more niche practice within the corporate gamut, but it's also top ranked nationally by Chambers USA. Associates spoke of “massive mergers between US healthcare companies and the regulatory red tape around doing that,” hence a blend of transactional and regulatory work here. In contrast to the more conventional corporate experience, “research is a big part. When questions come in from clients the answer often isn't clear – there's nothing rote about it. So you have to sift through a lot of information.”

Associates in litigation told us “because you're put into general litigation you get all sorts,” but “it's mainly two buckets” – business and securities, and government investigations.  These two practices make up the largest chunk of the litigation department, but some people in most offices specialize in IP litigation instead. They work on “district court cases, International Trade Commission litigation, and patents and trademarks,” focusing on two markets: electronics and life sciences.

“The thing about being a junior is that you are cheap!” chuckled one litigation associate. “It means you do everything you can possibly do. From things you would expect like doc review to what my role is now: drafting witness interviews, attending witness preparations, taking notes in interviews and meeting clients as a result.” And in between there's “legal research, of course, and drafting motions.”


We found the firm's offices to be the cause of some playful inter-office rivalry: “This office is awesome! Boston should be jealous of us,” a San Franciscan joked. A NYC associate was sure “they make an effort to have all the offices looking similar: the layout here is very like Boston.” The location, within spitting distance of the Rockefeller Center, is (as everyone knows) “a popular tourist destination so it does get pretty busy around the building at times.” Associates share an office in their first year and sometimes in the second year too, a setup greeted with split responses. “As nice as it is to learn with another person, I'd prefer my own office. It's great for the first three months, but if either of you are on a call it can be a distraction.” For fitness fanatics, “the biggest disappointment is that there's no gym!” We should point out, however, that the firm does offer reimbursement for fitness and weight loss programs, and corporate discounts at local health clubs.

Ropes HQ occupies nearly 20 floors of the “coolest building in Boston,” the Prudential Tower. Again, “you share for the first year with another associate.” Those in the smaller San Fran office usually enjoy solitude from the start. An SF native described being “right on the water with a view of the Bay and the bridge; it's basically all glass windows and we have standing desks for all on the fourth floor.” Ropes also has offices in DC, Chicago, and Silicon Valley.

“I know someone in every office.”

“The firm is always talking about us being 'one firm,'” an associate remarked, “but it does play out in the cross staffing – I know someone in every office.” Indeed, while geographically clustered offices tend to have the most frequent contact,  one associate felt it was “as easy as saying 'hey, I want to go somewhere else' for whatever reason and if it isn't problematic the firm's impetus is to say yes.” 

Culture & Get Hired

One associate made this unusual observation to make a point about Ropes's decent culture: “It's apparent to me that a lot of the people at the firm have stayed married. Normally big firms work you and work you until you burn out.” Across offices, interviewees agreed that “the partners I met interviewing were the kind of people that I felt I wanted to be.” We heard of “an unspoken 'no asshole' rule – if you want to work here don't be an asshole!” In essence, this means both a “professional” and “human culture,” in which “people might send each other flowers when someone has a baby or to thank them. I sit between two partners who are as willing to walk me through a complex question, without asking for a billing code, as they are chatting about wedding plans.” No surprise, then, that “we are looking for people we want to work with, above the obvious academics.”

“All you can ask for is the shot.”

With juniors lining up alongside some “very intellectually rigorous people,” a sense of responsibility cropped up in our interviews on more than one occasion: “It is a little daunting to know that people really do listen to you and trust you – but it's no bad thing that you are actually playing a role and not just shadowing. That gives me confidence.” As one put it: “All you can ask for is the shot.”

“I would say that people don't feel any sort of pressure to go out after work. This is not a hard-partying firm.” There are the usual “firm sponsored happy hours,” holiday parties, summer events, and “a bowling event,” the cause of “some trash-talking between offices!”

Hours & Compensation

Although there is no billable hours target, associates we spoke to believed they should aim for 1,900 hours: “A sane and reasonable goal.” Most were confident they would meet it while acknowledging “a built-in understanding that you might not meet it in your first year.” There was much talk between offices of differing working hours, primarily based on the belief that “on the East Coast more hours are spent in the office.” If any difference exists, however, it is relatively slight. Most interviewees turned up around 9am and left between 6pm and 7pm, before logging on from home. Busier times bring unavoidable post-midnight finishes, something Eastern associates seemed more used to. “Even though it's obviously a stressful time, nobody is yelling; people are just getting stuff done; everyone is still working as a team.” 

“You can follow your own unique schedule.”

“Generally people don't care where I'm working from. If I need to be at home because my fridge needs fixing, nobody minds having to email or call me.” Offsite work is made  easier still because “at your request you can get a monitor and a docking station too, so that you're connected to the Ropes network via VPN.” This means “you can follow your own unique schedule as long as you're there when all hands on deck are needed in the office.”

Diversity & Pro Bono

Ropes doesn't do badly on diversity figures – our survey for 2017 shows that 47% of associates are women, 30% are from ethnic minority groups and 5% identify as LGBT. Associates highlighted that appellate partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier argued successfully before the Supreme Court in Obergfell v. Hodges, the historic gay marriage victory. MP David Chapin believes this and other noteworthy pro bono matters “enhance the profile of the firm for taking on difficult matters, and attract a more diverse base of associates because of it.”

Diversity initiatives include “a program where people are matched up with a mentor” from their practice group, and meetings organized by both the Ropes Multicultural Group and the Women's Forum. The firm also offers a diversity scholarship, and a professional development advancement fund for diverse associates. Pro bono hours are treated the same as billable hours.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 112,039
  • Average per US attorney: 103

Training & Development

Right off the bat associates fly into an introductory training “bootcamp” in Boston. From there the training doesn't die away, as associates described a full calendar consisting of “writing workshops, presentations about notable cases and professional responsibility training.” It's nothing if not regular, and one associate told us “it's a lot to take in!” Fortunately, “there is an online database so that we can access any training materials we've missed if we're about to start work on something new.” One associate surmised that “your training is better as a result of the culture. My senior would pop into the office all the time and say  'for your own development I think you should perhaps address this point', and I knew he wasn't criticizing me.” Or as another put it “partners know you won't get everything right; they just steer you in a positive way.”

“Most people have a good run at the firm.”

Associates receive formal annual reviews plus two quarterly informal reviews and an annual professional development discussion. They are also “assigned an associate development partner. We don't get the sense that they are developing us like this just to have us leave.” Instead they felt “most people have a good run at the firm, and they're in no rush to leave.”  The GO program is an extra incentive to stay, as it offers chances to try working in a new, possibly international office either temporarily, or with the intention of a permanent move.

Strategy & Future

Interviewees were clued up on what they saw as “a big push for more of an international presence and more international interaction.” It's a part of the day-to-day work for many, chatting away to the overseas offices when needed, and it's only going to increase. To ensure associates are mindful of strategy, there's an annual “state of the firm meeting” – they can pick up on faster-moving changes like the hires in NY via “firmwide emails and a video about the new partner's practice. That's a good way of understanding the firm's general direction.” MP David Chapin believes “we're already seeing how emphasis on the globalization of our client base is providing opportunities to work on matters cross-border and with clients in other geographies.”


Interview with David Chapin, managing partner of Ropes & Gray

Chambers Associate: Could you summarize how the firm has done in the last year?

David Chapin: Let me give you a couple of cuts at that: 2016 was another exciting year. It's been a very good year on the work side, and it's been high profile work. For example, we represented Gawker in its bankruptcy, plus we helped save a $1.3 billion non-profit health care system in California, led a $14 billion Pfizer-Medivation deal, and helped a major pharmaceutical company secure a landmark settlement with the FDA.

CA: Looking over the achievements of your practices this past year, are there any you are particularly proud of?

DC: We had a number. We continue to focus on beefing up our New York presence and profile: we can’t be credible without an offering in New York.  We've had partners and counsel coming from top-tier peer firms like Weil Gotshal, Fried Frank and Wachtell, and a policy committee member— who is also one of the top white-collar lawyers— moved to New York, so we've seen strengthening across a number of different areas.

We are trying to build in areas we are historically strong in— private equity, bankruptcy, M&A and investment funds— as they all complement the practices we have around the world. We're trying to focus on things we think we do well and invest behind those.

I think we see that a significant part of our client base is comprised of sophisticated investors. If you think about it, the access is financial centres: New York, London, Hong Kong. That's where the historic clients are clustered.

CA: How is the firm doing on its 2020 strategic plan?

DC: It's going very well. We have a lot of enthusiasm for the strategy developed by partners. After two years, we have institutionalized a number of our initiatives and executed on many of our tactics. 

One piece of that strategy looked at our geographical imprint regarding finance centers, as I just touched on, and it’s one of the ways our strategy is reflected in the market. Again, we've been focused on tying Hong Kong, London and New York together, as it really is the logical nexus for financial institutions. A part of our strategy is on efforts to drive the number of matters with all three offices working on them and making sure we have the offices as integrated as we can.

I won't say we won’t make any changes to our 2020 strategy, but for now it is the right strategy for Ropes & Gray, and we are focused on the execution of it.

CA: With your commitment to the firm being truly global, does that change what is expected of associates? Does it change firm's approach to developing them?

DC: Well, I think it's an interesting question. It changes the opportunities. We're already seeing how the emphasis on the globalisation of our client base is providing opportunities to work on matters across borders and with clients in other geographies. We continue to emphasize it through a program for associates: the GO Program, where we offer associates the opportunity to work temporarily or more permanently in different offices. We had a tremendous response to that, with nearly 40 associates spending time in other offices last year.

CA: Do you think that pro bono – such as the kind you have pursued this year with the marriage equality case which went to the Supreme Court – can be an aid in increasing diversity in law firms?

DC: I think there is an effect. It's probably hard to trace exactly, but there were a number of pro bono matters which were significant. We had a major case in New York on behalf of inmates at Rikers Island which resulted in reform of the prison system. Our Boston attorneys won a motion for a new trial for a man wrongfully imprisoned for 30 years. The case concerned DNA analysis and created a roadmap for similar cases.  The firm also continues to champion LGBTQ rights.  Late last year, we launched a program to provide legal guidance and assistance to help transgender people complete legal name changes and update identity documentation.  All these wins, and lots of others, enhance the profile of the firm for taking on difficult matters, and attract a more diverse base of associates because of it.

Separately, on diversity initiatives we score relatively well, but we're not satisfied. This law firm falls down along with the rest of the profession.

CA: Where do you think the room for improvement in the system currently lies, with regards to diversity?

DC: I think our focus is on two things: expanding our hiring efforts, and getting people to join in the first place; but more important is paying attention to training and mentorship and retention. We need to be making sure we double down on the students who join us, to ensure they get every opportunity to succeed in ways that lead to fulfilling careers. A lot of firms are too focused on hiring, and miss the step of mentoring and training.

Interview with Ropes & Gray's former hiring partner Richard Batchelder

Chambers Associate: What's the scope of your recruitment drive?

Richard Batchelder: We do entry-level hiring at each of our six U.S. offices, and we go to around 30 different law schools doing OCI. From those schools, we invite a certain number for callback interviews. Then we go to the offer stage, and we fill our summer classes based on candidates at those schools.

What's interesting is that, unlike a lot of firms, when we go on campus, our interviewee is interviewing for any of our six offices. We could have someone from Stanford interested in our New York office – it doesn't matter. We go on campus looking for the best students for Ropes & Gray and discuss which offices would be best. We have candidates who look at multiple offices.

CA: Do you have to make an effort to seek out people with preference for Ropes, or is it not an issue?

RB: We see a lot of interested students; the real question is how interested they really are. Many haven't had much exposure to law firms and are basing their decision on reputation, and rankings and guides like yours. Once we know them better, and they know us, they can narrow down their list of firms to think about. Students may start out seeing 15 or so firms on campus and may get multiple callbacks. It's a weeding-out process.

But we do track our withdrawal rate: from the time you see them on campus, are they proceeding to callback? We actually have a low withdrawal rate. With only so many bids at their disposal, the students who bid on joining Ropes & Gray are also taking into account our interest in them, which we try to show as transparently as possible. We want them to know where they stand with us.

CA: Does the recent focus on New York mean an increased amount of juniors will be hired there?

RB: Yes, we continue to grow our New York office – soon we're going to have our largest number of attorneys in New York. There is tremendous enthusiasm for the New York office, and we were able to increase its size with some terrific students. The challenge you would have is that law school isn't getting bigger. If you get bigger in a certain geography, you have to attract students away from the top firms. New York is far and away the most popular destination for students.

We have people who are very interested in all of our offices, though. Our largest office is Boston, so we have a lot of people who want to come to Boston. One of the things that differentiates Ropes & Gray from other firms is that students have more mobility. If they start in one office and want to move, we permit that and encourage it. They have more flexibility and optionality. Take astudent who is torn between two locations. We can say, “You don't have to fret - start in one, but if you want to move, that can happen.” We're talking about students in their mid-twenties. They are not as tied geographically. This generation is much more mobile, and is more willing to look at other areas whether they are from there or not.

CA: How would you assess the firm's performance on diversity in its last round of hiring? Where does the firm fall down on diversity?

RB: We did well, because it’s simply the right thing to do. We are having record numbers of diverse candidates interested in us, and having record numbers accept offers. Last summer we had 28 students who are Asian or Hispanic in our program. We do extremely well with openly gay students - I think we had 14 in our last summer program. We’re certainly proud to be a leader in diversity and inclusion, but we know there’s much more work to be done to make sure we’re attracting, retaining and promoting the brightest diverse associates.

CA: Associates involved in hiring talked about 'getting to know' candidates – what exactly is it you're looking for in doing that?

RB: Well, I think we have a more thorough or in-depth evaluation process than most firms. We're looking long term, so we want to make as thoughtful a decision as possible. We will be investing in them with the expectation that they will be at the firm for a long time. Each candidate sees six or seven people in the interviews. We do a lot of interviewing training with those involved in interviewing, so that they're aware of what we are looking for.

We focus on four categories and evaluate on those: drive, problem solving, interpersonal skills, and culture and collegiality. And each of those is important. Our culture is one of our hallmarks, so we look very closely at whether they will be a good team player, whether they value collegiality, whether they value diversity. With regard to interpersonal skills, we look at how they will get along with others and with clients, particularly given the range of backgrounds we see from our candidates. We love to have a diverse class in every sense of the word, but everyone must have an appreciation of, and a dedication to, working well with others on a team in a diverse and inclusive environment.

CA: What are the kind of extracurricular activities which you think make people stand out on their resume?

RB: Well, anything exhibiting leadership skills or teamwork – we see a lot of varsity athletes and student body presidents. We see a lot of students who have done Teach for America, a terrific program. Almost three quarters of our last class have work experience between college and law school, but as for college, we like someone who also was involved in significant extracurricular activities. We look for depth rather than breadth.

CA: Can you very briefly outline your summer program?

RB: Our summer program is great. It’s 10 weeks long, and summer associates are assigned two coordinating lawyers – typically one partner and one senior associate with whom they work closely but not exclusively on a diverse array of client work from around the world. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get immersed in our practice areas and learn more about the firm’s clients. Summer associates have the luxury of knowing virtually everyone they will be working with here after graduation because of our collaborative working environment, so we can really welcome them as a future lawyer from day one. We make available many opportunities over the course of the summer that are consistent with the experiences they will have as an associate at the firm, including our first-rate training programs. There are obviously a lot of fun social events along the way too, including cooking classes, baseball games, and dinners at partners’ homes. These events provide an opportunity for our summer associates to not only bond and get to know our lawyers at the firm and build close working relationships with them.

CA: Do you take the view that the hiring process is to some degree about you selling the firm to the candidate?

RB: Absolutely. It's a very competitive landscape for top law students, and they have multiple offers. For us to be successful, we have to differentiate ourselves. The chief way we do that is by talking about the opportunities to do the very best legal work in an environment that is known for collegiality, collaboration and teamwork, and diversity and inclusion. This is a firm where they can make a home, feel comfortable, learn a tremendous amount and develop their skills to be a terrific lawyer.

We also want candidates to know that we have a strategy and vision for how our firm will succeed in the market. They can feel confident that they are talking to a firm that understands the legal industry, knows what it takes to succeed in this environment, and is taking the necessary steps to ensure a bright future for its lawyers and staff.

People should know it is a place to get great work from day one so that they can show what they can do and have the opportunity for a long-term career, whether the ultimate goal is to make partner or to follow another path to advance within the firm.



Ropes & Gray LLP

Prudential Tower ,
800 Boylston Street,
MA 02199-3600

  • Head Office: Boston, MA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 6
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Partners (US): 253
  • Associates (US): 779
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: N/A
  • 2Ls: $3,500/week
  • 1Ls hired? N/A
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
  • Summers 2017: 145
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 144 offers, 137 acceptances 

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, investment 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, IP litigation and privacy and data security.

Firm profile
Ropes & Gray, an international law firm with more than 1,000 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 2016, 1,566 lawyers, paralegals and other Ropes & Gray professionals worldwide logged 134,258 hours toward assisting our pro bono clients. In the US alone, over 850 of our attorneys dedicated 20 or more hours to pro bono legal service.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 126
• Number of 2nd year associates: 1112
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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, Texas, UC Davis, UCLA, USC, UVA, Vanderbilt,Washington University in St Louis, Yale

Summer details
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, which provides both practice-specific and general soft-skills training designed to support summer associates’ professional growth and development.