Knighted one of the best in Texas, this firm is “such a great place to be mentored.”
WHEN Colonels Bill Thompson and Bob Knight joined forces in Dallas way back in 1887, they founded a firm which today boasts over 300 attorneys in 11 offices across five countries. Beginning life dealing with the basics of rural law, Thompson & Knight has grown up alongside Dallas: as the city grew into a bustling center for commerce, finance, technology, energy and technology, so too did T&K continue to expand and diversify its practices. While the firm's traditional expertise in the oil & gas industry gains it a high nationwide ranking in Chambers USA, the firm also ranks number one in Texas for its real estate work, and highly statewide in areas including corporate/M&A, healthcare, IP, and labor & employment.
Thompson's longstanding success in Texas and beyond was a key draw for the associates we spoke to: “The firm has a reputation for having a lot of very fine lawyers. Pretty much anyone I spoke to who had dealt with Thompson was always positive about their experience,” one junior revealed. Another added that “the firm has been around for ages – it has a really successful track record.” New managing partner Mark Sloan took over from Emily Parker in February 2016, and he informs us that 2015 has “been very busy” and “a very positive year for the firm financially.”
The corporate & securities practice generally takes the largest number of juniors, followed closely by the real estate & banking and trial groups. Bankruptcy & restructuring, employment & labor, finance, government & regulatory, IP, oil & gas, and tax have one or two newbies each. Newcomers split their summer between any two of these groups, and then indicate their preference at the end; interviewees assured us that it is “very rare” to not be offered your first choice.
In the corporate group, we were told that private equity is a very strong area for the firm, “both on the fund formation side and the corporate company side.” M&A deals are also an important focus, “anything from $100–500 million in size.” Unsurprisingly, this group reported a lot of work in the oil and gas industry, although there is also a separate oil & gas practice that focuses mainly on asset deals. Other corporate clients include those in the banking and finance, telecommunications, general retail, transportation and healthcare sectors.
“The firm encourages each associate to work with as many partners as possible."
Trial juniors reported “a pretty broad exposure to a lot of different industries,” including oil and gas, healthcare, general commercial, and antitrust and competition, “representing parties in front of the DOJ and FTC as well as in private lawsuits.” One newbie added that “the firm encourages each associate to work with as many partners as possible in order to find the best fit.” Over in real estate, we were informed that Thompson “tends to be stronger on the lending side; we represent a lot of major lenders in real estate transactions.” At the same time, “we have people who work a lot with developers who are constructing things like retail centers and office buildings.” Day to day, juniors reported being able to “negotiate leases and purchase availment agreements, and I've had the chance to head up some smaller transactions.”
Each group has an administrator who “reviews everyone’s hours on a weekly basis in order to help distribute work fairly.” At the same time, “there's definitely an organic element based on relationships that you build with partners.” Generally, sources appreciated this mixed system as a way to spread the work evenly between associates: “It's a check and balance on the purely organic approach, so people don't get starved out.” As far as responsibility levels go, all of our interviewees seemed very happy with the level of tasks they were doing. One third-year told us: “I'm transitioning into managing my own cases and delegating work to others. Partners will give you as much responsibility as you demonstrate you can handle.” Another real estate newbie added that “I've done things that would usually be done by a fourth or fifth-year associate.”
Associates are introduced to the firm with a program of weekly sessions for their first ten weeks, which cover “day-to-day aspects like how to bill time and how to use the computers.” After this, there are regular sessions and CLEs on “everything from IT trainings all the way to substantive legal trainings.” Sources also mentioned regular practice-wide meetings to discuss recent work matters and legal developments.
"We go through a full jury trial."
In the trial group, we heard about quarterly writing seminars and deposition trainings, as well as a Trial Academy “that associates and summers do every summer. We go through a full jury trial and try a case before the senior partners.” Corporate juniors meanwhile described sessions on topics such as Section 16 of the Securities Exchange Act, “and we had one big M&A training, with sessions every week for six months. They went over every part of the deal.” Dallas associates in particular pointed out that “our office is very close to the local Bar Association where there are constantly lunches and seminars, and the firm encourages us to go to those as well.”
Culture & Development
Thompson's commitment to associate development was frequently highlighted: “It's such a great place to be mentored,” gushed one junior. “I can go to the person I think is best equipped to answer my questions; no matter what it is they're always willing to talk to you.” This sentiment was undoubtedly encouraged by the fact that “there isn't a huge distinction between partners and associates, so I feel comfortable going to partners with questions rather than asking associates first. Everyone is one cohesive team.” Others noted that the lean staffing of matters “allows there to be a relationship with the partner – it's wonderful to see how an experienced attorney handles things. You're not just a faceless dump for work, you're encouraged to get as involved with the case as possible.” Newcomers are also formally assigned associate and partner mentors, and associates have yearly formal reviews and more relaxed midyear appraisals.
"You're not just a faceless dump for work."
Associates generally reported that the firm is sociable, “but not overly so,” as people mostly want to go home after office hours. That said, we did hear of fairly frequent happy hours – particularly to welcome new associates – as well as “various firm lunches where we can get together.” Others mentioned an intramural basketball team and a yearly firmwide retreat. It seemed that associates were more willing to interact with each other during the course of their working day: “I've found that even the people I don't work with will reach out to me to go out for lunch; there's an emphasis on connection and developing relationships here.”
Two-thirds of the new associates on our list were in the Dallas HQ, while nearly a third went to Houston, and New York and Austin each had a lone junior. Thompson's other domestic offices are in Fort Worth and LA. Those in Dallas described “a great building” (One Arts Plaza) located “on the edge of downtown.” The building has four on-site restaurants, and is “a very short distance from uptown with a big selection of other restaurants,” and the interior was described as “very open, with huge windows in your office.”
“Very open, with huge windows in your office.”
Over in Houston, we heard that the space is “a little dated, but our lease is up next year so we might be moving.” While associates couldn't venture much further that this, we were informed that “wherever we end up we'll do a full overhaul.” As it is, interviewees appreciated the on-site parking and convenient location on the edge of downtown, “which is fantastic because I don't have to drive through the middle of it.”
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, and then rack up a further 200 hours of 'firm investment' time. This can include “lunch trainings, writing articles, personal professional development such as keeping up with alumni, client development; a number of things that come with the job outside of working hours.” While juniors agreed that on paper this is a high requirement, the consensus was that “people at other firms are doing that same amount but just not tracking them. I don't find it hard to meet the 200 hours at all in the course of my normal business, it's just a hassle to document it sometimes.” Another newbie pointed out that the investment hours “are incredibly broad. I can even count having lunch with someone I went to law school with, or reading legal news.” The firm bumped up associates' base compensation to the New York scale in recent years, “so our base scale increases in greater increments than it did before.”
“People at other firms are doing that same amount but just not tracking them."
Thompson awards up to 50 hours of pro bono toward the billable hours requirement, “then there's a process for requesting more credit if your case runs longer.” One junior even reported: “I heard of one associate who signed onto a pro bono case that was supposed to last ten hours, but went to, like, 500 hours – and he got credit for all of it.” We should add that 500 is unusually high. Examples of pro bono matters include asylum cases, pro bono divorces, and working for the Dallas Volunteer Assistance Program, which provides free legal help to low-income people in Dallas. Others mentioned helping out answering legal lines: “That goes on once or twice a month; there's a set block of time and you man the phone lines while people call in with legal problems.” While there is a partner who coordinates pro bono in Dallas and Houston, one associate added that “several partners and associates are involved in various pro bono activities around town, so there are always opportunities coming from those avenues as well.”
Pro bono hours
The general sentiment echoed by associates was that work needed to be done in this area: “Truth be told I think that's an area of weakness for the firm; we could be more diverse.” Another junior added that “we recently lost a number of our minority attorneys to other firms. We are focused on seeking out minority candidates, but it will take a while to rebuild our diversity figures.” Still others pointed out that while “diversity is being made more of a priority, quite honestly I think at the moment there's clearly a generational divide.”
"Diversity is being made more of a priority."
Thompson has a diversity and inclusion committee as well as a women's initiative which does quarterly events. “At Christmas we got together and stuffed stockings for a local charity, and we had a really fun cocktail-making event last fall that we invited all of our female clientele to. It's a mix of charity work and interacting with our female clients.” The firm has a legal internship pipeline program, to encourage minority high school students in Dallas to pursue careers in the legal field, and also offers scholarships to diverse law students in Houston.
Our sources agreed that “the firm hires all different sorts of people,” so “being a people person” is important. Equally, “a friendly person that doesn't take themselves too seriously” does well at the firm, because as juniors reasonably pointed out, “the more personable you are, the more people will want to work with you.”
According to TK's hiring partner, Jessica Hammons, at interview the firm is looking for “polished, proactive candidates – those who come into the interview well prepared, and who have researched and know about the firm.” She continues that “we also like to see students who have looked into the people who are interviewing them, so they can ask them specific questions.”
Strategy & Future
“We're anticipating a pretty busy year in 2016,” MP Mark Sloan reports, “so we're looking to continue to grow our core practices and markets.” He goes on to add that “in particular the transactional area is busy, as well as the real estate, corporate and tax groups; those areas are really hitting capacity.” When we asked about the impact of recent low oil prices on practices, we were told that bankruptcy and restructuring has “a lot going on,” and “we're seeing an increase in trial work.”
"We are concentrating on what we do best.”
As far as geographical strategy goes, Sloan explains that “we don't have offices randomly all over the place. The offices in Texas for instance fit in with our energy focus, while our New York office works well for our capital markets, real estate and trial groups. While we do have international posts, they are strategic, too.” Is any expansion potentially on the cards? “We're really focused on what our markets are, and we're not interested in opening a far-flung office somewhere else; growth has to be strategic and we are concentrating on what we do best.”
Interview with Mark Sloan, managing partner
Chambers Associate: You took the reins of the firm in February 2016; how has it been going?
Mark Sloan: We've been very busy and we've had a very positive year for the firm financially; our revenue was up 3% and our net income was up 12% in 2015. We're really focused on our current markets, and we're anticipating a pretty busy year in 2016, so we're looking to continue to grow our core practices and markets.
I think we will be active in hiring law students as well as bringing in lateral hires. In particular the transactional area is busy, as well as the real estate, corporate and tax groups; those areas are really hitting capacity. There's also a lot going on in bankruptcy and restructuring at the moment, which isn't a big surprise considering our energy client base in Texas, with the oil prices being depressed as they are currently. We're also seeing an increase in trial work.
We also added a partner in Mexico City and two lawyers in Monterrey that work closely with Mexico City. Those offices do a lot of work for US clients that are interested in exploration and drilling in Mexico’s reserves; that fits in really well with our strong energy practice.
CA: What do you look for in a candidate to the firm?
MS: Somebody who can really connect with clients, and who we perceive can work well within teams. We value collaboration and teamwork, so candidates have to be able to work with other disciplines and in other offices. We're looking for team players, not people that we feel are in it for themselves.
CA: What differentiates Thompson & Knight from other BigLaw firms?
MS: Our size is a little differentiating. We're smaller than some other BigLaw firms, but we're still doing top notch work in the corporate, tax, real estate, intellectual property, bankruptcy practices and other areas; the highest quality work that you'll get anywhere. We have roughly 300 lawyers, so our attorneys get to know everyone in the firm, and we don't have offices randomly all over the place. The offices in Texas for instance fit in with our energy focus, while our New York office works well for our capital markets, real estate and trial groups. While we do have international posts, they are strategic, too. We're really focused on what our markets are, and we're not interested in opening a far flung office somewhere else; growth has to be strategic and we are concentrating on what we do best.
CA: Do you have any words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?
MS: Law students need to figure out what they want and where they can project seeing themselves 5, 10, 15 years down the road. At Thompson & Knight, it's easy to see that career path, and where you might be in 10 or 20 years' time. We have a good track record of promotion to partnership, and we are focused on hiring with the intent of making people partner here. That may not appeal to everybody; some may want to work for the biggest firm in New York – which obviously we are not. We are a place where people can build a wonderful career, and do top notch, sophisticated work, in an environment that's more intimate. This is a firm where you can get to know everybody, and where people genuinely like their peers.
Interview with Jessica Hammons, hiring partner
Chambers Associate: How do you pre-screen students who have bid on your firm?
Jessica Hammons: We have some GPA requirements that we look at first, but we're also looking for work experience and general life experience; other things that students been involved in during their undergraduate time and at 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. 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.
CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?
JH: We're looking for polished, proactive candidates – 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. Generally we look for candidates who show a genuine interest in the firm and in their careers.
While a hardworking attitude is very important to us, we also have a very collegial atmosphere here; it's not cutthroat or overly competitive by any means, 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.
CA: Thompson & Knight is opening up it's summer program to 1Ls in 2016. What was the thinking behind this?
JH: We're trying to make sure that we get exposed to great students as soon as we can. We want to ensure that we don't miss opportunities with students who have already made commitments to other firms at the end of their first summer; this is a way of getting our foot in the door early on. We monitor what our peers are doing and we want to be competitive with our peer firms.
CA: What would you say distinguishes Thompson's summer program?
JH: I went through the program myself, and I think it's great! We offer the best of both worlds. Thompson & Knight is a great size, because we're small enough that everyone knows everyone else, and you get to know the various expertise that different people have. At the same time, we're getting very sophisticated work, and I think that makes us a great firm to work at. Our summer program is the main source of our recruiting associates. It's a time for us to make sure that people are a good fit for our culture, and equally for the student to make sure they’re a good fit for us.
We have a longstanding group of attorneys that started their careers here and have stayed for many years, although we also have laterals that come in as client demands change. We have a really great work-life balance, a wonderful open door culture, and partners and associates have fantastic relationships. That begins during the summer and continues through the years.
Thompson & Knight LLP
1722 Routh Street,
- Head Office: Dallas, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $207.5 million
- Partners (US): 147
- Associates (US): 79
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,060/week
- 2Ls: $3,060/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? No, 1st half only
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 15
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 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.
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, the two largest medical device companies in the world, seven of the top 10 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.
• Number of 1st year associates: 12
• Number of 2nd year associates: 14
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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 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 6-8 week clerkship. 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.