Choate Hall & Stewart LLP - The Inside View

If you had one shot… one opportunity… to do international legal work in a tight-knit one-office Boston firm… would you capture it?

“Choate has been an institution in Boston since the 19th century – it’s one of the foundational law firms here,” juniors explained. CH&S has shown unwavering loyalty to Massachusetts’ capital since then, sticking to a one-office model. Having access to “all the brains, leadership and all the people you work with under the same roof” was a big hook for many, especially those looking to “be in Boston but still do national and international work.” With fewer than 200 attorneys under this one roof, associates reckoned Choate “has a midsized feel, but with the complexity of BigLaw matters. That was really appealing to me.”

“…a midsized feel, but with the complexity of BigLaw matters.”

Chambers USA grants the firm rankings in its home state for 14 practices including top prizes for insurance, white-collar crime and government investigations work. The firm’s expertise, coupled with the sheer number of government bodies with a Boston presence (think Homeland Security, the FBI, the IRS…) lead Choate sources to suggest “you rarely see people exit and go to another firm. The primary exit opportunity is going into a government agency.” They agreed that “carrying the Choate name on your CV opens up doors.”

Strategy & Future



The firm’s juniors reckoned their employer “markets itself as a group of experts in a few areas, rather than a broad general practice firm that has departments in every area of commercial law.” The areas commonly highlighted were corporate, insurance/reinsurance, government enforcement, complex trial and appellate, and IP.In years to come, our sources reckoned Choate will pursue “more of a laser focus on particular types of work and departments and doing more complex work in those spaces.”

The Work



Most juniors take to either the broad corporate or litigation groups, though some also join the real estate, patent and wealth management departments. Associate work assignment comes primarily through a formal process: “We submit workload forms which list every matter we’re on and how many hours we estimate we’ll be working, as well as any upcoming personal days,” interviewees explained. “Assigning attorneys take the forms and determine how to staff matters.” Sources also noted that “you can directly seek out particular partners you want to work with. There’s a great balance.”

“We staff leanly so people need to rise to the occasion quickly.”

Corporate folks tend to start out as generalists before joining a more specific subgroup, a few of which include finance and restructuring; M&A; and private equity. Interviewees who’d dived into finance highlighted “providing debt financing to retail companies” as well as more generally “drawing up loan documents and credit facilities.” Most worked on deals from the lender side, representing “a lot of regulated banks as well as some nonregulated lenders.” Juniors also flagged deals in some interesting industries including “a fair amount of sports financing. I was working on credit facilities for sports teams or organizations in connection with building stadiums.”

Restructuring work typically involves “retailers filing for bankruptcy,” (prepare your Michael Scott impression now) while private equity at Choate is “mostly mergers and acquisitions in the middle market – between $50 million and $400 million.” Juniors typically start out with tasks like deal due diligence, reviewing and drafting ancillary documents, “and keeping track of all documents that are needed for deadlines.” By their third year, many had transitioned on to more substantive tasks like first drafts of credit agreements. Sources reckoned they had “a high level of responsibility” compared to peers at other firms and noted that “Choate staffs deals leanly so people need to rise to the occasion quickly.”

Corporate clients: Bain Capital Life Sciences, Spectrum Equity, Silversmith Capital Partners. Represented investment company Cobepa in its acquisition of orthopedic surgery practice Precision Orthopedics.

Litigation covers four primary areas: insurance and reinsurance; government enforcement; complex trial and appellate; and IP. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve gotten to work on at least one matter in every subgroup,” one litigator recalled. As with corporate, most litigators start out broad then home in on a more specific area from year three onwards. So far, junior sources had come across cases like “insurance coverage matters litigating liability for catastrophic events,” as well as “patent litigation for life sciences clients” and “representing companies that are either under investigation by state or federal government or trying to follow compliance with regulations.”

“If you’re looking for more responsibility, you will find it.”

Junior responsibilities ranged from “typical first-year research and document review” to “drafting the equivalent of the complaints and briefings for the case.” The latter was more common on smaller matters where sources found senior attorneys “delegated more responsibility.” One source also highlighted being able to “draft a motion to dismiss for a case in federal court.” Interviewees summarized that “if you’re looking for more responsibility, you will find it.”

Litigation clients: Harvard, Amicus, Reebok. Represented Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown in a lawsuit filed by his ex-wife alleging misrepresentation of assets and emotional distress.

Career Development



Formal training kicks off with a two-week practice-specific bootcamp, followed by regular sessions throughout the first year which decrease in volume as associates progress. Sources also flagged that “mentoring is a huge focus” at Choate, with most balancing both formal and informal partner mentors. “The best part of the firm is the feedback model,” interviewees reflected. “Partners and senior associates are really encouraged to set up feedback conversations with juniors.” Others were impressed that “there’s an emphasis on making sure you have relationships with clients,” which left juniors feeling like the firm was “committed to having us here long-term.”

“Partners and senior associates are really encouraged to set up feedback conversations with juniors.”

With long-term very much on the brain, associates reckoned opportunities to progress are clear at Choate: “We have an annual review process in which the firm explains what the expectations are for our level and progressing on.” Some admitted “there is some murkiness about how to make partner,” but added that “you don’t see people being pushed out” and that partnership still seemed achievable “for people who want that.”

Pro Bono



“I feel like there’s strong commitment to pro bono: maybe not in breadth, but in depth,” one junior deduced. Though interviewees found “the firm is receptive to bringing on new pro bono matters,” most had built their practice around “a few particular relationships with a small handful of nonprofits in Boston.” Recent examples include “the formation and dissolution of nonprofits,” legal clinics for New England homelessness charity Pine Street Inn, asylum matters with PAIR, work with the EdLaw project and cases against the Trump Administration regarding restrictions around Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Attorneys can count a total 125 hours altogether of pro bono and ‘on the job training’ toward their billable requirement. Some juniors reckoned that “if you’re really entrenched on a pro bono matter, the firm will increase the amount of pro bono you can allocate toward billables – they understand you are needed.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 7,558
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 2,000 target

Attorneys that hit the goal are eligible for a market bonus, and everyone we spoke to found this to be more than achievable considering there’s “plenty of work to go around.” In addition to the 2,000-hour payout, interviewees mentioned “opportunities to get an additional bonus,” although they were unclear what the criteria for these was.That said, all the juniors in our research sample felt well compensated for their work.

“You have to be organized and committed to setting time aside for lots of different things.”

Our sources found it hard to pin down an average workday, but most estimated they typically worked between eight and ten hours a day. Certain departments were earlier starters (especially since the shift to remote working – we heard from juniors in the litigation and patent groups about this trend), while in others “things liven up later.” Associates reckoned it’s generally “pretty rare to work past 10pm.” Finding time for their private lives was considered “an industry-wide challenge as opposed to a Choate-specific one,” and sources recommended that “you have to be organized and commit to setting time aside for different things.”

Diversity & Inclusion



First the (relatively) good news: juniors felt there’s “strong representation of women” at Choate, “particularly at partner level.” They also flagged that most incoming classes were split pretty evenly between male and female attorneys. It was on the race and ethnicity front where interviewees admitted “the firm struggles and could probably do better.” Some reckoned it doesn’t help that Boston is not really well known for being diverse,” which limits firms like Choate which opt to hire locally. Many did feel that diversity was “a top priority for the firm.” Steps to address existing issues include industry-standard affinity groups and a diversity and inclusion committee; Choate also hosts “a variety of presentations and educational initiatives to help people learn more about different topics under the D&I banner.”

“I’ve always felt everyone was working toward the same end, and never felt like I needed to try and outshine someone.”

Culture



Maintaining a firmwide culture is much easier when you’ve only got one office to worry about: Choate’s singular setup has a noticeable positive impact according to associates. Many appreciated both the “personal and professional relationships” they were able to build, giving particular praise to senior attorneys for taking the time to go above and beyond getting to know everyone: “Especially in a COVID-19 world, it’s nice that people know where you’re calling from and remember things about you and your life.” The sense of camaraderie was strong among attorneys, who added that “if you’re working late into the night, it’s nice to see everybody also in the trenches with you.” We heard from one who explained exactly what the culture meant to them: “I’ve always felt everyone was working toward the same end, and never felt like I needed to try and outshine someone.” More generally, juniors expressed this common sentiment: “There’s a lot of work to do, but Choate’s the best environment to do it in.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Choate conducts OCIs at some of the big-name schools across the country such as Columbia, Georgetown, the University of Virginia and Yale as well as Boston-based schools like Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern. Out of the 1,200 or so hopefuls who apply each year, the firm tells us it tends to interview a couple hundred in the first round. Outside of the OCIs, Chief of Legal Recruiting and Talent Development Elaine Bortman informs us how the firm participates in the Boston Lawyers Group Diversity Job Fair and the New England Interview Program. “We also collect resumes from many top schools like Stanford, Michigan, Penn, Duke and Berkeley,” she explains, “and we’re happy to receive write-in applications from students who attend schools where we do not have a formal resume collect.”

The interview itself consists of behavioral questions to assess a candidate’s thought process and their response in certain situations. “We want to see how committed they are to practicing in a commercial law setting and how able they are to think on their feet.” Bortman explains.

Top tips for this stage:

“My advice would be to get to know the firm before the interviews. Research the interviewers and connect with what they value in their candidates.” – a third-year junior associate

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

Those who impress at the OCI are typically invited back for an evening callback interview, during which candidates will interview with a mix of attorneys ranging from partners to associates. The interviews are followed by a reception where candidates have the opportunity to network with attorneys representing all of the firm’s areas of expertise. At this point, the panel of interviewers are focused on whether prospective candidates fit with the culture of the firm. Associates felt that “Choate partners value people who have a strong work ethic. They’re interested in the hours you’re willing to put in, as well as whether or not you’re a nice human being.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Let the conversation evolve organically rather than sticking to your resume.” – a third-year junior associate

Summer program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

Choate’s ten-week summer program takes between 15 and 20+ students on each year. Summer associates will work in each of the firm’s five departments: finance & restructuring, wealth management, private equity/M&A, life sciences and tech, and complex investigations and litigation throughout the course of the summer. The firm highlights that exposure across all of these areas is a chance for summer associates to discover what interests them. Hiring cochair J.P. Jaillet gave us an example of what summers can expect to do: “I gave one summer an assignment on an upcoming trial where I told them to go and find some background information about an expert witness that may be helpful for the cross-examination, which is the type of work I would give to a first-year associate. The summer found gold to impeach the witness. I used it at trial with good effect and we won the case.”

Associates who are invited back as full-time associates don’t receive job offers into specific departments. Instead, the firm communicates with the successful summers throughout their final school year before the final placement decision is made. The firm tells us it takes into consideration individual interests alongside business needs.

Top tips for this stage:

“We are looking for people who have intellectual horsepower, go to a great law school, have demonstrated leadership and have some track record of demonstrating perseverance. We’re also looking for folks who are collaborative.” – J.P. Jaillet, hiring cochair

And finally…

Associates hinted that the firm is also interested in a candidate’s commitment to building a career in Boston, “as they realize that people may end up leaving to bigger cities.”

 

Choate Hall & Stewart LLP

Two International Place,
Boston,
MA 02110
Website www.choate.com

  • Head Office: Boston, MA
  • Number of domestic offices: 1
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Worldwide revenue: $274,746,445
  • Partners: 88
  • Associates: 106
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Elaine Cohen Bortman, Chief of Legal Recruiting and Talent Development
  • Hiring partners: Jen Fenn, JP Jaillet
  • Diversity officer: Choate has a Diversity & Inclusion Committee which includes partners from a range of departments and is chaired by the Managing Partners.
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 21
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Diversity fellowship: Yes (1L + 2L)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 16
  • Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $3,654/week 2Ls: $3,654/week
  • Split summers offered? No

Main areas of work
Private equity and M&A, finance and restructuring, life sciences and technology companies, intellectual property and related litigation, government enforcement and financial litigation, insurance and reinsurance, complex trial and appellate, and wealth management.

Firm profile
Choate is one of the nation’s premier law firms. Choate conducts its national and international practice through a single office model, with all lawyers under one roof in Boston. The firm’s associate-to-partner ratio is low, affording junior lawyers opportunities to play important roles on matters and facilitating rapid career development. Lawyers know each other well and work together in dedicated client teams. That familiarity, proximity and continuity allows them to share knowledge easily and respond to clients’ needs efficiently, seamlessly and immediately.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:

Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Northeastern, Suffolk, University of Virginia and Yale

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Choate collects resumes via a resume drop at many other schools. If we do not offer this at your school, qualified candidates may submit their resume to legalrecruiting@choate.com.

Clerking policy: Choate offers progression credit, as well as a one-time clerkship bonus, to candidates who join the firm immediately following the completion of a federal district or circuit court clerkship or a federal or state supreme court clerkship.

Summer associate profile:
Choate seeks candidates who have a record of academic excellence and professional achievement. We value proven leadership, dedication to team success, a strong work ethic and the ability to approach challenges thoughtfully and creatively. We seek candidates who offer perspectives and talents shaped by a broad range of socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, professional and personal backgrounds.

Summer program components:
Throughout the summer, Choate’s summer associates are involved in real work with real clients. In recent years, summers have performed legal research, drafted memos and briefs, helped prepare transactional documents, conducted diligence, reviewed documents, participated in deal closings, assisted in fact gathering, drafted estate planning documents, observed depositions, negotiations and trials and worked on pro bono matters. Each summer associate is matched with a junior associate, mid-level associate and partner mentor, who provide guidance and feedback. The summer training program provides the opportunity to develop professional skills, to learn about the firm as a business and to have the experience of working at the firm as well as to develop important legal skills, such as writing. It also includes a two-week apprentice program which provides for a deeper understanding of two practice areas in the firm.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.choate.com/careers
Linkedin: choate-hall-&-stewart
Twitter: @ChoateLLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Insurance (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)