From its “Southern stronghold,” this Nashville-founded firm is pursuing “measured growth” to expand upon its highly regarded healthcare rep.
HEALTHCARE “really is the heart of the firm,” one interviewee pointed out early on during our calls. They weren't alone in flagging how important the healthcare sector is to Waller, with this source explaining that there are various practice groups at the firm “with a healthcare nucleus.” This scope is commended in Chambers USA, which ranks Waller's healthcare expertise on a nationwide basis. This focus isn't surprising, given Waller's roots in Nashville, which was informally dubbed the “Mecca for healthcare in the US” by our interviewees. But it's important to add that Waller isn't just about healthcare, and isn't just about Nashville either. Beyond its HQ in Music City, Waller also has two further bases in Tennessee (Memphis and Chattanooga), as well as one apiece in Texas (Austin) and Alabama (Birmingham). The most recent addition, Chattanooga, was opened in March 2018, and primarily “does a lot of M&A, private equity and venture capital work.”
Beyond healthcare, Waller also advises clients in many other industries, with interviewees highlighting the importance of banking and financial services in particular. Sources were eager to get this point across, with one explaining that the reason they chose the firm was because “it's full-service, and from its Southern stronghold serves various industries throughout the country.” Waller's practice area remit is partly reflected in its collection of Chambers USA rankings, which are concentrated in its home state of Tennessee; nine high rankings go to areas such as banking & finance, environment, IP, labor & employment, general commercial litigation and real estate.
Strategy & Future
“We're also looking at new niche markets.”
“The firm's in a measured growth phase,” sources declared. “There's a lot of optimism,” interviewees added, with one setting out “three primary investments for the future: we'll be doubling down in healthcare, but also focusing on banking & finance work with large financial clients, as well as on technology – we'll be doing more IP and tech work.” Also on the agenda is building an interdisciplinary approach: “We'll be looking at clients with varied needs – a client may be in the healthcare sector but they'll need help with tax and real estate issues, for example. We're also looking at new niche markets: we have a booming cannabis practice that deals with all the new regulations coming out. In addition, we're busy addressing all of the regulatory issues that have arisen out of the huge microbrewery culture here.”
Most of the junior associates on our list were based in the Nashville HQ, with just a couple based in Waller's Austin office. Juniors were split between nine practice groups, but the most populated were corporate, health regulatory and litigation. Sources had ended up in these groups after sampling two practice areas during their summer with the firm. Once at Waller full-time, corporate and healthcare regulatory juniors found work allocation to be “streamlined: every Monday morning we send an email to the practice group leaders stating our availability on a scale between one to four. Based on that, the partner will drop by and speak with you about your progression and availability.” Once established though, good working “relationships with partners can determine the work” landing on associates' desks.
The world of healthcare often enters into the matters that Waller's corporate attorneys handle. “Our bread and butter is M&A, and most of it is tied to repeat institutional clients acquiring healthcare facilities,” one source declared. Another explained that “Nashville is a competitor in the world for 'city with the most healthcare businesses.' All these companies are growing at exponential rates, so my work deals with acquisitions of physician groups and dental offices; some private equity investment in healthcare industries; and medical billings.” This chimed with how other sources described the “three large bucket” structure of the corporate practice overall: “a good bit of M&A; private equity/venture capital work; and corporate governance.” In keeping with the times, the firm's also finding work in the “growing” securities and blockchain spheres. Leanly staffed teams resonated with our sources: “You get pretty substantive experience early on in your career. I tend to enjoy smaller teams, as you're able to understand the whole business and not just a sliver of it.” Another associate proudly declared that they were able to “get my hands on a merger and purchase agreement very early on.”
Based in Nashville – which is known as the nation's healthcare capital – Waller is one of the leading firms in the U.S. for healthcare law. We caught up with a few of its seasoned attorneys to discover what it's like to become a lawyer in this broad and rapidly evolving area. Read on>>
Corporate clients: HCA, RCCH Healthcare Partners and LifePoint Health. Recently advised Caregiver on its acquisition of a business division of Omni Visions, which provides services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In healthcare regulatory, “a lot of the work we've been doing is transactional in nature; we've been representing buyers in healthcare acquisitions, and looking into elements like licenses, compensation, Anti-Kickback Statute compliance etc...” Interviewees added that “some partners do more operational type work – for instance, a big healthcare system may call up and say, 'A doctor did this,' and that will require us to step in and conduct research around what's happened.” The “most frequent task” for our junior sources was “licensing accreditation; we'll look at transactions and depending on the structure of deals there will be varying licenses required, so we'll research them state by state. We're a very nationally oriented firm; I do more work with Florida and North Carolina than I do with Tennessee.”
Healthcare clients: Acadia Healthcare Company, Axia Women's Health and Audax Group. Serves as special healthcare counsel to the latter on various acquisitions.
Hours & Compensation
Reaching the 1,800 hours target each year was deemed to “be more than achievable” across offices and practice areas. “The firm has the work to support that,” said one, while another expressed that “there's an abundance of work – if you don't make it then something's going on.” Not that Waller is the type of firm “where if you don't meet it you're out”; sources made it clear that this figure is very much a target. Hitting it makes associates bonus eligible, and how much they get is determined by a variety of factors beyond hours, like “business development activities, community involvement, assistance with recruitment etc...” While they wanted “a bit more clarity” on the merit-based bonus structure, they were nonetheless pleased with the latest salary increase: “The compensation is on a par with comparable firms in the market and we responded adequately.”
“They do expect associates to try and hit the target,” a source explained, “but there's also the recognition that we have a life! There's a great work/life balance.” Hours tend to remain quite uniform across the practices – roughly between 7/9:30am to 5/7:30pm for most on a daily basis. However, there are of course those busy times, which can see corporate associates doing “a fair amount of work on the weekends” and litigators clocking out at 11pm on weekdays, but thankfully these late night stints were deemed “so rare.”
“The Southern culture does to an extent influence the vibe here,” juniors agreed, with a noticeable strand being the “nonconfrontational atmosphere” that could on occasion do with being “perhaps more forthright.” However, sources did qualify that “the firm takes steps to let you know if there's an issue before it becomes an ISSUE.” Beyond shades of subtle Southern influences, interviewees felt that Waller's culture “has a lot to do with the firm leadership; we have a fairly young group of partners, most of whom are focused on their families.” This spurred others on to tell us that “Waller's family culture is amazing – we work hard but we take the time to spend with our families.”
“There's all sorts of off-the-cuff stuff.”
Ultimately, Waller wants to keep its current culture thriving, which is why when it comes to recruitment “we're looking for people who are easy to talk to and not just workhorses who are only billing and bringing in clients.” While going home to spend time with family is important for many, younger associates did highlight that “we're still given lots of autonomy if we want to plan things” and enjoy an after-work social life: “There's all sorts of off-the-cuff stuff, with people informally going around saying, 'Hey, we're going to this bar if you wanna join?'”
“It seems very viable,” sources generally felt when pondering the path to the partnership. “If you do a good job and invest yourself in the firm that is – the prospect of partnership is never dangled for its own sake.” Metrics and rubrics were described by some as “crystal-clear, presuming you're in good standing, meeting hours and doing good work, the expectation is that after seven years you'll make partner.” Some, however, felt that career progression points were clear for the first four years, “but past the fifth year, the lines seem a little blurred in terms of what they're looking for.”
“It's a pretty entrepreneurial place.”
On the whole, associates labeled Waller “a pretty entrepreneurial place,” with this source making their intentions clear: “I was very specific when joining about wanting business development as a fresh lawyer.” Luckily for them, these opportunities appear to be readily available, going on what other interviewees said. One relayed that they'd been able to “bring in my own clients, with firm resources to support that, which has been significant for my career,” while another said: “If a partner meets with a prospective client, they bring me on board to speak with the client and learn their business inside out. That gives me a chance to develop my own business at the same time.”
In an otherwise happy bunch, a few murmurs of discontent emerged during discussions on Waller's “lax pro bono culture.” While the “lower hours target means pro bono feels more doable,” sources highlighted how they're often “left to their own devices” to arrange pro bono matters, with one stating: “We could do better on that front.” At the same time, interviewees did point to recent efforts made by the firm, with one highlighting a recent “initiative with the Federal Court to accept civil cases and place partners/associates on them,” and another explaining that “the firm has discussed placing a heavier emphasis on pro bono activities and community engagement.”
Diversity & Inclusion
While it's always the “goal to become more diverse,” our sources were generally quite encouraged by the levels of representation they saw at the junior level: “There's diversity among race, gender and educational backgrounds.” Interviewees were quick to cite the “widely publicized” affinity groups and initiatives, but in particular celebrated the “very active” women's leadership counsel, as well as the circulation of a diversity newsletter “each quarter to let partners know what associates are doing.”
“We're changing the culture.”
Moving up through the ranks, issues did crop up: “Some of the old school are not necessarily politically sensitive, but they are in the minority. If I had an issue, for example, and took it to Matt Burnstein it would be taken care of and maybe some more training would be delivered to address the issue.” A few more interviewees did comment on the differing generational approaches to diversity, with one source declaring: “We're changing the culture.” Another added that “there's a shift in mentality from the folks who were running the firm in the 70s and the millennials. There seems to be more diversity at our level, and that speaks to our generation.”
The Work: Litigation
We heard that there's a large “healthcare and banking focus” in the litigation practice. On “the financial side we're representing banks during the likes of general contract disputes, commercial disputes over property etc...” The focus on healthcare, meanwhile, is so concentrated that there's a dedicated “small healthcare litigation group working within the wider practice.” In addition, “there's a group of people who focus on governmental investigations.” Clients can be eclectic, as this source revealed: “We've worked with a healthcare genetic lab, a famous recording artist and clients from the industrial hemp industry.” For juniors, the work's rather rewarding: “I've been genuinely surprised about how little doc review I do! I've gone to court on my own, argued motions to dismiss, and had opportunities to depose witnesses; I jumped right in with the sharks when I started!”
Litigation clients: Regions Financial Corporation, Gannet Company and The Newtown Creek Group. Advised two major music publishers during a copyright infringement lawsuit involving Justin Bieber and his pop song Sorry.
Hours & Compensation
Our sources praised the firm's “innovative monitoring of non-attorney resources” for making there lives easier. One commended the “dedicated work-processing staff and paralegal bench, who help to fix things so time isn't wasted on silly little drafting issues.” Another interviewee highlighted how a sensible approach helps to keep the work within manageable limits: “It's just not a firm that arbitrarily emails at 6pm with things needing to be done for tomorrow!”
Citing work with night courts in Tennessee; those who've been affected by domestic violence; and those requiring assistance with conservatorship issues, sources did reveal that the opportunities are there if juniors are willing to put the time in to organize them: “Nashville has anything and everything from a pro bono standpoint. You can find anything in this eclectic and varied town.”
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Bobby Weiss (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Tera Rica Murdock
- Diversity officer: Michelle Parsons
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 11
- Clerking Policy: One year of credit for relevant practice areas (Evaluated on case by case basis)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 14
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Austin: 1, Birmingham: 3, Nashville: 13
- Summer salary 2019:
- 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, 2019
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial Recognised Practitioner
- 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)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Healthcare (Band 5)
USA - Nationwide
- Healthcare (Band 5)