With its flocks of rubber ducks, government contracts supremo Crowell & Moring adds a splash of fun to the BigLaw pond...
WHAT famous 'break-ups' spring to mind from the past few decades? The breakup of the Beatles? The Warsaw Pact countries splitting from the USSR? Britney/Justin Timberlake, Tiger Woods/Elin Nordegren, Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes? Well, in 1979 the legal press in a certain part of the country was awash with headlines about 'The Split'. That year, 53 lawyers left Jones Day's Washington, DC branch to set up their own firm, specializing in government contracts. Among the departures were Eldon H "Took" Crowell and Frederick Moring. Today, the firm that bears their names has over 500 attorneys in two European and seven US offices, many of which house a jaunty bunch of rubber ducks as well as a host of formidable legal practitioners.
Speaking in 2002, the late 'Took' Crowell stated that “our main hope was to create a democratic and more collegial atmosphere.” Thirty-five years since its foundation, the firm has serious legal clout – as evidenced by top Chambers USA rankings for government contracts work over nine consecutive years. But it also cultivates – internally not externally, we must stress – an air of light-heartedness (see below for more on those rubber ducks). “We don't take ourselves too seriously, but we're a serious firm doing good legal work,” associates repeatedly told us. Aside from government contracts, Crowell & Moring is respected for practices including antitrust, healthcare, environment, international trade and white-collar crime. Heavy-duty clients include Lockheed Martin, DuPont and BAE.
New associates join two practice areas after submitting a list of preferences, usually developed on the summer program. “I got my first and second choice and I know many of my colleagues did too. There's enough diversity of interest to go around,” noted one associate. Litigation and antitrust have the highest number of juniors, though there's also healthcare, government contracts, IP, international dispute resolution, corporate and white-collar among the departments on offer. “Crowell recognizes that coming out of law school you might not be sure what you want to do, so they give people a varied experience. You're not put in a box for convenience's sake.” Of course, on a pragmatic level, “if one group is slower you can offset that by picking up work from another.”
The lack of pigeon-holing doesn't stop there. “You're welcome to pursue interests outside the two assigned groups and approach partners for that type of work. It can be challenging, because groups like to look after their own, but it's not a source of tension in any way. My reaching out has always been fruitful. The walls between practice groups are very porous.” Typically associates narrow their focus and concentrate on one specialty after three or four years.
In terms of actually getting work, certain groups have an e-mail system “to show what's on your plate and if you have room for more.” However, more informal channels of work spring up for associates after they've established themselves with partners. “Now I've been here a while, it's a relatively easy process. Partners call me and say, 'Can you pitch in with this?'” reported juniors. Every group has a staffing partner “as a backstop if things get slow” but overall, “if you're the entrepreneurial or proactive type that benefits you. The firm's very receptive to that.”
Bid protests "are a major part" of government contracts work."We represent companies that win and lose, so we protest and intervene.” A source recalled: “There was one big protest at the Court of Federal Claims – that's how I cut my teeth. First I did all the grunt work: redactions, research and proof-reading. But then I got to write protests. It's a love-it-or-hate-it type of litigation – I love it! Even though there's a grueling schedule.” In the white-collar and antitrust departments, sources “primarily worked on investigations, both criminal and civil. I've prepared witnesses for deposition, created interview outlines and made a formal presentation to the DOJ.” Most interviewees noted happily that “doc review times don't go on forever.”
Training & Development
Introductory 'bootcamp' sessions take place every couple of weeks for new recruits. Topics covered include filings, citations and drafting motions. Opinions varied on the usefulness of such sessions. “It was more a nuisance than helpful – we wanted to jump in and work!” exclaimed one. However, most thought at least some were valuable. Certain groups might supplement the bootcamps with their own practice-specific sessions. Besides this, “they do a great job offering extra training opportunities,” associates told us. “They bring in a terrific writing coach. I had a session on time management that's almost completely changed the way I work."
The firm is in the early stages of developing a sponsorship program – for more details see our website. Meanwhile, incoming associates are assigned a senior mentor and a partner mentor. “It's either going to work or not based on how you get along with that person.” Of course, unofficial mentoring relationships flourish naturally. Getting feedback is also personality-dependent to an extent. “It's hit and miss. Some partners are phenomenal and seek you out, and others are like black holes – you submit something and never get anything from them again.” Once again, it pays to be proactive: “Partners are busy, so they might not always go out of their way, but any time I've asked for feedback they've always been very encouraging and happy to help.”
Crowell has offices in DC, New York, LA, San Francisco, Orange Country, Anchorage and Cheyenne, plus outposts in Brussels and London and affiliations with firms in Cairo and Riyadh. The DC headquarters are located on Pennyslvania Avenue, nicely ensconced between Congress and the White House. There's a gym, canteen and roof terrace. Recently, the latter provided a home for a fittingly feathered family. “We actually had real life ducks and ducklings on the terrace! It was really fun and delightful, we were all huddling around to see them. They were safely removed after a while.”
Several years ago, a certain daring individual dropped a rubber duck into the fountain in the DC office reception. Since then, the ducks have really come home to roost. “Oh my gosh, ducks!” exclaimed an associate when we inquired about these mascots. “They're everywhere!” Across offices you'll find all manner of “costumed ducks” perched in attorneys' offices, on secretaries' desks and in the water features. There's a Statue of Liberty duck, a diploma duck, a pilot duck, a Christmas-themed snowman duck.... “I have ten right now. There are 75 in reception,” a New York associate told us. All this is symbolic of the fact that “we don't take ourselves too seriously. The ducks bring a bit of levity and keep egos in check. I don't want to say the culture's playful because that sounds flaky, but there's a sense that people want to have fun when they're here and an awareness that you can only do good legal work if you enjoy coming to work.”
Of course there's a balance to be struck between the seriousness of the legal business and the more light-hearted atmosphere. “We want to draw a careful line between being casual and not being a bunch of goofballs!” And while ducks are heavily present internally, “they made a good decision not to base external advertising on them. Put it this way, I've got ducks in my office, I don't want them on my business card.” Reassuringly, managing partner Ellen Dwyer confirms: “The rubber ducks are here to stay.”
On the social side, there are weekly 'cheap booze' Thursdays (the drink's free). Everyone is encouraged to attend by “a funny e-mail that gives a humorous account of the week at the firm.”
Hours & Compensation
The billing target is 1,900 hours – within this, 50 hours can be pro bono. Hitting the 1,900 mark brings eligibility for a bonus. Beyond this, there's a 2,400 hour 'all-in' target. “The extra 500 hours can include just about anything – billable work, pro bono, committees, lectures, trainings or speaking on a panel,” associates told us. Overall most saw both the billing target and 'all-in' number as “absolutely realistic.”
Compensation at the firm is discretionary after the first year – salaries and bonuses are discussed at annual formal reviews. The relative opacity of the bonus system didn't seem to bother associates unduly. “I'm not going to let my happiness depend on it,” said one sagely. Juniors seemed content with their daily schedules, with work rarely dominating weekends or evenings. Average office hours tend to range from 8.30am until 6.30 or 7pm.
Historically, the firm has a strong commitment to pro bono. Back in the day, Took Crowell encouraged summer associates to take a bus trip into the poorest DC neighborhoods, visiting shelters and soup kitchens and fostering the idea of attorneys as public servants. 'Took's Tours' still go on today. The firm was also the first in Washington to have a partner fully committed to pro bono.
All our sources had taken on pro bono matters. “I did 175 hours this past year,” said one. “Nobody blinked an eye at me putting in the hours.” Others who found themselves swamped with billable work were able to organize “lower-hour, shorter bites.” Practically speaking, “it's a great opportunity to gain experiences you wouldn't otherwise have, like drafting and standing up in court.” Juniors had worked on immigration cases, landlord-tenant disputes, veteran disability cases and representing psychiatric patients.
Pro bono hours
Pro bono hours
“They talk about diversity all the time,” commented a junior wryly. “It's too early to determine how things will play out in terms of retention and promotions. Partners are mostly white males but the associate ranks have more females and are not as white.” Juniors noted that “there are a handful of female partners who are vocal and awesome and take their position as role models seriously. I feel very supported and encouraged.” In addition to the Women Attorneys' Network, Crowell's Diversity Council oversees different groups for ethnically diverse and LGBT attorneys. “Ensuring we have diverse lawyers in our ranks is an important mission of ours and relates directly to our new sponsorship initiative. There's a deliberate and ongoing effort on our part to be inclusive and to work hand in hand with diverse lawyers,” says MP Ellen Dwyer.
How to become a Crowellite? “Don't be an asshole!” exclaimed an associate. Others elaborated: “If you want to show off about how stressed you are, that won't go down well here. There's a premium on personality.” And while “they want someone who's serious about the work they're doing,” a genuine team spirit is key: “They're not looking for gunners who want to shine at the expense of their colleagues.”
Ellen Dwyer summarizes: “The person who's going to thrive here has a sense of humility; that's a big value here. Being proactive and comfortable building relationships with individuals is essential, while excellence is a given.”
Strategy & Future
“We're pushing two areas: litigation and our regulatory practice. On the regulatory front, we've brought on a number of folks and built our energy practice, which was a big move,” Ellen Dwyer tells us. In the summer 2013 the firm welcomed a nine-member energy team from Dickstein Shapiro into the fold. The healthcare practice was strengthened in 2012 by a three-partner team from Locke Lord, while four new tax controversy partners were added to the ranks as well. There are no imminent plans for new offices, Dwyer says. “We're focusing on building our brand and talent in our current offices.”
Recent Work Highlights
Recent Work Highlights
“In New York a lot of colleagues are friends and will socialize outside work. It goes above and beyond collegial. Culturally, they've embraced the firm's history of breaking away from Jones Day – there's that start-up-y feel. The New York office works to distinguish itself from other big law firms. I don't want to say it's playful because that sounds flaky, but there's a sense that people want to have fun when they're at work. We're here to do good legal work but there's an awareness that you can only do that if you enjoy coming to work and you're comfortable talking to one another."
"A lot of partners grew up at the firm. I feel there's a lot of investment, that someone besides myself cares about my career path. Everyone looks out for each other."
"The ducks! They're all around. As a summer I got a few ducks, then when I was back at law school they sent out a few winter-themed ducks. When they introduced a new intranet everybody got a duck holding a computer. It might seem absurd, but it's nice that they still do these types of things, it brings a bit of levity and keeps egos in check."
“It doesn't take itself so seriously as to be stuffy and it seems like a casual place. We're singularly focused on good work and not so much concerned with appearances. In the past there has been a struggle with culture. We're handling very big important matters and so you want to draw a careful line between being casual and not being a bunch of goofballs. I'm in two minds about the ducks – clearly they're a part of the firm's history and representative of what's unique about it but on the other hand they've made a good decision not to base their external advertising campaign around rubber ducks. It's a tough line to walk, to be a comfortable and to an extent casual but also be a Top 100 firm. I've got ducks in my office but I don't want them on my business card."
"There's a great story to the firm and how it began as a rebellion from Jones Day. That history manifests itself in the personality of the firm. There definitely is a feeling and a pervasive culture that people really enjoy – that sense of being the underdog, punching above its weight, the scrappy newcomer. I love the rubber ducks because marketing have been against them!"
"The firm is known for being a little bit light-hearted, but certainly partners aren't as light-hearted as associates. I guess when you're working here each associate probably has a different feeling as to how light-hearted it is. I don't feel it's quite as soul-crushing as other places might be. People here are encouraging, they want to see initiative. I have conversations about how to develop the practice I want to have."
"The people who complain about the ducks are assholes! I don't see how it interferes with anything. Far be it for me to get into the mind of a client or someone who runs a Fortune 100 company, but I don't see it as a mark of an unserious place of business. You need some levity to make it manageable. Big firm clients have to understand that big firms are also organizations that need something to make it fun, be it ducks or something else."
"My favourite duck is the New York Statue of Liberty duck. They also have a practical purpose – I have a client with a young daughter who always asks for more ducks."
Interview with Ellen Dwyer, managing partner
What would you say were the major highlights of last year?
Ellen Dwyer: Economically, we had a terrific performance in 2013. Along with all our competitors, we are working hard in a challenging environment, but we finished last year strong – revenue was up by 3%. That was an affirmation of the strength of the firm and we felt good about that. What’s equally important is that we made progress in our areas of strategic focus...
What's your strategy for the coming years, perhaps in terms of certain practice areas or potential office openings?
ED: We're pushing two areas: litigation, and our regulatory practice. On the regulatory front, we've brought on a number of folks and built our energy practice, which was a big move. In the summer of 2013, the firm welcomed a nine-member energy team from Dickstein Shapiro into the fold.
The healthcare practice was strengthened in 2012 by a three-partner team from Locke Lord, while four new tax controversy partners were added to the ranks. There are no imminent plans for new offices. We're focusing on building our brand and talent in our current offices.
Crowell has a fairly new mentoring/sponsorship scheme for junior associates – can you tell us a bit about that?
ED: We launched a sponsorship initiative two years ago and we’ve been doing it in an earnest way over the last year. Sponsorship is different than mentorship. Every lawyer is assigned a mentor at the practice group level so everyone gets guidance to help them be successful.
We believe that to be successful you need a sponsor, not just one person who will help you stretch opportunities, but someone who will come to know you, understand your ambition, help to propel you and your career. At the firm, we currently have two pilot groups, one containing partners and then one containing associates and counsel. They are our sponsorship incubators.
We’re the first law firm to have such a sponsorship initiative, and we've started to see some nice progress. It’s exciting to see our associates and counsel using the sponsorship vocabulary, and becoming much more deliberate about seeking support from partners, as well as being thoughtful and reflective about what their individual aspirations are, reaching out to others as they try to connect.
We've heard about how the firm's history has informed its culture; obviously the rubber ducks are part of that. In the past we've reported that the quirkiness of culture might be endangered, that there might be efforts to become more corporate... but associates talked of a balancing between levity and serious legal work. How would you describe the culture?
ED: I’ve been here for a long time, and have experienced it from the beginning and the culture is very much intact. It is irreverent, it is quirky, and we're proud of that, proud of the fact that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. 'Balance' is the word I would use.
In our recruiting efforts, we’re focused on attracting the best talent, interesting and diverse people who enjoy practising law and feeling part of our community. It’s not a lawyer-only community – it spans lawyers and other professional staff. We are equally serious about our work. Clients hire us because they like us personally and because we deliver excellent results. We’re deliberate about ensuring that our culture seeps into all that we do.
There’s no question that as we’ve grown we’ve had to work harder to make sure everyone felt a part of it, and we're doing well on that front. So we’re not getting rid of the ducks. They’re symbolic of some of the qualities of the firm’s culture. The rubber ducks are here to stay.
Can you tell us about diversity at the firm and how you promote diversity in hiring?
ED: Ensuring we have diverse lawyers in our ranks is an important mission of ours and relates directly to our new sponsorship initiative. We start from the premise that we know how to sponsor, and it’s one of our core objectives to ensure that we’re reaching out to folks.
There’s a diverse group of associates and counsel and an all-women group of partners in the sponsorship pilot. There’s a deliberate and ongoing effort on our part to be inclusive and to work hand-in-hand with diverse lawyers. Of course, we have an extremely robust internal and external profile in the diversity space, and we deliver better service to clients if we have a diversity of talent to bring different perspectives to our work with them.
How would you describe Crowell's ideal entry-level candidate?
ED: We look for a diversity of perspective and experience, so we’re hiring attorneys out of law school and are also hiring attorneys who may have had prior careers. The person who’s going to thrive here has a sense of humility. That’s a big value here. Being proactive and comfortable building relationships with individuals is essential, while excellence is a given.
Those who come to the firm are excited to be here, they're good people, humble, interested in helping to build the business, proactive in building their own place in our enterprise. We want our first-year associates to be interacting directly with clients and so we give them the opportunity to do that.
Crowell & Moring LLP
1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
- Head Office: Washington DC
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $359,154,308
- Partners (US): 188
- Counsel/Sr. Counsel (US): 146
- Associates (US): 139
- Summer Salary 2014
- 1Ls: $3077/week
- 2Ls: $3077/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2014: 15 firmwide
- Offers/acceptances 2013: 19 offers, 16 acceptances, 1 deferral
Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with more than 500 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Anchorage, Cheyenne, London, and Brussels.
Number of 1st year associates: 19
Number of 2nd year associates: 24
Associate salaries: 1st year: $ 160,000
2nd year: Not lock step
Clerking policy: No
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2014:
We interview at the majority of the top 20 law schools and numerous diversity related and IP specific job fairs throughout the country.
Summer associate profile:
The firm looks for highly qualified, entrepreneurial candidates with diverse backgrounds. We prefer candidate with law review, journal or moot court experience and/or strong relevant legal employment experience, including judicial clerkships; as well as demonstrated leadership capabilities.
Summer program components:
The diversity in our summer program reflects the diversity of our firm at large. We want summer associates who take the practice of law and client service more seriously than they take themselves, who will contribute to the life of the firm, and who share our sense of responsibility to the community. Most of our junior associates come from our Summer Associate Program. We want you to go back to law school knowing who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Work for summer associates includes mostly short-term projects that will allow you to experience as many practice areas and as many lawyers as possible. Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars on such topics as The Law Firm as a Business and Negotiations Training. In addition, the firm offers summer associates the opportunities to participate in our Public Interest Fellowship program and sign up for Live Events which are real-world activities like court hearings, client meetings, depositions, presentations and negotiations that summer associates may attend in order to observe Crowell & Moring attorneys in action.