Bostonian Choate offers an interesting variety of practices and a no-nonsense culture.
AROUND 25 years ago, Choate co-managing partner Bill Gelnaw recalls, “the common thinking was that getting bigger was getting better.” Going against the grain, Choate made the decision “to do something different” and stick to being a one-office firm in its home city of Boston. “We very consciously developed this strategy,” adds co-managing partner Charles Cheever, “and that strategy has proved successful.” How successful are we talking here? Well, the firm has seen an 8% rise in revenue three years in a row, and its revenues per lawyer are among the top ten in the country, and Gelnaw believes the firm's strong finances follow on from other good things about the business, like "having a more balanced 2:1 associate leverage model which allows partners to lead assignments and associates to work directly, and from the day they start at Choate, with partners."
Gelnaw also feels that the firm's focus on five key areas – financial restructuring; wealth management; private equity/M&A; life sciences & tech; and complex investigations & litigation – has helped to distinguish Choate's position in the market. “Each of those areas had a strong 2018, and a great start to 2019,” he concludes. In Chambers USA, Choate picks up 11 rankings in Massachusetts, with its highest accolades going to its antitrust, banking & finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, corporate/M&A, insurance, and general commercial litigation practices. Over in Chambers High Net Worth, the firm comes out on top in Massachusetts for its expertise in private wealth law. For our associate interviewees, the benefits of joining Choate were clear: “I wanted a firm that was going to be focused on providing top-level work, but I also didn’t want to feel like I was just a number.”
Strategy & Future
“Our clients come to us because of our model,” says Gelnaw, “so we have no plans to change it.” Don't expect Choate to start sprouting up in lots of locations then, but do expect it to continue “developing even better teams to succeed. Some of our competitors are more focused on what other law firms are doing, but we're focused more on our clients and delivering value to them. I think that's the right approach.” Gelnaw goes on to explain how important the life sciences sector is for Choate, alongside its private equity, debt finance and IP litigation practices.
“Our clients come to us because of our model.”
Cheever, meanwhile, points out Choate's “unique offering” on the wealth management front: “We represent some of the country's wealthiest families. We wanted to provide our clients with a one-stop shop to cover all of their financial needs, and that model is different to the ones adopted by many of our competitors.” For more from Cheever and Gelnaw, click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
After sampling matters during the summer, incoming juniors state their preference for either corporate or litigation work, and then are formally assigned to one area upon arrival. Once in one of these overarching practices, juniors can continue to sample work from various subgroups within them before specializing toward the end of their second year: “We're easily able to steer ourselves to take whatever opportunities we want and grasp the internal market on our own; you start to naturally filter your way toward one area or another, and get into the rhythm of working with the same people.” While sources deemed the overall system as being more free market, they nonetheless highlighted that assigning partners were on hand to help manage work flow if required.
Under the corporate umbrella are various subgroups, including private equity, emerging companies, tax and fund formation. Our sources had gravitated toward private equity, and were quick to tell us that “Boston is a hotbed for private equity.” However, they were also keen to highlight the broad scope of the group's deals, and spoke of matters involving Canadian, Brazilian and Austrian parties. “Our clients are usually buying companies in the $25 million to $100 million range and selling them in the range of $150 million and $500 million on exit,” interviewees added. Deals within the healthcare and tech sectors were reportedly common, with juniors explaining that “there are opportunities for juniors to grow up fast. We tend to staff matters leanly. It's pretty common for a second-year Choate associate to be working opposite a fourth or fifth-year at another firm.” This meant drafting bids and helping to negotiate key documents, as well as helping to produce ancillaries and enjoying “a lot of client contact: we're exposed to different tasks and matters with some regularity, which means no one gets pigeon-holed.”
Corporate clients: tech company SeaChange International, private equity firm Candescent Partners and healthcare company Haemonetics Corporation. Recently represented private equity firm Great Hill Partners as it sold its controlling interest in a Brazilian portfolio company (worth over $1.8 billion) to US real estate investment trust Digital Realty.
Choate's focus on the litigation front is on IP; complex trial & appellate; government enforcement & white-collar; insurance & reinsurance; and whistleblower defense matters. On the IP side “we do a lot of bio-pharma cases – both plaintiff and defense – involving patent infringement claims. You get exposure to matters worth hundreds of millions but also smaller matters. It's a robust practice.” Choate's enforcement and investigations practice was also deemed a “busy group: we answer general compliance questions, largely for pharmaceutical companies, but we also conduct investigations into noncompliance allegations, so a company will say, 'Hey, someone has come forward with this, and we need you to look into this for us.'” Junior litigators told us that there's “a bonus to working on a range of cases: I've been on large case teams where I've done more doc review (but still had a first stab at drafting documents), and I've been on matters where I've taken the lead and communicated with the client under supervision from a partner.” Other sources told us that they'd defended depositions and written interview outlines, but also helped to draft motions and portions of investigative reports.
Litigation clients: Reebok International; pharmaceutical company Merck; and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Represented the latter on various matters of late, including one where the company was sued in a class action over homeowners' coverage tied to the cost of replacing allegedly crumbling foundations in over 30,000 homes.
“There's a lot of informal mentorship and a real cultural emphasis on giving feedback,” one associate commented, matching what others said on this topic. “Feedback isn't given in a 'that was a big mistake' way; it's more 'this is another way to approach this' and 'here's the reason I made this change.'” The firm's size and one-site location means “we work very closely with partners; there's always a partner sitting at the end of the hall talking with or explaining something to an associate.” Another source added: “My career development has been shaped by the partners I work with and that take an interest in me.”
“...a very high number of us go on to become partners.”
After spending a good amount of time learning from partners, “a very high number of us go on to become partners.” Juniors felt that Choate is the kind of place where “you either stay for the long-term or go in-house,” with this source explaining that “almost nobody leaves to join another Boston law firm, and that speaks for itself.” While sources were positive about their chances of becoming a partner, they did say that “the firm could be clearer on what the milestones are for associates in general.”
If you plan on residing under Choate’s “cutting-edge” one-office roof, leave any expectations formed from watching The Practice at the door. Associates were quick to emphasize Choate’s “no a-hole policy” and tendency to “hire people that we know will get along with everyone.” Getting along is important in an office with around 150 attorneys in total, as “it's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. People have been here a long time and they're nice to each other.” Others went on to add that the one-office model made “a big cultural point of difference” between Choate and other law firms, and was responsible for “creating a warmer atmosphere.”
“It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody.”
What else does the one-office model do for the culture? Sources reckoned that it helped to promote a culture of development, as “younger associates are encouraged to push themselves here. The matters are leanly staffed, which makes working here much more engaging and enjoyable. We're not micromanaged – we're given autonomy.” Others highlighted the extent to which the model boosted transparency: “Management couldn’t be any more transparent. We're told about the financial health of the firm, practice area success stories – even if new walls are being put up on the 33rd floor!” On the topic of walls and transparency: “Our offices have glass walls, so generally you can see what everyone is doing. I wave to a partner across the way!”
Diversity & Inclusion
“It's an industry-wide issue, but particularly for Boston firms,” juniors reflected. Our sources mostly agreed that Choate had achieved the most when it came to the representation of women at the firm. “The women's initiative has been more public than the others,” one commented, while another added that “in certain practice areas the case teams are majority women.” However, “the firm is still mostly white,” and sources flagged the ongoing efforts that need to be made to boost racial and ethnic diversity. “We are actively working to better engage with minorities,” said one, who went on to tell us about the firm's 1L recruitment program that brings in “one or two diverse students into the summer class” each year. On a broader note, interviewees credited the roll out of implicit bias training and the hosting of diversity speakers for “making us more aware of the issues” and fostering inclusivity.
There's no cap on the number of pro bono hours that can count as billable (“so we're incentivized to take on pro bono more frequently”) and there's also a new policy that encourages lawyers to clock at least 25 hours.Juniors can take on pro bono matters from five “main” partnership organizations: the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice; the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project (PAIR); the Committee for Public Counsel Services; the Center for Women in Enterprise; and Lawyers Clearinghouse. These defined areas of focus reflect “the big push that's been made to clarify and make known what's on offer,” following some “concerns that opportunities have previously been more litigation-focused; they've developed more opportunities in the corporate space and they continue to do so.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 7,920
- Average per US attorney: 48
Hours & Compensation
Our sources were glad that Choate matched the salary increases that rocked the market in 2018: “We work hard and we work long hours, so it's nice to know that we're compensated in line with our peers.” If associates hit 2,000 hours (including pro bono) they are guaranteed a market-rate bonus. In addition, “a retention bonus gets added on every year if you stay with Choate,” an interviewee revealed, which went down very well with our sources: “It's a good incentive for us to stay at the firm and keep working as hard as we can. The net result is that we get compensated above market.” For more on working hours, click the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Choate conducts OCIs at some of the big names across the country such as Harvard and Yale, and also makes an appearance at regional schools like Georgetown and Northeastern. Out 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, the New England Interview Program and the Loyola Patent Law Interview Program. “We also collect resumes from a number of top schools like Stanford and Michigan,” she explains, “and we’re happy to receive write-in applications from students who do not attend the schools mentioned.”
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,” 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 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: financial 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 exposure across all of these areas is a chance for summer associates to discover what interests them. Hiring co-chair 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 junior 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 co-chair
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.”
More on Choate's working hours
Corporate associates generally “get in at 9.30am and leave between 7.30 and 8pm,” with this source emphasizing that “if you need to pick up work in the evenings you're not expected to sit around. It's not that kind of firm. For the most part people do work remotely in those circumstances.” Litigators said that they usually spend around nine hours in the office each day, but can “work for longer than that during busy periods.” Again, there is the option of heading home to log on: “I had a call at 8pm last night, so I went home to do it. The firm's good about us being focused on family time.”
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 2019: 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 2019: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 16
- Summer salary 2019:
- 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 2019:
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, 2019
- 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 Recognised Practitioner
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Fund Formation Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
- Tax (Band 3)
- Technology (Band 3)