Thompson & Knight LLP - The Inside View

Associates pick Thompson & Knight for its strong reputation in Texas, its oil and gas work and “the fact you get hands-on experience as it's a smaller firm.”

“ONE thing that really jumped out at me when I interviewed at Thompson & Knight was the shocking number of attorneys who had worked here all their lives!”  exclaimed one associate. “That attracted me as someone who values stability.” The firm is certainly stable: it was founded 130 years ago in Dallas by Bill Thompson and Bob Knight, two of the first law graduates of the University of Texas. In its history the firm was instrumental in the incorporation of Texas Instruments and the first so-called 'ABC Transaction' in the oil and gas sector.

Oil still runs through the firm's veins today and T&K is recognized by Chambers USA as one of the top firms in the nation for oil and gas work. In Texas too, Chambers rates T&K highly for its energy and environment work and grants it a top-tier ranking for real estate, plus recognition for its litigation, corporate, finance, tax and IP practices (among others).

The Work



At the time of research, 25 of the 40 junior associates on our interviewee list were based in Dallas, ten were in Houston, with one each in New York and Austin. Eight were based in the corporate & securities section ('section' is the firm's name for practice group), seven in trial, six in real estate & banking and three or four in each of the tax, bankruptcy, IP and oil & gas sections. The trial section has a coordinator who oversees associate workload, but in all sections work assignment is mostly informal. “I get assigned work when partners come by my office, email me or call to ask if I'm free. I don't really need to actively seek out work.”

The 60-lawyer corporate group does a lot of work for the oil and gas industry, although there is also a separate oil & gas section that focuses mainly on asset deals. Clients also come from the banking and finance, telecommunications, retail, transportation and healthcare sectors – they include energy explorer Warren Resources, investor EnCap, bedding manufacturer Tempur Sealy, and 7-Eleven. Private equity is also a significant focus. An associate told us: “You can expect to be in charge of the wealth of documents related to a large transaction: making sure they are updated, that specialists are reviewing certain sections, and that documents are executed correctly. But there are also smaller transactions on which I work with just a partner. Then I undertake tasks like drafting and thinking through the documents strategically.”

The oil & gas section deals with oil and gas asset deals – the buying and selling of oil fields – and operational matters. Clients include energy giants BHP Billiton and Petrobras as well as banks. The low oil price means work's been a little slow recently in this section – “when the price of oil was higher there was a lot more work.” Still, we heard that in the last few months of 2016 activity levels started to pick up again and juniors remain active. One told us: “I work on mortgage agreements and deal with the due diligence related to purchase and sales agreements.”

“Despite the regional feel of the firm, we actually work on a lot of interesting cases across the country and around the world.”

The work of the trial group, with around 100 lawyers, covers oil and gas, healthcare, white collar crime, general commercial and antitrust. Clients include the Mark Cuban Companies, Indian steel manufacturer JSW, and oil and gas investor Double Eagle. The team deals with cases worth a couple of million dollars, and sometimes with bigger ones. “Despite the regional feel of the firm, we actually work on a lot of interesting cases across the country and around the world,” an interviewee reported. Juniors do research into black-letter law as well as “drafting motions for summary judgment and documents in support of motions to dismiss.” One source said they had “managed a small breach of contract claim alone” and we heard that some juniors even take depositions.

The firm's real estate clients are chiefly banks and other lenders and include Wells Fargo, Barclays Capital and Dunhill Partners. A real estate associate reported: “I do a lot of title survey work and review operating agreements and commercial leases. I have direct contact with clients if they have a question about anything. I also draft loan documents and deal with post-closure tasks.”

Training & Development



To help new associates understand the complexities of their work, T&K has an extensive program of CLEs and trainings: general ones on business development and legal writing and practice-specific ones on M&A, mezzanine finance and real estate. For litigators there's also the annual Trial Academy: “We reenact a full jury trial at the George Allen Courts Building in Dallas and the associates go up against each other with a partner acting as judge.” Newcomers are also formally assigned associate and partner mentors – “there's a big group of people I can reach out to for advice” – and associates have yearly formal reviews and more relaxed midyear appraisals.

“Support from partners and other associates is always there.”

Day to day, “support from partners and other associates is always there,” said one source. “If I'm given an assignment I haven't done before they tell me to come and ask if I have any questions.” One source reported getting “amazing feedback, especially during the editing process of documents I've drafted,” while another said: “There is not a lot of hand-holding, but there is follow-up to tell you why a certain decision was made about changes made to something you drafted.”

Culture & Offices



Along with this supportive training, juniors told us that “colleagues generally care about how your weekend was and how you are doing in life,” with one source saying, “I feel comfortable joking with the partners – I go for lunch and dinner with them.” Further evidence of the attention paid to young lawyers is the new all-associate retreat organized for the first time in 2016; it included team bonding activities and a talk from managing partner Mark Sloan on firm strategy. There's also an annual client appreciation holiday party as well as section-by-section social events and occasional happy hours. Rather sweetly, the Houston office hosted a Hallowe'en party for the children of attorneys and staff.

Family is a focus for many at T&K – “it's sociable here, but not in an over-the-top way. People come here to work and then go home to family.” A Dallas source told us: “We have TV screens around the office showing firm news and when someone has a baby or gets married a message goes up congratulating them.” But not everything is family-oriented – “some people here are parents and some colleagues don't have children and I go for drinks and dinners with both.” We heard that there's a good vibe during office hours too – “I joke that every hour someone will casually pop by my office just to see how I'm doing.” 

Dallas is the firm's headquarters and the largest office with around 150 attorneys. In Texas, a further 65 lawyers are in Houston, 20 in Austin and ten in Fort Worth. In mid-2017 the firm is moving from its current “dated” offices in Houston to an office nearer the center of downtown. “It looks very nice based on the sketches – we're basically designing it ourselves in a very modern way.”

“The partners stay in touch with the associates to make sure everyone has enough hours but is not overwhelmed.”

Hours & Pro Bono



In order to be eligible for a discretionary bonus and advance to the next pay scale, first-years need to bill 1,900 hours (2,000 after the first year) including pro bono. They also need to rack up a further 200 hours of 'firm investment' time – “that seems like a lot at first, but it's a ludicrously easy target to hit and can include lunchtime CLEs, summer associate activities, lunch with clients, reading legal articles and so on.” Overall, said one associate, “I have had zero trouble reaching the billing target.”

“We work hard here,” a junior told us, “but the partners stay in touch with the associates to make sure everyone has enough hours but is not overwhelmed.” Juniors usually start work at 8.30/9am and leave anywhere from 6pm to 7.30pm on a regular day, though “if I'm busy I'll be here until 10pm,” one said. Some like to work from home in the evenings, and “when we have a client emergency you have to work on the weekend – that's what we're paid for.” And that pay just got better – T&K recently followed the market and increased associate salaries, with first-years now getting $180,000.

“When we have a client emergency you have to work on the weekend – that's what we're paid for.”

T&K awards up to 50 hours of pro bono toward the billable hours requirement, although associates can “send a request asking for additional hours to be counted, which is usually approved.” Some juniors do as many as 150 to 200 hours; some do fewer. Associates work on probate, divorce, bankruptcy and corporate pro bono matters. The firm also works with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program and Habitat for Humanity, among other organizations.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 3,254
  • Average per US attorney: 27

Community Involvement & Diversity



Community involvement is something the firm seeks to promote beyond its pro bono commitments too. “We have identified various civic initiatives which partners and associates can get involved in. For example volunteering for various charitable organizations,” says managing partner Mark Sloan.

The firm's Women's Initiative also “does events for charity. For instance, before the holidays we stuffed stockings to give to homeless children.” Overall some associates said the firm “does what it can” when it comes to diversity, while others felt “more could be done.” Sources agreed that “I think we're getting better – T&K used to be seen as a conservative old-school firm and unfairly still perhaps has that reputation.” At the time of our research around half of juniors were women and a significant proportion were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Our new managing partner is aiming for us to be a 'super-regional' firm.”

Strategy & Future



T&K's strategy for the future is also focused on local links. One associate told us: “Our new managing partner is aiming for us to be a 'super-regional' firm – our roots are in Texas and that is our home, but we want to have a strong national presence too.” Mark Sloan – who became managing partner in February 2016 – explains that the firm's focus remains squarely on Texas, as it seeks to maintain its market position in the face of competition from out-of-state firms entering the market. The out-of-state offices are specialized and focus on specific practice areas such as trial and real estate capital markets and the needs of specific clients within those areas.

Get hired



T&K attends OCIs at around ten law schools (see the Firm Profile for full details), mostly in Texas. Local links are important to the firm when recruiting. “You don't have to be a Dallas or Houston native, but there has to be a reason you want to work at Thompson & Knight in Texas,”  says managing partner Mark Sloan. “We hire from out of state, but when doing so we want to make sure someone is interested in working here long-term – maybe they have family in Texas or maybe they just perceive it is a good legal market to work in.” Just under half of junior associates attended law school outside the Lone Star State, but all our junior interviewees in the state had some kind of regional links, eg through family, friends or personal history.

During OCIs and callbacks T&K looks first and foremost at students' academic record, and also at work and general life experiences gained during and before law school. “The work experience we look for is very broad-ranging, and it also depends on the area of law that a candidate has expressed an interest in,” says hiring partner Jessica Hammons. “On the transactional side, for instance, anything in finance or the professional accounting setting is very attractive on a resume – any kind of work or internship which highlights that the student has had some experience of the real world.” In interviews, the firm is “looking for polished, proactive candidates,” says Hammons, “those who come into the interview well prepared, and who have researched and know about the firm. We also like to see students who have looked into the people who are interviewing them, so they can ask them specific questions.” She adds: “While a hardworking attitude is very important to us, we also have a very collegial atmosphere here, so we want people who are very team-oriented. We also look for those who have interests outside of work, as we like to hire very well-rounded people.”

A junior associate recalled of their interviews: “They asked me about my experience and to talk about the work I had done. They asked me how they thought my work experience would serve as a useful tool when working at the firm. Compared to other BigLaw interviews, the interview felt fairly laid back and not that stressful.” Another source added: “I remember the interview being more of a conversation in which the interviewers were trying to get to know me as a person in order to find out if I would fit in with the firm's culture.”

T&K's summer program is open to 1Ls and 2Ls. Before you start as a summer you list the practice areas you'd like to spend time in and are assigned to two. After the summer, individual sections make offers for first-year positions.

 

Thompson & Knight LLP

1722 Routh Street,
Suite 1500,
Dallas,
TX 75201
Website www.tklaw.com

  • Head Office: Dallas, TX
  • Number of domestic offices: 6
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Worldwide revenue: $213.4 million
  • Partners (US): 152
  • Associates (US): 81
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? No, 1st half only
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 18
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 8

Main areas of work
Bankruptcy and restructuring; corporate and securities; employment and labor; environmental; finance; government and regulatory; healthcare; intellectual property; oil, gas, and energy; real estate and real estate finance; tax; trial.

Firm profile
Established in 1887, Thompson & Knight is a full-service law firm with more than 300 attorneys that provides legal solutions to clients and communities around the world. The Firm has strong Texas roots, client-focused capabilities on the East and West Coasts, and strategic locations internationally in the Americas, North Africa, and Europe.
Our dedication to clients defines us well. According to Chambers USA 2015, Thompson & Knight has “an enviable client base,” which includes the four largest US airlines, two of the largest medical device companies in the world, 13 of the 20 largest US oil and gas exploration and production companies, and the largest real estate investment trust in the world, among others.
Our culture – the key reason for our success – emphasizes teamwork and an unparalleled commitment to excellence. Through our collective knowledge, our relationships, our high ethics, our team approach, and our dedication to the community, we make a positive impact on the people we serve. For more information on the Firm, please visit our website at www.tklaw.com.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 10
• Number of 2nd year associates: 11
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Law Schools: Baylor University; Duke University; LSU; South Texas College of Law; Southern Methodist University; Texas Tech University; University of Houston; Harvard University; University of Texas; Tulane University
Job Fairs: Lavender Law Career Fair; Southeastern Minority Job Fair; Sunbelt Minority Recruitment Program; Texas Interview Program; On Tour Job Fair; University of Oklahoma

Summer details
Summer associate profile:

Thompson & Knight’s Summer Associate program is our principal source of hiring new Associates. Thompson & Knight has a collegial, team-oriented, and supportive culture. We offer challenging and fulfilling work in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation. Our program provides an unparalleled educational experience and creates lasting relationships between our attorneys and Summer Associates, the future of our Firm.

Summer program components:
Summer Associates are assigned two practice areas to clerk in during their clerkship. Our Summer Associate Program is 6-8 weeks for 1L law students and 8-10 weeks for 2L law students. They are also assigned a Partner and Associate advisor in each section during their time here. The Summer Associates receive a wide range of work and training opportunities.