Waller - The Inside View

This Nashville native receives another clean bill of health from its juniors, who point to further growth in industries outside of its core healthcare focus.

“HEALTHCARE work makes up a large percentage of our business,” juniors were quick to tell us when describing their firm. “We like to think of it as an advantage that we can leverage in the marketplace.” Waller is certainly in the right marketplace for such work: healthcare is one of Nashville's largest industries, with around 350 companies operating in the area. While healthcare is certainly Waller's beating heart, it also has other systems keeping its vital signs in order, as associates revealed: “We're continuing to build our expertise in some exciting areas like hospitality, entertainment, private equity, white-collar and bankruptcy. We'll never lose our healthcare focus, but we don't to want to just have a boutique scope.”

Waller's remit expanded in 2016 when it acquired all of the lawyers from Austin-based firm Taube Summers, which was known for its bankruptcy and commercial litigation work. An inspection of Waller's Chambers USA rankings also shows that alongside healthcare, its other top-tier practices in Nashville include banking & finance, environment, real estate and general commercial litigation. Other industries of note include manufacturing, financial services, education, film, music and television.

Strategy & Future



“Waller does not want to be all things to all people,” chairman Matt Burnstein informs us. “Instead, we want to be a full-service law firm with around 240 lawyers who are well known and relied upon in specific industries.” Indeed, “industry renown is a strategic goal.” Burnstein tells us that healthcare is Waller's number one industry: “Our reputation in healthcare is well established, and behind that our financial services work has grown nicely – we have a thriving bankruptcy practice, for example.” Waller is also looking to enhance its reputation in retail and hospitality, as well as technology and advanced manufacturing: “In each of those areas we've made notable lateral hires, including alcoholic beverage lawyers and patent prosecution and patent litigation attorneys.”

The Work



Waller's corporate, litigation and healthcare departments absorbed the most juniors on our list. A few could also be found in the firm's real estate, tax, IP, and labor & employment groups.

The corporate department draws in its share of healthcare clients, but also advises entities in the manufacturing and financial services industries. Juniors can expect a variety of deals, including mergers & acquisitions, joint ventures and private placements. Our sources had worked with “a lot of private equity-backed clients in niche and up-and-coming markets within the healthcare sector, like dental management.” A bounty of smaller deals means that “you can be juggling between ten and 15, so the work is varied and you get to do several tasks at once. It's definitely been enjoyable.” Such tasks included “due diligence review, client interaction, marking up and drafting purchase agreements and ancillaries, and managing deals as part of a larger team.”

“Our healthcare laws continue to change constantly, so our work is interesting.”

Lawyers in the corporate and healthcare departments frequently work together.  Juniors in the latter liked “the fact that the work here is challenging. Our healthcare laws continue to change constantly, so our work is interesting as it feels like we're trying to hit a moving target.” Much of a junior's workload will be regulatory-oriented: “We'll be doing the compliance stuff and supporting our corporate lawyers on different transactions. We'll be reviewing due diligence, for example, or helping facilities to secure permits and advising them on the regulatory requirements for licensures.” Some had delved into some “quasi-litigation work” by getting involved in “Certificate of Need hearings, when healthcare providers want to open a new service but need us to argue before the state board why that service is needed.”

Want to know more about becoming a healthcare lawyer? Waller's experts give us the inside story>>

Waller's contentious offering spans general commercial litigation and dispute resolution, as well as specialist areas like government investigations and white-collar crime. Litigators explained that “banking and healthcare are the two big industries here, and we also represent a lot of high net worth individuals.” On the government investigations side, “we defend a lot of healthcare clients – like hospitals and healthcare facilities – during False Claims Act cases.” Sources here were thrilled with what they'd been able to do so far, with this junior telling us: “I've been at the firm for a year and a half and I've already participated in 15 depositions and taken some on my own. People are willing to give you as many opportunities as you want – especially if you ask for them!”

Culture & Offices



The vast majority of Waller's juniors were based in its Nashville HQ – only one on our list was learning the ropes in the firm's Austin base. “Being in Nashville is great!” juniors exclaimed. “We are in the hub; all of our board and partner meetings are held here, and all of our biggest clients deal with Nashville attorneys, so we feel privileged to be here.” Sources were quick to add that “that doesn't mean the other offices don't do good work. Birmingham, for example, does more finance work, while Austin is particularly focused on litigation and bankruptcy matters – the focus isn't really on healthcare there.”

Nashville residents were also pleased to get their own offices from the get-go, but “the size of them varies depending on which floor you're on and how long you've been at the firm. No one has an interior office though, so we get great views over the city.” Such views are afforded as Waller occupies the top floors of the Nashville City Center office tower. “We're currently renovating the rooftop patio so we can have lunch up there – they're adding a bar too.”

Undoubtedly the social highlight of the year is Waller's firm-wide retreat: “In 2017 it was held in Nashville, and socialization is half of the intent behind it. They rented out hotels and invited spouses and families to come so everyone could meet one another. We also conduct an internal awards ceremony and bring in speakers to discuss topics that may be of interest.”

Overall, juniors felt that “there are all types of people at Waller and that's a good thing.” There's room for those who want to “work their tail off,” but also plenty of space for those who want to “maintain a positive family life outside of the office. That might be more of a Nashville versus New York cultural difference. Most of the partners here have families and they spend a decent amount of time with them – family is definitely a priority.”

Hours & Compensation



So just how long are juniors working? Sources reported that during “an easy/non-crazy period it's something like 9am to 6pm, but during a busy period it's more like 8/8:30am to 7:30/8pm.” Litigators reported working from home in the evening on quite a regular basis, while those in healthcare “always remain present in terms of responding to emails in the evening – I do cut away from work at a certain time each night, and overall the hours aren't insane.”

Base salaries are lockstep for the first four years and juniors were “happy that Waller matches the market – two of the larger firms in town recently raised their base pay and we stepped up to make sure our associates are being paid the same.” From the fifth year onward “there are a range of lockstep values set for your year. Which one you get is determined by the compensation committee and your practice group, and is based on how you've been progressing and the meaningful contributions you make.” This is still a fairly new system, so sources were “waiting to see how it settles in and works.” Juniors become eligible for a bonus in their second year, and only if they hit a 1,800-hour billing target. “The compensation committee are quite opaque when it comes to how they determine the amount you get,” but the word on the street is that “it drastically increases if you bill 2,000 hours…” The firm tells us that it uses its review process (see below) to convey to associates how it will be determining bonuses each year.

Training & Development



Formal training gets under way with a weeklong boot camp for newcomers, which “takes you through Waller's systems and includes advisory sessions from senior associates on things like how to work well with partners and tricks they've learned – it's helpful as you get an idea of what partners want.” After that each practice group tends to host monthly lunchtime trainings “on topics that are hot at the time” as well as key skills: “We've had ones on successful negotiation tactics, how to prepare for depositions – they're good as partners may not have time to offer that advice outside of those sessions.”

“...advisory sessions from senior associates on tricks they've learned.”

There's also a mid and end-of-year review process, “where the partners you've worked with report on what you've done and give you tips for improvement.” Further support comes in the form of a mentorship program that pairs juniors up with a senior associate (typically): “In theory you're meant to meet up with them once a month, but often our schedules get in the way.” Fortunately, “you do build up other mentoring relationships informally, and most of the partners are good at giving feedback – it's not usually in depth, but they highlight how you can develop.” 

Pro Bono



“There are lots of different avenues for pro bono work,” juniors told us. One of the main ones is a Nashville-based “legal aid walk-in clinic, where we can go – often on the weekend – to provide advice. We do a lot of protection orders for family law matters there.” There's also a paralegal who “sends out emails a couple of times a month, which contain descriptions of cases.” Juniors can also “run a proposed project by a practice group leader – they are always very encouraging, and we can then take it up with a partner who's agreed to oversee it.”

Sources added that doing 25 hours a year was a “loose guide” and didn't feel that there was “any discouragement to do pro bono.” However, sources did “wish that they would offer billable credit for it – it's all extra time that you put in.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 3,801
  • Average per attorney: 16.6

Diversity



“The diversity initiatives have improved markedly over the past couple of years,” juniors told us. “Our chairman does a really good job of promoting it.” Recent changes include a new diversity board, which has been “set up to promote further discussion of initiatives to ensure the firm is always getting better.” On the recruitment front,Waller has expanded its summer program by hiring diverse 1L candidates each year; three joined in 2017 and two are expected to take part in 2018.

The firm's annual retreat has also become a focus for addressing diversity issues. “In 2016 one of the main speakers gave a presentation on diversity and we took away action points on hiring and staffing. The following year we had one on generational diversity. Overall there's a greater emphasis on seeking out diverse candidates and fostering a diversity of ideas.”

Get Hired



Given Waller's reputation and presence in the Southeast, a commitment to the region is a must, as Michelle Parsons – the firm's Law School Relations and Recruiting Manager – explains: “We really target schools in the Southeast because we're looking for candidates who want to work in our five locations. We want to make sure that candidates want to stay in the region long-term.” This doesn't mean, however, that only those currently based in Waller's immediate vicinity will be considered. Director of Recruiting Bobby Weiss tells us that “when somebody is open and honest about why they are interested in our firm and moving to the market, it doesn't matter if they have previous ties to the area – we have recently hired a number of attorneys from New York and from other large markets, and they didn’t have ties to the Southeast. Part of that is due to Nashville and Austin in particular becoming more transient and having more people moving in.” 

When preparing that all-important resume, Parsons advises candidates to “make sure that your interests line up with the work that we do; we are a big healthcare hub, so we like to see people who are interested in that industry. We do much more than just healthcare regulatory compliance work though – a candidate's interests could tie in with our real estate practice for example, or our corporate finance or M&A practices.” Alongside a demonstrable interest in the firm's practice areas, Weiss encourages students to communicate their other interests beyond the law: “They can be intellectual pursuits, athletic activities, community service initiatives or just run-of-the-mill hobbies. It goes without saying that being actively involved in a variety of different groups or pursuits helps to make for a more well-rounded practitioner– that hopefully helps to make people more resistant to burnout.”

Parsons explains that during the interviews candidates should be prepared to answer questions on “anything that you have on your resume. It's quite common to ask someone about a job or an interest that they have written down, and the candidate has a hard time answering the question. Study your resume before you come into the interview because it is all that the interviewer has to go on!” If you're a first-year law student, then “you might get asked about what kind of law you are interested in – try to have that answer prepared and at the very least make sure you're able to articulate why you're interested in law in general.” All candidates should be able to “explain why they want to work for us specifically. Those with JDs have a lot of opportunities, so we want to know what their particular interests are about Waller.”

In addition, Weiss tells us that Waller's recruiters like to see “people who don't just take facts as facts. We want people who question how things get done, especially when a process applies to their practice, in order to improve the delivery of client services and the development of business at the firm. The most successful people are those who look beyond  the most traditional expectations or norms.” The reason for this, Weiss explains, is because today's lawyers need to “separate themselves from the competition in light of more work going to non-legal entities like accounting firms and alternative legal service providers – lawyers therefore need to ensure that they are true counselors to their clients and their businesses by operating at a higher level.”

Finally, this piece of advice from Parsons will be welcomed by first-year law students: “Just focus on being a student when you begin law school. With all these student organizations, it's easy to think that you need to join everything to fill up your resume. I would rather see a high GPA for a candidate's first semester. Start joining student groups in your second semester.” On the subject of GPAs: “Our cut-off is 3.0. If a candidate scores below that then we won't consider them,” says Parsons. “If someone has above that then it depends on the candidate – our preferred GPA would be in the top third of their class, but that's not a hard and fast rule.”

OCI applicants interviewed: 140

Interviewees outside OCI: n/a

Applicants invited to 2nd stage interview: 52

Offers: 20

Acceptances: 14

Notable summer events: Practice Group Dinners, Escape Game, Community Service Event, Nashville Sounds Baseball Games, Top Golf Event, Singer/Songwriter Event

Pro Bono



Notable pro bono opportunities: Habitat for Humanity; Nashville Rescue Mission; Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America; Light the Night; United Way; Stuff The Bus; Human Rights Campaign, Red Cross

 

 

 

 

 

Waller

Nashville City Center,
511 Union Street,
Nashville,
TN 37219
Website www.wallerlaw.com

  • Head Office: Nashville, TN
  • Number of domestic offices: 5
  • Partners (US): 133
  • Associates (US): 104
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contacts:
  • Michelle Parsons (michelle.parsons@wallerlaw.com)
  • Bobby Weiss (raweiss@wallerlaw.com)
  • Hiring partner: Tera Rica Murdock
  • Diversity officer: Michelle Parsons
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 7
  • Clerking Policy: One year of credit for relevant practice areas (Evaluated on case by case basis)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
  • 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 14
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
  • Austin: 3, Birmingham: 2, Nashville: 12
  • Summer salary 2018:
  • 1Ls: $1,650/week
  • 2Ls: $2,000/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes

Main areas of work



 Waller is a full-service general practice firm advising clients across a spectrum of industries including healthcare, financial services, retail, hospitality, advanced manufacturing, technology, real estate and beyond. Our attorneys thrive in the space where heavily regulated industries are faced with complex transactions and bet-the-company matters, counselling clients through these most important issues day in and day out. Core practices include M&A and capital markets, tax, litigation, commercial finance, bankruptcy and restructuring, environmental, real estate, intellectual property, regulatory compliance and government relations.

Firm profile



 A mid-market powerhouse with nationally recognized healthcare and financial services industry teams, Waller is a law firm built to help clients weather any storm. Waller attorneys maintain a laid-back, family oriented culture while working hard in a collaborative environment. We provide seamless staffing across offices, and clients benefit from our deep bench. To accomplish this, Waller has an unrelenting drive to recruit, retain, train, and promote the top attorneys in each of our markets.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
Duke University, Columbia 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, the Cook County Bar Association 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.

Social media



Recruitment website: www.wallerlaw.com/join-us
Twitter: @WallerLansden
Linkedin: waller-lansden-dortch-and-davis

This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)