Looking for a firm where you can “scratch your intellectual itch” and immediately delve into revenue-generating responsibilities? Then look no further than this rapidly expanding national firm with a whole lot of ambition.
You wouldn’t be able to accuse Nelson Mullins of resting on its laurels. “As part of our strategic growth strategy, we opened five new offices last year in areas including the Midwest and West Coast,” says managing partner James Lehman. “We also invested in two internal ASLPs [Alternative Legal Service Providers] to further service our clients.” Clearly Nelson Mullins has some serious momentum behind it, and we think you’re going to hear more and more about it in the coming years. It started out over 125 years ago in Columbia, South Carolina and for many years was known for its presence in the Southeast, but today the firm is “continuing to expand our reach across the country, from a strong East Coast presence to the Midwest and West Coast,” as Lehman explains. That said, the firm did open a Pittsburgh office in March 2023.
The firm’s main practices are corporate, litigation, IP, and government relations. Within those are extensive specialisms in areas like real estate, private equity, automotive litigation, healthcare, and product liability. Those last three areas are flagged as nationwide strengths in Chambers USA, while a raft of top-tier accolades across the Carolinas show highly revered expertise in practices such as corporate/M&A, banking and finance, environment, energy and natural resources, and tax. The firm’s largest base in Atlanta held the most juniors on our list, but the Florida and Northand South Carolina offices also took on a hefty chunk. The rest were split between various offices dotted across the two coasts and the Midwest.
The associates on our list were split 60/40 between the firm’s corporate and litigation practices. With its emphasis on cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset in associates (see the culture section, below), we weren’t surprised to hear that a free-market assignment system is in place at the firm. One associate commented that the “free-market system is a little hard when you first come in, but once you get into it, the doors are opened in a way that they wouldn’t be in other firms.” On the plus side, we also heard that there are plenty of “non-equity partners and senior associates who bring in mid-levels and juniors on matters to help them.” Here’s a top tip for those embarking on this free-market journey: “When you work with the same partners, build some trust so that they continue to bring you work. They know what you have done in the past and what you are interested in doing.”
“A lot of our M&A transactions are in the mid-market space."
Our sources in the corporate practice had encountered a mix of private M&A, capital markets, finance, and real estate-related work. “A lot of our M&A transactions are in the mid-market space and worth between $15 million and $100 million,” an interviewee noted. “We have people who are focused on the buy-side and represent strategic buyers, while on the sell-side there are people representing generational family businesses that are looking to move into other lines of work.” On the real estate side, a junior explained that “before interest rates went crazy, we were doing more financing work, but this has slowed down, so we’re now doing more developmental work.” The clients here are “developers, real estate investment funds, and big banks.” Interviewees had been drafting ancillary documents, conducting due diligence, and “also taking the first pass at drafting underlying loan or purchase agreements with supervision from more senior attorneys.” One source pointed out that “with the economy changing, my work has changed but the level of quality and responsibility has continued to be good.” This was emphasized by other associates, who indicated that they were “not just pushing paper. We are charged with undertaking project management and making sure that the deal is flowing according to our metrics.”
Corporate clients: AarBank, Green Cloud Technologies, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Represented United Community Banks during its $517 million acquisition of Reliant Bancorp.
From fintech businesses to major financial institutions, we were told that the litigation practice’s clients are “eclectic,” as are the range of litigious specialisms on offer: “We do commercial litigation, appellate work, employment law, consumer law, and we have added asbestos litigation to our remit as well,” a source helpfully explained. On white-collar defense matters, associates typically “work with high net worth clients on investigations related to money laundering, the sale of securities or sanctions cases. We also get requests from government agencies and offer representation in cases with the IRS,” one junior said. Associates conduct research, take depositions, draft motions, communicate with clients, and take part in mediations. “There is a lot of appropriate-level responsibility. If there’s a smaller matter that we’re doing for a big client, it would be given to me,” an associate beamed. What makes the work interesting? “We are looking at novel issues in the law and can make unique arguments to regulators. We figure out how they should apply legislation to new areas of the law. This scratches my intellectual itch!” another source enthused.
Litigation clients: General Electric, Google Fiber, University of North Dakota. Represented Google Fiber and Bechtel Infrastructure during a property dispute with KSSR Properties in Atlanta.
When asked about the culture, numerous associates used the words ‘laid-back’ and ‘Southern hospitality.’ “We are generally organized in smaller teams, which means you’re not in a silo trying to figure out everything by yourself,” a relieved source told us. Going by the feedback we collected from the Columbia office, it sounds unlikely that an associate would ever be alone: “We see each other all the time! Most of us are on the same floor in the building, so instead of bouncing emails back and forth, we just go and talk to each other!” We were told that there are many cultural benefits to practicing in the Southeastern markets, “as you’re often in a location, like Columbia, where the size of the Bar is smaller; the state legislature and government are here; and most of the folks went to one of two law schools here – it means everybody knows everybody!”
“It pushes associates to take a proactive stance in developing relationships with clients.”
Sources explained that the culture has an entrepreneurial vibe due to the existence of both a billable hours target and a ‘collections goal.’ The former is essentially a set amount of money that each associate is expected to generate from the work they complete. “The focus,” as this associate explained, “is on how you are generating income for the firm. It pushes associates to take a proactive stance in developing relationships with clients that might provide higher rates of work.” Entrepreneurial does not mean unapproachable at Nelson Mullins, as sources were keen to emphasize: “The equity partners are easy to talk to and they say hi to you in the hallways. I was surprised by how many partners were coming up and introducing themselves to me at the attorney retreat in Orlando!”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 target
The 1,900 target was felt to be “achievable as long as the economy doesn’t go downhill, and you need to hit the hourly goal in order to hit the collection expectation,” a source informed us. The two goals therefore go hand in hand, but the emphasis on the collections rate means that “it’s the money coming in through the door that matters, but you get a three-month head start when you first come in,” an associate noted, before explaining: “The revenue you are expected to generate is based on your region and how many years you have been at the firm.” While base compensation was said to be just a little below what would be considered market, receiving a bonus (which is paid out if associates reach their collection goal) “can enable you to reach the national market rate.” The downside to having a bonus linked to a collections goal was that “we don’t have much control – if I do work for one client and they go bankrupt or don’t pay, then that can affect my chance of receiving a bonus.” However, associates were generally happy with their compensation, with many agreeing with the view that “it’sfair if you live in Columbia or the Southeast more broadly because of the lower cost of living, but maybe not so much for people in places like New York.”
“...the firm does support us when the hours get tough.”
An average day for a corporate associate lasted between 8:30am and 6pm, “with some evenings and weekend work here and there. You’ll get some late nights in the few days before a closing!” A litigator was working for around ten hours per day, while another said that “the firm does support us when the hours get tough, as they understand that if we get overloaded and burnt out then we’ll leave!” There were some differences between offices’ hybrid working policies. A source in Atlanta told us that “we’re highly encouraged to work from the office, but we don’t have an official policy just yet.”
Every associate is assigned either a senior associate or a partner mentor: “The senior associate mentors go over tasks and give you some advice. They also start to bring you into the meetings with clients,” one junior noted. Another underlined that “the culture here is one where more experienced attorneys provide you with work and it comes with mentorship as well. The best mentorship I have received has been outside the formal mechanisms. They don’t just dish out work, they help you learn through the process.” According to one interviewee, this means that “partners share feedback frequently and keep me in the loop. Even when I don’t have a direct hand in the cases, they let me know what decisions they are making and why.”
“...they don’t hide anything from us when it comes to making partner.”
Like mentorship, training is a big part of associate life: “The firm hosts all-day CLEs on different topics and provides us with around 25 to 30 lunch and learns every year.” There is a set curriculum and scheduled content for each of these sessions. In addition, “we have basic training for first-year associates, which covers things such as contract drafting or conducting oral arguments. As you move up and develop more complex skills, you get training on topics such as preparing appellate briefs.” An added incentive is that associates receive collection credit for participating in training programs. Looking further down the line, “it’s normal for people to move in-house after a certain period of time, but they don’t hide anything from us when it comes to making partner – they tell you how much in collections you should be bringing in, and in many ways it’s just simple math!” One source was already keen to set their sights on this path: “I’m already having conversations with a partner about what it’s like to reach that level and they’re telling me how to be proactive and fulfill the objectives required.”
Associates are required to complete a minimum of 20 pro bono hours each year. Technically, there’s no official cap on the number of pro bono hours that associates can do, but we did hear that “if you go over 100 you have to get approval – although it always gets approved!” Pro bono does count toward the collections goal, with a source explaining that for every hour of pro bono billed, 90% of the collection rate goes to the associates’ collection credit. Finding pro bono was deemed to be easy, as “we have pro bono coordinators who go out and find cases, plus we have a long line of people with strong relationships to projects and services.”
“...cataloguing settlements related to police brutality in Chicago and the rest of the US.”
A source in Atlanta gave us some insight into the options available in their location: “We’ve had people doing some post-election auditing to ensure election integrity, plus folks assisting with Wills for Heroes – a program that helps veterans set up their wills and estates – and Filing for Freedom, which provides tax assistance to veterans.” We were also told about associates representing inmates who are up for parole in front of the South Carolina parole board, as well as others who were helping to lay the groundwork for future and successful litigation by “cataloguing settlements related to police brutality in Chicago and the rest of the US.” Elsewhere, landlord/tenant disputes, Ukrainian asylum matters, adoptions, divorces, and international kidnaping cases (tied to the Hague Convention) were mentioned.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 28,364
- Average per attorney: 32
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“The number of women and minority associates has gone up,” a source reported, while others praised the firm’s efforts to strengthen the pipeline of diverse candidates entering the legal industry: “They recruit underrepresented students at the undergraduate level and give them internships before the law school process begins to see if they are interested,” an associate told us. The firm also hosts monthly webinars with diverse individuals who are in various positions at the firm and speak about their experiences. “We had an hour-long call with Native American associates about the work they do and how they engage with issues affecting their community,” an associate recalled. Other positive steps that our interviewees noticed included bringing in diverse laterals and offering collection credit to associates who attend events organized by affinity groups. For associates with children, “the firm offers parents the opportunity to remain on the partnership track while working on a part-time workload that’s more suitable for taking care of children.”
Strategy & Future
“Our vision is to grow into a sustainable national platform and geographic footprint with depth and breadth of expertise in strategic practices and markets,” managing partner James Lehman tells us. “To accomplish this vision, we are focused on four primary components: our clients, practices, people, and offices.” Lehman adds: “We continue to adapt to the uncertain and volatile business and economic environment. Inflation and rising interest rates are impacting certain practices that service clients that are rate-sensitive. Our attorney attrition has been less than the profession as a whole, and the firm continues to recruit lateral attorneys as a result of the disruption.” Read more from Lehman by clicking on ‘Get Hired’ tab above.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 829
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Nelson Mullins recruit at more than 35 schools, as well as resume collections in an additional 10 schools. The firm also attends multiple diversity fairs, such as the Atlanta Bar Minority Clerkship Program and Lavender Law. Slight variety aside, the firm “typically interview at least 20 students at each campus,” with the interviews conducted by partners and associates from a variety of practices and offices. At this stage, the firm note they’re looking “at strong academic performance, law review or other journals, moot court, and leading in extracurricular activities.” Differentiating qualities to the fore – the firm explicitly ask: “Be prepared to provide a meaningful response to the question, ‘What sets you apart from the other candidates we are meeting today?”
Top tips for this stage:
“Take the time to research each firm you are interviewing with and discern what sets our firm apart from the others. Ask thoughtful questions that are tailored to Nelson Mullins’ strengths and core values. If you intend to stay in the city where you are interviewing after law school, make sure the interviewers leave the interview with a strong understanding of why you intend to make that city your home after law school.”- Nelson Mullins hiring source.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 271
Callback candidates progress to one round of in-office interviews, usually conducted with at least four attorneys from a wide variety of practice areas. We’re told “the questions are similar to those asked during OCIs.” The firm also remind candidates to demonstrate individuality: “Be prepared to explain why you stand out among similarly-qualified candidates.”
Top tips for this stage:
“We want to gauge the candidate’s genuine interest in the firm and whether they are a good long-term fit with regards to both practice areas of interest and personality. Taking the time to do your homework about the firm and make sure your personality shines through in interviews is very important.”- Nelson Mullins hiring source
Generally across the offices, summer associates receive assignments through formal work-flow coordinators. Coupling this, some offices see summers rotate through different practice areas; in other offices, coordinators “ensure each associate is getting meaningful work and feedback from each group of interest to that associate.” The firm tells us that they actively encourage associate feedback and encourage summers to “speak up if you would like additional exposure to a particular area and or group.” The firm note that most summers return after law school, and “aim to assign new associates to one of the practice areas they are more interested in.” Naturally business needs take precedent, but “we try to open the dialogue early so that summer associates can gauge which practice groups might be the best fit for them.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Work hard, ask for feedback, receive that feedback in a non-defensive way, and be open to different practice areas. Get to know as many attorneys as you can and seek to learn whether or not you see Nelson Mullins as a good fit for you from a personality perspective. Quality of work assignments turned in is a meaningful part of our evaluation of summer associates, so make sure your work product is something you are proud of.”- Nelson Mullins hiring source
“There is no substitute for adequate preparation. Take the time to position yourself to be able to show genuine interest in the firm and demonstrate what sets you apart from other qualified candidates. During the summer program, make sure you have a good understanding of the expectations and deadline for each work assignment, and communicate openly to make sure you are meeting those expectations and deadlines. Look for ways to not just meet expectations but exceed them.”- Nelson Mullins hiring source.
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Meridian, 17th Floor,
1320 Main Street,
Main areas of work
Firm profile Established in 1897, Nelson Mullins has more than 950 attorneys and government relations professionals with offices in 17 states and Washington, DC. For more information on the firm, go to www.nelsonmullins.com.
Baylor University; Boston College; Boston University; Cardozo; Charleston School of Law;, , Emory University; FAMU Law; Florida State, Fordham; Georgia State; Howard University; School; NC Central University; The Ohio State; Southern Methodist University; Suffolk; University of Baltimore; University of California Irvine; University of Colorado Boulder; University of Denver; University of Florida; University of Georgia; University of Kentucky; University of Maryland; University of Miami; University of Mississippi; University of North Carolina; University of South Carolina; University of Southern California; University of Tennessee; University of Virginia; UCLA; Vanderbilt University; Wake Forest University; West Virginia University.
Summer associate profile:
Job description: The firm’s summer program is designed to give summer associates a comprehensive view of the firm’s practice while giving the firm an opportunity to evaluate the skills of the summer associates. In evaluating applicants, consideration is given to undergraduate and law school academic performance, extracurricular activities and leadership skills, as well as other experiences and accomplishments.
Qualifications: In evaluating applicants, consideration is given to undergraduate and law school academic performance, extracurricular activities and leadership skills, as well as other experiences and accomplishments.
Summer program components: For associates who join us post-law school graduation, our associate development process includes bringing new associates onto established practice teams, a formal mentor program pairing new associates with experienced attorneys, and robust programming developed by our Associates Committee designed to advance professional development of associates across the firm. Associates receive training on business, marketing, and a range of substantive issues, and work side-by-side with experienced colleagues.
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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
District of Columbia
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy Litigation (Band 2)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
Florida: North & Central
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Mainly Regulatory (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Immigration (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 5)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Litigation: Medical Malpractice Defense (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 3)
- Government Relations: State & Local (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts: The Elite (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Automobile (Band 1)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Transportation: Road (Automotive) (Band 2)
- Product Liability & Toxic Torts (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)