"I grew up in Texas and I was always familiar with the name," one associate told us of Vinson & Elkins. "I had always heard of it as one of the top firms in Texas."
VINSON & Elkins is known in the legal industry for its Texas heritage and – like several firms from the Lone Star State – for its prowess in the energy field. But juniors were also drawn to V&E for another reason: the firm's free-market work allocation. Associates must find their own mentors for career development, attracting those with a healthy dose of get-up-and-go. "I am given the freedom to build my own practice and explore a broad array of work and projects," one junior told us. "That variety makes the work really interesting."
Vinson & Elkins is most highly regarded in the market for its transactional work, winning a top-tier Chambers ranking in Texas for M&A and national recognition in Chambers USA's 'elite' category for corporate work, along with top rankings for energy transactions and energy projects work. The firm is also top-ranked in Texas for capital markets, bankruptcy, energy litigation and tax and wins recognition too for its litigation, environment, and labor & employment work among other areas. In New York, Vinson & Elkins is ranked in the 'highly regarded' category for corporate/M&A work.
At the time of our research, around half of juniors were based in Houston, the firm's biggest office; roughly a quarter were in Dallas with the remainder in New York or DC. Just under half of juniors were in the M&A/capital markets (MACM) practice, with the other half split pretty evenly three ways between energy transactions, litigation, and finance – plus a few in tax. So you can see how transactional work dominates the firm.
In many groups, juniors can rely on a mentor to feed them work for their first few months at the firm. After this easing-in period, juniors enter the free market. That means plenty of encouragement to "get out there, go to partners and senior associates who practice in the areas that interest you and ask them to be staffed on the next deal." Our sources preferred this to a formal system, but noted their workload could be erratic, with juniors sometimes becoming too busy to pursue their particular interests.
"Making sure every little thing has been taken care of and nothing falls through the cracks."
The MACM practice has a notable lean toward energy industry clients, but sources did tell us that there are differences between offices: Houston for example handles a mix of public M&A and private equity, while New York focuses much more on just private equity. Juniors described V&E's MACM attorneys as "the quarterbacks of the deal: we run it and delegate tasks to say environment or compensation lawyers." That means juniors take on lots of project management, with days spent maintaining a checklist of tasks and coordinating different aspects of each deal with in-house specialists and the other side's counsel. Organizational skills are "extremely important because you are tasked with making sure every little thing has been taken care of and nothing falls through the cracks."
MACM clients: Extraction Oil & Gas, Holly Energy Partners, New York Mortgage Trust, and Core Laboratories. Advised BP Midstream Partners on its $765 million IPO.
V&E's energy teams handles chiefly oil and gas work, particularly in the South. Matters related to solar and other renewables do crop up, and interviewees noted such deals "are extremely complex and have a large amount of moving pieces." Like in MACM, juniors start out on more administrative tasks, "going through the basic stuff like looking over documents and making sure they are in the proper format and have no egregious typos." After six months or so you're likely to move on to "running client calls and answering questions about the main documents." Our interviewees were pleased with this transition, though one admitted it was "terrifying" to be "put in a position where the client was continually reaching out to me!"
Energy/projects clients: Noble Midstream Partners, Blackstone Energy, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Devon Energy Corp. Advised Driftwood LNG and Tellurian on financing an LPG export hub in Louisiana.
"Sort of like the logic games you do during the LSAT."
Helping to save clients money during transactions is the goal of the tax team. After deciding the best steps to take, the team "then works on the relevant documents and requests a proper tax analysis, along with going through warranties and negotiating those with opposing counsel." This results in "a mix of dealwork but also more legalish research and writing" for juniors. Our sources found this "intellectually challenging and fast-paced since I'm working on many deals at the same time." Juniors spend their time writing research memos and explaining relevant legislation and its relationship to the deal. "Deciding which steps to take and which structures to use, and why this or that might be more advantageous is sort of like the logic games you do during the LSAT," one source shared.
Tax clients: SoCal SportsNet, Talos Energy, USA Compression Partners, and Lucid Energy Group. Advised Rice Energy on the tax aspects of its merger with oil and gas exploration and pipeline EQT.
The commercial litigation team's cases might involve mergers turned sour, banking disputes, administrative law matters, IP/tech wrangles and real estate issues related to energy company assets and properties. As a junior you have to become "a master of gathering the facts, down to the granular details of email exchanges and text messages, and reviewing it all to identify the legal issues." During this doc review juniors will "jump onto Westlaw or LexisNexis to see what legal authorities exist to support a particular argument." Another source added: "Sometimes we have to respond quickly to a client that's asking a counseling question, so often I'm drafting something that takes a few hours."
Hard work is a given in BigLaw, and our sources felt V&E looks for people who don't just have the capacity to put their nose to the grindstone but "enjoy doing so and for whom it comes naturally." They were quick to add this shouldn't make you think the environment is cutthroat. According to one insider: "I've been on projects where people have offered to help out having just billed 16 hours that day, and I've certainly done the same for other people."
"I've been on projects where people have offered to help out having just billed 16 hours that day."
Still, given the free-market allocation system and emphasis on carving out your own career path things could get competitive. A Dallas source informed us: "There's a bit of antagonism when working with someone in your same class year. But that's less the case if you are working with someone senior or junior because the hierarchy is going to be defined and accepted." While seniority and a sense of hierarchy is of course respected, sources added that the atmosphere of "friendliness extends all the way up to the partners, who care about you. They don't see you as a cog in the machine and they genuinely look out for you."
V&E does have a formal mentoring system, which involves pairing up new starters with an initial sponsor for the first six months. After this period, fresh-faced first-years have both a partner/counsel mentor and an associate mentor; juniors have the opportunity to rank those who they would like to be their mentors. However, it's also common for juniors to "take the initiative and develop informal mentorships by doing things like going out for coffee to ask questions about a deal." On the topic of training, one source said: "I don't think formal training is our strong suit." The firm's systems and structures are best suited to self-starters, so "people who are ambitious and really want to move forward have an advantage" when it comes to progression. We heard that "if you're not as much of a go-getter you might get lost in the shuffle if you don't have the right people mentoring you, particularly in Houston as it's such a big office."
"People who are ambitious and really want to move forward have an advantage."
If associates do leave, they tend to do so around their fifth year, usually to go in-house, a future prospect the Houston sources we spoke to felt would be an easy transition due to V&E's stellar reputation in the local market. Those thinking of looking for roles outside Texas or the energy sector were more circumspect. "Maybe a New York firm or a non-energy company would think of V&E more as a regional firm," one source observed. Making partner was something those we spoke to felt was a stretch. "It's not something I think would happen if I just stick around for eight years and do a good job," mused one junior. "It would take a lot of work and the right circumstances." By the time associates get to their seventh year, they can also consider the firm's counsel program, which comes with increased compensation and the opportunity to still be considered for the partnership track.
Hours & Compensation
Associates work to meet a 2,000-hour billing target each year. Our sources tended to find this target reasonable. Base pay is lockstep and first-years typically get a standard pro-rated bonus. After that the firm awards extra cash on a discretionary basis; bonus amounts kick in once associates reach their annual 2,000-hour target. Juniors felt that when V&E matched the new Milbank scale in 2018 it showed it was "one of the top national firms, not just a regional firm." In fact, differences in regional living costs (and tax rates) made those in Texas feel better off than their East Coast counterparts.
Most juniors told us they normally arrive around 9.30am and leave at 6.30pm, though tax and energy associates tend to arrive closer to 8am. Logging on at home and clocking in for a few more hours in the evening is common. Hours can regularly fluctuate too. One source reported: "If you are at a deal's critical stage – by which I mean it's Monday and the parties have agreed that if they can't get it done by 3pm Wednesday then they are not going to do it – you may have to work from 7am till 4am."
"Because we are a heavily Texas-based firm there are a lot of immigration cases."
While juniors may bill an unlimited amount of pro bono work toward their target, "the firm doesn't view the two as equally important. If you are on a billable deal and have a deadline, that doesn't get pushed by the wayside so you can do a pro bono matter." Still, juniors found themselves with enough time to pursue pro bono interests. Along with regular emails alerting juniors to available opportunities, enthusiasts can get in touch with V&E's pro bono counsel themselves. "Because we are a heavily Texas-based firm there are a lot of immigration cases," one junior told us, though we also heard of child custody cases and landlord/tenant disputes. For those who don't have time to take on a full case there are "virtual workshops and a veterans clinic, where for about four hours people can come and ask you questions."
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 21,154
- Average per US attorney: 34
Diversity & Inclusion
At the junior level just below 60% of associates are male and nearly 80% are white. When it comes to the partnership, "most of our partners are going to be... you know... white males," sighed one interviewee. Another said: "I do not believe we have sufficient representation of minorities," adding that this means diverse juniors struggle to find mentors. The stats for the firm's latest class are as follows: 43% are women, 28% are attorneys of color and 7% are LGBT+. When it comes to the 2019 summer class they are: 50% women, 34% attorneys of color and 6% LGBT+.
"I do not believe we have sufficient representation of minorities."
The firm recently hosted a series of diversity workshops in Houston, inviting lawyers from all its offices to attend. Afterward chairman Mark Kelly hosted a casual dinner for attendees at his home. We heard these activities helped diverse juniors somewhat as it gave them the chance to seek out mentors outside of their immediate practice groups and offices.
Strategy & Future
While V&E has a diverse practice, energy is at the core of what it does. But the firm is making moves to broaden out further. "We recognize the energy work may not always be so constant," said one junior, "so it's not prudent to put all our eggs in one basket." Mark Kelly, chairman, confirmed that V&E will "continue to look at opportunities to expand outside of energy, as noted by our recent hiring of an outstanding real estate group in New York." This group comprised 15 lawyers, including three partners. The firm also hired an ex-Kirkland M&A partner and a former assistant attorney general environmental lawyer into its New York office. The London office also recently hired five finance laterals and DC took in two antitrust partners.
Vinson & Elkins LLP
1001 Fannin Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $737,248,000
- Partners (US): 187
- Associates (US): 357
- Main recruitment contact: Gretchen Rollins, Director of Entry-Level Hiring
- Hiring partner: Stephen Gill
- Diversity officer: Julie Tran, Senior Inclusion & Alumni Relations Manager
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 76
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 133
- 1Ls: 38, 2Ls: 93, SEOs:2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Austin: 6; Dallas: 33; Houston: 65; New York: 14; Richmond: 1; San Francisco: 4; Washington: 10
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,654
- 2Ls: $3,654
- Split summers offered? 10 week program, varies by office
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case by case
Main areas of work
Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, LSU, NYU, Northwestern, STCL Houston, SMU, Stanford, The University of Texas, Tulane, UC Berkeley, UCLA, The University of Chicago, University of Houston, University of Michigan, University of Richmond, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington University, Washington & Lee, William & Mary, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
V&E participates in job fairs such as: Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, Loyola University Patent Law Program, and Sunbelt Minority Recruitment Program. V&E accepts write-in applications from 2L students and awards several Diversity Fellowships to 1L and 2L law students. V&E also considers 3L applicants and judicial clerks for associate positions.
Summer associate profile:
Vinson & Elkins hires talented and highly motivated law students from top schools who are looking for a sophisticated legal practice. V&E seeks candidates who offer diverse perspectives, take initiative, are creative, and enjoy working alongside top lawyers in a friendly, team-oriented environment.
Summer program components:
V&E offers Summer Associates opportunities to work on high-level projects from a variety of practice areas of interest and on pro bono matters. Law students experience handson legal training, develop strong mentoring relationships, and gain a real understanding of what it is like to practice law at Vinson & Elkins. Additionally, there are plenty of social and wellness activities that help students get to know future colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere.
Twitter: @VECareers; @VinsonandElkins; @VEAlums
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Appellate Law (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Representation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 3)
- Climate Change (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Government Contracts (Band 4)
- International Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
- REITs (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)