Legal career in the pipeline? Vinson & Elkins is a well-oiled BigLaw firm providing Southern comfort to the rapidly evolving US energy market and beyond.
It’s hard to switch on the news these days without hearing about the growing challenges facing the energy market – from the surge in demand for oil and gas post-pandemic to the sobering need to transfer business toward renewable energy sources. These pressing issues have made the industry a hotbed for legal activity, making a career in the energy sector an attractive choice for any budding associate.
“With renewables, V&E is walking the walk.”
Luckily, the US energy market is second nature to legal maestro Vinson & Elkins. Since its founding in Texas in 1917, the firm has maintained over a century’s grip on a reputation embedded in the rich history of the Southern oil boom. It’s no surprise that V&E remains a go-to among some big oil and gas firms for legal representation, but its knowledge and perspective on the industry has enabled it to keep on top of evolving market trends over the last decade, notably the transition to renewable energy sources. Today, you’ll find V&E advising big-name investors on a whole host of renewable and alternative energy projects. One associate noted that “with renewables, V&E is walking the walk.”
While the energy sector is a cornerstone of V&E’s operations, it certainly isn’t its final frontier. Clients from industries such as tech, real estate, retail, and life sciences are all well catered for at V&E. There’s the whole gamut of legal practices available, too, with Chambers USA bestowing tip-top kudos on areas like banking and finance, restructuring, capital markets and corporate within V&E’s home state of Texas. On a nationwide basis, V&E’s energy expertise comes to the fore, with Chambers USA positioning the firm as one of the best in the country for both transactional and litigation services tied to the oil and gas sector. The firm’s reputation in this area extends even further than that, however: Chambers Global places V&E in the highest-ranking category for related projects and energy work across multiple jurisdictions.
With this in mind, it’s important to flag V&E’s international dimensions. Three overseas bases in London, Dubai and Tokyo help to facilitate this firm’s cross-border reach, which was a draw for prospective associates: “I wanted a firm that was strong in Texas but had something more than just a home in the state.”
The Houston office housed the largest number of associates on our list, followed by the Dallas and New York offices. The remaining juniors were spread across V&E’s Austin, LA, DC, Richmond, and San Francisco bases. Juniors could be found in 11 practice groups, but the most populated were M&A/capital markets, complex commercial litigation (CCL), energy transactions/projects, and finance. The formality of work assignment procedures varies by practice group, with sources in the M&A/capital markets department explaining that first-years fill out availability logs that “partners take a look at to ensure the workload is balanced – the logs can be time-consuming, but it means that there isn’t an uneven distribution of work and we’re all hitting the same hours.” The assignment system wasn’t as formal in complex commercial litigation, but “deliberate thought is put into staffing, and they won’t assign work to overload people.”
“There isn’t a deal junior associates don’t have exposure to.”
M&A/capital markets is “the biggest practice group and the work isn’t parochial – we work for a lot of private equity firms out of New York and there is international work outside of Houston.” For those in the Houston HQ, “the big three categories are private equity; private M&A; and public M&A and general corporate governance.” Another source enthused that “there isn’t a deal junior associates don’t have exposure to.” A Dallas interviewee told us that “we have a lot of oil and gas and Fortune 500 clients who we’re heavily involved with,” while their counterpart in Houston explained: “You can get a reputation quickly if you do good work. You can be thrown in at the deep end and senior associates trust me to speak with clients. There’s a lot of responsibility when it comes to drafting disclosures, running the due diligence process, and even negotiating with opposing counsel.” There is plenty of support available, however, as this junior highlighted: “I had so many questions when I started, and people were very nice and understanding.”
Corporate/M&A clients: Blackstone Energy Partners, Goldman Sachs Renewable Power, Oasis Petroleum. Advised Blackstone and I Squared Capital portfolio company BCP Raptor Holdco on its $9 billion combination with Altus Midstream Company.
Over in the CCL (litigation) practice group, we heard that Dallas handles more securities litigation, while Houston is reportedly a bit more focused on oil and gas disputes. Both bases, however, have white-collar crime capabilities. Chambers USA, meanwhile, bestows praise on the department’s ability to handle a variety of matters beyond energy cases, including those pertaining to antitrust, environmental, and construction matters. Recent disputes have also had an international impact, with jurisdictions like Brazil, Mexico, and Japan involved. Again, “you get the responsibility you ask for – partners don’t look at your class year, they look at what you’re capable of doing.” That means juniors can potentially “do everything from leading doc review teams to drafting and arguing motions.” Depending on the size of a team and matter, “you could be running the case as a mid-level associate.” The caliber of work in this department was also noted as a particular highlight for some, with one praising the “world-class clients” such as major sports leagues and gas pipeline clients.
Commercial litigation clients: Vitol, Apache, American Electric Power Company. Represented Huntsman International during a breach of contract dispute against a supplier of industrial gases needed for the company’s manufacturing processes.
The energy transactions/projects practice group was described as “a mid-sized group, so it’s one where your value can be seen and appreciated.” The work here involved “working with sponsors of renewable energy projects where you feel like you’re counsel to companies that rely on you to navigate the waters and everything that’s changing.” These projects were deemed “very fulfilling – they have a lot of moving parts to them and a big learning curve, but you’re gaining experience from and working opposite the best lawyers in the field.” As a result, “the work is very fast-paced, so you’re expected to be resourceful and efficient – people are relying on you to work hard, but the level and quality of the work makes you want to work harder.” Overall, “we’re respected for the value we bring,” a satisfied associate noted.
Projects clients: Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, Woodside Energy, Apollo Global Management. Advised funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management on their $175 million investment in an owner-operator of solar assets.
“They are invested in me and will do lots to help me succeed.”
Incoming juniors are assigned an initial mentor “on a temporary basis – you then get to pick mentors you want.” This source had “used the formal mentorship process a ton,” but also found that informal mentors were great “for those random logistical questions – I work on large matters with the same people for a long period of time, and I feel they are invested in me and will do lots to help me succeed.”
Formal training consists of workshops that run every year and are tailored to specific year groups; on the litigation side, these can include several days of trial workshops, as well as deposition and negotiation training. “It’s an immersive program and people take it seriously,” one source summarized. “It’s far better than anything I did lat aw school, and you get partner and peer feedback.” Beyond those programs, there are “a bunch of CLEs that are mandatory for professional development.”
“V&E is prestigious in Texas."
Hopes for partnership depended on the size of the practice and likelihood of there being space to accommodate promotions within it, but associates agreed that they had a wide array of options open to them: “V&E is prestigious in Texas and if I wanted to go to another firm everyone would acknowledge that I’m well trained.” However, we heard that most people who leave “go to some sort of in-house position – I can only think of one person who’s left to go to another firm!”
A respect for family and life beyond work was felt to rest at the heart of V&E’s culture. “The firm does a great job of being family-friendly, which means you can do things in the evenings and weekends,” said one source, while another highlighted that “lots of people have kids, so it’s normal for people to leave at 6pm.” This interviewee enthused that “they don’t just preach that the job shouldn’t be your entire life, they practice it, too.” Associates also pointed out the good work/life example set by those above: “I can see people five years older than me in the firm living a life I would like to be living in those years.”
“You don’t need to be stuffy around them – most of them have been to my house!"
Associates praised the approachability of seniors at the firm, with this source explaining that “you don’t need to be stuffy around them – most of them have been to my house! Everyone is a team and we’re rowing in the same direction. There’s no hierarchy in the sense that a first-year’s opinion, if articulated well, is worth just as much as a partner’s.” This all bodes well for a healthy social life: “Every time we close a deal there’s a dinner and the partners will make us feel special and send us thank you notes.” Of course, in a large firm there’s variation and “some groups are more reserved and don’t do as many events,” but an overarching trait common to all groups is that people are fundamentally decent: “When we take the summer associates out for lunch, we look at how they treat the staff. If they’re rude to waiters, then what are they going to be like at the firm? We select the people who are nice.” Social highlights include casino nights, escape rooms, parties at partners’ houses, and in Houston an annual chilli cook-off is always hotly anticipated: “People obsess about it!”
Hours & Compensation
The legal profession is fueled by long hours at times, but associates at V&E aren’t running on empty week in week out: “It’s pretty up and down, so it’s hard to pinpoint an average day, but it also doesn’t feel like anyone is breathing down my neck, even when it’s super busy.” This junior helpfully explained that “you’re looking at accruing between 35 and 40 billable hours a week, which you can achieve if you’re online and at your desk somewhere between eight and 12 hours a day.” Associates tended to spend two days working remotely and three days in the office: “If I’ve got more than a hour’s worth of work to do by 6pm, I’ll go home, exercise, have dinner, and then log back on later. But I try to be as efficient as I can in the office!”
Associates get paid a base bonus if they hit 2,000 billable hours. 100 hours of pro bono, recruiting, professional development, and DE&I activities can all count toward the billable target. A higher-tier bonus can be unlocked if associates hit 2,000 standard billable hours and 150 alternative hours.Interviewees explained that “there are no repercussions” for not hitting the hours target: “As a junior it’s hard to have control over your workload. 2,000 hours is achievable but could be difficult with market trends and recession.” With lockstep and “Cravath-level” compensation, there were no complaints: “We’ve very well compensated. As we gain more responsibility, more is expected of us, and that’s built into the salary structure.”
V&E is “very pro, pro bono” a source quipped. There is a dedicated pro bono counsel who sends out emails every week detailing available cases. We heard that attorneys get involved in guardianship hearings across the firm, but there’s plenty more on offer depending on practice expertise. One source mentioned that in CCL specifically there’s “an expectation for junior associates to handle asylum cases,” while other matters have involved assisting local theatres, radio stations and even a climate tech entity. While pro bono is highly valued at the firm, there’s no minimum requirement to undertake it, and a source explained that they “never thought of it as a box I needed to tick, but they give you all the tools you need to do pro bono in your time here.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“Definitely at the junior level the firm has become more and more diverse,” an interviewee commented, “but the issue is retention, and the partnership isn’t diverse, although they are trying to change that.” Others echoed this sentiment and confirmed that “they take DE&I seriously and have invested in it; they created a new position at the firm, and that person is very intentional and passionate.” The firm also achieved Mansfield Rule 5.0 certification toward the end of that year and is currently participating in Diversity Lab’s sixth iteration of the Mansfield program.
Strategy & Future
The energy transition is a significant focus for V&E, with firm chair Keith Fullenweider flagging “the new technologies that are coming to the market, like hydrogen and battery storage. It’s a very important year for us to be on transactions and representing clients in those areas. We want to make sure we continue to be a leader on that front.” He adds that “while the economy has been softer in the last year, it hasn’t had an overall effect on demand. The biggest external effect on our work at the moment is the more aggressive regulatory environment, which is making it harder to complete transactions.” However, Fullenweider also explains that the Inflation Reduction Act (which came into force in 2022) has “provided tax incentives for clean energy technology matters, which has increased investment and had a tremendous effect on demand.”
One of the most important facets of V&E’s strategy is to “train, develop and advance the next generation of lawyers. We have always concentrated on organic growth, and we have been giving our associates access to external coaches and career strategy advice, which has been well received,” says Fullenweider. “Regardless of the state of the economy, the best strategy firms can have is to invest in their talent.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 667
Vinson & Elkins visits roughly 30 law schools and job fairs, plus diversity-focused events each year. The firm also collects resumes from numerous other schools. V&E Lead Partner for Recruiting, Lande Spottswood, tells us: “We select schools primarily based on their rankings, and beyond the top 20, we look at other great law schools where we have historical relationships, such as University of Houston, SMU in Dallas, and Fordham in New York.” She notes the firm interviews between 20 and 60 students at each OCI, but she says: “The number of total interviews we conduct during formal OCI programs has decreased over the last few years as the number of students we meet and interview outside of OCI has increased.”
Partners, counsel, and associates who represent a variety of offices and practice groups conduct the interviews, and the firm aims to make sure the interviewers have diverse backgrounds. Spottswood tells us, “All of our attorneys are prepared to interview students for any of our offices and practices.”
“We ask behavioral and personalized questions in our interviews, to help us get to know students beyond what we see on their resumes. We look for students who are driven, and have been active and/or served in leadership roles in on-campus activities, both in undergrad and in law school. We also value previous work experience, especially where students have had the opportunity to develop team-oriented skills and demonstrate problem-solving qualities,” says Spottswood.
Top tips for this stage:
“We want to hear why students are interested in Vinson & Elkins and their city of interest. It is also helpful for us to know their practice area(s) of interest, which can help direct the conversation, and assist us when making decisions regarding callback interviews.” – Lande Spottswood, Lead Partner for Recruiting
Applicants invited to second-stage interviews (OCI & Pre-OCI): 311
Most offices have two or three 30-minute interview slots and a lunch (if the interview is in-person). Interviews are hosted by partners, counsel, and associates from a student’s practice area(s) of interest.
“At this stage, students are meeting more attorneys from their practice areas of interest, so we are expecting candidates to be able to give more insight into how they became interested in a specific practice area,” explained Spottswood. “We’re also interested in learning how their prior background and life experiences will translate to the practice of law at a firm like ours,” explained Spottswood.
Top tips for this stage:
“Be yourself, come prepared, be genuine and respectful, and take the opportunity to ask good, thoughtful questions.” – Spottswood
“I was really impressed with the recruitment process – the Attorney Recruitment team was very invested in each individual candidate that made it to the callback and offer phases, and that was apparent through their outreach and the connections they facilitated with their lawyers.” - a second-year associate
Acceptances: 49 (plus 44 returners from 2022 SAP)
V&E’s summer program gives students the opportunity to “do substantive work from a variety of practice areas, have direct client contact, and work side-by-side with attorneys who are leaders in their fields on a variety of client matters.”
Summer associates are assigned ‘sponsors’ to mentor them throughout the program, plus a work coordinator “who is responsible for gathering meaningful work projects for the students.” It’s worth noting that some offices have a formal rotation system. The numerous training sessions include a writing workshop, programs for building relationships and developing a professional presence, and several inclusion and wellness programs. Spottswood added: “There also are many social and community activities that give students the chance to get to know their colleagues – both fellow summer associates and attorneys –outside the office. We take our work seriously, but also enjoy relaxing and getting to know each other on a personal level.”
Students receive an offer to join the firm at the end of the program. Spottswood explained that “in the spring of their 3L year, we send out our Practice Group Preference Survey, which each incoming new lawyer will complete.” The firm uses those responses to determine practice group assignments based on client and practice group needs.
Top tips for this stage:
“Remember that the summer program is a multi-week job interview. We want our summer associates to take their projects seriously, do their best work, and meet deadlines. It’s also important that they take advantage of opportunities to get to know our lawyers by joining as many activities and networking events as possible.” – Spottswood
“We look for leaders who are problem-solvers, have a business mindset, and are good team players: you cannot be arrogant or condescending.”– a third-year associate
Vinson & Elkins LLP
845 Texas Avenue,
Main areas of work
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, LSU, Northwestern, NYU, SMU, Stanford, STCL Houston, Tulane, University of Chicago, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Houston, The University of Texas, UVA, Vanderbilt, Wash U, 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 Diversity 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 hands-on 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.
LinkedIn: Vinson & Elkins
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Takeover Defense (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 1)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
Texas: Houston & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
- Climate Change (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 5)
- Energy Transition (Band 1)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
- Offshore Energy (Band 1)
- Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Projects: LNG (Band 2)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- REITs (Band 3)
- SPACs (Band 3)
- Tax: Controversy (Band 5)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 4)