Tennessee’s healthcare heroes could fast-track you to partner level with their tip-top training.
A LEADER in Nashville, a leader in Tennessee and a leader in healthcare – Waller’s been leading the way since 1905. With deep roots in the Volunteer State (Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga), Waller has built a healthy presence in Texas (Austin) and Alabama (Birmingham). ‘Healthy’ is the key word – much of what Waller does comes back to its “strong foot in the healthcare industry,” as exhibited by a nationwide Chambers USA ranking plus a top spot in Tennessee. Firmwide shared expertise doesn’t mean each office is the same. Birmingham and Chattanooga focus on private equity, venture capital and hedge funds which help finance healthcare; Memphis leans toward life sciences, biotechnology, medical devices and emerging technologies which are leading the industry into the future.
“They’re one of the largest, longest-standing firms based in Nashville,” Waller juniors said of their employer. “Although it’s a big firm in terms of the hours and rigorous work requirement, there’s a much better work/life balance than at other firms of its kind.” Other top Tennessee rankings for Waller cover banking & finance, environment, healthcare, IP, litigation, real estate and labor and employment.
Juniors are mostly housed in the firm’s Nashville HQ, with a handful based in Austin (the Chattanooga base sometimes recruits one or two, but the firm has also hired three summers into its Birmingham office for 2020). Practice group options include health, corporate, tax, trial and appellate and real estate. Summer associates can sample two practice areas and then voice their preferences before joining; alongside homegrown talent, Waller welcomes laterals seeking a “warmer, friendlier culture with rigorous and reputable work.” Associates of all stripes report their weekly availability on a one-to-five scale, “and to the extent that they’re overloaded the work can be redistributed to others. I’m shocked at how well this has proved to work at Waller,” a junior said. Others viewed the system as “more of a protection to cover you,” favoring direct links to partners who “come back to some associates for most of their projects.”
M&A, joint ventures, private equity and securities transactions all fall under the corporate department’s remit. “You will definitely touch healthcare on the transactional side,” associates noted. “Since starting I’ve only done two deals that haven’t involved any healthcare-related aspect at all. I’ve personally done 25% venture capital; 10% public companies and securities; and the rest private equity and M&A.” Private equity is a growing area for Waller, partly thanks to recent lateral partner hires. You don’t need hospital work experience or indeed any health knowledge to get involved, as juniors “pick up a baseline knowledge of healthcare regulations, which helps us conduct transactions more accurately.” Third-years outlined the natural progression of corporate associates: “You start off with the junior level due diligence, but by now I’ve had opportunities to act in a leading capacity on a series of acquisitions and received a slate of transaction documents to work on.”
Corporate clients: Acadia Healthcare Company, Gen Cap America, HCA. Represented private equity firm River VII in the $50 million acquisition of Texas manufacturer Presco Polymers.
“I’ve had opportunities to act in a leading capacity on a series of acquisitions.”
There’s also a dedicated healthcare group, and Waller’s home city of Nashville is “the epicenter of all things health in the US. A lot of the big movers and shakers in the healthcare space are based here and it just so happens that we provide a central location within the country, making it easier for companies from all over to conduct business.” Waller chairman Matt Burnstein explains that the split between corporate and healthcare groups is “a result of the firm’s history and need for deep, industry-leading, and always-current expertise on healthcare regulatory matters, not by a lawyer who just dabbles in it. Our corporate practice is far from just healthcare. But our healthcare clients hire us because we combine top-notch transactional expertise with market-leading healthcare regulatory expertise. We just don’t think a ‘generalist’ approach is the right answer to solving sophisticated problems for sophisticated clients where there’s so much at stake.” Unlike in the corporate practice, work in the healthcare team goes beyond deals (such as real estate transactions) to patient privacy regulations, Medicare reimbursement issues and anti-kickback and Stark compliance. Healthcare associates can build up a more broad-brush skill set, including managing the flow of diligence on projects. One estimated that they “touch ten to 15 matters a day. That could be split into work dealing with hospitals, projects with ambulatory surgery centers and similar matters with physician groups.”
Healthcare clients: LifePoint Health, Surgery Partners, Mid-Atlantic Dental Partners. Advised HCA Healthcare on its $1.5 billion purchase of the six-hospital Mission Health system.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,800 target
“Most associates bill between 1,800 and 2,000 hours,” the ones we spoke to revealed. “We have access to everyone’s hours, including the partners; the firm is very transparent like that.” All agreed that the bonus goal was “very achievable” and stuck to (by law standards) fairly uniform hours, rolling into the office by 9:30am and exiting around 6:30pm most days. “Emails tend to slow down at a point in the evening and the weekend traffic isn’t too heavy but of course there are late nights especially when there’s a closing,” a corporate source reflected. “In those periods, I’ll get in as early as 7am and be leaving as late as 11pm.” Remote working is technically on offer, but younger interviewees advised that “it’s better to be in the office. It not only helps in your training, but partners are able to see you and are perhaps more likely to assign you work quicker.” Compensation is that little bit sweeter following a $50,000 bump in Nashville “in order to be competitive in the market.” Sources in Chattanooga likewise confirmed that money-wise, Waller’s at the top tier in Tennessee.
That said, “people here treat each other as equals” whichever office they’re in or job title they carry. “It’s very much a first-name basis firm, none of that ‘Mr. So and So’ silliness.” Southern hospitality bleeds into a caring environment at Waller, which we heard was especially true in the healthcare group: “We rely on each other for expertise on particular areas and tend to bounce ideas off each other.” Nashville may be the largest office and clear heart of the firm, but it’s not an island and juniors there “work quite often with Austin and Birmingham, periodically with Memphis and even with some of our satellite offices.”
“It’s very much a first-name basis firm, none of that ‘Mr So and So’ silliness.”
Over in corporate, associates agreed that “probably 95% of the people here are both good lawyers and good people.” They described the remaining 5% as a “group of people with a lot of ego and so not many people like working with them,” which sounds unfortunate for the poor souls who had to put up with them. Juniors labeled Waller “family-oriented” but found occasions to buddy up and hang out. “We have wine making classes during the summer program, frequent happy hours and there are several associates who play on the firm’s softball team.” Waller’s annual retreat in Nashville brings associates from all over the network together “for a pool party or just chilling at someone’s house.” You’ll struggle to find a firm retreat more laid-back than that.
“You’re left to your own accord” here, with the impetus on associates to get engaged if they’d like to. Our interviewees noted that they’re often asked why this is; they deduced that it’s “perhaps due to the abundance of paid work, the business is our primary focus as opposed to the extra commitments that come with pro bono.” That didn’t put off juniors from pro bono entirely – several took on matters including domestic abuses, family law matters and involvement with clinics. “Taking on pro bono is certainly actively encouraged at Waller, but it would be nice to see more of an effort from them,” insiders concluded.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 2,976.5
- Average per attorney: 10.4
Seven years and you’re in. That’s the message to Waller associates during biannual meetings lead by the firm’s chairman: “He basically documents the road to partnership and what it takes to achieve that. It’s pretty much just laid out in front of you,” one junior declared. To help associates along in a more individualized sense, the firm runs two assessment reviews each year to cover personal career development. Interviewees praised the firm’s partners for their “focus on helping associates to start generating their own business. We also host Waller alumni events in the healthcare group and that helps us foster stronger relationships.”
“Waller celebrates career moves of all kinds.”
Training programs aimed at first and second-years were super popular: “They cover everything from managing a venture capital transaction to reviewing SEC submissions,” a corporate junior said. “A lot of partners are also more than willing to get a cup of coffee with you to discuss matters, they definitely individualize the feedback process.” Acknowledging “countless examples of both associates and partners who have left to go in-house and then later decided to come back,” there was a consensus view that “Waller celebrates career moves of all kinds.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“I would say the gender dynamics are quite evenly split here,” one junior told us. The healthcare department in particular scored rave reviews: “Unfortunately, not everyone in the South has a good experience. Yet at Waller half of the partners in healthcare are women and that’s including the heads of groups; it’s nice to see that you as a junior can do it, because it’s already been done.” Waller’s “well-established” women’s committee recently introduced an initiative to mail new mothers’ milk across the country if they need to travel for work. Dairy good news.
“It’s really been made a very central focus of the firm’s agenda this year.”
Conversations got more heated on the topic of ethnic diversity, with some declaring that “the firm needs to do a much better job. There are problems with retention as well as recruitment, and with making sure everyone feels supported.” Diversity committee sources outlined new training for attorneys, thought up in recent roundtable discussions. “Speakers come in to address topics including implicit bias,” they said. “It’s really been made a very central focus of the firm’s agenda this year, to the extent where we’ve canceled meetings to attend.” The firm’s wellbeing initiatives include an onsite therapist who visits once a month; and encouragement of “frank and open discussions with HR or whomever else you feel comfortable with.”
Strategy & Future
Priorities for the coming decade include expanding diversity and inclusion initiatives for both recruitment and retention. Waller also has geographical diversity on its agenda: “We’ve got a couple of new partners who have set up in Richmond, Virginia,” a third-year revealed, “but I wouldn’t expect the firm to put bricks and mortar there yet.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 135 Interviewees outside OCI: n/a
Waller seeks out candidates who plan to set up long term in one of the firm’s Southeastern offices. Associate sources emphasise the importance of this: “There are a number of questions asked that are directed to determining whether somebody would settle in Nashville or use this as a stepping stone to lateral to a larger city later on.” Recruitment, however, spans several locations beyond Nashville with OCIs conducted at the University of Alabama, Belmont University, Duke, University of Tennessee, UVA, Vanderbilt and Washington and Lee. The firm also accepts resume collections from just over 15 law schools and supports web applications. The panel of interviewers will typically consist of attorneys from offices nearby and the number of students seen at each location ranges from nine to 20. “At this stage, we’re mainly looking to gauge the candidate’s interest in Waller and in the city they have applied. We want to ensure their intersts match up with our practice areas and evaluate if they would be a good fit at the firm,” explains director of entry level recruiting Michelle Parsons.
“If I had a friend applying to Waller, I’d tell them to make sure they demonstrate on their resume – in one way or another – an indication of having a desire to work in the healthcare industry since so much of our work has a healthcare nucleus.” – a junior associate
Applicants invited to second stage: 40
Successful candidates partake in callback interviews, which together last between three to four hours. Most of the interviews are split into 30-minute blocks but there’s also an hour and a half lunch interview included. Candidates will also undertake a behavioural interviewing component in one of the blocks. Each block typically consists of two attorneys interviewing the candidate. At this stage, interviewers are looking to “delve a little deeper into the candidate’s background and intersts, and what they are looking for in a firm and career.” As with the OCIs, the firm encourages candidates to ask specific, practice area-focused questions to the panel of attorneys. Parsons suggests candidates do their research: “Attorneys are always impressed when a candidate has taken the time to research their specific practice area and even a particular matter.”
“As with OCIs, make sure you have good questions to ask your interviewers.” – Michelle Parsons, director of entry level recruiting.
Offers: 17 Acceptances: 13
The summer program at Waller acts as a hybrid internship for both 1L and 2L students. Although all summers will be able to work on projects across any of the firm’s eight practice areas, 1Ls will be focusing on one practice group, while 2Ls focus on two. Alongisde being assigned “learning-based core practice projects and engaging in live client matters, summer associates also have opportunities to attend depositions, trials, hearings, negotations and client conferences,” enthuses Parsons. This approach seems to be working as we hear that the majority of the 2L summers return to Waller as first-year associates. “Dinners at attorneys’ houses, watching minor league baseball and Top Golf” are just some of the social outings Waller has on offer during the summer.
“Definitely seek out the summer program. For the most part folks are extended an offer to join as an associate. Be open to taking feedback on board and networking.” – a second-year associate.
“Get to know your fellow summer associates, as they will be your colleagues and fellow partners one day. Get to know as many attorneys as you can and impress them with your work product.” - Michelle Parsons, director of entry level recruiting.
With 70% of its annual associate appointments coming from lateral hiring, it’s worth keeping an eye on opportunities at Waller, especially if you’re one for healthcare. “Waller will continue expanding our healthcare, private equity, white collar, real estate/construction and finance/bankruptcy sections with lateral associates addressing existing needs, and lateral partners to grow and diversify our client base,” explains Parsons. Attorneys with experience ranging from one to 20 years, and those who are at AmLaw 200 firms or nationally recognized boutiques will be considered.
Michelle Parsons leaves us with some important wisdom to follow: “This may sound cheesy, but be yourself. You do not want to start out your career pretending to be someone you are not!”
Becoming a healthcare lawyer
Find out from Waller's healthcare experts what it takes to excel in this area.
Nashville City Center,
511 Union Street,
- Head Office: Nashville, TN
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Partners (US): 136
- Associates (US): 90
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Michelle Parsons (email@example.com)
- Bobby Weiss (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Tera Rica Murdock
- Diversity officer: Michelle Parsons
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 11
- Clerking Policy: One year of credit for relevant practice areas (Evaluated on case by case basis)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020:
- 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 14
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office:
- Austin: 1, Birmingham: 3, Nashville: 13
- Summer salary 2020:
- 1Ls: $1,650/week
- 2Ls: $2,000/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
Duke University, University of Alabama, Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, University of Texas, University of Tennessee
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We offer resume drops at Howard, Pepperdine, Georgetown, University of North Carolina, University of Florida, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee, University of Virginia, Yale, Kentucky and Harvard. We attend the Southeastern Minority Job fair, and we present to law schools and participate in panels across the country.
Summer associate profile:
Waller recruits students who are diverse in thought, background and education, especially those with strong ties to the five 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 excel at Waller.
Summer program components:
Waller’s Summer Program combines mentoring and learning based core practice projects with the opportunity to engage in live matters and other assignments with attorneys across all practice groups and offices.
Based on completed client matters, the core practice projects offer students first-hand experience with actual assignments and client relationships, providing unique insight into the students’ future roles at the firm.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol: Southeastern United States (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 5)