Rooftop bocce is just one of the things that distinguishes this DC and Baltimore-heavy national firm.
IT is often said of Baltimore that it's a Southern city that just happens to be in the north. The reason for this is not because it has exquisite seafood – though it does – or because it gets mighty hot in the summertime, though that's true too; but because it has the kind of genteel and traditional culture that many people associate with Southern cities. A similar down-to-earth nature and warmth of personality was given time and again by sources asked what drew them to Baltimore-founded Venable. “In my interview an associate told me he had to kick colleagues out of his office because they were having too much fun. That's a good cultural problem to have.”
The DC office eclipsed Baltimore's headcount a while back and is now officially the main office, but “historically and spiritually Baltimore is home, even though Washington gets the most business and has the most variety of practices.” Further up the Eastern Seaboard, the firm has a growing presence in Delaware and New York. Over on the West Coast, its LA and San Francisco offices continue to expand. Chambers USA especially recognizes Venable's advertising, privacy & data, and REITs work nationwide. In its home state Venable gets top nods for real estate and corporate/M&A.
Regulatory is where the bulk of DC newbies will find themselves, but elsewhere commercial litigation, labor & employment and corporate are the firm's bread and butter. Under these umbrella practices sit specialist niches like product liability, real estate and IP. In the bigger offices (DC, Baltimore, LA and New York) placement is decided at the end of the summer – “you rank all the practices available then about a week or two before you start you get a letter with your allocation. As far as I know they try hard to give you one of your top two.”
Assignment is fairly informal: “You form relationships with partners early on, and then they usually just assign stuff one-on-one. It means you have to be quite open at first but everyone's really friendly so it's not hard.” This does mean that juniors have to be diligent about telling partners when they've got too much work on: “There's no one controlling my workflow and quite early on I was a tad overwhelmed. So I talked to one of the partners I was working for and since then they've kept a track of what I'm doing.” Smaller groups have “bi-weekly meetings with one partner during which assignments are given out.”
“You have to be quite open at first but everyone's really friendly so it's not hard.”
Sources reported high level tasks from the get-go: “They staff very leanly here so on a deal it'll be just me and a partner or me and a mid-level associate. When it's the former, I'll be the one managing the calendar, which means you get to look at the master plan and speak up for the opportunities you want. They're looking for associates that want to take the reins on transactions.” Over in litigation they're “doing the standard researching. But also a lot of the time first years will be doing the first draft of a brief.” Real estate juniors cheerfully told of “starting out doing mainly due diligence and small lease drafting tasks,” and then “after you've proved yourself you could be negotiating smaller leases.”
Interviewees highlighted a discernible cultural difference between Venable's East and West Coast operations: “Obviously DC and Baltimore have had decades to define themselves and they both have hundreds of lawyers, whereas LA and San Francisco are new offices and need a bit of time to forge their own identities.” As with most of Venable's newer outlets, the Californian duo were started by merging with local boutique firms and “bringing across lateral partners, who a lot of the time will come with their own associates.” This often meant a “disparate collective made up of two or three tightly-knit groups.”
On the East Coast, however, “the culture still very much stems from Baltimore.” And, without paying too much heed to regional stereotypes, “there's a folksy down-to-earth atmosphere that I think you wouldn't necessarily get from a DC or New York-founded firm.” This attitude prevails across all levels, associates said, and partners “aren't there to bring you down but really to guide you. They understand the stress of being an associate and they're very embracive when you make faults – there are no 'shouters' here.”
“There's a folksy down-to-earth atmosphere that you wouldn't necessarily get from a DC or New York-founded firm.”
In fact, the only time things seem to get competitive at Venable are during the annual summer bocce tournaments in DC. For all those unfamiliar with bocce, it's like the French game boules, played by throwing a ball and trying to get it nearest to a jack (smaller ball). This prosaic definition belies an intense competition – “you play with a partner and there are three rounds before the final. It gets pretty heated and there's a trophy that the winners parade around with.” The firm is soon to move into new purpose-built DC digs, and “one of the first things that went on the blueprints was the roof-top bocce court.”
Hours & Compensation
There is a reduced billable target for first-years of 1,800 hours, which increases to 1,900 for second-years and above. To be bonus eligible, juniors must hit 1,950 – of which 50 hours can be pro bono work. That bonus “increases in 50-hour increments over 1,900” and this, coupled with the fact that Venable matched the market salary in 2016, means “if you're thinking in the short-term, you can actually earn more here than at the traditional mega firms, even though our bonuses are way below market.”
This is significant since “this is a firm that doesn't want you to be dying because of work,” but it's also “a place where the work is there – there's not a day when you won't find eight hours to bill. As a junior you're never just sitting there and waiting for work.”
As mentioned above, pro bono is encouraged by the fact that associates can count 50 hours of it toward their billables. However, other than that “it isn't necessarily pushed to the front of the agenda, it's more about you putting yourself out there or expressing an interest in a particular area. If you do that, people will bring you opportunities.” A lot of the firm's affiliates are in the DC/Maryland area and include the Historical Society of Washington, House of Ruth (a charity for sufferers of domestic violence), the Tahirih Justice Center, and Kids in Need of Defense. There's also a pro bono fellowship that sends an attorney full-time to a local non-profit, while the Venable Foundation, founded in 1983, donates to a wide variety of organizations.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 29,254
- Average per attorney: 43
Training & Development
Training is “very much an informal process” which sources preferred to “time-consuming, sit-down sessions.” The firm understands that some might want an educational top-up once in a while and so is “very receptive to you attending conferences and outside workshops and is very happy to pay for those.” With such a quick turnover of work and a more informal approach to training, associates felt that substantial feedback was sometimes hard to come by – “there's an annual review and they're very fast. Mine was scheduled for 15 minutes but it lasted five.”
That said, there are ample forums in which junior attorneys can air their grievances: “There's a junior panel which is a safe space to ask any questions to more senior associates and you are also assigned an associate mentor and a preceptor, the latter of whom takes you on client meetings and gives you training-type exercises to complete.”
Venable's DC contingent moved to new digs at the beginning of 2017. “It's really pretty and all glass, so everyone at least has natural light. There's also a nice restaurant in the basement. Everyone's really excited because partners keep dropping by to say they've just been to Italy to choose new marble for the surfaces.” There's also a gym, bar and roof terrace. Over in San Francisco they're ahead of the curve of modernity – “it's all glass interiors here and definitely not the standard law firm mahogany look. It fits with the culture of the city and our clients.”
"Yes, I've arrived!”
All new starters at the firm get their own office from day one and Baltimore associates – whose home overlooks the city's historic Inner Harbor – praised the “ample space, more than you'd get in other big cities. When you start they walk you into this big office with a great view over the harbor and you think, 'yes, I've arrived!'”
Diversity, however, is an area in which Venables might still be waiting on the platform – “I don't know how much they promote it,” one associate reflected. “I always felt like I wanted more, so I had to look outside the firm for networking events.” That said, “there is a strong women's group, WAVE [Women at Venable], which meets quarterly and invites special guests to come and talk about female issues in the law.” There is also the Venable Success Group for diverse attorneys that holds biennial get togethers with speakers and workshops.
Many interviewees had been involved in the interview process soon after joining the firm. They advised: “Venable generally looks for people who seem like they can hold their own. Like they can hold a conversation and that they have a life outside law school.” Another elaborated: “Venable seems to place a lot of store on whether people have worked between law school or have some other passion or interest in the outside world.” Once they have passed through the OCIs, potential recruits can expect a callback where they'll meet with up to a dozen lawyers from the firm. “It might sound intimidating but it's structured in a way where you meet one-on-one and everyone's really nice.”
Strategy & Future
Sources took succor from the fact that “most of the partners in DC and Baltimore were first-years at the firm.” Across the board, there was belief that “Venable is genuinely interested in people making partner. They tell you that from the start they will do their best to help you get to the top.” Going forward, associates believed the firm's strategy of acquiring smaller boutique firms in key locations and growing like that was going to continue – “Venable occupies kind of a strange space in the legal market. It is Am Law 100 but almost right at the top of the mid-level. It means partners make a little bit less but they are invested in helping the firm grow so it can reach the top.”
All you need to know about bocce
Perhaps 'bocce' doesn't immediately spring to mind when you think of the world's great team sports. But don't be too quick to dismiss this satisfying game, which has ancient roots and a huge following, even today... Bocce can be traced all the way back to the Egyptians, who first used polished stones in order to play. We have visual proof to confirm this, as graphic representations of people throwing stones at a fixed target were discovered in an Egyptian tomb – telling us that the Egyptians went nuts for a bit of bocce, even as far back as 5200 BC.
Then the Greeks got on board around 800 BC, before passing the game on to the Romans, who, surprisingly enough, would use coconuts they'd sourced from Africa. Thankfully, the Romans had enough ingenuity to later carve the bocce balls out of olive wood, saving themselves the trouble of crossing the water to Africa every time they were in the mood for a good game of bocce.
Despite its immense rise in popularity, bocce didn't make everyone happy throughout the ages. In fact, it made rather a lot of people quite anxious. The problem was that bocce became just a bit too popular, creating fears over – of all things – national security: in 1319, those of 'lower nobility' were actually banned from playing the game, as it detracted from efforts to defend the borders. They should have been, of course, directing their energies toward more useful activities, like practicing archery or sharpening their military skills.
Later, in 1576, the Republic of Venice imposed imprisonment and fines for those caught indulging, while eventually even the Catholic Church became riled by the sport, and banned clergymen from playing, as it was seen to facilitate an inevitable degree of gambling. However, famous folk like Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake still loved a fierce game of bocce, and in England the sport eventually became known as 'bowls'.
The Brits decided to ditch the unsightly strip of stone dust, and replaced it with the far more aesthetically pleasing stretch of closely cropped grass. This was the form in which bocce initially traveled across the pond, when, in the 18th century, the very first playing field was set up on the southern tip of Manhattan.
Back in continental Europe, a bocce renaissance was enjoyed in the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of Italian mastermind Giuseppe Garibaldi, who, among other things, helped to unify Italy (no big deal) during the 1860s. Garibaldi was also an intimidatingly good bocce player, and his enthusiasm for the game was contagious. By 1896, the first 'Bocce Olympiad' was held in Athens, sealing the game's fate to become an increasing part of the international sporting arena.
When a flurry of Italian immigrants made their way to the US during the early 20th century, they brought with them their love of bocce, displacing the grassy British version of the game, which heretofore had ruled that southern tip of Manhattan. Bocce soon became a regular part of life in the towns and cities where Italians settled, but it wasn't until 1989 that things really heated up on the bocce courts, when, for some unknown reason, bocce became a craze across sunny California. Yes, those deliriously happy and sun-drenched Californians took to it like ducks to water, preempting a more national wave of adoration.
The best thing about bocce is that you don't exactly need a solid rack of rock-hard abs or to be in the most pristine of physical conditions in order to play. So, without further ado, let's look at how you play this physically undemanding but emotionally gratifying game...
- A game can be played between two people, or two teams of two, three or four people
- Each player is given two 'boccia'/balls
- One team tosses a 'pallino'/small ball onto the court
- Each team attempts to throw their boccia closest to the pallino
- The boccia which lands closest to the pallino receives the most points
- The skill level is ramped up by the attempt to simultaneously pitch your boccia closest to the pallino while displacing your opponent's already tossed boccia further away from it
- The length of the game can vary between seven and 13 points
And there you have it, nice and simple, in a nutshell. Sounds easy doesn't it? For those of you who harbor more serious bocce aspirations and want to thoroughly show off on the court, we thoroughly recommend taking a peek at The United States Bocce Federation website (www.usbf.us/training-tips.html), which delivers handy pointers on four-step runs, varying speed limits and how to hone that all-important underarm technique.
Interview with Lawrence Gesner, co-managing partner
What are some of Venable's highlights from the past year?
We were getting ready for the big move here in DC: we have moved to 600 Massachusetts Avenue. We have taken a little bit less space but we have room for more lawyers – we have more collaborative spaces, and a moot court area.
In terms of other things, we're continuing to expand in all of our offices and have made lots of important new hires. Our long-term strategy is to build on our strengths where the firm has traditionally been strong – for example, our privacy and data security practice, run by our new chairman, Stuart Ingis. He has been a significant partner of the firm for many years. Our advertising practice continues to be one of the leading practices in the country. Senator Mark Pryor joined us as head of our legislative and government affairs group, and is doing great work with contacts in the government. He's from Arkansas and has a great relationship with Walmart.
Our New York and California practices continue to grow. In California, Jonathan Lurie joined in December and runs a fantastic tax and wealth management practice that cuts across all kinds of areas. We're very excited about that. We also brought in some people in the real estate practice in New York, and had a great year.
Is Baltimore still the firm's spiritual home?
I don't know about the spiritual home. It is critical, it's very much our heritage. We represent a lot of significant clients in Maryland, both corporate and not. We have other offices in Maryland too – the one in Towson has a preeminent land-use practice.
What steps are being taken to integrate the newer West Coast offices into the firm's culture?
We have two offices out there – in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is important to integrate those offices. Los Angeles had its tenth anniversary last year. We have tried to do a number of things. In San Francisco, the office is headed up by Jim Nelson, who was a long-time resident of our New York office. Art Cirulnick went from DC to San Francisco. There is a lot of continuity by having people from the East Coast in those offices. Our management team and chairman are out there regularly. As it relates to associates, we try very hard to work across offices on client matters – particular expertise can be tapped into. It is very important to try to encourage and foster that kind of integration and I think we're doing a good job.
What's the bocce thing all about?
Bocce is an Italian game which I cannot pretend to be an expert in! When we moved to our current space in DC, this part of town had long been a barren part of town. Bill Coston, a wonderful IP partner who was chair of the IP division, wanted something unique so he built a bocce court on our top deck. Every summer we have a bocce tournament that includes all staff which culminates in the final. We moved offices in Baltimore and they were a little jealous so they built their own court. In our new space we of course are continuing our tradition.
What is Venable's attitude toward pro bono work?
It's extremely important. We have a partner, Seth Rosenthal, who is our pro bono manager. Seth has done a great job of making opportunities available. He attends all of the practice group evaluations so that he can give input. We have instituted a fellowship where two of our associates are placed at places like Bread for the City in DC. We had a very significant death penalty case we were working on. We've spent a lot of time on that case which the people we've worked with feel is a very important case. We do count some pro bono work in billing calculations. Pro bono is a tradition we've had for a long time.
Do you look favorably on people who have worked in other careers?
I think a prior career does help. I wouldn't say it's a prerequisite but I think it's an enhancement to anyone's resume. As you would expect in Washington, we have a lot of people who have been in the federal government. In any business a varied background is always a plus.
What does the firm offer young lawyers that is unique?
Every firm has its own unique culture or feel about it. The goal for us in recruiting is to match candidates to our culture. We hope law students are looking for a place where they feel comfortable. Most law firms say and mean that they are collegial – that's certainly true here. I think for a young lawyer, we offer the opportunity to work in a sophisticated large law firm with very senior lawyers from the beginning of their careers. The nature of our work tends to be that people can work very early in their career with senior people. The ratios we have are not five associates to every partner. We have our staffing set up in a way that associates get contact early on with a lot of our lawyers. You might not find that elsewhere.
600 Massachusetts Avenue,
- Head Office: Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $498,500,000
- Partners (US): 295
- Associates (US): 250
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: $3060/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? No
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
- Summers 2017: 35
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 33 offers, 32 acceptances
Main areas of work
Government and regulatory affairs, corporate law and business transactions, complex litigation, technology and intellectual property.
Venable is an American Lawyer 100 law firm. With approximately 650 attorneys in nine offices across the country, we are strategically positioned to advance our clients’ business objectives in the US and abroad. Our clients rely on Venable’s proven capabilities in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property, and regulatory and government affairs. Venable attorneys, many of whom have served in senior corporate, regulatory, prosecutorial, legislative and executive branch positions, understand the needs of their clients.
• Number of 1st year associates: 35
• Number of 2nd year associates: 34
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
American University, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Berkley Law, Brooklyn Law School, Univ. of Baltimore, Catholic University, Cornell, UC Davis, Duke, Fordham, George Mason, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, UC Hastings, Howard, UCI Law, Loyola Law School (LA), UCLA, Univ. of Maryland, Univ. of Michigan, New York Law School, NYU, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Univ. of Richmond, Univ. of San Francisco, USC, Stanford, Vanderbilt, UVA, and William & Mary. We will also attend the Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Mid-Atlantic BLSA Job Fair, Western Region BLSA Job Fair, Northeast Region BLSA Job Fair, and Lavender Law Job Fair
Summer associate profile:
We consider candidates whose personal and academic achievements demonstrate a commitment to excellence, who act with integrity, and who want to help clients solve problems in a large law firm environment.
Summer program components:
In 2015, Venable’s summer associate program was ranked #4 Best Overall Summer Associate Program and #1 Best Prepares for Practice by Vault. Our summer associate program is designed to give our summer associates a realistic depiction of everyday life as a junior associate. Each summer associate is assigned a partner mentor and an associate mentor. Summer associates receive real work assignments on behalf of real clients – the same types of assignments our junior associates receive throughout the year. Assignments come from a mix of practice areas, and are supplemented with “take-alongs”. Each assignment is reviewed after it is completed and each summer associate receives a formal midsummer and end of summer review by a member of the Hiring Committee. In addition to fun, local events, there are informal dinners, happy hours, and “take a partner to lunch” opportunities to get to know our attorneys. Venable also provides professional development workshops, such as legal writing, communication and time management, to the summer associates during the course of the program.