This midsizer is powered by international capabilities that take it far beyond its traditional stronghold in Manhattan.
"IT was just the right size, neither too big nor too small,” Hughes Hubbard's juniors reflected. And so just (a bit…) like Goldilocks on her quest, our associate sources found their perfect fit in the form of this modestly proportioned Big Apple institution, which turned 130 years young in 2018. HH's ties to New York are significant: its founder, Charles Evans Hughes, had an illustrious career as Governor of New York, but also became a figure of nationwide significance when he served as US Secretary of State, a Supreme Court Chief Justice and even a Republican presidential candidate.
HH also expanded its reputation beyond the borders of the Empire State. It now has six domestic bases, which give the firm coverage on both coasts, as well as further inland in Kansas City, Missouri. But for our interviewees it was HH's broader dimensions that appealed: “It's one of those firms with really active practices in international fields like arbitration and trade. I wanted to be involved in them.” Offices in Tokyo and Paris enhance HH's capabilities in this respect, and Chambers Global ranks the firm in both of the areas just mentioned. On its home turf, this litigation-heavy practice is recognized for its product liability and white-collar knowhow, while on the transactional side Chambers USA singles out the firm's aviation finance, Latin American investment and corporate/M&A expertise as particular highlights.
Litigation is the main destination for newly-minted attorneys, but a scattering of juniors can also be found in corporate, tax, IP, international trade, and anti-corruption and internal investigations. The last two practices are based in the DC office, which takes on a fair number of incoming juniors, but the New York HQ takes on the most (Miami, meanwhile, usually hires just one newcomer a year).
In both New York and DC “there are two work assignment systems that run in tandem.” Traffic managers collect availability reports from associates and distribute tasks to those who've selected a green light; at the same time “you start to get work directly from partners. It's a good way to balance variety and working repeatedly with partners you get on well with.” HH's attorneys don't officially specialize until they reach mid-level status. This policy works for those who “come into the firm without a concrete idea of what they want to do – it gives you a chance to try out different things.” While “it's possible to informally pre-specialize by going back to get work from the same partners,” it's worth noting that “you may be staffed on other things if you're needed.”
Hungry litigators took full advantage of the disputes buffet on offer, piling their plates high with fraud, product liability, bankruptcy and general commercial matters, as well as internal investigations and international arbitration work. “What I enjoy about the practice is that it doesn't have a limited industry focus,” a source explained. “I've dipped into energy, banking, aerospace and real estate matters.” As a result, “no two days are the same,” but common tasks include “conducting legal research and providing opinions, plus helping to draft first versions of motions and, in some cases, entire briefs.” Do any specialties offer a shortcut to the juicy work? “Product liability involves a lot of legal analysis upfront,” we heard, “while bankruptcy matters involve less complex legal work, but you're still in charge of drafting the motion. Overall there are moments when you can get in over your head, but those are the ones that provide great opportunities for growth.”
“Product liability involves a lot of legal analysis upfront.”
HH's corporate team is smaller, so “juniors tend to specialize more quickly.” Each office has its own flavor: New York has M&A, structured finance and funds teams; Miami deals “mostly with Latin American clients”;and DC's tighter focus is on aviation finance and compliance. A few newbies in the capital go into international trade and ply their own trade on “a combination of litigation and regulatory matters.” The team “advises clients on economic sanctions and customs laws, helps them to apply for licenses, and drafts government filings.” New arrivals “got a primary drafting role from the very beginning” alongside “less demanding tasks, like preparing PowerPoints or materials for meetings.”
Training & Development
All incoming associates attend a weeklong program in New York, which has a rather splendid name: 'The Hughes Institute.' “It's geared toward litigators and corporate juniors, and it's full of seminars that get you up to speed. I'm constantly revisiting the materials!” After this, first-year litigators attend a trial advocacy workshop which lasts for a few days: “A professor teaches us and there's a case simulation where we each do opening and closing statements and cross-examine an expert witness. It's a very good program.” Corporate juniors attend their own trainings, which are spread out over their first few months at HH. Beyond that, “we're encouraged to take CLEs, which are either hosted at the firm or made available via an external provider.”
Annual reviews are held in late January/early February and goals for the year ahead are set. “During the evaluation two to three partners will walk you through the feedback that's been collected on your performance, but if there's an issue people don't wait for the review to address it – they'll take you aside and explain how to fix it.”
Culture & Diversity
So what's the atmosphere like within HH's hallowed halls? “It's a quirky environment full of brilliant attorneys,” sources replied. “It's a lot more casual than expected, which enables you to really build up personal relationships – the firm's size also lends itself to that.” Interviewees were quick to provide anecdotes to demonstrate their point.One fondly recalled that “when I went into my callback interview someone down the hall sneezed, and my interviewer immediately called down to themand said 'bless you!'” Another said that “there's a partner who gets upset if you email him instead of just stopping by – he says that his door is open for a reason!” Juniors therefore agreed that “the people here genuinely seem to like each other, which you can't say about every law firm.”
“When the stars align and we all have the same night off we do go out.”
HH's size means that “everyone knows everyone and we celebrate each other's birthdays,” so be prepared to donate to whip-rounds for cake. When not breaking out the candles for a sing-song, attorneys “organize happy hours if they feel like it.” The firm also sponsors events including bowling nights and an annual trivia night, which “are there if you want to attend them – a lot of people have families so it's understandable that they want to spend their evenings and weekends with them.” Juniors felt that “people are often especially friendly with those from their summer class,” and though the hustle and bustle of law means “everybody has a busy schedule, when the stars align and we all have the same night off we do go out.”
Affinity groups – for female, black, Latino, Asian and LGBT attorneys – provide another route for getting chummy with colleagues. “We also have a diversity task force which sponsors a lot of events and gets speakers in,” sources revealed. HH's historical diversity achievements make for impressive reading: it was the first Wall Street firm to hire a female associate in 1942, the first to appoint an African-American female partner in 1969, and the first major New York firm to promote a woman (Candace Beinecke) as chair – Beinecke serves as senior partner today. That's a hefty reputation to live to up to, but associates had noticed that “diversity has got a lot better recently thanks to the make-up of incoming and lateral associates.” Several pointed to New York as the best performer in the network, while those in DC noticed that “we've got a lot more racially diverse lately – the women's committee here is also really active and hosts workshops and round table discussions.”
Almost every source we spoke to had done some pro bono work. One described it as “a significant part of associate life,” and indeed all attorneys must bill at least 20 pro bono hours each year. “There is an incentive to do a lot beyond the minimum: the policy is that if you reach 50 pro bono hours anything above that counts toward your billable bonus targets.” A maximum of 200 hours of pro bono can be counted as billable. Our sources told of working on International Human Rights Tribunals, Fourth Amendment housing disputes, uncontested divorces and collaborations with local institutions like the Beth Israel Medical Center.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 32,725
- Average per US attorney: 123.5
Hours & Compensation
HH has a tiered bonus system, so there are a few numbers to remember. Associates must hit 1,950 hours to be eligible for a bonus at half the market rate; 2,100 gets them market; 2,300 hours lands them market and a half. Finally, the mega billers who reach 2,500 get a tasty double market bonus. “What the system does very well is reward hard workers,” most sources agreed. “It's a good program for honoring Herculean efforts and nobody thinks that the people who get the high-tiered bonuses don't deserve them.”
“It's a good program for honoring Herculean efforts.”
Our interviewees across the board tended to start a little later (10am) and leave the office any time between 6pm and 11pm. “It's very flexible,” said one source when discussing HH's stance on office-based hours, “even if the work itself is inflexible!” Thankfully, “super late nights aren't too frequent; there are some all-nighters but they always involve working with the team on something exciting.”
The New York HQ was remodeled in 2017: “Now it's very modern and sleek, which makes you feel very professional! Plus it's based in a great location across from Battery Park – if you're on the best side you get a beautiful view of the water.” DC was going through renovations at the time of our calls. “They're much needed,” said relieved juniors here. Some nostalgic souls “will likely miss the old school law firm feel,” but most “welcomed all the glass, standing desks and the new streamlined colors – it was looking a bit old and stodgy!” The extent of cross-office collaboration varies by practice group; we heard that ties with the Paris base are generally strong, especially in HH's international trade group – “people are going to Paris all the time!”
Strategy & Future
DC managing partner Bill Stein tells us Hughes Hubbard's "strategy as a mid-size firm is to focus on the areas that we're very strong in and bring the most value to our clients." Alongside “cutting-edge work” in international arbitration, Stein highlights “an extremely successful year of lateral partner hiring” that has bolstered areas like anti-corruption and international trade. The Trump administration has prompted “a lot of new work” in the latter area, “as our clients have needed to understand what direction to take following policy changes.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- International Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 2)