You can say howdy (to making) partner at Texan firm Jackson Walker: “The expectation from day one is not that you’re going to be an associate, but that you’re going to be partner.”
With over 135 years of dedication to the Lone Star State alone, you’d expect Jackson Walker to have a shining reputation as a Texan household name. Case in point: “I once wore a JW shirt and everybody recognized the name,” recalled one associate. The firm's strong relationship with its clientele, “built on generations of networking,” is particularly dazzling. J.P. Morgan, Warner Bros, American Airlines, and Dell are just a handful of big names the firm services in the state.
With offices in Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, San Angelo, Fort Worth and Texarkana, JW’s got its fingers in several Southern pies, picking up Chambers USA rankings in most of those regions. The firm is considered the crème de la crème for its corporate/M&A and general commercial litigation work in San Antonio, and its state-wide real estate practice. On a national level, the firm’s bankruptcy; construction; corporate/M&A; energy litigation; environment; healthcare; labor and employment; real estate and corporate/commercial technology groups all receive tips of the hat. As managing partner Wade Cooper put it: “We aspire to be a one-stop shop. We’re good at a lot of different things.”
That’s not to say the corridors are filled with sharp elbows: “Although we do serious work, lawyers here have a good sense of humor and always support each other,” said one associate when asked why they chose JW. Those who are hoping to spend their career at just the one firm will be pleased to know that the chances of making partner at JW are exceptionally high: a whopping 83% of the associates we surveyed thought partnership was achievable, compared to the 51% market average. In the words of our favorite Texan, Kelly Clarkson, spread your wings and learn how to fly.
Strategy & Future
Cooper emphasized the firm’s pride in being “capable of helping a client with a whole array of services that they might need when doing business in Texas, or elsewhere.” There isn’t a dominant practice group at JW, so the firm aims to grow organically while continuing to offer specialist service in a number of areas. Cooper explains: “our strategy is to be who we are and to keep getting better at it, and to stay strong to our values and people-centric focus.” At the moment, JW has no plans to expand their offices outside of Texas. However, in the wake of the digitization of business catalyzed by the pandemic, one associate “wouldn’t be surprised if our client base becomes less Texas-heavy, as more clients become comfortable with using technology like Zoom.”
Half of the junior associates on our list were based in the Dallas HQ, while Houston was the second most common destination. The remainder were spread across Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth. The most popular practice group was litigation, but juniors also worked in corporate, real estate, land use bankruptcy, labor and employment, wealth planning and finance. Work at JW is assigned through a free-market system which “works really well because you’re able to have more control and autonomy over what you’re working on.” Generally, this system was described as “very organic,” with partners assigning more work to associates as they get to know them. However, at the start, it’s difficult to judge how long it will take to finish work, so it can be “hard to plan everything so you’re not bored but also not overworked.” One source also pointed out that it can be hard to specialize until later on: “You can’t really say no to work as a first year!”
"If you’re interested in a certain area and ask to be involved, you will be.”
There isn’t one particular area of focus in the litigation department, meaning “there’s no shortage of different types of cases.” We heard there’s a lot of personal injury defense work, IP, and (unsurprisingly) oil and gas work, primarily for mineral and land owners. Attorneys attend hearings across the state, while day-to-day tasks include drafting and reviewing documents (on bigger cases) to developing strategies (on smaller ones.) “I have cases that I handle entirely myself, from beginning to end,” one associate explained. Even the most junior associates in the department are “pushed early on to take matters you wouldn’t expect to take on after law school.” It’s typical for associates to try out pretty much everything, as “the firm culture is, if you’re interested in a certain area and ask to be involved, you will be.”
Litigation clients: Warren Power & Machinery, American Broadcasting Company, Lone Star Transmission. Defended Sanderson Farms against allegations (totaling over $100 million) it fraudulently and negligently operated several poultry farms which caused odor and nuisance for neighbors.
Junior associates working on corporate matters get a lot of experience in M&A and private equity, but may get the chance to cross over into real estate and startup company work. The practice group doesn’t specialize in any one area. Instead, “work depends on the partners more than the office.” Like their litigation counterparts, corporate associates also get a lot of responsibility from the get-go. One interviewee explained: “I think as a first-year I’ve been able to do a lot more than what peers at similar-sized and similar quality firms have.” Another associate recalled emailing clients from their very first week at the firm. As a regional firm, JW “is very involved in clients and matters around the community,” one associate told us.
Corporate clients: Goldman Sachs, Kendra Scott, Digital Turbine. Represented Freedom Powersports in the sale of its business to RumbleOn, the largest retailer of powersports in the US.
Fewer associates were working in real estate, but it’s still one of the firm’s major practices. The department works with a range of clients doing leasings, loan workouts, acquisitions and sales. Juniors are generally in charge of running checklists, since there are so many documents to keep track of on real estate cases. Again, there’s the opportunity to get real responsibility from the start. One interviewee thought that “first years might get more grunt work, but I’ve been doing a lot more drafting than I thought I would.”
Real estate clients: American Airlines, D. R. Horton, Greystar Real Estate Partners. Represented MD Anderson and UT Health (part of the University of Texas) in the development of a new, 37-acre research campus, set to drive $5.2 billion into the Houston economy.
“The expectation from day one is not that you’re going to be an associate, but that you’re going to be partner.” For many of our interviewees, the clear path to partnership was one of the key things that drew them to the firm. “Even though I’m junior, they’re already invested in helping me become partner,” one associate said. “It was written in the offer letter!” There’s a formal, eight-year path to partnership, with clear benchmarks of what is expected of junior, mid-level and senior associates in terms of clientele and billables. However, on a more informal level, partners “allow us to ask questions” and make an effort to support associates. One interviewee noted how the firm “really encourages associates to get to know each other and develop relationships amongst ourselves – we’re all going to be partners and working together even more.” Many felt that the firm’s investment in its associates created a strong sense of loyalty, so “it seems like almost everyone stays until they’re partner.” If attorneys are leaving, it’s usually to work in-house somewhere or for a change of lifestyle, but many seem to return to the firm!
Our sources had lots to say about JW’s unique culture and “very strong ‘no jerk’ policy.” From the recruitment stage, JW are keen to hire the right people: “your grades get you in the door, but if you’re in the office at 2am, you want to be happy with the people you’re working with.” Similarly, one associate noted that “there are going to be good days and bad days with any job, but when you enjoy the people you work with and the kind of work you do, it makes the job worth doing.” Essentially, being good at the technical side is a given, but what sets JW attorneys apart is that its attorneys are team players with fantastic people skills, able to get along with co-workers and clients alike. “It comes down to the example partners set,” one associate reported. “They’re all really good friends with each other and they hang out in their free time.”
“It’s Texas. A New York pizza shop will be more stressful than a firm here.”
Many associates praised the weekly, in-office happy hours: “it’s a good way to meet colleagues outside of your practice group, and as a first-year associate I don’t have many chances to do so.” Overall, the culture was described by many as “very relaxed,” and there does seem to be a regional factor to this: “It’s Texas. A New York pizza shop will be more stressful than a firm here.” Indeed, associates agreed that the firm does a good job at helping associates manage their stress: “They appreciate that you have a life outside work.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Associates must meet the 1,950 target to get a raise, while bonuses are dished out at the 2,000 hour mark. This increases as you hit higher hours. The firm also awards an origination bonus - many found this structure confusing, but we heard the aim is to provide a fair set-up “to incentivize people who bring in more business and are working more.” In terms of salary, one associate claimed that, “I knew no one else in the area could offer me more from the beginning.” The firm recognizes, however, that first-years are unlikely to meet the 1,950 billable target, so it’s nothing to worry about. “It’s a pretty reasonable hour mark,” one associate said. “First year is different, it’s harder to get work in the beginning and then you get rolling.” However, associates felt that partners were always willing to go out of their way to help juniors organize their time, while making sure they’re not overworked. Most attorneys leave the office by 5 or 6pm every day and do an extra couple of hours of remote work later in the evening. But, so long as you get your work done, the hours are flexible. “Even when it’s intense they’re pretty good about managing the distribution of work,” so none of the sources we spoke to felt overwhelmed.
There isn't an official policy on pro bono, but associates at JW felt they could do as much pro bono work as they liked. The firm does allow associates to credit 50 hours towards the billing target: "There's nothing holding us back from doing it." According to our survey, however, associates were not enthusiastic about the firm’s pro bono offering, with juniors scoring the firm well below market for the meaningfulness of the work. In spite of this, multiple associates we spoke to found that the firm was supportive of their own passions for pro bono: “They know it’s what I do and help me do it.” Another interviewee appreciated the fact that attorneys are always willing to sit down and explain the work, even when busy with their own stuff. In fact, one associate suggested that the reason for the firm’s low pro bono numbers is because they are so busy: “It seems like we’ve been really financially successful the past few years and we’ve been able to expand business. Sometimes, realistically, making time for pro bono is a little bit more difficult.” Like many firms, much of the pro bono work offered by the firm is litigation-based. However, non-litigation associates who did give it a go found “it was really cool to see what the other side does.”
Pro bono hours
- For all offices: 5,637
- Average per attorney: 13
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Across our surveys and interviews, associates agreed that “JW not only talks about diversity and inclusion, but actually acts on its initiatives.” Case in point, the firm recently achieved the Mansfield 5.0 plus certification. JW also hosts monthly diversity hours to discuss the schemes that they’re currently pushing. One relieved interviewee told us, “I feel very comfortable as I’m not a small minority.” Associates and partners alike can find extra support in one of the many lawyer resource groups that the firm offers. Although diversity at higher levels in the firm is tricky to find, sources noted the firm’s efforts in diversifying the recruitment process. Junior associates are encouraged to take an active role in recruiting, and have mentioned how the firm is “really working to foster relationships with organizations at law schools.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
2L OCI applicants interviewed: 53
2L Interviewees outside OCI: 30
“Since Jackson Walker is a Texas firm, we focus on Texas law schools and participate in OCIs at UT, Baylor, UH, South Texas, Texas Southern, SMU, and St. Mary’s," Jackson Walker's firm-wide hiring partner Jonathan Neerman told us. You’ll notice there are a lot of non-OCI applicants in the data above. The firm attends four Texas-based interview programs: Notre Dame Dallas Interview Program, Southern Legal Interview Program (SLIP), Texas on Tour (for Dallas and Houston), and the WashU Texas Interview Program. It also recruits from diversity job fairs and resume drops.
OCIs are conducted by attorneys in practice areas that have a summer associate need. During the OCI interview, JW interviewers ask questions to “learn more about the candidate’s background and experience” to figure out whether what they are looking for in a firm “is consistent with what JW offers.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The interviewer and I really hit it off. It was already a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere.” – a junior associate
“Learn about our firm and the interviewers in advance of the interview so you can ask informed questions that demonstrate your interest in our firm.” – Jonathan Neerman,firm-widehiring partner
2L Applicants invited to second stage interview: 41
Candidates that impress at OCI get invited back for an interview with partners and associates in the office. This usually includes six-to-eight attorneys from the practice areas that the candidate has expressed an interest in. During callback, the questioning is “to see whether the candidate possesses the core qualities that JW finds lead to success at our firm.” These qualities include “a strong work ethic, leadership capabilities, a strong academic record and self-motivation.” Candidates should again arrive “prepared to ask questions and provide answers that show particular interest in the firm and the interviewers,” with a focus on career longevity.
Top tips for this stage:
“I have high hopes for Jackson Walker. I don’t anticipate leaving or making a move; I’d like to stay here my whole career.”– a junior associate
“The candidate should exhibit self-confidence without arrogance.” – Neerman
2L Offers: 43
2L Acceptances: 26
Jackson Walker’s summer program lasts nine weeks. Summers get work from assignment coordinators, who take into account each summer’s work preferences and the firm’s hiring needs. The program involves professional development training including CLEs, in-house education programs and a mentorship program. “In addition to substantive work assignments, summer associates will have the opportunity to participate in a mock trial or hearing based on an active case, or a mediation seminar," we heard.
During the summer program, the firm is aware of which practice groups want to hire a first-year attorney. The summer associates who have expressed an interest in those practice areas will get work assignments from those practice areas: “At the end of the summer, those practice areas will give a practice group specific offer to 2L summer associates.” Neerman advises summers to “produce excellent work product and take a genuine interest in coming to know as many attorneys in the office as possible.”
Notable summer events: volunteer events, client visits, partner events, associates' night out, cooking classes, fitness activities, sporting events and informal gatherings.
Top tips for this stage:
“Be confident, engage with the attorneys and staff, express genuine interest in the firm and produce excellent work.” – Neerman
“They also have a lot of meetings to generate feedback about different summers and interactions they’ve had. Those are taken seriously in terms of if someone is a good culture fit for the firm – they really do look at that. If someone has good grades and good work but we thought they didn’t fit in culturally, we’d be hesitant about hiring that person.” – a junior associate
Jackson Walker LLP
2323 Ross Avenue,
Main areas of work
Corporate and securities; litigation; real estate; bankruptcy; energy; ERISA; environmental, regulatory and legislative; finance; healthcare; immigration; intellectual property; labor and employment; land use; tax; trusts and estates.
Jackson Walker is a Texas-based law firm with a national presence and global reach. With more than 450 attorneys and more than 135 years of experience, we’re the largest firm in Texas and one of the most knowledgeable firms in the state. Our confident yet approachable lawyers help companies of all sizes navigate today’s increasingly complex, interconnected legal landscape. Our corporate clients include some of the biggest names in business, but we also represent family-owned businesses, local and regional government agencies, individuals, and non-profits.
• We represent 6 of the Fortune 10, 38 of the Fortune 100, and 124 of the Fortune 500.
• Our attorneys have represented clients in more than 85 countries and territories.
• We are currently ranked nationally in 24 practice areas in the U.S. News “Best Law Firms” rankings, we have sixteen Chambers-ranked practice groups, and we’ve been recognized in the BTI Client Service A-Team List multiple times Jackson Walker has a high partner-to-associate ratio, and we take pride in staffing clients’ matters efficiently. Our associates are expected to take on responsibility right from the start. With a broad client base, our associates handle a wide variety of quality work and deal directly with clients early in their careers.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2023: Baylor, University of Houston, St Mary’s University, Southern Methodist University, South Texas, Texas A&M University, Texas Southern, Texas Tech and University of Texas.
Recruitment outside OCIs: We participate in the following Texas based interview programs at: Notre Dame, Penn Law, Vanderbilt and the Washington & Lee, WashU. JW focuses on diversity and participates in the following diversity job fairs: Sunbelt Minority Job Fair, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Southwest Black Law Student Job Fair and Lavender Law Career Fair. We also recruit students attending out of state law schools who have previously lived in Texas and who apply online or submit their resumes through resume drops.
Summer associate profile: Candidates with leadership capabilities, academic excellence, self-motivation, strong interpersonal skills, community involvement and dedicated to practicing over the long term.
Summer program components: The JW summer program lasts nine weeks. Summer associates are placed in a practice area with their preferences taken into account and receives both a partner and associate mentor. In addition to substantive work assignments, summer associates will have the opportunity to participate in a mock trial/hearing based on an active case, or a mediation seminar. We also include social events each week that highlight each city. These include the firmwide summer associate event, volunteer events, client visits, partner events, associates night out, cooking classes, fitness activities, sporting events and any number of informal gatherings.
Recruitment website: www.jw.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 3)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
Texas: San Antonio & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- First Amendment Litigation (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Litigation (Band 3)