This firm's story over the past few years is one of mergers, both at home and abroad.
IN early 2017, Silicon Valley IP boutique Fernando & Partners joined Squire Patton Boggs in Palo Alto. The year before, a 50-attorney Californian litigation firm came under the SPB banner. The biggest recent merger, of course, was 2014's union of Cleveland-based global giant Squire Sanders with DC's smaller but still pretty big Patton Boggs, known in particular for its Capitol Hill connections. A few years earlier, in 2011, Squire Sanders had merged with top UK outfit Hammonds, adding around 500 lawyers in England, Europe and Asia.
All this begs the question: what might the firm's history of mergers and rapid growth do to its culture? “That's a very fair question,” global managing partner Fred Nance replies, “and I will suggest that that's one reason I am in the job – I have been here for 38 years!” A strong, unified culture is “critical to expansion,” he says. “One of my responsibilities is to facilitate the basic firm culture remaining a part of our operations globally, to reinforce the glue that binds us. If you prioritize the right firm culture, good things including financial success will follow.”
At the time of writing, Squire Patton Boggs has 17 offices in the US and 29 overseas. Most lawyers are based in Ohio and DC, followed by California, New York, Florida and Arizona. “Our culture is that we are a one-firm firm,” Fred Nance adds. “Despite us being around the world, with 1,500-plus lawyers in 46 offices across 21 countries, every lawyer in every office has the same responsibility to the firm and to her or his colleagues throughout the world as though they were in an office down the hall.”
At the time of our calls, litigation had the greatest concentration of juniors, with the rest spread across practices including corporate, public policy, IP, and environment. As an associate in litigation “you are a utility infielder who plays wherever you are needed.” That means dabbling in a range of matters including large commercial contract disputes, white collar investigations, and bankruptcy. “The ethos is that you explore and find the type of law you enjoy working in.” Public policy juniors, who all reside in DC, are assigned to sub-groups including: international; transportation; healthcare; Florida & Latin America; and infrastructure & local government. Their role involves regularly climbing “Capitol Hill, either presenting an issue on developments happening in the marketplace or for a policy summary meeting.”
“You are a utility infielder who plays wherever you are needed.”
Generally, the firm “gives a lot of responsibility, and a lot of freedom to make your own way.” As one junior put it, “for good and ill, I was surprised with the degree of autonomy I often get.” Being given weighty tasks like “a complicated motion to draft” was “good for morale; it made me feel like part of the team, and that I was contributing meaningfully.” Another told us: “I like it a lot, but it's challenging and that does make it stressful. I don't like the stress but if you remove the challenge, it's not as fulfilling as a job.” Typical associate tasks across groups included drafting discovery requests, writing memos, plenty of legal research, doc review and, in corporate, some due diligence.
Work is allocated to juniors on an informal basis: “Partners and associates will just ask me if I have time to help with something,” or often “you have to go partner-to-partner saying I'm in need of work – do you have something for me?” Work often follows on organically from previous matters. “Nothing is really formalized, there's not an assignment board or a faceless entity processing requests and sending them to me.” Some groups, however, like corporate and private investment funds, require associates to provide a weekly summary on their availability.
Interviewees were widely distributed: Columbus, DC and Cleveland had around five apiece; Cincinnati, Dallas, LA, and Phoenix each had a few, and the remainder populated San Francisco, Miami, West Palm Beach, Northern Virginia and Denver in ones and twos. Associates recalled many occasions where they'd taken advantage of the firm's huge office network, for example calling someone to ask for specialist advice. In public policy there are “two-weekly calls with folks from all over the world, with partners from London, Brussels and all over the US. It's awesome to be part of such a global firm.” In big groups like litigation, “there's a general pool of work if you are light on stuff: that can be from many other offices.”
In past years, associates have spoken to us about culture in relation to the 2014 merger of Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs. But for this year's bunch, “as far as I'm concerned, the firm is fully integrated now.” It's “a really relaxed environment,” they agreed. “It can be stressful, but I don't have to deal with rude people.” With all the necessary integration, we were unsurprised to hear that “it's very collaborative, it's very easy to talk to people.” That extended to “both associates and partners among themselves, but also betwixt the two.”
“The firm is fully integrated now.”
This communication encourages “a lot of movement, a lot of cooperation and working across offices. People reach out in broad emails: 'Who knows the language? Who has experience on this?' It goes back to the culture we have where we all work together. That's important in hiring – it's great if you're intelligent, but if you don't play well it's a non-starter.” Another junior speculated: “I don't think we have the law school gunner type of person. People are very smart, but also kind of quirky. Everyone is allowed to be themselves.”
Lawyers are given similar wiggle room when it comes to socializing. One associate felt that at other firms “there can be a pressure to socialize feverishly and it's seen as a mark of weakness not to go out partying on Wednesday. But here, there is a perfect mix of sociability, drinking and going out for lunch or dinner. It's a Midwestern firm and people have families or other responsibilities – they work together in an agreeable fashion.”
Training & Development
Most training at SPB tends to be “on the job. Walk and talk about it as you're doing it. There's some sense of: 'you take a stab and we'll see how you come out, and if you have any questions now or going forward we'll address them.'” This was viewed positively by most: “The legal training is not properly characterized by sitting in an armchair and watching. Instead it's: go in, try it and they tell you how to do it better.” Still, the firm offers “basic training, on how the phones work and how to save a file,” and “normal CLE training” comes in “monthly or bi-monthly sessions in the office.” It's up to associates to decide how much they need. One associate's final word on the issue was that “given the cooperative atmosphere and willingness of partners and associates to see you learn and develop as a lawyer, I've never felt I didn't have the training to do what was asked of me.”
“You take a stab and we'll see how you come out.”
The extent to which pro bono figured in associates' experience varied wildly. We came across those who had knuckled down on plenty, those who were striving to get hold of something, and those who were blissfully removed from it. It is, associates told us, highly dependent upon the partners in their office. There are “no standing opportunities. I found a matter I felt was important and so I do that every few weeks. It's nice to design your own opportunities, but there is not a strong emphasis on doing it.” That said, the firm does allow 100 hours of pro bono to count toward associates' billing target and there were many who had been heavily involved, even exceeding those 100 hours.
One Columbus associate described “a partner who is passionate about Legal Aid, so we have a great network. He gets cases and forwards them on to associates.” Another was “grateful for the opportunity to be in court, to go to hearings, to file motions – you can strategize and I learned a ton about litigation in general. I was able to be the face of what I was doing.” In Cleveland, some had worked on Obama's prisoner clemency program.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 18,825
- Average per US attorney: 27
Hours & Compensation
Newbies are eased into the firm with a billing target of 1,900 hours, increasing to 1,950 from the second year onward. This was no sweat for those who achieved it “very easily. I surpassed that very quickly.” A picture emerged of a firm where “you should be in the office from 9am to 6pm, but outside of those hours partners have said 'I don't care where you're doing your work as long as it is done.' I regularly work until 11 at night but I can work from home – I can leave at six and work at home all night. It doesn't feel that onerous.” High pressure work and long hours mean life's not always a beach, but associates could take vacation providing they “give enough of a heads up.”
“I regularly work until 11 at night but I can work from home.”
Bonuses are dished out via a merit-based system, which takes into account billable hours, pro bono, firm citizenship and business development. “It is unclear,” said one associate. “It's not lockstep and you're not given a structure in advance to help you. There's no way of knowing and it's a bit black box, so people don't rely on it as they don't know.” This was one example of a few associate complaints about “clarity.” In addition to compensation-related career progression, some were unsure about how to best manage their workload.
Associates' assessments of diversity varied by office. “Certainly it is diverse in terms of gender, but in terms of race, at least in my smaller office it's not all that diverse. I do know that there are affinity groups and I know that we participated in a day of silence for the LGBT community.” The problem for this associate “is that it is a large city but it's not New York, DC, LA, or San Fran.” We noticed those at Midwestern offices were more critical than those in DC, telling us “they could do a lot better.” Taken as a whole, the firm's stats are fairly average, with 21.2% female partners and 20.6% diverse associates, but most believed “they are trying, though something isn't working.” Associates could recall a number of diversity initiatives: in Phoenix, for example, “a local law student comes and sits in the office and gets substantive writing projects to develop their skills.” Likewise there's “a women's group that meets once a month” where lawyers “try to get together for lunch and just see where people are at, and that they are getting opportunities.”
Strategy & Future
With Squire Patton Boggs putting pen to paper on another merger this past year, albeit a small one, it's clear the firm remains on the look-out for growth opportunities. Meanwhile the acquisition of Fernando & Partners forms part of a recent attempt to strengthen the IP practice, which has also seen the hiring of partners in Germany. One associate gave us their thoughts on why a strategy of mergers works for the firm: “They pick people that complement what we have, or help if we're lacking capabilities. They don't try and jam the puzzle pieces together: they look for a good fit on personality and capability. I don't know if every transition is seamless but I feel good about them and the people that matter do too.”
In one associate's opinion, Squire lawyers could be marked out as “weird – in a good way.” More testimony gave us the impression that the firm looks for something little different. Recollecting their experience of recruitment one source told us: “I do remember that people who got interviews here were not the predictable people, and that is the same every year. They look for qualities that maybe other firms don't look for. The people who interview are so random that there's no way to pinpoint it, but I have friends who got offers everywhere but Squire.” To give us a little indication, one ventured that the firm “hires people who are smart, pretty relaxed and personable, but they've all done great things. They are picky.” Associates felt it necessary to show “willingness to learn, to put in the time.”
As for the interviews, their structure was “pretty normal. It's a half day where you meet with five or six different partners and have lunch with a couple of associates.” For one source, “something that struck me about the interviewing process was the degree of close questioning about my person, not just about my academic accomplishment, though that was certainly a focus and to be sure a pre-requisite, but once the bonafides were established, Squire took more of an interest in who I was and how I worked and how I didn't work. Also what I did in my time off.”
Interview with Aneca Lasley, firmwide hiring chair
What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?
In terms of law schools, we focus on the top national law schools, which include schools where our offices have very strong relationships. We also focus on schools that we have a strong relationship with because of our geographical location. The final driver for us is diversity in that we also look to schools that help advance our diversity and inclusion goals.
Are each of your offices in charge of their own recruiting?
It's a collaborative process. Each office works with the firm's leadership group to identify what the projected needs are and whether, based on those needs, it makes sense for that office to participate in the summer program. The decision is driven by our projected business needs.
Each office has a hiring partner. We try to have a hiring partner visit the campus that is within that office’s geographical region. However, if we have a lawyer with a strong alumni tie, we may have him or her conduct interviews.
What's involved in the callback interviews?
We put together either a half or a full day of interviews, and we typically try to include a number of lawyers from the local hiring committee. In addition to the hiring partner, each office has a committee comprised of lawyers who are well versed in the qualities of the candidates we are interested in as a firm. As part of our interview schedule for a call back, we strive to have the candidate meet with a diverse range of lawyers. For example, if a candidate has expressed an interest in a certain practice area, we make sure he or she meets with a lawyer in that area to get a better feel of what the laywer does day in and day out. It also enables the lawyer to evaluate the extent to which the candidate is a long-term hire.
It's also important for the candidate to meet with lawyers who have been through the summer program, to see how it prepares them for life as an associate and how the work they do in the summer compares to that of a first year associate.
What makes someone stand out at interview? What extra-curricular activities tend to impress you?
You start with a baseline of strong academic performance. Candidates don't need a business background, but we look for people who understand the business of law firms and our clients.
We look for individuals who demonstrate the ability to handle a number of demands without it affecting their work. For example, someone who has maintained a high GPA at the same time as they were working or participating in sports at a competitive level or were heavily involved in volunteering. We also look for indicators of good team players. We are most successful when we share information and collaborate across teams, so we want to make sure that any individual we add to team has the same mindset.
We want candidates to conduct themselves in a professional manner. One question you ask is: would I be comfortable putting them in front of a client? We also want to see someone who demonstrates an understanding of the firm and how this firm is uniquely positioned to help them develop and achieve their career objectives.
What advice would you give to prepare for the interview?
I encourage candidates to take the time to really understand the opportunities that exist for someone with a JD degree. Take the time to reflect on what it is you want to do as a lawyer. Given how expensive law school is, it's easy to be drawn into a job that pays the most money, but if that is your primary focus, you are being too short sighted. Once you have put in the time to identify what it is you really want to do, spend the time getting to know the firm, getting to know what it is that the firm does with regard to your practice areas of interest.
Try to understand how it is that this firm is unique in comparison to other firms in the market. It's not that I expect candidates to have the answers to all these questions, but I expect them to be able to ask their own thoughtful questions.
What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
We do a number of things, including participate in diversity programs through law schools, local bar associations and national organizations. We also sponsor events at law schools around the country.
A couple of examples would be the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), which is a diversity program designed to strengthen the legal pipeline by expanding the opportunities for first-year students. A number of local bar associations run minority clerkship programs and we participate in several of those programs. There is also an informal aspect to our diversity recruitment efforts within the law schools in that we meet with their diversity law student organizations and sponsor their local events.
This is an area that I think is going to require a continued investment before we see the kind of returns we are seeking. What we are finding is that recruitment of diverse law students is not only a struggle for law firms, but also for law schools. That results in a smaller a pipeline of candidates and a competitive market for diverse talent. However, the investment we are making in this area is critically important.
Interview with Fred Nance, global managing partner
Another year, and another firm has come onboard – what were your reasons behind merging with Fernando & Partners?
Our US IP practices are centered on the coasts – in North Virginia and Palo Alto. The fact we have both is indicative of fact that you need to be in Palo Alto and be able to work for some of Silicon Valley's best known companies. Ron Fernando and other members of his practice joined in order to help enhance the focus we have on providing for top tier clients globally.
IP rights are respected at different levels in different parts of the world. As companies attempt to pursue opportunities they will ask for the equivalent of an IP audit: 'If I go into China, what is the likelihood I can protect my IP?' Since there's so much interest in business in China that has been an important priority for clients and adding the Fernando Group has been a boon to that practice.
You've also had a fair number of other significant lateral hires already in 2017 – would you talk us through the data privacy and cyber-security hires in DC? Is that an area you are targeting?
The importance of those practices is picking up dramatically. Given the fact that the risks are increasing, that those taking advantage are more sophisticated and aggressive, it will become more important to help entities take appropriate steps. That will involve working hand in glove with those entities to provide the technology, but also to position clients so that they can defend what they have done if there is a breach or problem. It's changing fast and we expect its importance to pick up due to the global emphasis on it and the increasing stakes of making a mistake in this area.
What’s your current strategy?
The global economy and the legal profession are in a state of continuous evolution. It's key for large firms like us to identify what the trends are and to position yourself to be of assistance to clients. Regardless of some of the political winds which are blowing, globalization is inevitable; the rate of innovation and change in technology is inescapable. We must work at the local level while facilitating the service of needs by having global resources. The classic case is our public policy work. Given the uncertainty of the US presidential administration, the combination we made with Patton Boggs was very timely. Our clients are very interested in advice regarding what will come out of Washington. We now now not only work on public policy in the US, but successfully launched a European public policy practice in Brussels. We are now combining the platforms of Patton Boggs and global Squire Sanders.
Both global compliance and our investigatory practice have really gotten hot. As the world becomes a smaller place, it becomes more important to take our experience from one part of the world and share it in another. As more companies want to do business in other parts of the world, planning on compliance obligations becomes a critical part of the decision. The same is true of M&A. An opportunity may make sense from a business standpoint but unless there is an evaluation of the regulatory or compliance they may be inappropriately evaluating the opportunity. This also applies to our international dispute practice. The platform and profile that has come from Patton Boggs has caused IDR to take off in recent years.
Do you worry that the mergers and rapid growth of the firm over the past few years might have negative effects, especially on a sense of firm unity and identity?
That's a very fair question and I will suggest that that's one reason I am in the job – I have been here for 38 years! Having the firm culture continue to be the dominant driver of behavior is critical to expansion. It's a trade off: expansion brings mergers with firms, bringing in laterals, bringing together people who did not come up in the same culture. One of my responsibilities is to have the basic firm culture be a part of our operations globally, to be the glue that binds us. If individual interests trump culture it can get you into trouble. If you maintain your culture, financial success flows from it.
Our culture is that we are a one-firm firm. Despite us being around the world, with 1,500 plus lawyers in 46 offices across 21 countries, every lawyer in every office has the same responsibility to the firm and to their colleagues throughout the world as though they were in an office down the hall. If I get a call from Tokyo wit is as much my responsibility to make sure their needs are served as it is with a colleague down the hall. We don't believe in the profit-sector model. We have an integrated business model so that the success of my colleagues in Tokyo is as important to my success in Ohio. The institution comes before any individual, practice, or geographic interest. As a result we can weather challenging times. We have a legacy of partners voting against economic short term interests because they believe in our mission and the integrity of leadership.
Do you have any advice you want to give to students thinking about getting into the legal profession?
Our profession, our industry is clearly morphing. It's not only dramatically different from 30 years ago, but from one or two years ago. That pace of change is only going to continue. The driving forces of innovation and globalization means that the law firm of ten years from now will be different. So being flexible, having the ability to skate to where the puck is going to be, is very important. Within the firm itself there are three keys to being successful. One: dedicate yourself to providing unrelenting quality in the work you do, whether you think anyone is paying attention or not. Two: we are a business so we need a certain quantity of high quality work to contribute to the success of the enterprise. Three: students should realize that to move up the ladder they need to have a strong interpersonal skillset. They need the ability to relate well to other people, to inspire confidence, to be cool under fire. The notion that you need a high level of emotional intelligence will become more critical to success in a new world of innovation and change.
Squire Patton Boggs
4900 Key Tower,
127 Public Square,
- Founding Office: Cleveland, OH
- Number of domestic offices: 16
- Number of international offices: 30
- Worldwide revenue: $929,100,000
- Partners (US): 272
- Associates (US): 232
- Other Attorneys (US): 167
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
- Summers 2016: 30
- Offers/acceptances 2015:
- 1Ls 4 offers, 3 acceptances
- 2Ls 14 offers, 9 acceptances, 1 judicial clerkship
Main areas of work
Aerospace, defense and government services; automotive; aviation; brands and consumer products; business immigration; chemicals; communications; competition – antitrust; construction and engineering; corporate; data privacy and cybersecurity; energy and natural resources; environmental, safety and health; financial services; government investigations and white collar; healthcare; hospitality and leisure; industrial products; infrastructure; instituational investors; intellectual property and technology; international dispute resolution; international trade; labor and employment; Latin America; life sciences; litigation; media and advertising; pensions; private investment funds; public and infrastructure finance; public policy; real estate; restructuring and insolvency; retail; sports and entertainment; tax credit finance and community development; tax strategy and benefits; transportation, shipping and logistics.
Squire Patton Boggs offers the opportunity to join one of the strongest, most geographically diverse law firms in the world. With 46 offices in 21 countries, our global legal practice is in the markets where our clients do business. We have a team of more than 1,500 lawyers. Our client base spans every type of business, both private and public. We advise a diverse mix of clients, from Fortune 100 and FTSE 100 corporations to emerging companies and from individuals to local and national governments.
• Number of 1st year associates: 15
• Number of 2nd year associates: 14
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
American, Arizona, ASU, Case, Cincinnati, Cleveland – Marshall, Colorado, CUA, Denver, George Mason, Georgetown, GW Law, Harvard, Howard, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, UNC, UVA
Summer associate profile:
Squire Patton Boggs is looking for summer associates with outstanding academic credentials, excellent communication skills, common sense, creativity, a strong work ethic and an ability to cultivate long-term relationships with our clients and colleagues.
Summer program components:
A range of valuable experiences is structured around our three global messages:
Commercial: You will be given the opportunity to work side by side with our partners, attending depositions, hearings, deal negotiations and trials. In addition, you will cover legal writing and research, public speaking, negotiation and advocacy techniques.
Connected: You will be encouraged to attend practice group meetings and associate training programs to build your network of contacts within the business.
Committed: To get real value out of your program you will enjoy a collegial atmosphere with the support of a mentor for the duration of your summer with us.