Boston’s one-office wolfpack doesn't plan on compromising its culture of community anytime soon.
ALL the way back in 1899, Charles Choate and John Hall founded the firm that would become Choate Hall & Stewart. With 165 attorneys still housed under one roof in 2020, the firm has yet to waver from its one-office-in-Boston model. Associates were stoked at Choate: “The firm has one office serving a global client base; we deliver seamless client services while maintaining a culture of comradery.” The firm’s 12 Chambers USA rankings in Massachusetts – including in antitrust, finance, restructuring, litigation and a top spot for insurance – show that the Boston-only strategy has clear advantages.
“The culture really stuck out to me,”another insider told us. “When I watched people at the firm interact, I got the sense people genuinely cared about each other. I wanted to be somewhere that cared about me.”How touching – and indeed this junior wasn’t alone, as Choate scored in the top bracket for firm culture in our latest associate satisfaction survey.
After the summer, newcomers can choose to join the firm’s transactional or litigious practice. A source revealed their pre-joining anxieties: "Coming out of law school the impression you get of big law firms is kind of daunting, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the workload and how chilled Choate is." Upon entering their practice group, rookies receive assignments via a juniors-only assignment coordinator. "There is a separate coordinator for senior associates,” we heard. “Once you get more comfortable it becomes more a matter of picking up projects from partners in the hallway."
Within the corporate team you’ll find subgroups including private equity, tax, fund formation and emerging companies. “The corporate department is basically split into two wings: business and tech, and private equity,"juniors explained. Most of our sources leaned toward private equity work. A corporate third year detailed what juniors can expect at the start of a new deal: "Firstly, you are introduced to the private equity client as well as the target company via a telephone conversation led by a partner. Then you'll get to work on the documents, like the credit agreement: you'll review it and provide comments." Once the introductions are made, how do things play out? "A typical day doesn’t exist,” they told us. “Clients are always calling – there's never a dull moment."
"A typical day doesn’t exist. Clients are always calling – there's never a dull moment."
One junior recounted their time "working on a refinancing deal on behalf of a portfolio based in Australia and the UK. I was working with counsel in both offices, running closing checklists and drafting ancillary documents – I was leading the stream of work and making sure all the documents were in the final agreement." The firm represents a mail order catalog worth of tech clients, and juniors get plenty of chances to hit them up: "Choate does a great job at staffing matters leanly, so we get a lot of interaction with clients. It's based on comfort level – if you are ready the opportunity is there."
Corporate clients: SeaChange International, Bright Horizons, OneWeb. Represented private equity firm Great Hill Partners in its $1.8 billion sale of portfolio company Ascenty to Digital Realty.
The litigation department has subgroups covering unusual areas like IP, whistleblower defense and foreign influence, as well as a typical BigLaw commercial practice. Once they start, junior associates are free to bounce between subgroups for their first few years at Choate. “As we speak, I’m working with the IP group, government group and insurance group,” one told us. They and others went beyond low-level junior tasks: “You hear all the time about document review, but Choate does a really good job at allowing attorneys to have opportunities above that level.” One such associate who took a liking toward IP litigation found themselves taking a crucial role on “patent infringement cases for tech and biotech companies. We represented a client that was being sued for the design of a particular product.”
Associate tasks vary by matter type. We heard from a junior on an insurance dispute: “The client in question was monitoring epidemics across the country. I updated the client on daily hot topics, drafted coverage memos for each of our insurers and had to predict how the courts might rule.” Litigators also drafted coverage position letters, analyzed insurance policies across the market, drafted sections of a legal filing or brief, helped prepare for depositions, and even interviewed clients themselves.
Litigation clients: Reebok, Equifax, Starr Surplus Lines Insurance. Defended Dartmouth College in a class action alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault committed by three professors.
Career Development & Future
“As we are all in one office, there is a real emphasis on feedback and growth here,” interviewees said. “We are much smaller than our competitors and so our professional growth is escalated.” Thanks to its one-office model and higher-end partner leverage (about two associates to every partner), feedback is one of the firm’s strong suits, according to many. “Partners are invested in us as we are all working in the same place every day,” they reasoned. “I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of one-on-ones with partners.” When associates start at the firm they each get a mid-level associate and partner to go to for advice. "The mid-level is there to provide legal advice, and the partner for big-picture stuff." Choate even hosts Feedback Fridays, monthly events in which juniors can invite “an attorney you have worked with to hang out with snacks” while providing feedback.
"There is a real emphasis on feedback and growth here.”
The corporate department hosts an annual group weekend, in which the practice collectively works on a document (for example, a purchase agreement). "It's very unique, the whole gamut of juniors and partners come together,” insiders said. Litigators can learn through formal programs covering deposition prep, the life cycle of a litigation case and how to log an e-file. If attorneys still have burning questions, there’s a “forum with senior partners who will answer any queries – they were recently asked for breakdown of the road to partnership.” Juniors understood that they’ll move up to senior associate around fourth year, to a ‘principal’ role three years or so later, and then finally equity partner if they stick around after that.
“The people I work with genuinely care about me and my career development, and it’s great having access to partners,” said one junior, echoing the thoughts of many. “I love that everyone is in one place and if I have a question I can find the answer just down the hall.” Another was impressed to the point of skepticism: “I kept waiting for it to get real and for people to stop the nice guy act, but it’s been going for almost two years now! The asshole quotient here is very low.” Time and again, interviewees championed the “sense of community” generated by keeping all attorneys in Boston. “I know all the people I work for and work with; people treat you a certain way when they have to see you every day.”
We heard that “partners take associates out for team dinners or drinks, which helps build comradery.” The closest a source came to criticism of Choate’s culture came down to “the relentless positivity. I don’t feel as though you can just not want to do something, it all feels a bit forced.” Others countered that “people are still comfortable telling you when they’re stressed – it’s just a more aspirational environment.”
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Billable hours: 2,000 target
Reaching the 2,000 mark earns associates a bonus; Choate also offers a ‘long-term’ bonus “for every year you stay on at the firm." Attorneys across litigation and corporate worked an average 9am-to-7pm in the office on most days, sticking around until 11pm in busier times. The transactional practices are more volatile: "Finance is always fast-paced as we get to the last part of the deal – when it’s busy it's extremely busy. I’ll be working until 11pm most nights." A source reassured us: “If you're working late there will be a full team working late, you won’t be on your own.”
“The firm didn’t realize how many people would hit their bonus eligibility because of pro bono hours.”
Choate recently introduced a 125-hour cap on counting pro bono and on-the-job training toward the billable target: “The firm didn’t realize how many people would hit their bonus eligibility because of pro bono hours.” There weren’t too many complaints from juniors, who noted “the firm is trying to strike the right balance between billable work and pro bono. The policy has changed several times throughout the years.” Choate works on projects with nonprofit organizations like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and the Center for Women & Enterprise. For the last of those, juniors provided legal advice to female entrepreneurs on formation and governance issues – the firm recently helped assist a female US Air Force veteran to kick-start a now-popular coffee shop in Boston. “One of our other clients was trying to obtain additional educational services; my role was chronologically collecting facts to help the case,”a source told us.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 9,904
- Average per US attorney: 58
Interviewees were impressed with the representation of women at associate level, especially in litigation. “I work with nearly all women,” one litigator stated. As across the industry, numbers drop as you look up the career ladder toward the partner ranks; we heard that ethnic minority and LGBT+ representation is “as bad as any other firm.” Though some interviewees argued that “being located solely in Boston makes it a little harder for the firm to diversify itself,”there is a Diversity and Inclusion Committee charged with turning the tide. Pride Month was a recent peak – “We had Choate T-shirts developed that people wore to the Pride parade in Boston. There’s also a regular event on Fridays – you can wear jeans if you donate a certain amount of money to a firm-selected organization – and during Pride Month they picked an LGBT+ organization.”
The firm also has a Women’s Network, hosting events like “a great meeting with two women from the US international soccer team. One of the female Choate partners interviewed them and kids got to attend.” Feedback on the network was all smiles: “It raises a lot of money for women entrepreneurs and connects them with the right people.” It would be remiss not to mention that Choate recently introduced wellness training for first-year associates covering mindfulness and emotional, mental and physical health.
“It raises a lot of money for women entrepreneurs.”
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
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
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
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,
- Head Office: Boston, MA
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $253,593,319
- Partners: 62
- Associates: 104
- Other Attorneys: 11
- Main recruitment contact: Elaine Cohen Bortman, Chief of Legal Recruiting and Talent Development
- Hiring Partners: Danielle Pelot, JP Jaillet, John Rearick
- 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 2020: 12
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Diversity fellowship: Yes
- 1L Fellows receive a position in Choate’s summer program and are eligible for a stipend of up to $25,000
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 16
- Summer salary 2020:
- 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.
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.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Recruitment website: www.choate.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Technology (Band 3)