Choate rocks the BigLaw boat with its single office outpost on Boston’s waterfront.
Few firms can boast about preserving their loyalty to a single city in the same way Choate can. For over a century, Choate has remained faithful to its one-office model in the heart of Boston, proving that a successful BigLaw operation doesn’t require a zillion offices in far-flung destinations. This unwavering dedication has made the firm “a household name in Boston,” our sources enthused, noting their attraction to “big-firm work in a smaller environment.” Choate certainly shows that size has little correlation with might, and with just over 200 attorneys the firm dishes up BigLaw for “nationwide clients on international matters.”
“A household name in Boston.”
As such, Chambers USA awards the firm with 16 accolades in its home state of Massachusetts, most notably for insurance, antitrust, banking & finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, healthcare, intellectual property, and litigation work. Nationally, the firm snags a ranking for its private equity fund formation capabilities. But it’s not just the brains that draw associates in: “It comes down to the impression you get from the people you speak with at a firm,” a source explained. “And when I was networking before joining, I didn’t feel like I was having any canned conversations with anyone at Choate.”
Upon joining the firm, newbies are matched up with three mentors: a junior associate, a mid-level/senior associate, and a partner. “You start day one with those people available to help,” an insider told us. “They’re great at offering perspectives on what opportunities you should be looking for in order to advance your career,” another added. There’s also a formal training program in place to help juniors find their footing: “In your first week, you have training on general best practices as a junior, and then you break out into corporate or litigation teams to have more specific sessions. It’s a good way to get yourself oriented with the firm before being channeled into client work.”
“More senior people can monitor your progress and help fill any gaps you may have.”
Juniors also shared that the firm is currently developing a web portal to track professional development. “It’s in its pretty early stages right now,” an insider explained. “There are buckets of experiences you should be acquiring as a first, second, or third-year, etc. The portal allows you to fill out what you’ve done, so more senior people can monitor your progress and help fill any gaps you may have.” For more instantaneous feedback, the firm holds ‘Feedback Friday’ sessions over coffees and pastries where associates can ask any questions that have built up over a week.
Newbies join practice groups as generalists and are free to roam the subgroups within them. Roaming time varies between groups: litigators can typically sample different areas for the first two and a half years (before joining a specific group in their third year), while those in corporate generally join a subgroup upon starting at the firm. In both the overarching litigation and corporate departments, work allocation generally happens through assignment partners: associates fill out a weekly email where they estimate their hours for the week ahead and list the matters they’re working on. Work is then allocated based on capacity. Alternatively, if juniors make a good impression on partners or senior associates, “they’ll work with the central assignment coordinator to see if they can get that associate on their matter.”
Choate’s litigation team serves clients ranging from individuals to major corporations and local universities across. The wider team encompasses subgroups like government enforcement & white-collar, intellectual property, insurance & reinsurance, labor & employment, and a more general complex trial & appellate group. The IP subgroup handles the likes of patent and infringement litigation. “We do a lot of stuff before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), as well as trade secrets, breach of contract, and noncompete disputes,” one source detailed.
“I was able to take on a huge role drafting pleadings and motions.”
On the IP side, litigators get stuck into doc review, research, and memo writing. “On one case it was just me and a partner, so I was able to take on a huge role drafting pleadings and motions and being on calls with opposing counsel,” one interviewee explained. On larger case teams of “around ten lawyers, it’s great to see how partners and different levels of associates interact with each other,” another source added. “There’s a lot of research into procedural and local rules, which is to be expected in your first couple of years,” a junior told us. “It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship! In the moment it can be frustrating, but you feel super accomplished once you hand in that final work product.” A final point to note: Choate allows associates to get stuck into IP litigation work without a previous science or engineering background, while those on the patent prosecution side typically have relevant PhDs.
Litigation clients: Author Dan Brown, Harvard University, JPMorgan Chase. Defending Collegium Pharmaceutical against a lawsuit filed by Assertio Therapeutics, which alleges that Collegium owes it money under an Asset Purchase Agreement.
The firm’s corporate offering is split between fund formation, private equity & M&A, and finance & restructuring/bankruptcy. Partners in the finance & restructuring (F&R) group have different specialties, including sports, retail, and healthcare financing, and juniors are free to dabble across these sector areas. Most attorneys do lender work, though there is a subset that handles the borrower side. “Sometimes you’re working directly with a partner and drafting the closing agenda and ancillaries, while also getting client contact, managing the documents coming in, and having general management of the deal timeline,” a source explained. There’s also a bankruptcy & restructuring group that sits within the broader F&R group.
Finance clients: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Truist Bank. Represented the underwriters of a syndicate of banks, including Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and Citigroup, in a public offering by Eversource Energy worth up to $1.3 billion.
“It’s not just venture, but also debt and renegotiations.”
“I’ve worked on a one-million-dollar deal and a five-hundred-million-dollar deal,” a second-year told us, pointing to the scope of transactions tackled by Choate’s private equity team. Here, there’s a particular focus on growth equity venture capital deals on both the company and fund investor sides. “We’ve recently been working on divestitures for portfolio companies that are looking to sell parts of their portfolio to private equity companies,” a source told us. “We primarily work with the same six or seven clients, which is great because you get to know them really well.” Our sources had also represented companies during initial financing rounds, too: “It’s not just venture, but also debt and renegotiations.” Clients in this realm range from private equity funds to companies in the healthcare or tech spaces “due to the nature of the market currently.” Juniors in this group deal with a lot of project management-based tasks, which include taking inventory of the data room; owning the due diligence process; reviewing customer agreements; and prepping due diligence memos. Toward the end of the deal, they’re tasked with reviewing disclosure schedules, compiling signature pages, and closing compilations. “Everyone’s running around on closing day to make sure all the odds and ends are tied up! I’ve heard the firm is looking for a way to expedite the process of compiling signature pages and closings with tech,” one hopeful junior anticipated.
Private equity clients: Riverside Partners, BV Investment Partners, Century Equity Partners. Represented Great Hill Partners in connection with the merger of platform companies focused on cloud-based sales and marketing intelligence software.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
The 2,000-hour billable target includes 150 hours from a potential mix of pro bono, on-the-job training, and diversity and wellness hours. A few of our sources had some difficulty hitting the target over the past year due to a few slower periods. “Partners have told me there isn’t a time where you ever have just the right amount of work,” juniors reasoned. “You either have too much or too little!” Not hitting the yearly target means associates miss out on market-level bonuses. “Some people in my class did hit the target, so it’s not unachievable!” another source pointed out.
“We took it from start to finish – it was a great experience.”
On a day-to-day basis, “you’re aiming to hit about 40 hours a week,” an associate explained, “but obviously there are some weeks where you’ll be billing more than that and some weeks where you’ll be billing less.” An interviewee broke it down further for us: “I’ll log on around 9am and shut down around 6pm, though I’ll continue to check my emails until at least 10pm – even when things are slow, you still might get the odd 8pm request every now and then!” When things are busier, “it can look like being at your desk by 7am and getting into bed at 4am – fortunately those periods don’t happen too often!” Associates put the occasional longer stretches down to the firm’s leaner staffing model, which ultimately they were thankful for as it provided better development opportunities.
“Emails are always flying around about opportunities in this space,” a source assured us, so there’s plenty of pro bono available for associates to fill their time with. The firm has a longstanding partnership with Lawyers Clearinghouse, which is a nonprofit in Boston that connects other nonprofits with pro bono lawyers, and associates can get involved with the various legal clinics they run. “I worked on a landlord eviction case where I was representing the tenant with one other associate,” a source detailed. “We took it from start to finish – it was a great experience.” Others had worked on immigration cases and conducted advisory sessions for women entrepreneurs. In more recent news, a pro bono team at Choate filed an amicus brief to the First Circuit to preserve gun safety laws in Massachusetts.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 5,232
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
If there’s one thing sources routinely highlighted about Choate’s culture, it was the firm’s one-office model. “I’ve been here little over a year and I already know everyone!” an interviewee enthused. “It’s not like other firms where I would be talking to people in California who I’m never going to meet.” According to juniors, the setup helps to foster a sense of transparency throughout the firm – literally. “Even all the offices are divided by glass!” a source laughed. Figuratively, transparency is also evident “if you’re working on an intense deal. There’s a level of support that is unique – you can pop into someone’s office for a quick chat, rather than sending an email that someone might not see for the next hour.” Similarly, “if you’re working on a deal until 2am, it feels better being able to walk down the hall and see that we’re all in the same boat.” With that in mind, the firm encourages associates to be in the office three days a week (although there’s no expectation for them to stay until 2am when they do come into the office!).
“Close-knit holiday gatherings with live bands.”
Social-wise, the firm hosts a bunch of events, including monthly pizza nights and “close-knit holiday gatherings with live bands.” We also heard that certain groups are particularly social and will regularly host happy hours and business dinners with clients.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The firm’s DE&I committee – which is made up of junior and senior members of the firm – puts a lot of effort into organizing events: “We had events for MLK day and Lunar New Year. It’s usually a combination of lunch or coffee paired with an informational video or speaker,” an insider explained.
“There are lots of women partners to look up to,” a litigation associate noted, adding: “My case teams are pretty much evenly split between women and men.” Indeed, inspiration-wise, the firm's next co-managing partner will be Melissa Bayer Tearney. We were told that the firm’s women’s group – The Choate Women’s Network – is very active on both the work development and social sides: “We frequently have talks on different issues affecting women in the workplace, as well as legal issues affecting women like the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
Strategy & Future
The firm recently announced its new partnership class of six, which covered all five of its core practices: complex investigations & litigation, finance & restructuring, private equity & M&A, family office services, and life sciences & technology. To further boost its private equity practice, Choate added a partner from Ropes & Gray in late 2022. Of the 11 partners that have been made in the last two years, more than half have been women.
For our associate sources, the future looked bright: “I’ve gained experience at a number of professional global firms in the past, and I haven’t worked anywhere where people are as genuinely interested in your development and growth as they are at Choate.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 197
Interviewees outside OCI: 48
Choate participates in on-campus interview programs at select top law schools across the country, including Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Michigan, NYU, and the University of Virginia, as well as Boston-based schools including Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Northeastern, and Suffolk.
“We also collect resumes from many top schools like Cornell, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago, and University of Connecticut, ” Chief of Legal Recruiting and Talent Development, Elaine Bortman, explains, “and we’re happy to receive write-in applications from students who attend schools where we do not have a formal resume collect.” Choate also participates in the Boston Lawyers Group Diversity Job Fair and the New England Interview Program.
Top tips for this stage:
“My advice would be to get to know the firm before the interviews.” – a third-year junior associate
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Those who advance beyond the screen interviews are typically invited for a callback interview, during which candidates meet with attorneys ranging from partners to associates. Candidates who schedule their interviews during “Choate Interview Days” also participate in a reception following their interviews where they have the opportunity to network with additional Choate attorneys. In all interviews, Choate's goal is to identify which prospective candidates have the qualities that will enable them to be successful at the firm.
Top tips for this stage:
“We are looking for people who have intellectual horsepower, drive, demonstrated leadership, and who will embrace a Firm dedicated to community.” – J.P. Jaillet, hiring partner
“Let the conversation evolve organically rather than sticking to your resume.” – a third-year junior associate
Acceptances: 20 2Ls
Choate’s ten-week summer program is comprised of between 15 and 20 2L students each year. The summer class also includes between 3 and 5 1Ls hired through two competitive fellowships: Choate’s 1L Diversity Fellowship and a 1L Corporate Experienced Hire Fellowship for students with at least two years of work experience and a commitment to transactional practice. Summer associates have the opportunity to work in the firm’s five core areas of business: private equity/M&A, finance & restructuring, life sciences and tech, complex investigations and litigation, and wealth management unless they choose to focus on a particular area of our work for the summer. Hiring partner 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 asked them to 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.”
“Take full advantage of everything the firm has to offer. Learn about the work but also spend time getting to know the firm’s culture and begin to develop relationships with the people. Our goal is that by the end of the summer, you go back to school feeling like you know the firm well and are a part of the team.” - Elaine Bortman, Chief of Legal Recruiting and Talent Development
Associates hinted that the firm is also interested in a candidate’s commitment to building a career doing sophisticated legal work in Boston: “Choate looks for people who want to work at a top national firm, that isn’t a mega-firm, and want to do so based in Boston.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- 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)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Life Sciences (Band 5)
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