Tennessee's top dogs have a healthy pedigree.
“NASHVILLE is the epicenter of healthcare in America, and the growth of Nashville has been great for the firm,” several associates stressed. Indeed, Music City's biggest industry is actually healthcare – nearly 400 health companies are based here. Recruiting director Bobby Weiss is quick to point out that “Waller is unique in that we have the depth, experience and prowess of a healthcare boutique, while also providing full service offerings to the financial services, retail, hospitality, advanced manufacturing and technology industries.” Chambers USA backs this up, awarding Waller top rankings in Tennessee for these and other areas.
Most interviewees (but not all) had attended Southern law schools. All were attracted here by the 112 year-old's reputation: “We've built that since our inception.” Bobby Weiss adds that “you can do meaningful work on sophisticated matters. To an extent (it varies by office), Nashville and Austin in particular have become destination cities, and we've embraced that. This has helped to attract both solicited and unsolicited candidates without local backgrounds to the firm. We get a good mix of both locals and non-locals.”
Most incoming juniors do either corporate or litigation work, some with a healthcare focus. A handful work in practices including labor & employment, IP, tax, immigration, and commercial finance. Even if they're not formally attached to the healthcare group, juniors should be ready to dish out some legal medicine as “everyone at Waller does some healthcare work.” Interviewees generally had enjoyed “a lot of client contact – not something that you need to push for. From day one you're involved in conference calls, and over time you get more direct client contact.”
“The firm as a whole has made its name in healthcare,” associates emphasized. On the transactional side, they can expect to assist on M&A deals and/or securities offerings which “can totally range in deal size from a small imaging center to a hundred million dollar hospital” or “from deals worth hundreds of thousands to a billion plus.” Over in litigation, juniors see “a lot of medical malpractice, product liability, and government investigations for clients like hospitals and manufacturers.” The “great thing about Waller is that unlike friends who practice in the big cities and spend 75% of their first year doing research, here we're in court straight away and take depositions.” Even newbies “do everything from pre-suit background investigations and research to developing the complaint or answer, to preparing and answering discovery, and going to trial. If you're interested in something, you get to do it.”That said, there's still “a lot of research and writing.” General commercial litigation includes “lots of breach of contract work, fraud, and shareholder/partnerships disputes. The group also has a very strong white collar healthcare investigations and fraud practice, and some partners have developed more niche areas.”
“If you're interested in something, you get to do it.”
For corporate associates starting out there's a “good variety of stuff too: a lot of due diligence, research, memos, drafting ancillary documents and smaller documents beyond purchase agreements. Larger scale deals are done by more senior associates. As you progress, partners allow you to take more responsibility in certain areas when you are ready.” The type of work juniors do “runs the gamut depending on how the deal is staffed and how much rope the partners give you.” One summed up: “At first, you do whatever needs to be done. In the second year you're given more freedom and responsibility to draft as you see fit and take more of a role in transactions.”
Associates usually fill in a weekly availability chart. This system works “to an extent; it's not perfect but we know that would be impossible! I'm really happy as I never have to go looking for work.” Another source was also “happy with the workload. I would rather have more work than less, and I've never felt overwhelmed. It feels like responsibility increases over time and you get opportunities to delegate to other people, including younger associates.”
Training & Development
A “bit basic” boot camp soon after starting orients new recruits. “The best training is doing real work.” Practice-specific sessions include talks by partners, training lunches, and “a lot of it is trial by fire, learning by doing.” Associates saw this as “probably the best way to learn. It's a little nerve-racking, but provides good experience. You are kind of thrown into it, but there is oversight.” Appraisals involve an annual (February) and a mid-year review (August). The latter is “especially helpful as it lets you know if anything's wrong before it's too late.” Interviewees also valued more informal advice, which “varies from partner to partner.”
“A lot of it is trial by fire.”
Culture & Diversity
“There's a close-knit culture within my practice group,” a representative associate found. “We're all on the same floor and all work together to some degree. It's a large firm so you don't necessarily know everybody, though events help with this. The firm does a great job of having things once a month – a retreat, reception, cocktail hour – so you can get to know people outside your bubble.” Southern hospitality appears to be alive and well in Nashville. “The culture is laid back, welcoming, but the work needs to get done and done well.” Family-friendliness gets a boost from occasional events like “Hallowe'en trick or treat where those with young children walk up and down the halls getting candy.” The firm's retreat is a “fun weekend where everybody gets away to a resort, plays golf. It was interesting to see everybody on a more personal level.”
“Everybody wants to move and live here right now...”
Music City is a modern boomtown, and interviewees loved Nashville's social scene. You don't need to be a nine-to-five working Dolly Parton nut to enjoy life here: “Everybody wants to move and live here right now. There's something for everyone. It's not just a music town: there are so many social opportunities you can barely keep up. Sports, arts, festivals – it's all definitely a draw.” Many understandably see working in Nashville as a big perk of the job.
Regarding diversity, “it's something they're working on.” Waller's chairman is heavily involved in the cause, and the diversity committee works with organizations like the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, as well as local schools. Associates believed regional factors are at play: “Nashville and the South aren't as diverse as New York or California,” though “genderwise, things seem pretty diverse.” Overall then Waller does “fairly well in terms of diversity, but there's always room for improvement.”
Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State, so you'd expect Waller to be pros at pro bono. Opportunities come in “weekly emails, and there are initiatives in place if you're interested. But it's not something that's driven home to the point that you feel you need to do it if you're not interested.” Some in areas like corporate felt their “practice doesn't lend itself to pro bono” so “I haven't done much myself.” The amount done “totally depends on the individual. Emails go out but it's not a requirement like at some firms.” Some people do pro bono “all the time” while others “don't want to do legal work in their free time and prefer to do other community outreach. I don't know if there's an upper threshold – if you can juggle an ordinary caseload, the sky's the limit.” Examples include working with “the legal aid group round the corner,” domestic violence and protection order hearings.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 2,412
- Average per attorney: 12
Hours & Compensation
The 1,800 hour billing target is “very achievable, coming out at about 150 a month. People in general are happy with it.” Litigators preparing for trial may find themselves working “8am to 9/10/11pm, but other days or weeks aren't as busy – 9am to 5.30pm.” While hours in most practices “ebb and flow,” associates we spoke to tend to arrive between 8am and 10am and leave between 6pm and 9pm: “It varies. Different partners have different schedules, and it depends on client locations.”
“It's nice to have a system that rewards you for working above and beyond.”
Associates felt the salary ($115,000 for first-years) is competitive locally, as are bonuses, which are “explained pretty clearly. It's nice to have a system that rewards you for working above and beyond,” with a discretionary component. One source attested: “When I was interviewing for the position, I was told that Waller was a meritocracy, and that's proven to be very true. Those who do a good job are taken care of.” Theoretically, those in their first couple of years at the firm get two weeks vacation, but that's not set in stone. “It's pretty fluid. If you've been doing well they won't hold you to it. Some don't take it; some probably take more.”
Strategy & Future
2016 saw the acquisition of all 13 lawyers from Taube Summers: “They're an Austin, Texas based bankruptcy and commercial litigation firm, and have really strengthened our capability in those departments,” chairman Matt Burnstein tells us. Austin is nicknamed the 'Live Music Capital of the World' – so the firm's a neat fit for Music City's Waller in more ways than just business. He adds that Waller “wants to continue to grow to meet the needs of clients without growing for growth's sake. We believe strongly in a future in Texas, and Austin specifically. One of the principal objectives of our strategic plan is continually enhancing our services to clients in financial services, which we're pushing in Austin in particular.”
"We believe strongly in a future in Texas."
The firm's Nashville headquarters take in the vast majority of new associates. Everyone gets their own office, and juniors “couldn't be more happy” with the resultant freedom – nor with the window view. Nashvillians also found it easy to keep in contact with the firm's other offices. Associates suggested that the cross-country working relationship was “fairly seamless – with technology you can coordinate pretty well.” Sources reported few face-to-face meetings between those in and outside of Tennessee, but some did arise from time to time. “Nashville is definitely the hub” where decisions are made.
Interview with chairman Matt Burnstein
Chambers Associate: So what's been the most exciting thing the firm has done over the past year?
Matt Burnstein: In early 2016 we took on all the lawyers from Austin law firm Taube Summers. Integrating them into our office was probably the most exciting thing we've done. They're an Austin, Texas based bankruptcy and commercial litigation firm, and have really strengthened our capability in those departments.
CA: How do you see the acquisition of Taube Summers within the context of your broader expansion plans?
MB: We believe strongly in a future in Texas, and Austin specifically. One of the principle objectives of our strategic plan is continually enhancing our services to clients in financial services, which we're pushing in Austin in particular, and the lawyers of that firm have established a tremendous reputation in that market and beyond.
CA: How would you describe Waller's place in the markets you operate in?
MB: Our positions are quite different in Tennessee, compared to Austin and elsewhere: in Tennessee we are one of the oldest and largest law firms, and in Nashville we have almost 200 lawyers. In Austin we are a much smaller presence, and we're having to work to achieve name recognition and notoriety in that market. In Nashville our name carries a significance that it doesn't automatically carry elsewhere. But in the specific industries in Austin that we are most aggressively targeting, healthcare and financial services, our capabilities are as good as anybody's if not better.
CA: What then would you say is the ideal long-term plan for Waller?
MB: Generally, our long term vision is to continue to be the safe choice for buyers of legal services, and to work with sophisticated clients who are dealing with matters that require truly expert experience and guidance. We want to continue to grow to meet these needs without growing simply for growth's sake.
Beyond that, our overall goal is to continue the stability we've enjoyed for 100 years. We enjoy a deeply established reputation, particularly in certain industries. The network of in-house counsel who are alumni of our firm is increasingly beneficial, particularly in middle Tennessee. We want to have the economic capacity to ensure that both our partners and associates enjoy market leading compensation in an environment that makes it possible for our people to enjoy one another's company, and their profession.
CA: Your work within healthcare is renowned: to what would you credit the strong reputation that you have in that area in particular?
MB: You can't just announce that you're going to be good at something – our healthcare expertise and experience is born out of literally 50 years of being at the very center of the modern healthcare industry. We've been there from the original conception of investor-owned hospital companies, to the rise of alternative site providers, including ambulatory surgery centers. Our decades of experience in the industry means that we can fully understand changes, when it comes to things like physician practice acquisition and consolidation. Our clientèle covers all these things, enabling us to work on a level comparable to any firm in the country.
CA: Did the Obama healthcare reforms have any impact on your work?
MB: There have been no big changes from the perspective of how our firm operates. The dynamics impacting our hospital clients, physician clients and others are well documented, and all of those require skilful and expert knowledge and handling of the ever changing environment in the world of healthcare – something that Waller can provide.
CA: Beyond healthcare, which of your other practice areas do you hope to see the most growth in within the near future?
MB: For us, second to healthcare is financial services, mainly dealing with lender or borrower side representation, bank litigation and transactions, electronic payments and financial technology. Those are areas which we definitely expect to see growth in. Last year we acquired several lawyers from an IP boutique. Our investment in tech and advanced manufacturing is something that is very important to all our geographies. I'd also include our expert corporate relocation and public-private partnership practices, as well as retail and hospitality in regards to Nashville and Austin in particular. Finally, I'd look to our real estate practice for future growth. We have a national array of clients and operate in all 50 states; our practice is capable of national engagements on alternative fees that are good for clients. This enables us to do interesting things in terms of matter management and staffing.
CA: What's the relationship like between the Nashville office and others?
MB: The relationship is very collaborative and symbiotic. Like any firm that operates in multiple regions, we invest a lot in forging relationships so that lawyers in each office know what their counterparts are doing. This also makes it seamless for clients operating on a broader scale, whether work is being done in one office or many.
CA: Finally, how important is it to the firm's identity that its based in Nashville?
MB: I would say that our reputation is strongest in Nashville, and it's hard to ever see that changing. That said, we do certainly have the ability to be strategic in certain industries and grow with that concept in mind, rather than geographically restricting ourselves. Because of that, we can and should be viewed as more than just a Nashville firm.
Interview with director of recruiting Bobby Weiss
Chambers Associate: When it comes to recruitment of new associates, does the firm favor those local to the area?
Bobby Weiss: To an extent. It varies by office – Nashville and Austin in particular have become destination cities, and we've embraced that. This has helped to attract both solicited and unsolicited candidates without local backgrounds to the firm. We get a good mix of both locals and non-locals.
CA: Last year you talked about the different ways that the firm is looking to promote diversity – how successful would you say that has been?
BW: It's definitely been successful. We've engaged in different areas to expand our existing initiatives, and had success in hiring both lateral and entry attorneys with diverse backgrounds. We also partner with different schools and organizations, including the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, in order to further our commitment to diversity. This year we are partnering with LCLD to enhance and strengthen our summer program.
CA: What does it take for a person to really be successful at Waller?
BW: It is important to have a natural drive and a desire to always continue learning, to be inquisitive and ambition to constantly refine your skills. We want people that will seek out different opportunities, don't just wait for opportunities to come to you – this is advice that will help at Waller, or any firm for that matter. A person needs to be willing to involve themselves in increasingly significant matters and diversify their practice. The most successful attorneys at Waller will be proactive in their approach to developing their practice and requesting assignments, not necessarily someone that needs to be told to do these things.
CA: What skills and experiences outside of academic achievement most impress you at application?
BW: Good question. It's always nice to see people taking up law as a second career, regardless of how long they've been out doing something else. It provides a really helpful, broader point of view. Being in the general workforce or interning at a general counsel office, as opposed to a typical law firm, provides a good alternative skill set. Experience like that helps to create an understanding of what clients’ needs and expectations are.
CA: Last year you described your summer program as “very different” to most other large firms: what would you say are the big advantages of it compared to the normal model?
BW: We focus on exposing associates to real work, and entrusting them with it. Summers get to see the full life cycle of a transaction – in contrast to only working on live matters at a typical summer program, where you get a piece of work without knowing what happened internally to get to that point and only seeing the small role you've played after that. Waller's summer program gives you the big picture. Our modules are designed to bring summer associates through a fully live matter that has been fine-tuned to provide a streamlined learning experience with the help of partner and associate mentors. 60% of the program does consist of work on live matters, and we feel that the mix provides a better point of view than you'd typically get.
CA: How important is it for a trainee to form a relationship with the firm during their time in the summer program?
BW: Very important: we want people to engage with our attorneys. They shouldn't come to the summer program and just expect to get a job, they need to earn a job, which comes from good work and building relationships with others. It's good to see someone that can help integrate themselves and directly strive to diversify their experience. Come in asking questions – being naturally inquisitive is ideal.
CA: What are the best and worst things a candidate can do in an interview?
BW: Be prepared with an understanding of what the firm does and does not do. Insightful questions are always helpful, and the right questions display that the candidate is sincerely interested in our firm, and not just any firm that is hiring. Someone who does not have questions even when prompted would not be well-regarded – a big negative is resting on your laurels and not engaging.
We want people who are interested in working with Waller for the long-term, they're the people who we want to train and build so that they can progress to partner and be future leaders here. We want candidates to have an understanding that they need to be proactive in finding the right environment in which they can become successful at the firm.
CA: What would you say most draws people to want to work at Waller?
BW: The idea that you can do meaningful work on sophisticated matters. People are attracted by the idea of working hard with successful peers, and having the ability to balance that with a certain quality of life. Waller is not a lifestyle firm, but neither would we describe ourselves as the White Shoe firm of Nashville – folks work hard but the firm is pretty laid back.
Our people are expected to work hard and then not take themselves too seriously outside of work – we know that people want to go home and spend time with their families, or do other out of work activities. This helps our lawyers to have a well-rounded life. People are encouraged to work in the office during the day, and then have their own lives beyond that. There are moments when it's all hands on deck, and late nights do happen. Every transaction will have some of those, but it's definitely the exception and not the rule. Nobody is kept late unnecessarily or for face-time.
CA: Is there anything else about Waller that prospective applicants should know about?
BW: We've had a strong reputation in the healthcare industry that we've built since our inception, but Waller is not a healthcare boutique. We're unique in that we have the depth, experience and prowess of a healthcare boutique, while also providing full service offerings to the financial services, retail, hospitality, advanced manufacturing and technology industries.We are investing in these areas heavily, always increasing the talent and level of resources available to our talent.
Matching the relaxed feel of the firm as a whole, Waller's interview process is a bit more cuddly than the norm. Associates we spoke to that went through OCIs described “typical softball questions like 'why do you want to work at Nashville? Why Waller in particular?' It's meant to be very conversational.” A junior who had helped conduct interviews suggested that students would be asked “what their preferences are in terms of practice area. If you don't know, or want to try a few things, saying that is better than saying nothing at all.”
Demonstrating some kind of experience within the working world of law is a big plus. “If you can get some sort of legal job in summer, then take it. It doesn't matter if it's not at a big firm, or somewhere else like a government agency, as long as you're using your legal brain. It provides a jumping off base for interview conversations.” Others suggested some specialization could be advantageous: if for instance a student had their sights set on corporate, it “would be beneficial to take a transactional focus” when looking for work to build a resume.
When we quizzed associates about the biggest things they'd learned from the process of getting into the profession, one advised that “one of the biggest jobs is to meet people. Try and meet people throughout the firm nice and early – Waller in particular is very open to that.” Everybody we spoke to thought making partner is an attainable goal: “If you're willing to put in the work, you have a good chance.” Waller “lays out the track to partner from the start.” Those who do leave tend to go in-house with clients.
Nashville City Center,
511 Union Street,
- Head Office: Nashville, TN
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 116
- Associates (US): 107
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $1,650/week
- 2Ls: $2,000/week
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? N/A
- Summers 2016: 12
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 13 offers, 6 acceptances
Main areas of work
Waller is a full-service general practice firm that advises clients across a spectrum of industries including healthcare, financial services, retail, hospitality, automotive, manufacturing, technology, media and entertainment, real estate, telecommunications and utilities. The firm prides itself on providing creative, cost-effective legal services and solutions to our clients, and providing advice and counsel in core legal areas such as corporate, M&A, litigation and dispute resolution, commercial finance, securities, bankruptcy and restructuring, environmental, intellectual property, real estate, tax, regulatory compliance, government investigations and government relations.
• Number of 1st year associates: 7
• Number of 2nd year associates: 9
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $115,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Summer associate profile:
Waller recruits students who are diverse in thought, background and education, especially those with strong ties to the four Southeastern cities in which we are located. Individuals who have a record of academic excellence and are motivated to learn and be integrated in a collegial environment will excel at Waller.
Summer program components:
Waller’s Summer Program is a hybrid of a standard summer program and key elements from our former internship. This model combines the cutting edge mentoring and training afforded by the learning-based modules from our prior Schola2Juris program with the opportunity to engage in live matters and other assignments with attorneys across all practice areas and offices.
Based on completed client matters, the educational modules that comprise Waller’s Summer Program offer students firsthand experience with actual assignments and client relationships and provide tremendous insight into the students’ future roles as junior and mid-level associates.
During the program, each summer associate will work closely with two mentors, a partner and a senior associate, who will provide structured feedback on each work assignment and throughout the module process. Summer associates are not relegated to one practice group, but are exposed to various projects across the firm’s eight core practice areas. Summer associates will complete two different practice-specific projects developed from historical client matters. The module projects are substantive assignments designed to have summer associates follow the lifecycle of a client matter – giving a better overview of an entire project than could typically be gained in a few weeks’ observation. In addition, Summer associates will contribute to current client matters and have opportunities to attend depositions, trials, hearings, negotiations and client conferences. Throughout the program, numerous social functions afford opportunities to get to know Waller partners and associates on a personal level.