Groom Law Group - The Inside View

Groom Law Group offers associates the chance to specialize early in an academic environment “without as many of the churn-and-burn elements” of BigLaw.

BENEFITS, retirement and healthcare are the legal lingua franca at Groom Law Group. As one junior put it, “there are very few firms – maybe none – that have the kind of focus, practice and depth in this area that we have.” According to the Chambers USA rankings for employee benefits and executive compensation, Groom is one of the very best in the country alongside just two other firms – both of which are multi-office, multi-practice giants. By contrast, Groom is based out of a single office in DC, and in the District of Columbia it wins the title of being the only firm with a top-tier ranking in this practice area. Its ERISA litigation work also gets high national commendations. “I wasn’t even sure what ERISA litigation was before I got here,” one insider admitted. “I knew what the letters stood for, but little else.” Take note:ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 – the law governing employee benefits, including compensation and retirement plans.

“You’re dealing with a lot of technical, esoteric questions from clients.”

“Coming out of law school,you don’t see a lot of attorneys actively choosing this area,” associates reflected, “but they end up finding it super interesting!” As one shared, “I’m surprised to say that I wake up excited to come to work and tackle ERISA-oriented problems.” Associates described “complicated and rewarding” work, reasoning that Groom suits the academically inclined: “You’re dealing with a lot of technical, esoteric questions from clients.” Groom was also the firm of choice for those who “liked the idea of specializing as soon as possible.” Others felt it struck the tricky BigLaw balance just right: “You get a lot of the BigLaw benefits [a top-market salary for example], without as many of the churn-and-burn elements.”

Strategy & Future



Groom Law Group has been based in DC advising on benefits, retirement and health law since the mid-seventies. “The firm is 100% committed to one area of law,” associates told us proudly, “and has no interest in expanding and thereby diluting the brand.” The firm often recruits talent from government agencies that intertwine with its practices, such as the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service. Mike Prame, executive principal at Groom, explains: "Moving forward, we will see expansion into areas that are connected to our core ERISA offering. We believe ourselves to be the preeminent firm in the spaces we currently occupy and we will strive to continue to increase our market share of those areas."  For more from Prame, go to the Bonus Features tab above. 

The Work



Juniors that join through the firm’s summer program “are free agents in their first year and can source work from everyone in the firm.” About half of the junior associates on our list had lateraled in from elsewhere – judicial clerkship experience was also common. Lateral hires are placed directly into a group. Groom's practice is broadly divided between three main areas: advice and compliance, policy, and litigation. Within these (and according to our list), most newbies join either the retirement products and services group, or the litigation and controversy group. Another handful enter the health products and services group. Practice group leaders “collect a monthly bullet list of what associates are working on to make sure people aren’t overwhelmed and have enough work.” 

“We have to keep our fingers on the pulse of new legislative changes.”

Many of Groom’s attorneys work “on the counseling side” of the firm, advising employers who offer employee benefits, benefits plan sponsors, insurance companies, health plan providers, and other service providers. Sources contrasted the focused nature of their work with that at larger firms, “where you’re likely juggling 20 different transactions at one time.” As this junior in the retirement group elaborated, “most of what we do is answer very discrete questions for clients. They may have a tax-related question about employee benefits when opening an office in another state, which we would help draft a response to.” That meant a lot of research “into tax codes and Internal Revenue Service guidance.” The team also handles “a lot of ongoing compliance” for clients, so “we have to keep our fingers on the pulse of new legislative changes in the field.” Similarly on the health side, one source described “getting on the phone every month with the client to update them on any changes.” There’s also “a lot of drafting work” for juniors, such as updating health benefit plan documents for employers.

Employers and health services clients: Toshiba, American Benefits Council, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, UnitedHealth Care. Advised a Fortune 500 company on the integration of retirement plans related to a multibillion-dollar acquisition.

Groom’s litigation group handles claims disputes, federal agency investigations, class actions, and regulatory enforcement cases on behalf of plan sponsors, fiduciaries, financial institutions, managed care organizations, retirement and health plan service providers, and trade associations. And of course, there’s plenty of ERISA litigation involving “the companies and institutions that run retirement plans.” One source we spoke to was busy working on a class action lawsuit, “which the plaintiffs filed against the sponsor of a company’s 401(k) plan, claiming that it was not using a prudent process in selecting its service providers.” Juniors are expected “to help with all aspects of the lawsuit, such as preparing drafts of motions, supervising the review of discovery and helping the partners develop the litigation strategy.” Our interviewees reported devoting a lot of their time to drafting motions to dismiss, conducting research and “working on responses and objections to requests for production.”

Litigation clients: Principal Financial Group, Wilmington Trust, Zander Group Holdings, EmblemHealth. Represented Principal Financial Group in two class actions worth $100 million alleging breach of fiduciary duty.

Career Development



Sources stressed that in this “technical area of law, there’s a steep learning curve,” but fortunately, “everyone is very open to your questions.” Associates reckoned that “because the firm is so specialized, partners take great interest in your development.” Juniors felt that the firm had a good partner-to-associate ratio, “so they can’t afford to burn through us.” As a result, sources perceived partnership as “a realistic path if you work hard and prove yourself.” In fact, long-term career prospects were another “big reason for coming to the firm” among interviewees.  To gauge how well they’re doing, juniors get quarterly reviews as well as a “helpful” end-of-year review, “which is a summary of everyone’s feedback.”

Pro Bono



When asked to rate the firm’s commitment to pro bono out of ten, most settled on a solid seven. “It hasn’t been the greatest in past years,” one conceded, “but they’ve made a big push to source more meaningful work in the time I’ve been here.” Much of the work on offer ties into the firm’s sector expertise (but not exclusively so: divorce matters were also being handled, for example). We heard of one junior working on a social security case, “trying help a mother and her disabled daughter secure disability income.” Associates can put up to 100 hours of pro bono toward their billing target, which is in line with many other firms (although some felt they “would be incentivized to do more if they removed the limit”). However, we heard some cases do indeed exceed the 100-hour threshold and this is not a problem. Sources liked that pro bono provided “good opportunities to work with people across the firm.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 2,585
  • Average per US attorney: 35

Culture



With all attorneys under one roof, we were unsurprised to hear of a culture “where I know every face if not every name.” Juniors reflected “there’s definitely an air of deference” when interacting with partners, but as one put it, “I don’t feel uncomfortable talking to the highest-billing partners in the hallways. Often, it’s them stopping to ask me how I’m doing. And they’re often open about their personal lives – one partner was recently telling me about their yoga retreat to Mexico.”

“People only wear suits if they’re in court or with a client.”

On a superficial level, associates appreciated a business-casual dress code: “People only wear suits if they’re in court or with a client. I haven’t worn a suit one time since working here.” However some felt the firm would benefit from a more formal approach to socializing: “We could do more to have more bonding times.” There’s at least some kind of “fun activity every month,” whether a happy hour, an end-of-year dinner or “a celebration for National Margarita Day.”

Sources praised “refreshing” levels of transparency at the firm, pointing to an annual meeting between associates and the managing partner, “where they deliver the same presentation they give to the partnership regarding the state of the firm and its finances.” There are also ‘ask the chairman’ sessions, which entail “an hour and a half of questions submitted anonymously by associates.”

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 1,900 target

Also “in the spirit of transparency,”  the firm circulates the number of hours every attorney bills each month, “which could be seen as panic-inducing,” one acknowledged, “but it’s a way of making sure you can gauge the right amount. People aren’t whispering around the water cooler, ‘who’s billing the right amount?’” The billing target at Groom is line with many other firms, but we heard no stories of juniors pulling all-nighters. “That’s because we’re not working across different time zones and offices,” juniors pointed out. “The office is almost entirely cleared out by 7pm.” Associates might work an hour or two more at home, and weekend work can still strike “every two or three months when you have a filing coming up.” But for the most part, “you can walk in on Monday, lay out what you need to get done that week, and build your plans around that.”

“I can go away for the weekend and not have a fear in the back of my mind that I’ll have to drop everything.”

It’s a point worth emphasizing, especially given “the positive implications it has for mental health,” one source highlighted. “I can go away for the weekend and not have a fear in the back of my mind that I’ll have to drop everything and spend the next 15 hours in a random cafe with noise-canceling headphones!” Groom’s juniors were satisfied being paid market rate, though bonuses were reportedly “a little less” than those at the top end of the market. Hours-based bonuses are generated automatically if juniors reach 2,000 hours and 2,100 hours. “There’s also a discretionary amount for extraordinary services to the firm,” associates revealed. These be awarded even associates don't reach 2,000 hours.

Diversity & Inclusion



As a firm with fewer than 100 attorneys, diversity at Groom is easy to measure. Sources were encouraged by the fact that around one-third of the firm’s partners and two-thirds of its of counsel are women, putting it well above the national average. Roughly half of the most junior associates were women; however, sources did note that “there aren’t a ton of women at the wider associate level.” Our interviewees were conscious of the “bigger struggle” to recruit ethnic minorities, but at the time of writing sources pointed out that “of the latest five associates hired, only one was a white male.” 

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: 60          

Interviewees outside OCI: 0 

Groom has a targeted OCI presence, typically participating at Georgetown, George Washington University, University of Virginia, and University if Pennsylvania.  However, the firm also “actively collects resumes from a number of additional law schools,” and tells us that  “law clerks and law students who do not have the opportunity to meet us on campus are invited to submit application materials directly to recruiting@groom.com. 

OCIs are conducted by a mix of partners and associates. The firm tell us that “law students should be prepared to answer the question, “why Groom?” adding that “we like to learn what candidates are looking for in a law firm and why Groom fits into their career goals.” Students may not have comes across the firm’s area of expertise at university a whole lot but “law students should demonstrate a basic understanding of our practice—that we work in the areas of retirement, health, and benefits (and related litigation and policy).  They should understand that we are not a labor and employment firm!  The firm adds: “We do not expect law students to be passionate about our practice area already, but it is helpful when they can connect it to broad areas of law that piqued their interest, such as regulatory work.” 

 

Callbacks 

Applicants invited to second stage: 16 

Callbacks are typically made of two stages; one round “of about four individual attorney interviews,” which is then followed by “a lunch or a coffee break with two associates if the interviewee’s schedule allows.” We recommend you make sure that your schedule does 100% allow for this. The firm also request that “candidates provide resumes, transcripts, and writing sample(s) for this process.” Questions may delve into “when the student has wrestled with difficult legal issues, as well as what excites and motivates them in the law. Candidates should ask some questions that are specific to our firm, not just those that could be asked at any firm.” 

Top tips for this stage: 

“Successful candidates should present a sincere interest in digging deep into a complex and changing area of law, as well as working at a firm of our size and culture.” 

 

Summer program 

Offers: 5  

Acceptances: 3 

 The firm tells us that “our summer program typically welcomes around two second-year students, so summer associates don’t hide in the wings.  To make sure summer associates can get broad exposure to various subject areas and many different lawyers at the firm, summers receive assignments from all practice groups, with an associate mentor assigned to help manage the flow of work.” There’s plenty of opportunities for summers “to participate in client calls, local depositions, and appearances before regulatory agencies,” as well as “plenty of time for special events to get to know one another.” 

Top tips for this stage:

“Don’t hesitate to ask for projects that are of interest to you and make sure to ask questions that will support your professional development.” 

 

Interview with executive principal Mike Prame



Chambers Associate: Many people may have not come across ERISA law during their studies. What is it?  

Mike Prame: ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, is the law that governs the healthcare or retirement benefits provided by a company to its employees. It was passed mainly in reaction to a set of circumstances to address companies that were not putting enough money into their pension or retirement plans. Certainly, it has become a lot more complex since then. For example, issues like healthcare used to be considered secondary benefits, whereas now most people would put their healthcare benefits at the top of their list and retirement second. However, though ERISA is central to the work we do, there is a broader set of regulations and statutes we deal with which brings us into contact with a number of different agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services.  

CA: What’s it like practicing day to day?  

MP: I would say that it’s a very dynamic practice and one that has evolved a lot, especially over the last 15 years. On the health plan side, the Affordable Care Act introduced by Obama represented a significant change in the regulatory environment we operate in. Similarly, on the retirement side, we had a similar set of changes with respect to the regulation of traditional pension and 401(k) plans, as well as plans for corporate executives. It’s a cerebral area of law and one that is always evolving. In terms of the day-to-day work experience, though we categorize our practices into three distinct ‘buckets’ – benefits, health and retirement – they intersect by way of substantive specialties such as fiduciary, tax and health privacy, to name a few.  Our people apply their substantive expertise across multiple practice groups and there is constant collaboration.  

CA: What is the firm’s strategy for the next five years?  

MP: The laws we are dealing with are purely domestic, focused on regulators based here in DC, so you’re not going to see us opening an office overseas anytime soon. Our current thinking is to remain a single office from which to grow. We are currently an office of 85 attorneys, which is up from 55 earlier in the decade. Moving forward, we will see expansion into areas that are connected to our core ERISA offering. We believe ourselves to be the preeminent firm in the spaces we currently occupy and we will strive to continue to increase our market share of those areas.   

CA: What impact does the political landscape have?  

MP: Under Trump, the level of regulatory action in the market has decreased, which has in some ways impacted positively on businesses. In terms of overall new regulations coming out, it’s been at a slower pace consistent to what you would typically see in a Republican administration. The common thinking is that if there were a change in administration, we would see an increase in the regulatory environment, comparable to what we saw under Obama. However, if you step back and look at things from the macro perspective, there are elements within both parties that are supportive of providing people with more options in terms of their health and retirement benefits, principally one that is not offered through the employer.  

CA: How would you define the culture at Groom?  

MP: For us, it’s all about what our shared set of values and goals are as an organization. Our founder, Ted Groom, instilled us with a set of values that has served us very well over the years. As we continue to grow, and as new people join the firm, we strive to preserve a tight-knit, small-firm atmosphere where we make time to gather together frequently for firm-wide events and maintain close relationships in order to support one another. Toward this end, we have undergone a process during the past two years to build upon and more clearly define our values. In 2017, we formed a committee made of a diverse cross-section of the firm which, with the assistance of an outside consultant, conducted a survey identifying what we are doing well and areas for potential improvement. The six values we have identified for our firm are innovation, communication, accountability, trust, excellence and respect.  

Groom Law Group

  • Head Office: Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 1
  • Worldwide revenue: $88,300,000
  • Partners (US): 49
  • Associates (US): 27
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Haley Goodes, HR
  • Generalist: recruiting@groom.com
  • Hiring partner: Sarah Adams, Recruiting Chair
  •  Diversity officer: Christy Tinnes
  • Recruitment details 
  •  Entry-level associates starting in 2020: To be determined
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 2Ls: 3
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: DC: 3
  • Summer salary 2020: 2Ls: $3,654/week
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Groom means experience, know-how, and teamwork in benefits, retirement, and health care law. Our practice groups include Employer/Plan Sponsor, Health Services, Retirement Services, Litigation and Policy.

Firm profile
The combination of our specialized focus, collaborative approach to the practice of law, and proven record of adapting to change – this is what makes Groom Law Group the leading benefits, health, and retirement firm. Groom attorneys work side-by-side in an environment that rewards partnership and values diversity of specializations to create tremendous efficiency in pursuit of our shared purpose.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Groom typically participates in OCI at Georgetown University, George Washington University, University of Virginia, and University of Pennsylvania, to name a few, in addition to participating in various job fairs and other recruiting events. Groom also actively collects resumes from a number of law schools.

Recruitment outside OCIs: Groom participates in various job fairs and other recruiting events. Law students and law clerks who do not have the opportunity to meet us on campus are invited to submit application materials directly to recruiting@groom.com.

Summer associate profile: We look for individuals who will support our collaborative, friendly, and innovative culture and who we will enjoy working with us for years to come. Successful candidates present a sincere interest in digging deep into a complex and evolving area of law alongside the industry’s leading experts, as well as working at a firm of our size and culture. We welcome applications from students who are excelling at their law schools.

Summer program components:
Our summers participate fully in associate life, drawing from the same pool of work—no “make-work” here—and gain a real feel for what a career at Groom would be like. To make sure summer associates get broad exposure to various subject areas and many different lawyers at the firm, summers receive assignments from all practice groups, with an associate mentor assigned to help manage the flow of work. Partners, in particular, make an effort to invite summers to participate in client calls, local depositions, and appearances before regulatory agencies.

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 2)