Hunton & Williams LLP - The Inside View

After taking a look back at its roots, Hunton's determined to remain "laser-focused."

Strategy & Future



“OUR partners' founding vision has come back to the fore,” says managing partner Wally Martinez, speaking of the firm's origins in Richmond: “The focus was on a few industries, and being the best in those spaces.” So Hunton has recently reinvigorated its strategic plan to align itself closer to this original design. Today it's identified four key industries: financial services; consumer products; real estate; and energy. “A significant percentage of our core client revenue comes from those four industries,” adds Martinez, “so an industry focus makes sense for us.”

Hunton's "pioneering" approach may help boost its rep in these key areas. The recent launch of a dedicated drone practice is just the tip of the iceberg, as Martinez explains: “In the 1980s we were one of the first firms to pay attention to real estate investment trusts [REITs], and in the 1990s we were a leader in moving into asset securitization work.” Hunton's lawyers have also become the go-to people for opinions on a variety of topics: a quick glance over the firm's recent press appearances reveals that they've been quoted on everything from the cyber attack on Sony, to proposals on reducing carbon emissions, to ways of keeping holiday parties lawsuit free...

Practice area-wise, Chambers USA ranks Hunton as a national star when it comes to climate change, environment and privacy & data security matters. More than 60% of its practice is devoted to transactional work, so Hunton has “benefited from the robust deal environment” that's emerged of late: “This past year was a strong one for the firm.” Read our full interview with Martinez in the Bonus Features.

The Work



Upon arrival, juniors join one of eight teams: administrative law; capital finance & real estate; competition; corporate; energy & infrastructure; labor & employment; litigation; and tax & ERISA. Around 60% of juniors are split fairly evenly between the corporate and litigation teams. Labor & employment and tax & ERISA had the fewest juniors, while the remaining teams took on between four and eight new starters.

Within each team, associates are once again assigned to a particular practice group. A litigation associate, for example, may join the business litigation group, while a corporate junior could find a home in the corporate finance and M&A group. Initial assignment tends to come down to business need. There is some flexibility though: “It's not terribly rigid within the team,” said one litigator, “and it's not a problem for me to speak with partners in other groups.” This was a common experience, but a few had also taken on assignments outside of their team. However, “your team comes first on the priority list, and what you take on outside of it usually has to be related to experience you've already acquired.”

“It's not terribly rigid.”

Corporate juniors found that responsibility was ramped up in the second year and the “work available becomes extensive.” By the third year they were drafting share purchase agreements (SPAs) and experiencing direct client contact. Litigators praised their “interesting department – we do both plaintiff and defense work. I'm mostly on the plaintiff side, which is unusual and unique.” Those in Richmond said that “at any given time you'll be working on two substantial matters which are controlled from the top, along with a mix of smaller things where you're given substantial control.”

Associates in smaller offices like LA felt connected: “I'm not disadvantaged. I've managed to work on matters across offices, but you do need to make more of an effort to reach out – people in the bigger offices always welcome that and are happy to guide you.”

Training & Development



All incoming associates gather in Washington, DC for a few days of basic training and requisite introductions. Juniors then have the choice to attend a range of general trainings on various topics over the next three years: “They're on things like 'the top mistakes for associates to avoid' or 'how to delegate work'. The list of options is circulated and you can go to the ones that most apply to you.” Alongside these are practice-specific trainings, which may come in the form of monthly team lunches: “There's often a PowerPoint and a speaker, and you'll learn how to draft SPAs and absorb info on indemnification.”

“There's often a PowerPoint and a speaker."

Reviews are thorough. “We fill out an 'I love me memo', which gives us an opportunity to brag, but there are a lot of categories to complete!” The partners juniors have worked with also fill out reviews, and often attend the actual review meeting, along with a partner from the associate committee – so nothing is anonymous. And they don't hold back: “They're certainly not afraid to unload it on you, and you take it – even if you think you've hit everything out of the park, they'll still point to areas in which you could grow.”

Offices



Hunton has amassed 19 offices across the US, Europe and Asia. Most – 14 – are domestic and concentrated on the East Coast. Richmond is still the largest office, and probably has the “prettiest views of any BigLaw office,” thanks to the majestic James River. The biggest team here is corporate, but given the office's central role, there's a representative smattering of teams and practice groups. DC (now the firm's HQ) and New York have the next highest concentration of juniors. DC has “renowned” environmental and business litigation practices, as well as a “small but growing” competition capability. New York fosters more of a competitive vibe, “in terms of people bragging about how hard they work, which is so silly – I'd rather brag that I worked until seven and then went for dinner.” The real estate practice in particular has grown in recent years.

“I'd rather brag that I worked until seven.”

Culture



Richmonders identified Virginia as “a pretty conservative state, so the firm is a little more old school – we've been headquartered here for over a hundred years!” Those from outside the state found the office “a little stuffier, more formal,” while others flagged that the formality goes hand-in-hand with a Southern approach to manners: “Everyone always says good morning and hello and holds the elevator for you – there's never a cold shoulder.” In Atlanta, not displaying that Southern charm can be detrimental: “You can't go into a Georgia courtroom if you don't have that air about you!”

“There's never a cold shoulder.”

This formal, congenial atmosphere breeds longevity, though. “There are a lot of legacies here. Many partners started as associates and you hear things like 'I wasn't planning to stay but 22 years later I'm still here!' The partners want that to continue so they help us in any way so we can stick around.” Associates targeted Richmond precisely because they wanted to settle down: “Richmond's the perfect town to raise a family.”

Elsewhere, life is different. “In New York and DC you tend to find more of the aggressive go-getters,” said one DC junior. Sometimes New Yorkers don't get the South, as one junior explained: “If you say 'y'all' people will be like 'what are you talking about?'” Hunton may well “play that Southern y'all card” on occasion, but Southern roots don't equate to a lackadaisical life as a lawyer: “Hunton has really high expectations and everyone works hard – this is a pretty superior law firm, after all.”

Hours and Compensation



Hitting the 2,000 hours target depends on practice and location. DC litigators didn't find it “unrealistic,” as “there are more opportunities to bill full ten-hour days.” Transactional associates, meanwhile, reported times when they “blew through expectations” and periods when they “lagged behind a bit.” Falling short is not “career-threatening,” as long as it's a “team-wide issue: if it's a single person not reaching it, with no extenuating circumstances, then it could be.”

Views on base salaries varied by location too. In DC and LA it was described as market, while in Atlanta juniors reported that it's “$10,000 above market – other firms went down to $135,000, but we stayed the same.” Richmond juniors were initially satisfied with the base salary, but added that “the salary bumps are very low – below 2% and below other Richmond firms.” Bonuses were unanimously described as opaque. Qualitative and quantitative factors are taken into account, and hitting 2,000 doesn't necessarily “make you eligible.” Associates told us that “Richmond categorically doesn't give bonuses to first-years” (though the firm told us it is rare, not an impossibility). Others told us: “The bonuses are not that high so there's not a large financial incentive – we don't publicize the bonus system because it's not used in the same way as other firms.”

Pro Bono



Each year, Hunton offers pro bono fellowships to attorneys who will take up two-year positions in Richmond and Atlanta. Hunton's also very proud of its 100% pro bono participation rate, which it's held since 2009. It's keen to keep the record too: “A list of the people who haven't participated gets circulated among the powers that be. As the end of the fiscal year approaches, they will badger people.”

“A list of the people who haven't participated gets circulated.”

Despite this emphasis, a not overly generous 50 hours of pro bono counts as billable. “We do way more than that,” said some frustrated sources. Technically, more can be counted pending approval, but “extra credit is generally reserved for the bigger cases, like those involving Guantanamo prisoners.” The firm clarified that extra credit can be gained for smaller cases too, if they're "beneficial" to an associate's development. 20 hours is a soft target for attorneys to reach, but if they're having trouble hitting their 2,000 hour billable target it transforms into “a requirement.” Location and practice area can determine the work encountered. In Atlanta, litigators tend to work on “a lot of prisoner rights cases emerging from the Southern Center for Human Rights,” while real estate attorneys in Richmond focused on “nonprofit organizations with real estate needs.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 42,623 
  • Average per US attorney: 65

Diversity



“Wally's Hispanic, so that sends out a strong signal about Hunton's commitment to diversity.” True – and there are many other signals too. There's a firmwide diversity committee; two task forces (LGBT, and Staff Diversity); a celebratory diversity week in all offices; an annual minority retreat; and two summer programs which target diverse 1Ls. There's a can-do approach to boot: “I'm pretty sure that if someone felt there was a need for an affinity group the firm would make it happen.”

A "chicken and egg scenario?"

Yet all of this doesn't necessarily reap rewards everywhere. DC juniors flagged that “we don't have many diverse attorneys. Perhaps it's a chicken and egg scenario, in that we can't attract diverse attorneys because we don't really have them here already.” On the gender front, Hunton can boast that six of its offices are run by women, but female associates did point to a lack of a formalized initiative in some locations: “In Richmond it's more of an ad hoc type thing.” Some female associates were also left cold by the firm's approach to reduced schedules: “I know three women working a reduced schedule, and they get paid a low hourly rate.” They did note that there's also the chance to opt for a salaried part-time track, which was deemed a better move.

Get Hired



Quite a few sources had built prior connections with Hunton: “I met this partner for lunch. He's super-busy but despite that he came and met a young 3L law student.” Our tip: don't be hesitant to initiate some form of contact while in law school. Another trend: most interviewees knew what type of law they wanted to practice. “It's helpful if candidates have a general idea of what they want,” said one, “as it shows us that they're not coming here with only a vague interest in the law and in our firm.” In interviews, partners may ask “some topical questions on the area – not to trick you, but to suss out whether you know or care about it.” The firm responded by saying this is truer for candidates with scientific backgrounds or previous work experience, but students who don't know what they want to do exactly shouldn't worry too much.

"It's helpful if candidates have a general idea of what they want...”

Some interviewees had enjoyed one heck of a dinner at the callback stage: “It was one of the fanciest dinners I ever ate! They really give you the VIP treatment.” It may be VIP, but it's also intense: several interviews with a selection of attorneys. Just don't frustrate your interviewers by being overly reticent: “It frustrates me so much when they fall on their faces and don't have any worthwhile questions!” said one associate-turned-interviewer.



Hunton's Environmental Work



 

Hunton has a formidable reputation when it comes to environmental and climate change matters. The firm's expertise is highly regarded by Chambers USA, which has placed Hunton at the very top of its nationwide rankings in both areas. Get ready for some acronyms...

Hunton is particularly well-known for its work handling issues connected to the Clean Air Act (CAA). DC lawyers recently represented the Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) – an association of electric generating companies and utilities – before the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and the US Supreme Court. The string of cases tackled the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) attempts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the CAA.

In the Supreme Court, Hunton was able to get UARG's petition for judicial review granted, and the government subsequently declared the EPA's GHG rules invalid. Hunton's environmental lawyers don't just show off their know-how in court: they're also trusted commentators in the press. The Washington Post turned to partner Joe Stanko for his opinion on the EPA's proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants: Stanko predicted that a range of legal battles would follow, based on the proposal's vulnerability.

Elsewhere, recent work has been diverse. Lawyers represented Georgia-Pacific during a $77 million case involving the contamination of one of the US' largest lumber mills. Other matters have required lawyers to assist clients who wish to obtain environmental permits for their facilities; clients who want to sell their portfolio of brownfield sites to buyers in North America and Europe; and clients experiencing various issues related to the development, operation and maintenance of pipelines. Such issues can be particularly complex, and involve adherence to several federal and state safety laws. These include the CAA, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Treaty Bird Act, the Native American Graves Protection Act and so on and so on (we're only listing a small sample here...)

The environmental practice also grew on the west coast in 2014, when Hunton welcomed former EPA lawyer Samuel Brown into its fold in San Francisco. Hunton's lawyers also busied themselves by writing a book on global chemicals regulation, published by Oxford University Press.

Interview with Hunton & Williams' Managing Partner Wally Martinez



 

Chambers Associate: Where does Hunton & Williams' focus lie?

Wally Martinez: We've accelerated our strategic plan implementation, and we're focusing on four key industries: financial services; consumer products; real estate; and energy, with an emphasis on all forms of power generation. A significant percentage of our core client revenue comes from those four industries, so an industry focus makes sense for us. This past year was a strong one for the firm, and we believe that we are well positioned for a strong 2015.

CA: Is there anything about Hunton's history or founding that continues to influence it today?

WM: Hunton was founded in 1901 with – among other things – a nascent focus on the electric utility industry. It's interesting how 114 years later that remains one of the four pillars of the firm. Our founding partners wanted to form an institutional-based law firm, which has a core group of larger clients that drive the firm. That was a visionary mindset at the time, as that model wasn't being implemented outside of New York City. The focus was on a few industries and being the best in those spaces. Over the years, firms sometimes drift from their core strategic direction, so every once in a while it's necessary to take a hard critical look and realize that there's no use in being all things to all people. Our partners' founding vision has come back to the fore.

CA: Hunton launched a new drone practice back in November. We can't think of any other firms with drone practices – how did it come about?

WM: We came upon it via client request. We had clients in the energy and consumer products industries ask for advice on how to make use of this technology. We started to think 'maybe there's something here' and that we should start to track this in a more comprehensive way across the firm. As a firm, you want to be able to offer value by giving clients advice about “what’s around the corner.”

CA: What does the launch of this practice reveal about Hunton's approach?

WM: Our world class privacy and data practice tells the story of how our firm has listened to the challenges that our clients face, and then invested the firm's resources to build responsive practices. You have to follow patterns and be nimble in order to build infrastructure within the firm, as it can take a lot of time and resources to get ramped up. That way you have the first-mover advantage.

We have long been a pioneering firm in that sense: in the 1980s we were one of the first firms to pay attention to real estate investment trusts (REITs), and in the 1990s we were a leader in movinginto asset securitization work, as we saw more and more of those products being used. We recently held a seminar on how REIT vehicles can be used in the electric utility space, as these utilities own a great deal of real estate. Again, this is a new idea for that sector, and one that we are exploring.

CA: Robert Bohannon – who has over a decade's worth of experience in federal and state politics – joined the firm's government relations practice as Director of Government Affairs. What does Robert's hire suggest about the nature of that practice and how it will develop in the future?

WM: We continue to look for ways we can expand our government advisory practice. It's a practice in which we take great pride. Our practitioners are subject matter pros, which provides us with the credibility to be advocates for government agencies. That practice stands the test of time, as you're not worrying about whether a person is in or out of office. In the future, we will continue to focus on taking the lead around new and emerging issues.

CA: There has been some expansion via lateral hires on the West Coast, both in San Francisco and LA – were you specifically looking to expand the firm's West Coast presence, or were these more opportunistic acquisitions?

WM: They were intentional, particularly in the case of LA. We're not all things to all people there, but in the areas where we do practice we want the requisite depth. In particular our litigation, labor & employment and environmental practices are strong there.

We've also expanded in London, by adding lawyers to our energy and infrastructure practice. These expansions reflect the firm's continued investment in its key areas.

CA: What's Hunton's approach to lateral hiring?

WM: We are judicious in our lateral recruiting efforts. Hunton & Williams has grown through a combination of lateral hiring and organic growth and that balance is important to us. We are not interested in growth for growth's sake; rather, we look to augment existing practice strengths and to expand in the markets that matter most to our clients.

CA: Looking back over 2014, what were the stand out deals and cases for the firm?

WM: There are a couple in particular: we played a role in the Freeport LNG deal, which was the largest LNG transaction ever consummated. That was an exciting transaction, and we've received a lot of recognition for it.

We also had some significant litigation victories. One that stands out is our representation of a number of hospitals in a class action against US Foodservice. This was a long case with a successful resolution – our clients were very happy.

CA: Have there been any external events or trends which have had an impact on the work conducted at Hunton over the past year?

WM: More than 60 percent of Hunton's practice is transactional. We have lawyers doing everything from tax to M&A to private equity to project finance. Due to that balance, we've benefited from the robust deal environment that's emerged. There's more confidence out there to get deals done, so our transactional practice has been doing very well.

There have been significant cyber security incidents and breaches over the last year as well. Our lawyers have been very busy helping clients deal with the challenges facing corporations due to these cyber intrusions. We are limited in what we can disclose in that respect, but we've had our fair share of the ones that you've been reading about in the papers recently, as well as a lot of work that you won't read about in the paper. Many companies are concerned about what has happened to others in their industries, so they are turning to us for guidance to best mitigate the risk of significant cyber intrusions.

On the downside: we maintain a robust energy and infrastructure practice in Africa, but because of the Ebola tragedy there has been a slowdown in business activity. I spoke to a colleague the other day who had just made his first trip back to Africa in four months. It's impacted us, but let's forget the business – the tragedy is the suffering that's currently being experienced in those areas.

CA: How about Hunton's notable position in the renewable energy space – has that continued to develop?

WM: We continue to be one of the leading firms in the renewable energy space. We are probably among the top firms when you look at the number of renewable deals closed over the last calendar year. It's a cross-disciplinary focus for us, and these matters involve lawyers from across the firm. There's a continuing interest in that space, and the consumer industries are now receiving a greater percentage of power from renewable sources.

CA: What is Hunton's approach to growth?

WM: The first thing we look at when considering growth is whether or not it will make us stronger in one of our four key areas? If the answer is 'yes,' then we're much more risk-tolerant. If the answer is 'no' or 'maybe,' if an individual practice is not directly related to those areas, then we'll begin to look at the ways (like geographic area) in which it may enable us to support and grow our areas of interest. If it can do that, then we may invest.

CA: What can we expect from Hunton in 2015?

WM: We hope that our transactional practices will continue to grow and prosper, but that depends on the state of the global economy and the confidence of banks, financiers and the corporations that do the deals.

I also hope that we will continue to get better at understanding the new litigation model. So much of the work that was traditionally done by law firms is now being rendered by third-party service providers or machines. So we'll be devoting a lot more time and resources to better practicing litigation in this new environment. That may mean changing the composition of our lawyers, so we can better utilize lawyers with different skills and abilities to recapture some of the work that has gone elsewhere.

This year we have to remain laser-focused on our four key industries. You'll see a really robust, external effort in the months ahead to promote our industry initiatives.

CA: The firm steadily grew its number of offices over the last three decades – are you happy with the firm's current presence, both domestically and internationally, or are there new markets that Hunton is actively interested in?

WM: We are taking a serious look at opening another office in Asia, which is something that could potentially happen in 2015.

CA: What makes Hunton an attractive firm to those about to start their careers?

WM: This is a wonderful organization to join if you're interested in getting experience pitched at a level beyond your years. If the idea of handling a fourth or fifth year’s work as a second year excites you, then we're a good choice.

We have reduced our number of summer hires and the size of our entry class, and we are investing more and more into developing our associates. Our goal is to prepare them to become great lawyers and future leaders of the firm, and to offer them an outstanding learning experience along the way.

Our training is not just based on practice area, but also on the business of law. We’re training associates to think about what clients want and need in addition to the quality legal service for which we are known.

Another key element is our pro bono program, which allows our associates to pursue their dreams and aspirations outside of everyday work. Whether they're passionate about animal rights, marriage equality or micro finance, we can find opportunities for them.

Hunton & Williams LLP

2200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC,
20037
Website www.hunton.com

  • Head Office: Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 14
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Partners (US): 306
  • Counsel (US): 87
  • Associates (US): 314
  • Summer Salary 2014  
  • 2Ls: $2,800-$3,080/week
  • 1Ls hired? No (Some offices may participate in a 1L diversity program.)
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2015: 35
  • Offers/acceptances 2014: 25 offers, 24 acceptances

Firm profile




Hunton & Williams is the legal advisor of choice for industry leaders on six continents. With more than 800 attorneys practicing from 19 offices across the United States, Europe and Asia, the firm helps clients realize new opportunities and solve complex problems with confidence. Founded in 1901, Hunton & Williams blends more than a century of experience in virtually every key legal discipline with a broad view of current business realities and a forward-looking perspective on emerging issues to provide legal and regulatory advice that will carry its clients well into the 21st century. The firm is regularly named by legal and business publications as among the top law firms for client service and as a place to work.

Recruitment details




Number of 1st year associates: 28 

Number of 2nd year associates: 40 

Associate salaries: 1st year: $145,000-$160,000 (depending on location) 

Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2015:
Columbia University; Cornell University; Duke University; Emory University; Fordham University; Georgetown University; George Washington University; Harvard University; Howard University; New York University; Southern Methodist University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Michigan; University of Pennsylvania; University of Richmond; University of Southern California; University of Texas; University of Virginia; Vanderbilt University; Wake Forest University; Washington and Lee University; Washington University in St Louis; College of William and Mary

Summer details




Summer associate profile:
When recruiting summer associates, Hunton & Williams seeks high performing, team oriented and problem-solving law students. In addition to strong academic credentials and excellent written and verbal communication skills, applicants should have a solid record of success and leadership. Prior work experience, professional experience or advanced degrees also are valued.

Summer program components:
Hunton & Williams Summer Program is a focused, ten-week immersion in the realworld practice of law. Rather than simply shadowing experienced associates and partners, participants are actively engaged in practical work and training activities that support the goals of the firm and its clients while fostering professional development. While the program is customized, based on the career goals and interests of each summer associate, it generally includes leadership skills training, career mentoring, business development and client service training, practical experience, client interaction, pro bono opportunities, writing coaching, judicial clerkship counseling, and work projects and experience in the practice areas of interest.