Well oil be damned – V&E’s expansion out of its comfort zone definitely isn’t a waste of energy.
“WHEN you Google us, the first thing you see is our transactional energy work,” one juniortold us. Indeed – that's why many associates sought out this Houston-headquartered firm in the first place: “It's the energy capital of the US, and V&E has one of the best energy practices in the country.” Chambers USA clearly agrees, as it ranks V&E's oil and gas expertise in the highest nationwide category, as well as dishing out other nods for its electricity and related climate change know-how.
But there's far more to V&E than its pedigree in Texas tea, as our interviewees were keen to emphasize: “We're impressive in other areas too! For one thing our litigation practice doesn't get the attention it deserves.” A closer inspection of Chambers USA reveals a clutch of other high rankings – especially in its home state – in areas like corporate/M&A, capital markets, general commercial litigation, real estate, tax, and technology. With fluctuations in the energy market – including those dips in oil prices – “our management knows that we need to expand beyond it; we're still strong and steady in that area but around half of our clients are coming from other industries now. We're trying to expand our tech expertise on the West Coast, for example.” Juniors were very confident in the firm's overall approach: “We've just celebrated our 100-year anniversary in 2017, and we have every intention of being around for the next 100 years too!”
Strategy & Future
“We had a record year in 2017 with strong financial performance that really helps us retain and attract top talent," managing partner Mark Kelly tells us. "Half the work we do is outside energy and in 2018 we’re going to continue to expand in various areas: private equity and finance, white-collar, construction and IP. We recruited a number of partners over the last 18 months in IP in the Bay Area, Dallas, Austin and DC.”
On the topic of Vinson's steadily growing head count, Kelly explains: “I want to make sure people are busy but not so busy that they’re overwhelmed. That’s not really our strategy or culture – we’re more about moderate growth, quality people, a strong reputation and bringing in people who get along well with our group.”
At the time of our calls, the largest group (45%) of second and third-year juniors were working in V&E's M&A/capital markets group (MACM), while the following groups also took on a significant chunk of associates: complex commercial litigation; energy; finance; and tax. A few could also be found in the firm's labor and employment; environmental; IP; real estate; and restructuring practices.
In MACM sources reported a “50:50 split between energy clients and clients from other sectors, like healthcare, transportation and even fashion.” V&E's energy expertise “gives us a high deal flow, because energy companies always need money – it's great to get your hands on different things.” In the first few years, juniors are given “freedom to bounce between areas that fall under the MACM umbrella, including private equity and shareholder activism matters.” On IPOs, interviewees had “helped to coordinate changes to documents with other groups and drafted ancillaries, as well as portions of more complicated documents like stockholders' agreements, offering memorandums and prospectus supplements.”
“All associates do energy work – it trickles into everything here.”
“As a commercial litigation associate you get exposure to different areas – one day it's a contract dispute, another day it's an oil and gas matter, and another it's an antitrust case.” Other areas juniors mentioned included appellate, securities and regulatory work. On one dispute over a merger an interviewee “did everything, including a lot of discovery and deposition prep – we had about 25 depositions in three weeks!” On the staple breach of contract matters, “I'll be consulting with the folks who are putting a deal together, and they'll be asking us about specific language used in the contract and the scope of what's enforceable.” Juniors especially liked the “complex procedural issues” that crop up in class action cases: “We'll look at how we can shift things from the state to the federal court, for example – it's like putting together a puzzle.”
The energy transactions and projects group is split (as the title suggests) into “two main sides: the transactions side, which covers M&A, structured finance and equity deals, and then projects.” The latter side involves “the development of various energy assets, including fracking facilities, export terminals, fertilizer plants, solar parks and renewable energy facilities – those projects can go on for years!” Transactions typically require first years “to do the trench work like diligence and checklists, but when you progress to the second year you get a lot more responsibility: I've drafted entire agreements from scratch on smaller deals and handled the communication with the client.”
Training & Development
A three-day orientation program in the Houston HQ welcomes all new starters to the firm. “You get acquainted with the firm's culture and systems; they bring in new joiners from across the globe and place a heavy emphasis on making connections in different offices – it should be easy for you to just pick up the phone and call someone.” When juniors return to their home offices, the more “substantive training” begins in the form of regular CLEs: “They cover things like offering processes and how to form certain documents. They give you a good general overview and don't go too deep into the weeds – most learning happens on the job.”
Hours & Compensation
There may be no formal billing target at V&E, but “2,000 hours is the average that everyone tries to meet – it's also the number at which the firm has historically paid out a bonus.” That figure was deemed reasonable across groups, but juniors did point to “ups and downs that make it harder to meet as a first year – you have a bit less control.” Bonus increases are tiered at 2,150 and 2,300 hours.
Texas-based sources typically worked between 9am and 6pm, while those in New York started and finished a bit later, working between 10am and 8pm on average. We did hear a few late night stories, especially from those in the transactional groups (“last week I was here regularly until at least midnight,” one MACM source told us). Some juniors preferred “to put in the extra hours during the week so I can have a couple of days off at the weekend,” while others “generally take some work home every weekend – it's pretty standard to do at least a few hours.”
“It's very encouraged,” sources agreed when discussing pro bono. “The firm sends around email blasts and we also have a great firm-wide pro bono counsel – she'll look into what you want to do and try to make it happen!” An unlimited number of pro bono hours count toward the 2,000-hour bonus target.
Some of our sources had worked on guardianship cases where “people have become mentally incapacitated and need to have a guardian appointed to oversee their health and finances.” Others had attended Lambda Legal clinics to “help transgender individuals change their gender on their licenses and passports – people weren't sure what Trump was going to do to impede that process.” We also heard from those who'd assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, by “helping people apply for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fix the damage done to their homes.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 21,154
- Average per US attorney: 35
As well as highlighting the presence of “some brilliant women and minority partners here,” pretty much every associate we spoke to mentioned the new firm-wide diversity council that has just been created. The firm's previous diversity forum was described as “smaller, less transparent and only open to diverse lawyers.” The new council, in contrast, “has been opened up to all attorneys; we've had such a positive response, with so many people wanting to get involved that we've broken it down into three subcommittees: recruitment, retention and business development.” Though it’s still in its early stages, plans on the cards include mentorship programs with law schools, recruiting events and a pipeline schools focus. “I appreciate that it’s focused on concrete actions – we’re talking about the specific things we can do to make a difference.”
“At a BigLaw firm you're going to work hard – there's no avoiding that,” a Houston resident stated, “but at a New York firm it's like 'get your ass in here on Sunday,' while at a Texas firm it's more like 'can you please help me this Sunday?'” Other juniors also appreciated “the general vibe of not freaking out all the time” and summed up the culture as “fairly casual but professional: casual because we wear jeans on a Friday and have little parties, and professional because when we're interfacing with clients that's how we behave.”
"They bring in people to give us massages and health evaluations.”
Though there’s “no pressure” to attend, there are regular happy hours and dinners across the offices, as well as more office-specific events such as a wellness week in New York, where “they bring in people to give us massages and health evaluations.” There's also an annual chilli cook-off in Houston: “It’s a pretty intense competition! They bring in a couple of guest judges and they do a blind tasting. Last year we had about 40 entries.” The most popular event of the year is Dallas's “casino party in summer. The firm rents out the top part of a hotel and sets up craps, blackjack and roulette, and gives you fake tokens to gamble with. At the end of the night, we put the tokens into drawings for prizes like Rangers tickets!”
The Houston HQ is the biggest in V&E's network, and was home to almost half of the second and third-year juniors on our list. “It’s not so flashy from the outside, but inside we have a beautiful white marble stairwell in the lobby area.” The office is also home to the country’s only private Starbucks (“they call it Jim's but everything in there is Starbucks, which is pretty cool”).Sources here also noted that “this is very much a HQ; it's great to have a lot of resources and be where a lot of the great work is sourced.”
Dallas is the firm’s second-largest office and housed about a quarter of junior associates. “We were going to move to a different building, but we decided to stay because we really like the downtown location, so we’re renovating instead. A year ago you'd have thought it looked like the movie 'Wall Street' from the 80s – it was all wood and gold. Now glass is coming!” V&E's DC, New York, Austin and Richmond offices all took on a handful of juniors each.
Get Hired: interview with hiring partner Doug Bland
Chambers Associate:What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?
Doug Bland:We now have quite a few offices in the US, so we take both a nationwide and a local approach. For example, for our Richmond, DC and New York offices we target local schools in those regions – we visit four schools in New York, and in DC we go to Georgetown and George Washington.
For the national strategy, we look at the top 20 or so schools, then add to those the schools where we’ve had historical success; SMU Dedman School of Law, the University of Houston and Tulane University have historically been feeders for our Texas offices. All in all, we hold on-campus interviews at almost 30 schools, and we attend four or five job fairs too.
CA:What are the advantages of having a 1L program?
DB: We encourage people to apply for the 1L programs we have available – the ones in Houston and Dallas are pretty big. This year, we will also host 1Ls in San Francisco and Washington. We like to start early, contact people in their 1L year and keep up with them over their remaining time at law school.
We run these programs due to the increased level of competition among law firms. Over the last seven or eight years there’s been a drop in the application pool and at same time law firms have seen an increase in their need – particularly in the big markets. It’s therefore important for us to identify candidates early on and establish relationships with them to get in the game. We identify folks we'd like to establish relationships with and get ourselves on their radar.
The exciting thing for us is that there has been a fairly dramatic increase in the acceptance percentages tied to our 2L summer program over the last seven or eight years. We feel that we have a good place to show to our summers, and over the last few years we’ve seen acceptance go from around 60% to around 90%. It’s really exciting for us, especially as we've retained the high quality of students joining us for the summer and beyond.
CA:What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
DB: Historically our 1L program has given us a means for establishing relationships with diverse candidates and women. Diversity is a very significant focus of ours, and we're committed to bringing in summer classes that are balanced from a gender and diversity perspective. We've had a very successful year in that regard – our 2L summer class is 38% ethnically diverse, with a 50:50 split between men and women.
This year we will continue to focus on maintaining gender balance and hiring diverse candidates. It’s a virtuous cycle: if you have success, it breeds success. Everyone knows that if you don’t bring in balance when hiring at the junior level, it’s hard to secure balance at the partner level. We’re making sure that we’re finding and attracting a wide variety of students from a large variety of backgrounds so we can retain that level of diversity throughout our firm.
CA:What makes someone stand out in an interview?
DB: We emphasize to our recruiters that there is no ‘V&E person.’ We want to make sure that they keep an open mind about a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds, as we value diversity of all kinds here.
However, the primary thing we look for in candidates is an entrepreneurial approach. Our firm grew up around the energy business and it’s been a big part of our practice. In that space you have risk takers and people who take charge of their own careers. We view that as valuable. We want people who will take the reins of their careers, and also help our clients to take their own reins too – and be enthusiastic about it! People who want to sit at a desk and have work brought to them every morning don’t tend to do as well here. The most successful V&E people are those who take charge of their own career.
CA:How would you describe your summer program?
DB: We make an effort to balance both the work and the fun in all of our offices. A critical part of our task is getting associates comfortable, linking them up with mentors, and providing them with training opportunities that will make them feel that this is an environment they'll thrive in.
The other side is giving them exposure to the work. They have a lot of career options, and not all of them are BigLaw-related and not all of them are us, so we show them the real life of an associate here, so they can make a fully informed decision. Litigation summers attend depositions, trials, client meetings, while on the transactional side summers attend closings, conference calls and negotiations. We give them meaningful work assignments. When I was a summer we spent a lot of time in the library researching; today we get our summers to do a lot more hands-on work.
As for getting to know people, we organize a fair number of social activities: individual lunches, associate get-togethers and larger group events. Each summer we usually have two or three office-wide events, but I think we’re emphasizing those less and less; the most effective events are the smaller ones that allow summers to get to know lawyers on a personal level. It’s great to see everyone at once, but associates value individual relationships more. It’s important to have more of those one-on-one opportunities.
We hope that the summer has a personalized feel for our summer associates. Within the firm we believe that a really positive atmosphere emerges during the summer. Having enthusiastic students here and getting to know why they’ve come to V&E reinvigorates us. We’re a social firm and hopefully the summer associates feel that way as well – we’re a warm place.
CA:Does that warmth come from the firm’s reputation for having lots of ‘Southern charm’?
DB: I’ve always thought that. I came from Ohio and what attracted me to V&E was that Southern warmth. In each of our offices there are folks who have spent time in one of our Texas offices, so you'll find that we’re among some of the warmer firms in NYC or DC! Associates will discover that this level of warmth is consistent across our offices: it’s part of what attracted me to V&E and I think it still holds great appeal for incoming students.
Vinson & Elkins LLP
1001 Fannin Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 8
- Worldwide revenue: $727,475,000
- Partners (US): 201
- Associates (US): 340
- Main recruitment contact: Gretchen Rollins, Director of Entry-Level Hiring
- Hiring partner: Doug Bland
- Diversity officer: Julie Tran, Senior Inclusion & Alumni Relations Manager
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 68
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 113
- 1Ls: 30, 2Ls: 82, SEOs:1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Austin: 6; Dallas: 26; Houston: 55; New York: 13; Richmond: 2; San Francisco: 4; Washington: 6
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,462
- 2Ls: $3,462
- Split summers offered? 10 week program, varies by office
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case by case
Main areas of work
Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, LSU, NYU, Northwestern, South Texas, SMU, Stanford, The University of Texas, Tulane, UC Berkeley, The University of Chicago, University of Houston, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, 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, Bay Area Walk Around Program, 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. We also consider 3L applicants and judicial clerks for associate positions.
Summer associate profile:
Vinson & Elkins hires talented and highly motivated individuals who desire a sophisticated legal practice. We look for candidates who take initiative, offer diverse perspectives, are innovative and will enjoy working alongside top lawyers in a friendly and collegial environment.
Summer program components:
V&E’s ‘one firm’ mentality offers summer associates the opportunity to work on cross-office projects from a variety of practice areas of interest. As a summer associate, you’ll experience hands-on legal training, develop mentoring relationships and get an understanding of what it is like to practice law at Vinson & Elkins.
Twitter: @VECareers; @VinsonandElkins; @VEAlums
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 4)
- 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 1)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Oil & Gas) Recognised Practitioner
- Environment (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Latin American Investment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Appellate Law (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
- Climate Change (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
- 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)
- FCPA Recognised Practitioner
- Government: Government Contracts (Band 4)
- International Arbitration Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Projects: Power (Band 4)
- REITs (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)