Career development is put front-and-center at the Texan firm that’s leaving associates Jackson Walking on sunshine.
THERE'S no mistaking where Jackson Walker is based – we heard the word ‘Texas’ in our interviews so many times we’ve started dreaming about the Lone Star State. “There is absolutely a commitment to Texas,” interviewees regaled proudly, “but we don’t compromise on work. Jackson Walker has staying power here and that translates to what we do.” A short-lived Anchorage office in the late ‘70s aside, Texas has proven to be all JW needs, and its roots run as deep as the state’s oil deposits. From a seedling firm set up in 1887, a network of seven offices has bloomed and one local client, Dallas Gas Company (now TXU Energy), has stuck with the firm for an astonishing 112 years. Our associate interviewees were similarly keen on sticking around for a while: “I wanted to be at a firm which wanted me for the long term. Now I’m here, I ultimately want to stay forever.”
Just under half of our interview sample were in Dallas, with the rest dotted across Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth. Given its dedication to building things up on a local scale, it’s appropriate that Jackson Walker’s best-recognized practice is real estate: Chambers USA ranks the firm’s department as one of the very best in Texas, and also rates the firm highly in areas like energy, environment, corporate/M&A, healthcare, labor & employment, and general commercial litigation.
JW’s corporate and securities groups are the most common destination for new arrivals; groups including environment, wealth planning, finance, and real estate take juniors too. Attorneys utilize a cross-office “informal and collaborative” free-market work assignment system, which interviewees described as “very entrepreneurial – you find partners and ask them to keep you in mind. It’s a natural process.”
In corporate and securities, associates will work on investor-side hedge fund or private equity investments and “a few partners represent the funds during their formation.” Mid-market M&A is another staple of the group, which covers a “very vast industry spread.” We heard of work on transactions covering heavy machinery, medicine, healthcare, oil and gas, telecoms and tech... vast indeed! There’s also a growing niche in real estate ventures. Interviewees patiently described their role as “managing the chaos” – this can mean coordinating workflows, communicating with the client or conducting due diligence. Juniors told us that partners “want associates to take the lead and get hands-on experience as early as possible.” Lucky corporate associates across the firm can expect to get drafting experience on membership, purchase or company agreements plus the client checklist: “You learn a tremendous amount doing all that.”
Corporate and securities clients: HOLT CAT, Texas Utility Energy, Whataburger. Represented medical device company Acelity in its sale to conglomerate 3M for $6.725 billion.
"It's really important work as someone’s liberty is at stake.”
As for litigation, JW is especially recognized in Chambers USA for its work in the aviation, energy and media sectors. “We also work on environmental matters, federal bankruptcies and failed joint ventures.” The Dallas office has a “small but rapidly growing” white-collar practice, following the hire of a former federal prosecutor – “it’s really important work as someone’s liberty is at stake.”Austin leads the way in pipeline eminent domain work; San Antonio takes on a lot of foreign trade cases; and Fort Worth is the place to be for land use and title litigation. As well as drafting motions for summary judgment and to dismiss, juniors get to do the fun court part too. Interviewees told us they’d taken depositions, argued motions in state (and sometimes even in federal!) court, cross-examined witnesses, and second-chaired jury and bench trials. “It’s really helpful to develop that side to the practice early on.” The “less glamorous” side of litigation is handling the discovery process, document review and writing memos.
Litigation clients: Google, JPMorgan Chase, ABC. Recently represented the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in a request to keep court records open based on the importance of openness and access.
The environmental regulatory and legislative practice is “super broad, which is why the name is all-encompassing!” The team works on deals, contentious matters and regulation for renewables and waste industry clients. Houston is the energy hub, and Austin takes a bigger cut of the regulatory work including public utility commissions and permits. Associates are expected to “specialize eventually, but it’s great as a junior to get a broad experience.” Interviewees were excited to be working in the sector: “I find it fulfilling to see the direct effect of what I’m doing. Plus, there’ll be no shortage of environment work in the future…” Juniors can expect to draft contracts and communicate directly with clients. Most contentious cases settle so associates can draft settlement terms and sometimes appear before specific regulatory courts.
Environmental clients: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Blackstone Group. Represented multiple clients including Arkansas Affordable Energy Coalition and South Texas Electric Cooperative in an appeal of the Clean Power Plan.
Strategy & Future
Interviewees felt that Jackson Walker is “growing at a pretty good pace. They’re increasing their bottom line while still not extending beyond Texas.” Junior interviewees reckoned this state loyalty is geared toward “maintaining the firm culture. There have been a lot of questions about mergers as it’s a trend in our market, but the consensus is we want to maintain our culture and be a Texas-based firm.”
“We want to maintain our culture and be a Texas-based firm.”
“This is by far the most fun, laid back, coolest place I’ve ever worked at,” one interviewee boldly announced. Good start – but what’s it really like being a lawyer in Texas? “There’s a good number of cowboy hats here,” a source laughed. Truth be told, things vary by office: Dallas is “physically the newest of all the offices” but the oldest in spirit, given it’s the birthplace of the law firm that would eventually become Jackson Walker. Interviewees reckoned Dallas was “the closest thing you have to New York in Texas” with “a bit more of a 'work hard, play hard' attitude” pushed by the city’s booming energy market. Meanwhile, “Houston has a reputation for being more relaxed and tech-focused, kind of like San Francisco.” Austin sits as a cultural midpoint between Dallas and Houston, while associates described smaller officesas “more family-oriented.”
Each office holds weekly drinks and semi-regular events; interviewees reckoned that the ideal JW associate isn’t “necessarily extroverted but does enjoy social interaction.” Emblematic of this are the very #futuristic videophones present on each desk at JW. “There’s a camera on top of the phone and a little LCD screen so if you call someone, you’re looking at their face. It doesn’t take long to get used to, but it is a bit funny!” Interviewees took this as a literal representation of “firm leaders believing in face-to-face communication.”
Associates were keen to tell us that Jackson Walker is a ‘for-life firm’: “They emphasize you should have your whole career here.” The focus on longevity also means JW places “a strong emphasis on business development from day one.” We heard of associates taking their professional friends out to dinner on the firm, as well as local Rangers and Mavericks games. “They just want us to take control of our career. It’s great!” A word of warning from one interviewee though: “If you’re someone who really wants a lot of micromanagement and direction, you may not be comfortable here. Occasionally I wish people would hold my hand.”
“They just want us to take control of our career. It’s great!”
The firm encourages associates to complete 50 ‘firm citizenship hours’ each year, which covers pro bono as well as recruiting and business development. However, “you’re not out of luck if a pro bono case blows up. If you put 300 hours into pro bono, they have discretion to take it into account for your bonus.” It’s not uncommon for litigation juniors to “do hundreds of pro bono hours, especially in first year.” Matters typically come through a pro bono coordinator; common examples include employment discrimination, divorces, real estate disputes, civil rights and criminal cases. “They really let you dive into anything you’re interested in – it’s a great way to get your feet wet.”
Pro bono hours
- For all offices: 6,882
- Average per attorney: 40
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
That's the requirement for associates to get their annual salary increase – 2,000 and above bags them a tiered bonus. While salaries start at the market-standard $190,000, “it goes up by a compressed scale after that so it’s not quite the full match.” Interviewees weren’t mega-disappointed: “The cost of living in Texas is way less than in New York and I’m very happy considering there’s no state income tax either!” Most of our interviewees found hitting 1,950 “isn’t unrealistic or a burden.” We heard of annual numbers ranging from 1,850 all the way up to 2,600 at the top end.
“Partners reassigned some of my workload, no problem.”
Interviewees’ regular hours in the office were 9am to 7pm on average “and it’s common to do at least one billable hour from home.” Working from home is more commonplace in smaller offices like San Antonio and Fort Worth. Days are more likely to stretch to 10pm or even midnight during busier spells, but we heard that partners are “respectful of your personal life. Once I was completely underwater and they reassigned some of my workload, no problem. I appreciated it so much.”
Diversity & Inclusion
When it comes to mental health, “partners and leaders are constantly checking in asking if there’s too much pressure.” The seniority-spanning support network was applauded as “not just a training exercise – it’s at an active management level. I have about ten people who check in regularly.” The diversity situation at Jackson Walker is “by no means perfect” but the firm is “dedicated to making things better,” we heard. One Austin interviewee told us their office struggles as the city itself “is not super diverse. Houston is better for diversity and that’s reflected in that office.” JW^2, the firm’s women’s network, has been focusing on the transition back into work after maternity leave. “There’s a great policy, you get 18 weeks paid as a primary caregiver, but some people have a tough transition back into the firm. Returning straight into a full schedule can be hard.” In another sign of progress, Julia W. Mann became the first female managing partner of a Jackson Walker office (San Antonio) in 2019.
“I have about ten people who check in regularly.”
Jackson Walker has delayed the start date of its 2020 summer program to June 15, and shortened the program from nine to six weeks. At least some (and possibly all) of the program will be conducted virtually.
The firm was able to network with 1L law students earlier than previous years due to the change in NALP guidelines. Law schools hosted employer events earlier during the fall semester. However, law schools have set dates before which employers may interview students for summer clerkships. Most law schools set these dates at November 1 or November 15.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 232
Interviewees outside OCI: 206
“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 statewide hiring partner Jim Ryan 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 hiring partners and attorneys from local recruiting committees. 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 JW 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.” – hiring partner Jim Ryan
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 153
Candidates that impress at OCI get invited back for an interview with partners and associates from the recruiting committee. This usually includes six-to-eight attorneys from the practice areas that the candidate has expressed an interest. During callback, the questioning is to “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.” – hiring partner Jim Ryan
Jackson Walker’s summer program lasts nine weeks. Summers get work from assignment coordinators, who take into account each summer’s work preferences. 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.” Ryan 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.” – hiring partner Jim Ryan
“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
Being an attorney in Texas
Jackson Walker LLP
2323 Ross Avenue,
- Head Office: Dallas, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Worldwide revenue: $289,933,000
- Partners (US): 254
- Associates (US): 164(includes staff attorneys, of counsel and senior counsel
- Main recruitment contact: Meghan Pier
- Hiring partner: Jim Ryan
- Diversity officer: Suzan Kedron
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 11
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 17, 2Ls: 20
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Austin: 12, Dallas: 15, Houston: 9, San Antonio: 1
- Summer salary 2019: 1Ls and 2Ls: $3,653/week
- Split summers offered? Yes|
Main areas of work
Corporate and securities; litigation; real estate; bankruptcy; energy; ERISA; environmental, regulatory and legislative; finance; healthcare; intellectual property; labor and employment; land use; tax; wealth planning.
Jackson Walker is a Texas-based law firm with a national presence and global reach. With more than 400 attorneys and more than 130 years of experience, we’re one of the largest and 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 nonprofits.
• We represent 7 of the Fortune 10, 34 of the Fortune 100, and 109 of the Fortune 500.
• Our attorneys have represented clients in more than 85 countries and territories.
• We are currently ranked nationally in 27 practice areas in the U.S. News “Best Law Firms” rankings, we have nine 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 2020: Baylor, University of Houston, St Mary’s, Southern Methodist University, South Texas, Texas Southern, University of Texas.
Recruitment outside OCIs: We participate in the following Texas based interview programs: Notre Dame Dallas Interview Program, Southern Legal Interview Program (SLIP), Texas on Tour Interview Program (Duke, Georgetown and Northwestern), Penn Law Regional Program, Vanderbilt Job Fair and the WashU Texas Interview Program. JW focuses on diversity and participates in the following diversity job fairs: Sunbelt Minority Job Fair, Southeastern Minority 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 statewide 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, 2020
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: San Antonio & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
Watch: Why Jackson Walker?
A glimpse of Jackson Walker's culture:
Jackson Walker's women's initiative:
Careers and attorney development at Jackson Walker: