Alston & Bird LLP - The Inside View

Flying high in Georgia and soaring to new heights nationally (and internationally), A&B is an ideal nest for baby legal eagles.

“I’M really happy here,” said one. “It’s a great place to work,” another claimed. “You get involved in fun, challenging matters with top clients,” one more piped in. You get the picture – Alston & Bird’s juniors were keen to crow about the Southern hospitality and piping-hot work offered by their firm. A&B was hatched in 1982 after a merger between Alston, Miller & Gaines and Jones, Bird and Howell; since then the firm has built roosts all across the US as well as in Beijing and Brussels. The first nest in Atlanta remains Alston & Bird’s largest office and earns the best rankings in Chambers USA: top marks for antitrust, banking & finance, bankruptcy, corporate, healthcare, labor & employment, litigation, real estate, and tax. IP is another A&B trademark, and the firm earns another top prize in North Carolina for its practice there.

2019 saw Alston & Bird spread its wings to a 12th location, London, in a bid to grow its European finance and payment systems practices. Atlanta chief legal talent partner Elizabeth Price outlines the strategic plan behind the launch: “We are thoughtful in where we plant the Alston & Bird flag and look to expand in areas in which we already have a strong presence."

Strategy & Future



Price goes on to say: "We expect to see continued growth in the corporate and finance/financial services areas, as well as privacy, cybersecurity and litigation generally." Partners clue associates in on new strategy on a yearly retreat, “detailing which industries, groups and clients the firm is looking to focus on.” Price confirms that preserving the firm’s culture is a long-term priority:  “I’m very proud of the lifelong relationships I’ve built through being a member of the firm. We’ve worked on cases together, traveled around the US together and we remain the closest of friends both professionally and personally."

Culture



“The culture here is marked by collegiality, creativity, good humor and respect, and reflects our Atlanta origins firm-wide” according to Price. “We have an environment where everybody feels valued.” We put that to associates, who agreed that the atmosphere at Alston & Bird is “’supportive, family-oriented and Southern in feel. It’s an environment where you can have a long career – you don’t need to kill yourself every year trying to bill a certain number of hours.” One noted that “it’s the little things that count. If I’m writing a brief a partner will make their edits, sit me down and take the time to talk through everything with me.”

“There are so many opportunities. Going after them just takes some initiative!”

While many told us that “people here are committed to one another and the firm, it matters who you’re with when you’re going into the trenches,” they also described an entrepreneurial spirit that A&B works hard to stoke. “Your experience here is what you make of it, there are so many opportunities. Going after them just takes some initiative!” That’s not to say juniors are left to their own devices: the firm hosts regular lunches to encourage camaraderie among associates, there’s a happy hour every Friday and a daycare service available for families with young kids. Elizabeth Price tells the firm's hiring focuses on "identifying the people who really believe in the core values of the firm and will continue our legacy."

The Work



Litigation housed more than one-third of our list of juniors; IP was another popular choice. New arrivals can state their preferences at the end of their summer: “You rank your top three practice area choices; the practice group leader will then try and give you your number one or the next best option.” Work assignment has historically been a free-market affair for the most part, but the firm’s recently tightened things up. In the new regime “you’re paired with two partners and a senior associate, depending on who you built a relationship with over summer. They will then assign you work directly.” It’s not as rigid as it may seem, and sources told us they “sometimes bump into partners in the hallway and pick up matters just like that.” Soon after the changes, things were looking good according to our interviewees: “I’m in a sweet spot where I’m going to hit my bonus targets but I don’t feel overworked.”

“I’m in a sweet spot where I’m going to hit my bonuses but I don’t feel overworked.”

Litigation is “unquestionably the biggest practice within the firm.” Subgroups here include securities litigation; environment land use and natural resources; cybersecurity; international arbitration; and litigation and trial. The last of those is the meat and potatoes commercial litigation practice: “We do mostly defense work, ranging from defending a complaint through to discovery, trial and appeals.” Some disputes are Big with a capital B – interviewees recently worked on “a quarter-billion-dollar antitrust conspiracy” – and require juniors to fill their time with “document review and production, conducting legal research and preparing for trial.” There’s also scope to draft pleadings and “if you show you’re confident, folks are willing to give you as much as you can handle.” For one plucky associate that meant “taking my first deposition in my second year of practice. It makes a difference when you can get your hands dirty and stretch your muscles that way.” Agreeing that their “involvement is sought after by clients, and juniors’ opinions are valued,” some nonetheless felt that the firm could make more of an effort to secure small cases for newbies which could offer them higher-level exposure. “We work at a higher price point so our clients want the most expensive person on the case, which is the partner,” one pointed out. “Smaller matters provide more hands-on experience for associates.”

Litigation clients: T-Mobile, Dell, Porsche. Defended Coca-Cola and its subsidiaries in putative class actions alleging unfair competition and fallacious advertising claims.

IP comes in different flavors in each office. Several associates got involved in cross-office matters to broaden their palettes: “Two of our partners are in Charlotte and in my first year I went to that office regularly,” an Atlanta junior shared. “I'm now currently working with associates in California and DC.” Juniors working in the investigations side of the department spend most of their days “preparing witnesses, editing motions to dismiss, researching for clearance and prepping depositions.” A&B’s IP practice has earned the loyalty of “large institutional clients,” which generates plenty of client contact opportunities for fresh-faced associates: “I’ve met all our major clients in person. Partners often invite associates on client visits.” One potential drawback of this side of the firm is there’s more of a need to work independently and “it can be a bummer when you’re working late nights by yourself.”

IP clients: Chick-fil-A, Skechers, Nascar. Represented Nokia in ten patent infringement actions brought against Daimler AG and the Continental Group, involving US and German lawyers.

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 1,950 target

An average day at A&B wraps up at 6 or 7pm for most juniors, though a couple of hours’ extra work from home is normal. IP requires more industrious newbies; one source explained they’d “stayed overnight at the office for two to three nights at a time. I once had a nap on my boss’s couch!” A litigator told a very different story: “Even on busier days it’s rare I have to work back-to-back nights beyond 10pm. I almost always make it home for dinner, and the firm is good at recognizing family commitments.” As at many firms, vacation is theoretically unlimited but sometimes difficult to take in practice. “I’m the go-to guy on matters and I can’t just pack up and go to Europe for ten days,” one junior exclaimed; another felt that the firm could do more to protect vacation as “it can be hard to take time to recharge when you feel so responsible for cases.”

“I almost always make it home for dinner, and the firm is good at recognizing family commitments.”

Beyond the 1,950 hours billing target there’s an “extraordinary contributions bonus” for associates who put in especially long shifts. Quite how to reach this holy grail of compensation – and indeed the bonus allocation process in general – was unclear, and we heard that “the firm has explained the bonus system to juniors but there’s a lot of room for discretion.” There were some complaints that standard bonuses were “below the market rate.” We put this to an Atlanta interviewee who declared that “some folks here wish they were on the New York scale. I say, go work in New York then!” Difficult to argue with that.

Pro Bono



To make it easier to reach their goal, associates can count 150 hours of pro bono as billable and “if you go beyond that there are special bonuses that the firm considers.” Juniors were generally pleased with the firm’s pro bono efforts: “They’ve done an excellent job getting us access to lots of different organizations. You can choose what you’re interested in.” Immigration, asylum, refugee and domestic violence cases have been popular in the last 12 months; one source detailed “cases where we help women who are in jail for violent acts against their abusers.” Pro bono fever reaches its peak in a special pro bono week when “everyone gets hangers on their doors displaying their pro bono hours.” There’s even an end of year party for attorneys who bill sufficient pro bono hours.

“They’ve done an excellent job getting us access to lots of different organizations. You can choose what you’re interested in.”

Pro bono hours:

  • For all US attorneys: 53,498
  • Average per US attorney: 67.8

Career Development



“I see myself staying at Alston for a while,” a junior told us. “I can’t fathom a better opportunity somewhere else.” The firm certainly invests in associate development, not least through Alston & Bird University. Juniors appreciated quarterly training programs covering topics including “how to take your first deposition” and business development. We heard that “Alston is invested in the commercial aspect of associates’ careers and wants us to be business-savvy. There is a strong focus on marketing and less on substantive legal training.” Help with the legal side of things is more likely to come through a formal mentoring program, for which each junior is partnered with a partner from their practice group.

“Alston is invested in the commercial aspect of associates’ careers.”

After their fourth year, associates get promoted to senior associate level; they get a two-day training program beforehand to ensure everyone’s up to speed. The path to partnership was crystal clear for our sources: “We have a mid-year associate retreat where we’re told what’s required to earn elevation to partnership in the future.”

Diversity & Inclusion



There were some concerns that “diversity is not great at partner level firm-wide." Alston & Bird is taking steps to address these issues, and recently created ‘diversity partner’ roles for each practice group firm-wide.“Those partners specifically look at the demographics of their group and consider how to improve things,” juniors explained; one feared that these efforts were too little too late as “at least two women have quit each year since I’ve started.” Another picked up on a “bro-code culture. It’s not intentional but men tend to look out for each other and women can feel left out it’s more of a comfort thing than active discrimination.” Sources suggested that the IP practice suffers from the general dominance of men in the field: “In IP litigation it’s hard to find lawyers with STEM backgrounds anyway, and finding women with that background knowledge is even harder.” There were more positive reports from sources in litigation: “Alston is progressive and very forward-thinking, we are more diverse than many other firms in Atlanta.” This progressive mindset is extending toward well-being, and the firm funds therapy sessions and has a “yoga instructor and masseuse on site” to help attorneys who may be struggling.

“Those partners specifically look at the demographics of their group and consider how to improve things.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: not disclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: not disclosed

Alston & Bird recruits from nearly 40 law schools and job fairs each year. It also conducts resume collections at 25 schools nationwide. The firm takes a “one-firm approach” to law school recruitment, which chief legal talent partner Liz Price tells us means “that students may express an interest in any of our offices regardless of the office(s) represented by our interviewers.” At each school, the firm will interview between 18 and 40 candidates depending on the number of schedules for which they have registered. Interviews are conducted in teams of “enthusiastic” lawyers – usually one partner and one associate who are alumni of the school.

Interviews focus on “three key factors – desired office location, disposition, and a genuine interest in our firm,” says Price. Interviewers also note that while they are interested in an interviewee’s practice area interest, they understand that not everyone knows exactly what they want to practice so early in their career.

Top tips for this stage:

“Make eye contact with your interviewers and be intentional about your responses. Relax and be yourself. We want to get to know you, not a fake version of you.” – chief legal talent partner Liz Price

 

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: not disclosed

Each office handles the callback process differently. Some offices conduct interviews over lunch or dinner, others may conduct them in pairs. Price tells us that “in each instance, however, candidates meet with a combination of partners and associates from various practice groups, levels of seniority, and committees.” All candidates see their schedules in advance of the interview.

Price tell us that the callback isn’t “only for us to get to know the candidate, but also for the candidate to learn enough about us to decide whether to start their career with the firm.” For that reason, the firm ensures they interview candidates in a way that “encourages open dialogue and two-way conversations. To achieve this, we ask open-ended questions that allow candidates to provide us with examples of past experiences and achievements.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Being prepared, showing enthusiasm for the firm and being genuine are critically important to our lawyers.”  chief legal talent partner Liz Price

“When I interviewed here I got this feeling that everyone really cared about me and was actually nice. There were no fake interactions.” – a junior associate

 

Summer program

Offers: 72

Acceptances: 41

A&B has a nine-week summer program that’s designed to “allow students to maximize their exposure to our lawyers and our various practice areas,” Price explains. Some smaller offices hire summer associates to fill specific practice group needs, but all offices encourage “flexibility with work assignments with no formal rotation required.” The firm also provides “a variety of training opportunities,” including a firm-wide retreat in Atlanta for “teambuilding, hands-on training, presentations and plenty of fun.”

Almost all summer associates return to the firm as first-year associates. Some decide to pursue a judicial clerkship. During the summer, work is assigned “flexibly based on one’s interests, which allows our summer associates to explore a variety of practice groups during their time with us.” At the end of the program, summer associates flag their practice group preferences, and group-specific offers are subsequently determined with this information in mind.

Top tips for this stage:

“I always encourage our summer associates to take advantage of the many opportunities provided by the firm, whether it’s a project in an unfamiliar practice area, coffee with lawyers they haven’t met yet, the opportunity to attend a hearing, deposition, client meeting or negotiation, or a fun social activity.” – a junior associate

“We want to hire people who are committed to maintaining our culture of collegiality, good humor, excellent legal skills, open communication and genuine respect for each other.” – chief legal talent partner Liz Price

 

Interview with chief legal talent partner Liz Price



Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?

Liz Price: The firm is in an excellent position to continue to attract and retain top quality talent around the world as a result of the strength of our practices, our unique culture and our continued growth. More specifically, we have focused much of our hiring in the litigation and finance practice areas.

The new London office is intended to expand our European practice and reflect the strength of our finance and payment systems practices, as well as our antitrust practice.We are thoughtful in where we plant the Alston & Bird flag and look to expand in areas in which we already have a strong presence.

CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?

LP: We expect to see continued growth in the corporate and finance/financial services areas, as well as privacy, cybersecurity and litigation generally. Institutionally, we will continue to focus on growth that fits with us culturally. 

We focus on identifying the people who really believe in the core values of the firm and will continue our legacy. The culture here is marked by collegiality, creativity, good humor and respect, and reflects our Atlanta origins firm-wide. We have an environment where everybody feels valued.

CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to adapt to in the future?  

LP: The profession has become increasingly more focused on the business aspect of the practice of law and there is a lot of discussion on that earlier on in our associates’ careers. Obviously, adapting to technological changes and advances will be critical.

As a result of COVID-19, the profession has readjusted and will continue to readjust in ways we might not have thought possible in the past.  Remote work and learning environments, better and more frequent use of technology, and increasingly flexible and non-traditional roles for lawyers will become more commonplace and we will have to continue to evolve our prior thinking around all of these. The law will always have a highly personalized component to it, but will also have to adapt to these changes.

CA: Reflecting on your career, why did you decide to become a lawyer?

LP: I decided to become a lawyer when I was in high school, I enjoyed watching shows and reading books about lawyers. The advocacy, the intellectual challenge, the psychology and the theatrics initially drew me in: I only saw lawyers who were trial lawyers, so that’s what I envisioned lawyers did. Now, looking at my career, I’m very proud of the lifelong relationships I’ve built through being a member of the firm. We’ve worked on cases together, traveled around the US together and we remain the closest of friends both professionally and personally.

CA: What advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?  

LP:  Being a zealous advocate doesn’t mean being a jerk. Your paths with people will cross over and over again when you’ve been practicing for a long time and people remember how you treat them – this is called a profession for a reason.  I would also suggest that you keep an open mind. Many times the things that you think you want to do, or that someone has told you you’d be a good fit for, might not always be the best path for you and if you keep blinders on you may miss a turn or two along the way. Take every opportunity as it comes and be open to growth.

 

Alston & Bird LLP

One Atlantic Center,
1201 West Peachtree Street,
Atlanta,
GA 30309

  • Head Office: Atlanta, GA
  • Number of domestic offices: 9
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $730,579,255
  • Partners (US): 345
  • Associates (US): 366
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Erin L Springer (erin.springer@alston.com)
  • Hiring Partner: Elizabeth A Price
  • Diversity officers: Cari Dawson and John Latham
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 46
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls 9, 2Ls 46
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Atlanta (ATL): 26, Charlotte (CLT): 9, Dallas (DFW): 4, Los Angeles (LAX): 2, New York (NYC): 7, Raleigh (RTA): 1, Silicon Valley (SVA): 4, Washington, DC (WDC): 2
  • Summer salary 2020: 1Ls and 2Ls: $3,000/week (ATL, CLT, RTA) or $3,5000/week (DFW, LAX, NYC, SVA, WDC)
  • Split summers offered? Yes, first half required
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Alston & Bird provides a full range of services to domestic and international clients. Our core practice areas are intellectual property, complex litigation, corporate, and tax, with national industry focuses in healthcare, privacy and data security, financial services and public policy.

Firm profile
Founded in 1893, Alston & Bird is a leading national AmLaw 50 firm. Counseling clients from what was initially a local context quickly expanded to regional, then national levels and now spans a global economic environment. Alston & Bird has overlaid its broad range of legal skills and business knowledge with a commitment to innovation and technology. Alston & Bird has been ranked on Fortune magazine’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list for 20 consecutive years, an unprecedented accomplishment among law firms in the United States. The recognition speaks to the culture of the firm and the environment in which we practice law and provide service to clients. Alston & Bird has been consistently recognized as a US law firm providing superior client service in the BTI Most Recommended Law Firms. This recognition results from interviews with approximately 300 corporate counsel at Fortune 1000 companies.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
American, Cardozo, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Georgia, Georgia State, Harvard, Hofstra, Howard, Loyola – LA, Mercer, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UC Berkeley, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, UNC, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee

Recruitment outside OCIs:
BC/BU Job Fair, Georgia State Southeastern IP Job Fair, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Interview Program, NEBLSA Regional Job Fair, Pennsylvania (ATL Program), Sunbelt Minority Job Fair

Summer associate profile:
Our lawyers have diverse backgrounds as well as varied social, cultural, civic, and educational interests and our summer associates are no exception. We value hard work, scholastic excellence and strong interpersonal skills.

Summer program components:
Our summer program provides students with substantive work for real clients, handson training opportunities, lawyer pairings to help foster relationships, and a firm-wide retreat. Summer associates work closely with their mentors to identify projects from our database that will allow for an authentic experience based on their legal interests. In addition to formal training programs, we offer out-of-office experiences to attend depositions, client meetings, hearings and other hands-on learning experiences. Associate contacts ensure that summer associates have plenty of opportunities to interact with attorneys throughout the summer.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.alston.com/en/careers
Linkedin: alston-&-bird-llp
Twitter: @AlstonBirdLLP
Facebook: Alston-Bird-LLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance: Mainly Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Energy (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Immigration (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Finance (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
    • Construction (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 3)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Litigation) (Band 3)
    • Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation (Band 3)
    • Government Contracts (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 3)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 4)
    • REITs (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)

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