Reaching into deep space with its signature telecoms practice, while keeping even its most senior attorneys grounded… HWG is out of this world.
BACK in 1998, a handful of attorneys came together with a clear vision – doing law differently and easing the pressures that come with it. Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis is the result: an egalitarian compensation structure with no billing target is one way it breaks from the norm. “I was attracted to HWG because of the unique way they run things,” one junior enthused. “There is no time for hierarchy, a win is a win for everyone.” A philosophy that helped earn HWG a ‘Top Workplace’ award from The Washington Post for the fifth consecutive year in 2019 – how’s that for a win?
The firm started life in DC, still home to most of its attorneys; it opened its second branch in Raleigh with a focus on litigation. HWG’s practice in the nation’s capital shines brightest in information technology and communications; Chambers USA ranks the firm top in DC for telecoms, broadcast and satellite, with a lower-level prize for white-collar and government litigation as the cherry on top.
Strategy & Future
Telecoms remains HWG’s focus. Bill Wiltshire (the W in HWG) spoke to us soon after members of the firm attended the World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt: “The entire world gets together to discuss rules for management of radio frequency spectrum for services all around the globe. I advise young lawyers to find an area that interests them and run with it – for me, it was tech.” For more from Wiltshire, check out the Bonus Features tab.
Associates can dip their toes in pretty much any of the firm’s practices to start with, but this freedom wasn’t universally popular. “Having no constraints on what associates can do might be overwhelming for newcomers who don’t know where to begin,” they pointed out. Telecommunications and litigation are the largest practices, and most newbies see a little of both. The firm’s lack of an official assignment system frustrated some; one felt “there’s friction between HWG trying to hold onto a small-firm culture while expanding. I was surprised by the amount of independent work it takes to get staffed on matters.” Interviewees agreed that “partners and associates can fail to understand our availability and workload. It would be nice to have more structure.”
“Having no constraints on what associates can do…”
As part of its trademark telecoms practice, HWG represents clients from industries including satellite, software, wireless technologies and drones. Take a look at the spam folder of your email for a taste of what juniors have to deal with: “Companies can receive large fines for distributing those messages,” insiders explained. “When you’re dealing with a major corporation with thousands of customers and multiple messages to each, the ramifications can be quite extreme.” Potentially more exciting is the satellite subgroup, obtaining and defending spectrum allocations and providing business advice to companies on satellite-based communication services. “I do a mixture of terrestrial spectrum and commercial space policy,” one said. That sounds a bit Star Trek, but in reality “it mainly involves being a point of contact for satellite industry clients and drafting comments for submission to the FCC.” Bill Wiltshire explains that “the various issues involved include the potential for satellites to collide with debris in space. How can a regulatory regime manage such issues?” HWG associates may not soar among the stars but were over the moon “taking the lead on client calls. The firm encourages us to have as much client contact as possible.”
Telecoms clients: Google, Microsoft, Facebook. Represented the IA and ESA trade associations in litigation challenging the repeal of net neutrality regulations by the FCC.
Over on the general disputes side, DC sources saw “a ton of internal investigations involving clients who have been accused of financial fraud.” Communications cases and appeals on behalf of wireless, cable and common carrier clients fall in here too; there’s a lot of crossover between the firm’s two largest departments. “I had the opportunity to go to court to take a class action deposition,” a junior gushed. “I was only in my second year at the time.” The Raleigh litigation practice is on the rise, but only the DC base hires juniors, so telecoms work remains an inescapable chunk of the practice. Sources found opportunities to try out higher-responsibility tasks on top of garden-variety document review: “I’ve managed a couple of cases and it’s been nice to take ownership of the deposition process.” Trials and investigations form most of HWG’s litigation practice, rounded out by some regulatory advice.
Litigation clients: The Gap, Sprint Communications, Cisco. Acted in a dispute over health coverage denial for transgender employees enrolled in the North Carolina State Health Plan.
Hours & Compensation
You may have skipped to this section after finding out HWG doesn’t have an associate billing target; a ‘tracking points’ system determines quarterly bonuses for each class year based on the firm’s quarterly performance. Our junior sources were pleased as punch: “I don’t feel as though I have to protect my work,” one noted. “The equal compensation system creates a one-firm work ethic.” Associates also get a premium healthcare plan, going as far as covering a spouse’s pregnancy massages. A potentially controversial ‘unlimited vacation’ policy caused no complaints; “it can translate as a few average-length holidays per year. It’s not to say anyone is keeping track.”
“The equal compensation system creates a one-firm work ethic.”
The fluid boundaries of HWG’s practice groups mean a shared workload and fairly consistent working hours – for our sources, a 9am to 6pm day was the norm. There’s no official working from home policy: “Once I leave the office I’m really done for the day,” more than one junior declared. “One of the partners recently sent round an email asking others not to expect associates to check their emails after 8pm.”
A little bit of consideration for associate welfare – and a profit-sharing compensation model – encourage the idea that sharing is caring. “Everyone sits at the same table whether they be partners or paralegals,” juniors revealed. “We definitely have a more nonhierarchical culture.” The firm’s smallish headcount means that associates “interact with partners constantly,” which in turn is essential to keeping the relationship-based assignment system running. Taken together, the tight-knit but informally run model “ensures everyone treats each other well”:you don’t want to be the only jerk in a room of lovely people, after all.
“Everyone at HWG sits at the same table whether they be partners or paralegals.”
In another move to bridge the seniority gaps at HWG, “one of the partners opens up their home to everybody” for DC’ssummer barbecue. “There’s food, drinks and music… it’s great fun.” The firm also hosts regular events including karaoke nights, ziplining, bowling and a winter holiday party to keep things grooving through the colder months. Keep an eye out for the firm’s in-house DJ (by day, they’re one of the partners). Opportunities for associate hangs are regular, then, but none that we spoke to felt pressured to get involved. “The firm allows you to have time for your own life and family,” interviewees gratefully noted.
Laid-back HWG doesn’t lay on intense associate training. This prompted mixed feedback: some liked the “natural and organic” approach but others took it as evidence of growing pains at HWG. “Even though we are transitioning to a midsized firm we are stuck in the small-firm mentality,” they proposed. “We didn’t previously have the infrastructure to manage programs like training, that’s something we’re still lacking.” Others preferred to talk up the benefits of the firm’s size. One outlined their experience: “From the jump I was given direct exposure to clients and I’ve been involved in management questions, business development plans and professional networking events.”
Associates also receive annual reviews, during which they get clued in on the path to making partner. “The process to partnership is made crystal-clear to associates,” they elaborated. “Everyone truly has a shot at making partner.” As part of their reviews, juniors also receive feedback about their quality of work, responsiveness and collegiality.
Diversity & Inclusion
“HWG does a fantastic job at representing women at both associate and partnership level,” sources declared. A 30% female equity partnership is certainly better than many firms; the women’s committee puts together mentoring groups, each containing a handful of women from different departments. A source who frequently attends their events told us: “The group hosts initiatives throughout the year. Presenters often come to the firm and share their personal experiences.” In DC, the women's committee regularly holds an event to raise funds for a non-profit organization that helps homeless women afford feminine hygiene products. Junior women at the firm felt generally supported by partners, citing the example of one who “advocated for a new mother to have Fridays off work every week.”
“HWG does a fantastic job at representing women at both associate and partnership level.”
As well as committees, the firm has a Diversity Council comprised of partners, counsel, associates and staff who recruit and assist HWG’s diverse lawyers. “The council reaches out to affinity bar associates and attend law fairs to recruit diverse talent.” The firm is working to create a more ethnically diverse team, but there’s only so much that can be done: “HWG only hires three or four people each year,” sources pointed out.
Associates can count unlimited pro bono toward their hours. “There’s no centrally managed system,” we heard. “Partners personally recruit associates into their own matters.” Common causes at HWG include low-income tenant disputes, domestic violence cases, copyright infringements and immigration matters. An associate working on a criminal immigration case filled us in on their role: “Our client was accused of having lied about their personal history to secure refugee status. I helped draft motions, conducted research and took interviews. Another associate and I argued at the hearing and managed to get our client a reduced sentence.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 4,665
- Average per attorney: 90
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
During OCIs, Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis looks for law students that have both the intellectual drive and the “esprit de corps that is the core of our firm,” according to hiring sources. The firm visits around 13 schools, but students who are interested in the firm are encouraged to reach out directly if HWG does not attend their OCI.
Partners at the firm typically conduct interviews. HWG has highly regarded practices in several fields, including white collar litigation, energy, ethics, and civil rights. For the 2021 summer program, the firm is concentrating its search on those with an interest in TMT (Tech, Media & Telecoms) or international trade. The firm will primarily be looking for candidates interested in practicing in those areas.
Top Tips for this stage:
“HWG’s small size and close-knit culture offers associates a fundamentally different associate experience than practicing law at firms with hundreds or thousands of attorneys. We enjoy meeting candidates who understand and appreciate HWG’s unique approach to the practice of law.” – Adrienne Fowler, hiring partner
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Typically, callback interviews at HWG consist of approximately five 30-minute office interviews with partners, and then lunch with two HWG attorneys. However, due to the global pandemic, hiring sources tell us this year's process is likely to deviate from the norm, although the number of interviews and breakdown of interviewers is likely to be the same. Questions during the callback stage do not differ much from the OCI stage.
Top Tips for this stage:
“First, do your homework and come prepared to talk about why you want to work at our firm. Second, the most memorable interviews are ones where the applicant illustrates their answers with stories and experiences.” – Adrienne Fowler, hiring partner
During HWG’s summer associate program, one partner and one associate are generally in charge of summer associates’ work flow and experiences. The firm aims to provide summers with experience on projects such as attending depositions or making court appearances, as well as in-person agency advocacy. The firm does not have formalized practice groups, so summer associates (like all associates) can take on projects in any area. A hiring source noted: “We have not designed a program with daily outings and scavenger hunts. We want to give our summer associates a real view of life at the firm: the great work, the casual gatherings, and the excellent colleagues.”
Top Tips for this stage:
“We encourage our summer associates to develop meaningful legal experience and personal relationships.” – Adrienne Fowler, Hiring Partner
The majority of current HWG associates joined the firm immediately after law school, or after doing a clerkship, but the firm does hire associates with two to five years of experience at other firms or in government – one or two such individuals join each year. The firm is particularly interested in mid-level associates with experience in project management, examining witnesses in court or in deposition, and advocating before an agency.
Fowler tells us: “Be yourself and don’t try to guess what your interviewers want to hear. Genuine answers that provide the interviewer insight into your passions are wildly more effective than rehearsed, generalized answers that might sound good in the abstract.”
Interview with Bill Wiltshire, managing partner
Chambers Associate: How would you describe HWG’s current market position?
Bill Wiltshire: We have an incredible group of clients that have turned to us for decades with some of their most challenging telecom issues and litigation matters. More recently, we also have built strong market positions in energy and in privacy and data security, an area that is becoming a hotter topic every day. We are getting more work than ever before.
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently? Are there any matters you’d like to highlight?
BW: Our telecoms team recently worked on a landmark change at the FCC: the opening of a new WiFi band, the largest WiFi band in the world. It was the work of several years and a change that has been touted as one of the most important regulatory developments for WiFi in over 20 years.
We also have a lot of litigation going on right now, including an important federal civil rights case where we represent Kim Gardner, the first African American prosecutor in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Ms Gardner has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police alleging she had been subject to racism and efforts to dismantle reforms meant to benefit minorities. We look forward to seeing justice done.
CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
BW: We’ve always been a tech-focused firm, and the role technology and connectivity play in our day-to-day lives has become critically important. The scale and pace of change has been tremendous, presenting incredibly interesting legal questions in almost every area of law, from legal ethics to privacy and data security to telecom regulation.
As I mentioned before, we have a leading position in representing companies developing next-generation WiFi. We also are working with several operators of non-geostationary satellite systems that promise to deliver a new era of connectivity around the world, whether for traditional broadband, Earth observation, or Internet-of-Things applications. In addition, HWG had delegates at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt, where the entire world gets together to discuss rules for management of radio frequency spectrum for services all around the globe. The work at the conference has really paid off: the regulations are moving forward, and the FCC are getting ready to put them in place. It’s an exciting time to practice law in this area and at our firm.
CA: Many of our readers would like to know more about space law. Can you tell us more about the satellite group at HWG?
BW: The bread and butter of the satellite group’s work is licensing and compliance. We typically first represent satellite systems at the FCC in order to secure spectrum licenses for space stations and earth stations. As the operator learns more about its system, it may need to modify the license to take advantage of new technologies and business opportunities. Satellite operators also must comply with a number of rules covering issues like spectrum sharing, orbital debris mitigation, and deployment milestones. In addition, regulators continue to review and revise their rules as the satellite industry changes. As a result, there is a constant stream of policy and technical issues you have to think, like the ability of new technologies to unlock more efficient spectrum use, how to reduce the potential risk for collisions in space, and how the regulatory regime can best be crafted to move people in the right direction.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
BW: First, I think it’s simply to practice law with people you enjoy. Being able to bounce an idea off a colleague whose opinion you trust is priceless, and the back-and-forth process is both intellectually stimulating and productive in yielding the best results for clients. There is no substitute for collegiality. I think that is something people should keep in mind when looking for a place to work.
Second, I advise young lawyers to find an area that interests them and run with it – for me, it was tech. Remember, with any luck you are going to be doing this almost every day for several decades, so finding something that engages you on a personal level can make all the difference. I think a lot of law students sell themselves short – there are so many options now among the types of firms and types of practices available, but many young lawyers don’t seem to take the time to explore and find an area of law that fits their interests and personality. It takes some effort on the front end but really pays off over the course of a legal career.
Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP
1919 M Street NW,
- Head Office: Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Partners (US): 34
- Of Counsel (US): 6
- Associates (US): 17
- Main recruitment contact: Jonathan Mirsky
- Hiring partner: Jonathan Mirsky
- Diversity officer: Brita Strandberg
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 4
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1
- Summer salary 2020: 2Ls: $3,500/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
HWG is deliberately slimline. The firm is designed to offer clients access to top tier talent without unnecessary overhead, and to foster a close-knit community of lawyers dedicated to innovation and collaboration. HWG’s success in achieving these objectives has been widely recognized in legal rankings and by a corporate client base that includes market leaders, emerging enterprises and start-up companies, as well as Fortune 500 companies across a wide range of industries.
Chicago, Colorado, Duke, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, Stanford, Virginia
Summer associate profile:
We seek associates with superlative writing ability and a record of the very highest academic achievement. We will only hire a summer associate that we fully expect to become a superb lawyer and a trusted colleague.
Summer program components:
We treat summer associates like brand new associates. This means that, although summer associates necessarily require a different level of training and supervision, they will be doing the same work associates do, with the same people and under the same conditions. HWG associates are expected to perform as lawyers, not assistant lawyers and we want our summer associates to aim for the same high level of creativity, initiative and skill. Summer associates can expect to work in our telecommunications and technology, litigation, and appellate practices.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
District of Columbia
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 1)