Post-merger successes continue for Hunton Andrews Kurth – a firm that’s excelling in the pro bono arena.
“Last year was a banner year in all respects,” says Hunton Andrews Kurth’s managing partner, Wally Martinez. So what does well look like for this energy, environment, and real estate specialist? “Our transactional practices across the board have been incredibly busy,” says Martinez. He also points to cybersecurity and privacy work “going at breakneck speed.” And it seems speed and success is paying dividends, as Chambers USAhands out multiple high-end rankings to the firm. Across its 15 US offices, the firm receives 47 rankings, the highest of which come for its nationwide capital markets, climate change, energy, and environment work. There’s a smattering of other localized successes, with top-notch awards going to its environment work in DC, its insurance work in Georgia, for real estate in Texas, plus a whole host of commendations in Virginia across bankruptcy, corporate/M&A, environment, IP, labor & employment, and general commercial litigation. “We do top-caliber, international work,” enthused one associate, “but in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere.”
Following the 2018 merger between Virginia’s Hunton & Williams and Texan Andrews Kurth, the firm has bases in both those US legal centers as well as across the country. For one associate in Richmond, the chance to “work in a mid-market city without the cost of living seen in DC or New York was perfect. I’m a BigLaw attorney in a medium-sized city.” And this reportedly breeds a more “personable and down-to-earth atmosphere. Everyone is just really friendly here and the firm embraces the family atmosphere.”
The largest pools of juniors could be found in Houston, New York, Richmond and DC. Practice-wise, most find a home in either capital finance and real estate (CFRE), corporate, or litigation. Other practices – such as energy and labor & employment – also take in newcomers. Each larger group has various smaller sub-practices; more on that later. We’re told that slight differences emerge across the offices regarding practice strengths. In financing for example, “New York is the hub for RMBS securitization work,” whereas different specialties emerge in Richmond, “like exclusive warehouse financing or more traditional secured lending arrangements.” Naturally, “oil and gas is king in Dallas,” with DCboasting strengths in appellate work and environment regulation due to its proximity to federal government. Across the groups, work assignment is “a little less structured” with associates having no assigning partners. “I like that there’s no coordinator,” one source told us. “I like that you can build those informal and organic relationships with people you enjoy working with.”
“…you’re not just tossed to the wolves on day one.”
Hunton’s broad litigation umbrella covers securities, energy, commercial, insurance, products and mass torts, antitrust and consumer protection work. Associates sit across all these varying work strands. In products liability, one source had “good experience” on “substantive writing” tasks such as the first draft of a motion or replying to a brief, as well as “getting lots of freedom” in negotiating with opposing counsel on a smaller case. One source had helped draft pleadings on an antitrust investigation, while another had attended and helped second-chair a deposition in an arbitration case.Although the work itself may differ, unifying themes of healthy responsibility and development emerge. “The firm does a really nice job of working up your levels of responsibility,” one junior told us. “The first few months sees a nice slow feeding up, then you get more involved as you build your ability; you’re not just tossed to the wolves on day one.” Another agreed, highlighting “more control over strategy and responsibility as you move up the chain.”
Litigation clients: Samsung Electronics America, City of Richmond, Verizon Media Group. The firm is representing Chick-fil-A in connection with a DOJ investigation and private civil litigation in the broiler chicken industry.
There’s similar variety under a corporate banner that covers capital markets, structured finance and securitization, oil & gas, M&A, global tech outsourcing, and private equity. Our sources had similarly straddled these variations. “I was doing only M&A work in my first year,” one source said, highlighting “typical first-year assignments” such as document review and signature page work. “That’s ramped up to broader exposure on funds and joint venture work, as well as more equity deals.” They added: “I like that I can get exposure to everything and I’m not just limited to one practice.” Beyond initial tasks, work ramps up for juniors and sees them “taking more responsibility on the main deal document,” sitting in on calls, and “taking a larger role on first-draft provisions instead of just duping and inputting comments on ancillary documents.” Much like their litigation counterparts, “the firm gives you as much as you can handle or are willing to take on. Oftentimes I’m the only associate on a deal so it’s my responsibility for knowing everything that’s going on; you get to learn how a deal is structured in full!”
Corporate clients: Credit Suisse Securities, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup Global Markets. Hunton is representing Sunlight Financial in connection with its $1.3 billion business combination with Spartan Acquisition Corp.
The CFRE team covers public finance, real estate finance, business finance and health, plus some bankruptcy and restructuring work. On the real estate side, the firm works for private equity funds, REITs, investors, owners, developers, banks and other financial institutions on deal structuring, financings, joint venture formation, funds and tax structures. “As an associate, you can do both finance and equity work,” said one source. “My practice is a balance of lending and equity.” One source found work on mortgage loans and mezzanine lending, as well as borrower-side acquisition and refinances. “It’s a really broad range of work,” a junior told us. “If you want to specialize, you can. But the firm really let you see both sides.” Another commended the responsibility on offer. “I really like that I’ve had exposure to clients since my first year. Now in my third year, I’m being pushed toward running some deals; they want me to answer client questions and speak on the checklist calls.” Sources mentioned being asked to draft loan agreements as a highlight. “There are lots of opportunities for substantive work,” we were told.
CFRE clients: Chatham Lodging Trust, Tishman Speyer, Raith Capital Partners. Represented Sonesta International Hotel Corporation in its $90 million acquisition of Red Lion Hotels Corporation.
Between 2009 and 2019, 100% of the firm’s lawyers participated in projects. The firm also highlights how during the same time-span, more than 55,000 hours were dedicated to various pro bono clients. “It’s a huge thing at the firm,” one junior confirmed with us. “Every firm talks about pro bono when hiring and you never hear about it again. But it’s not talk here, they genuinely care.” Attorneys can bill up to 100 hours toward their yearly target, and in certain circumstances (such as working on death penalty cases), can bill over 100 hours.
Juniors we spoke with had worked on a variety of issues: from legal aid work for local communities affected by above average eviction rates in Richmond to a big veteran benefits program, “which was just really rewarding work for me.” Other sources had worked on research projects for police reform; reviewed files for people wrongly convicted with the Innocence Project; as well as insurance guidance for nonprofits. “There’s no disregard for pro bono work and partners are flexible and understand the importance.” The firm also had a dedicated neighborhood pro bono office in Richmond’s Church Hill.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 49,311
- Average per US attorney: 59
A robust grounding is required with such responsibility up for grabs. Thankfully, “there are lots of formalized training structures in place.” Sessions on due diligence work, trial advocacy school, and moot appellate court exercises were highlighted. “There’s always training available,” one source mentioned. “They’re all really good.” This formalized element complements a praised “learning on the fly” approach. “Most of my training occurs on the job and being thrown in,” according to one source. “There’s so much to learn and the firm recognizes you’re constantly growing through hands-on exposure.”
Growth through the firm felt “achievable” for one source looking at partnership. “The firm doesn’t double hire any years, so there’s not a direct aspect of competition.” While some felt “less sure” on the clear metrics required to make partnership, other felt more confident. “I’m doing all the right things and have been told specifically there’s no reason I wouldn’t make partner.” Others spoke to a more “attainable” path of making counsel. Where partnership track clarity might not be apparent, sources were quick to suggest it wasn’t an intentional masquerading of information. “If I wanted to find out I could ask a partner tomorrow,” one source said. “They would be very responsive. I just haven’t had the chat yet.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
When choosing the firm, “it was a pretty calculated analysis of work/life balance and people’s happiness.” And did it work? “We aren’t miserable,” one junior said wryly. “We don’t hate ourselves.” Good to know! But what does this look like in practice? “I would say it’s pretty normal for me to bill a 45 hour week,” one associate shared. “Of course some weeks I’ll bill closer to 60, but it’s not unreasonable by any means.” Practice group, work-flow, and office location will all naturally determine what constitutes reasonable. Take one transactional associate: “I’ve always been very busy,” they said. “There’s been no famine in the famine-or-feast dynamic here. I’ve never been slow.” Other sources were quick to say that the balance of work and life comes with time: “I’ve gotten better at managing free time and having a little more control on my matters.” Another added: “Although it’s not irregular for me to work past midnight or on the weekend if a big deadline’s coming up.” Our survey data shows the average number of hours worked by associate hours for the previous week was 49.8, just below the market average of 51.9 hours.
“The compensation is frankly insane."
The firm’s fiscal year begins in April. For juniors starting in September, “people would consider the first few months a stub year.” This means that “all raises and bonuses are on a later schedule than other firms, which can be a little frustrating.” Others found little qualms here. “The compensation is frankly insane,” one junior exclaimed. “When living in a ‘secondary’ market like Richmond, it’s very, very generous.” Another source commended the firm for being “fully transparent about numbers.” Bonuses are lockstep at the firm, with discretionary merit-based bonuses handed out for exceeding hours. “You have to meet the amount to achieve it,” one source said, pointing out the rigidity of the 2,000 hour bonus target.
"People here defy the expectations of BigLaw firms and BigLaw partners being jerks.”
How do you pin down a culture for a firm so sprawled across the US? You look for identifying themes across the cohort. And in Hunton’s case, positivity and praise weaved across the responses. “I feel like people are invested in each other as human beings here,” one source said. “I really like the people I work with, and I hope people like me.” Another added: “People here defy the expectations of BigLaw firms and BigLaw partners being jerks.” A crucial quality considering the social elements at the firm. “We used to have birthday parties in the ‘party cube’ in my office with cake and regular catch-ups,” one source said. “The Dallas office is also really big on lunches and other social events,” a junior added. Happy hours, summer events, and outings – including paralegals – were also praised.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Juniors can count 25 hours toward diversity and inclusion events like work with affinity groups or speaker presentations on various topics. One source highlighted a speaker who had written a book on the Asian American experience and rise in hate crimes in the wake of COVID. “I know they’ve put a lot of emphasis on it in years,” one source said. “It’s not just talk.” Sources also mentioned certain pro bono projects having a D&I lean. “We helped organizations take down some Confederate statues in Richmond,” one junior highlighted. “We’ve also worked with the NAACP and had programs created.” Sources were also quick to mention gender parity and praised “being able to work with lots of female partners in the corporate practice.” A women’s mentoring circle also drew praise from one source. Martinez also highlights a near 50% diverse executive committee.
Strategy & Future
Sources highlighted that the firm’s “risk-averse” strategy paid dividends across the pandemic. “There were no financial struggles or lay-offs,” one junior happily revealed. Martinez talks specifics and highlights a continued “commitment to financial services, real estate investment and finance, energy, and retail and consumer products.” Over the next 12 to 18 months, Martinez is hoping "to be adding an international arbitration element to our practice” too. The picture seems rosy, with one source succinctly concluding: “I’m proud to say I’m a Hunton attorney and that will be the same going forward.”
LATERAL RECRUITMENT: Find out more about lateral opportunities with Hunton Andrews Kurth here.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Hunton Andrews Kurth conducts OCIs at 30 law schools, including ‘top’ institutions and other regional schools. The firm also participates in job fairs including the Lavender Law Career Fair, Mid-Atlantic Black Law Students Association Job Fair, Northeast Black Law Students Association Job Fair, Sunbelt Minority Recruiting Program and the Southeastern Minority Job Fair. Beyond these, Hunton AK hosts 1L Diversity clerkship programs in five offices, which you can apply for during late fall directly through Hunton AK’s careers website or through the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s website.
OCIs are typically 20 minutes long and with two attorneys (mostly senior attorneys, including senior associates.) Diversity of interviewers is also a focus for the firm to “better reflect the changing demographics of our law student body and the future of the practice,” according to firmwide hiring partner Rudene Mercer Haynes.
Interviewers at this stage ask behavioral questions to “see how well the law students can think on their feet.” Here, the conclusions are less important than the analytical reasoning used to reach them. The firm is also looking for evidence of “resilience, passion and grit.” Hunton AK tends to focus on candidates’ successes, whether those are academic, professional or personal: “We want to recruit individuals who desire excellence in their professional pursuits, and our interviewing process is intended to glean as much as we can about the candidates’ potential for success by examining their academic records and personal and professional accomplishments.”
Top tips for this stage:
“It is impressive when candidates have done some research on the firm and the practices in which we specialize and can articulate, authentically and persuasively, a link between our firm’s strengths and their career aspirations. We are also impressed by those who ask thoughtful questions. The interview process is an opportunity to run intel on prospective employers, so using that time wisely reflects positively on a candidate.” – firmwide hiring partner, Rudene Mercer Haynes
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
At the callback stage, interviewers are typically members of the specific office’s recruiting committee and, where possible, from the practice area the candidate is interested in. “Typically, although it varies from office to office, each callback interview is scheduled for at least four and no more than six 30-minute interviews.” Offices generally provide lunch with a junior to mid-level associate, where “the callback interviewee gets the perspective of someone closer in their perspective who can answer questions about transitioning from the law school to law firm experience, finding housing and local cultural opportunities.” The questions at this stage are similar, though the candidate has the opportunity to “meet a wider range of individuals and get a better feel for the firm’s culture. It is also an opportunity to assess the candidates’ general preferences regarding their future practice.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The thing that drew me here at the beginning is the people. They’re extremely intelligent, quick on their feet and good quality attorneys, but they’re also humble people from humble backgrounds and they’re easy to be around. It helps a lot in stressful situations and speaks to the teamwork aspects of the firm: whether it’s a team of two or twenty, the base level teamwork is pretty special.” – a junior associate
“I would reiterate researching the firm and the practices/industries in which an individual office specializes. I would also recommend showing a familiarity with or having a nexus to the city in which the candidate is looking to summer.” – firmwide hiring partner, Rudene Mercer Haynes
Summer associates are “are active members of legal teams working on important projects and attending client conferences, depositions, trials, hearings and closings.” The matters they’re staffed on reflect the interests of each summer associate, and some offices do practice group rotations. Summers get matched to mentors and attend a “wide variety of social events to allow our summers to get to know our lawyers on a more personal basis.” There are also trainings, guidance on judicial clerkships and pro bono opportunities. The firm strives to recruit the “brightest and best summer associates — most of whom we are happy to report return as junior associates after graduation.” Summers are given an offer for a specific team and practice group based on their interests and team hiring needs. “One of our partners penned five “Tips for Having a Successful Summer,” which are posted on our intranet’s summer associate orientation page.” How very helpful! The five tips are:
1) Be diligent – do your very best work
2) Be professional – use your very best judgment
3) Be client-service oriented – the legal industry is a service industry
4) Be thoughtful in your communications – choose your mode of communication wisely
5) Be entrepreneurial – take every opportunity to get to know the firm, the lawyers and to be exposed to work that interests you.
Top tips for this stage:
“The summer program did nothing but reinforce my opinion that I’d picked a good place. When I got an offer at the end of summer I was excited to accept it.” – a junior associate
“If you are looking for a career that offers challenging work in a collegial setting, alongside lawyers who are supportive and eager to see you succeed, please let us know.” – firmwide hiring partner, Rudene Mercer Haynes
Interview with Hunton Andrews Kurth managing partner Wally Martinez
Chambers Associate: How has the past year been for the firm?
Wally Martinez: Our fiscal year hasn’t closed yet, but it has been a banner year in all respects. So far, things are going well.
CA: Are there any other highlights from the past year that you think our readers should know?
WM: Our transactional practices across board have been incredibly busy: our real estate finance group has produced extraordinary results, as have our M&A, tax, structured finance, private equity, and renewables practices. The cybersecurity and privacy practice has been going at a breakneck pace because the risks are only increasing – threat actors are becoming tenacious and our team has been called upon to counsel clients regularly as they deal with these challenges and crises.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? What lessons have been learned?
WM: I think I’ve learned to be more responsive to our people in terms of the flexibility we offer. We’ve always offered flexible arrangements to our talent, but now I think we’re even more reactive and proactive. What the pandemic has taught us is that there is a broader base desire to have more flexibility. Other professional services areas – like accountancy and consultant firms – have been agnostic about where people do the work for some time and they serve their clients well; this keen awareness of flexibility and listening around to what your talent is saying makes a lot of sense. Today, coming to the office must be more than a box-checking exercise; it should happen for a purpose and to maintain camaraderie. We are not dictating when people should come in, but we do say that practice groups should ask their team to gather on a particular day of the week to maintain physical community and share ideas. We are leaning in and asking our associates what sort of team- and camaraderie-building events they would like to see.
We listen to and like to be led by the next generation. When we’re planning our move to a new office, we’re consulting with our junior partners and senior associates to discuss office design. When we were moving in Miami, the young partners designed the layout and we moved away from a traditional model to one where all the offices were the same size regardless of seniority – all the space we saved went into creating really cool communal areas. It looks like a law firm of the future.
CA: What does the road ahead look like for Hunton Andrews Kurth?
WM: We continue to stay committed to the financial services, real estate investment and finance, energy, and retail and consumer products sectors. Technology is embedded in everything that we do; upgrading the tech aspect of our offering across our sectors is a component of what we do. For example, a fair number of our lawyers who service the financial industry help with FinTech. We also serve clients in other industries like healthcare and defense – if a critical mass in another industry emerges, we’ll look further into it and continue investing. In terms of practices, we continue to invest in areas like energy and cybersecurity, as well as across our transactional practices that remain busy. We’ll be retaining and adding to the associate ranks in those areas. Hopefully in around a year’s time we’ll be adding an international arbitration element to our practice, which might be based in the UK.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
WM: Cyber risks will only increase over time. As new technology emerges and as companies become ever dependent on it, there will be bad actors out there who seek to exploit and cause harm. That threat will continue to be top of mind for companies. I think we’ll see a rising interest rate environment for the first time in many years, which may lead to additional bankruptcies for companies that are heavily indebted, as investors will be less willing to put money towards high risk loans. We’ll see continued movement in the energy transition that is taking place and will see that done in a thoughtful way; you’ll see more investment in nuclear energy as a cleaner alternative, especially in the US. You’ll also see more investment in carbon capture technology. The goal of the oil majors to be carbon neutral by 2050 requires a lot of different things to come to the fore – like renewables and carbon capture – that will all require work and resources to meet demand. Work around extractive lithium mining will also be significant and create more work.
CA: How does Hunton Andrews Kurth approach diversity?
WM: We have an incredibly diverse executive committee – around 50% of our executive committee is diverse. We remain Mansfield Certified and we’re doing everything that a firm should be doing around diversity efforts. We have a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign, which we’re very proud of. Inclusion is also key for us and we strive to be as inclusive as possible.
CA: Do you have any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
WM: Firstly, always invest in yourself. Don’t look at the assignment you’ve been given as just an assignment – see yourself as an important part of the team that will be obtaining a result for the client. Think outside the box, be creative and speak up if the idea is beyond the four corners of the assignment. Can you see things from a unique perspective? Have the courage to speak up for yourself: you are a professional, have courage.
The second point I’d make to a young associate is about seeing beyond the next two years. I would encourage them to see five, ten, or maybe even 15 years into the future. What would be a satisfying, rewarding place for you to be at that point? Know the broad arc that you would like to follow. Try to see how the decisions you make now can affect that and move you gradually towards that place. If you’re going to move, have a good reason for making that move: ask yourself ‘Can I spend a career there?’ You have to treat whatever job you have as the only job you’ll ever have – that allows you to build up your career better and work towards long-term aspirations.
Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. There will be tough times, weeks and months, but power through them and always keep looking at what you’re trying to build in your career. To make it a rewarding experience, think about the things I’ve outlined above. What does it come down to? You’re a lawyer who’s being paid to think, so speak up and offer those ideas. As you’re doing that, consider why you became a lawyer and why this a wonderful way for you to earn a living. We get paid to learn – hold onto that!
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