Are you mullin’ over the fact “the legal world can feel very pretentious?” Fear not, juniors say that ain’t the way at “entrepreneurial” Nelson Mullins.
The only way is up, goes the 80s hit single by one-hit wonder Yazz. Do the lawyers of Nelson Mullins hum it, we wonder, as they go about their business? They have reason to – as one junior put it, “we’re an entrepreneurial firm.” In seven years, the firm has more than doubled its revenue, and its headcount got a chunky boost in 2018 when it merged with Florida powerhouse Broad and Cassel, adding a suite of nine offices in the Sunshine State. The union brought the firm’s national spread to an impressive 25 offices, the majority of which are in the Southeast and across the Eastern Seaboard. A handful of junior associates can be found in most offices, with Atlanta and the Columbia HQ housing the most.
Perhaps this junior associate was just flattering us when they said “I wanted to work with Chambers-ranked lawyers.” They didn’t have to look far at Nelson Mullins, which has attorneys ranked across nine states (and DC) by Chambers USA. The firm picks up a lot of its rankings in Florida but earns its highest awards in South Carolina for banking & finance, corporate/M&A, litigation and healthcare. It’s also nationally ranked in product liability and transportation.
Associates join either litigation, corporate, IP or government relations, and are typically handed assignments directly from partners. “The partners I’ve worked with have been very thoughtful to make sure that I’m not overloaded,” a Charlotte associate praised. Others thought a “more centralized” system would help “for managing workload.” In all practices “the work isn’t just office-based,” so a team leader can distribute work to an associate in any of the firm's locations.
Unsurprisingly, M&A forms a large part of the corporate practice. This group is “exposed to tons of industries,” ranging from pharmaceuticals and financial services to aviation and automotive companies. Despite their junior status, some first-years started off on sizable deals “which were mostly tech-related, like working with software companies." Deals are typically midmarket, “ranging from $20 million to $500 million.” Irrespective of the deal size, associates are responsible for drafting ancillary documents and managing closing checklists. That said, their roles can vary depending whether they’re on the buy or sell side. “I have more control of the process if we’re on the buy side,” one explained, “so I’m responsible for tracking the status of documents and I check in more often with the client and the other side.” Even though the firm doesn’t have international offices, that doesn’t mean the work is all strictly domestic. For example, “lots of the partners have international clients who relocate their HQ to the US, so we usually negotiate tax incentives for bringing jobs into the country.” SEC filings and corporate governance crop up too, “which involves everything that managing a company entails, like preparing materials for shareholder meetings and managing reports.” During the pandemic, associates pushed out client alerts about state and local regulations, like the effect of stay-at-home orders on clients’ business operations in multiple locations.
Corporate clients: Pandora Jewelry, Alarm.com, GastroCare, Avenger Flight Group. Represented United Community Bank in its $180 million acquisition of Three Shores Bancorporation.
“One day I could be defending a securities firm and the next I’m handling a foreclosure.”
The litigation folks were also busy with pandemic-related matters in the form of employment cases for example. The wider group handles cases concerning product liability, consumer protection, commercial law, government relations, and labor and employment. There’s also securities litigation, class actions and appellate work to be found here. “Every day is different,” associates praised, with one elaborating that “one day I could be defending a securities firm and the next I’m handling a foreclosure.” Sources pointed out “the firm is great at landing big clients then dispersing their work among various groups, so I feel like I’m part of a larger puzzle.” As one example, the firm’s education subgroup (part of the government relations department) works with colleges. “Those clients have various needs like expanding their campus,” insiders explained, “which the construction team is ready to help with.” One junior described dealing with construction contract disputes: “They’re typically pretty large and time-consuming cases, so there’s plenty of multiparty discovery which I draft and sometimes respond to.” On any given matter, associates usually draft briefs, prepare depositions, and handle the legal research. A first-year shared that “in some cases with larger trial teams, my role may be more limited. However, in other cases, I’ve worked on an initial draft for briefs.” Although client contact is pretty rare for juniors, associates believed court attendance would kick in around the second-year mark. The good news is “people trust associates and they always want to hear your opinion.”
Litigation clients: General Electric, pharmaceutical company Bayer, architecture firm McMillan Pazdan Smith LLC.Defended pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline against allegations in nearly 230 personal injury and class action cases concerning its production of the drug Zantac.
Each newbie is assigned a partner mentor when they arrive at the firm. Usually it’s someone they work closely with. “My entire mentoring totem pole is on my team,” one said, while another enthused: “I’ve built a level of trust with my mentor, so I can talk to him about anything, even like, ‘Oh, this partner is in a bad mood.’” During remote working, “mine checked in with me to make sure I was eating and sleeping!” More formally, some suggested they’d benefit from “more structured associate development programs,” especially in their first year. Associates can attend bi-weekly CLEs “that are either litigation or corporate-focussed.”
“Legit opportunities to bring in business.”
There are also “legit opportunities to bring in business.” Indeed, even juniors get something called ‘origination credit’ for bringing clients into the firm, as well as ‘proliferation credit’ if they bring in work from an existing client into a new practice area. “All the credit goes in your corner for bonuses and future partnership promotions.”Long-term career prospects was one reason why our interviewees were drawn to the firm. “During my interview,” one recalled, “one of the partners made it clear they would mentor me and gave me a rundown of what my career would look like.”
Hours & Compensation
- Billable hours: 1,900 target
In addition to the billing target, attorneys have to meet a ‘collections goal’ to get a bonus. Basically, “the firm tells us how much money we’re expected to bring through the door each year.” The associate committee reviews productivity and performance for each associate individually, and submits a recommendation to the executive committee regarding the bonus. Associates thought the system “fosters a business mindset to encourage us to find clients that are willing to pay higher rates while we’re in the infancy of our careers.” But there were some grumbles: “My billing rates are lower because of the types of clients I work for, which means I have to work more hours to reach my goal than people with, say, venture capital clients.” Our survey showed associates put in an average of just under 50 hours in the previous week.
Astute readers will have clocked that the salary at Nelson Mullins is below the Milbank scale, but associates we spoke to felt they were paid appropriately for the markets they were in (with some dissenters in Boston who said they’d be happier with a pay bump).
“The firm lets juniors drive the boat with pro bono so we have full autonomy with clients,” associates beamed. “Our managing partner, Jim Lehman, is very invested in pro bono so it’s definitely encouraged.” Associates areexpected to do about 20 hours a year;as an incentive, they get 90% of a collections credit for every hour of pro bono. Associates described helping small business navigate COVID-19. During the election, some attorneys worked with a voter protection hotline: “We’d field calls from people across the US with issues like intimidation at their voting place.” In Charleston, Nelson Mullins was one of the firms that helped set up the Charleston Housing Court Pilot Project “to try and reduce eviction rates” in the city. The firm trains attorneys “to represent tenants in eviction cases,” one explained. “Once you’ve done the training you can (virtually) go to court.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 48,162
- Average per attorney: 46
Strategy & Future
Over the last year the firm has added brand new cyber and fintech practices largely formed of laterals. “We’re always looking to broaden our services and that’ll continue this year,” says managing partner Jim Lehman. But more fundamental to the firm’s overall strategy, he continues, is its team-based model: “There’s a book written by General Stanley McChrystal called Teams on Teams, and that’s the model we aspire to. Every person here is part of a smaller team within their practice group, like a family unit, which helps people keep connected with each other and the firm. It also enables teams to be more nimble and focused, so we don’t have to micro-manage.”
“Big-name folks here reach out to me and ask what I think about a piece of work.”
“Stereotypically Southern” is how several interviewees described the firm – even those not based in the South! How so? “It’s not overly formal, nor is it elitist,” one felt. One associate in a smaller office reflected that “maybe it’s because we have a phenomenal office managing partner, but I have no hesitation in talking to partners about anything from legal work to political discussions.” Those in bigger offices were equally pleased that “big-name folks here reach out to me and ask what I think about a piece of work.” Anything else? “There’s a sense that everyone should feel at home, so we have dress-down dress code – though obviously we have some fancy dressers.” Of course – every office needs a fashionista.
Associates put all of this down to the fact that leadership is based in South Carolina, “rather than big cities.” Others highlighted that even though the firm’s grown petty quickly in the past few years, “our culture has stayed the same.” Associates pointed to the fact that “people understand you have more going on in your life than work, like family commitments. All the partners I work with have kids.” Summing it up, one said: “From my experience, the legal world can feel very pretentious, but it’s not like that here. Everyone is the type of person you want to grab a beer with.”
Of course, getting drinks with colleagues hasn’t been the theme of recent times. Navigating the challenges posed by COVID-19 can only be complicated by having so many offices in different states, but juniors said “there was lots of open communication about protocol” at Nelson Mullins, “like which offices were open or closed.” Associates in some teams were disgruntled to find that they were expected to continue working in the office, as this source shared: “The rest of the office is empty, it’s only my team that’s in!” Overall though, they felt “the firm’s done a good job of balancing the stressors that came with the pandemic with a sense of community.” In one example, “we’ve had weekly, informal happy hours over Zoom to keep everyone connected.” These sessions have taken place both firmwide and in smaller groups.
Diversity & Inclusion
The firm also has a wellness committee “which is geared toward talking about mental health with all attorneys. We’ve got a great focus on being open-minded about mental health problems.” There’s also a wider diverse attorney group, LGBTQ+ group, and a women’s group that hosts lunches and networking events where “associates are paired up with a partner who talks about how they got to that position.” One junior commented that “at big law firms, D&I programs and discussions aren’t always pushed down to individual offices, but, my gosh, they surely are here!” For example, in response to the BLM movement, the firm’s been rolling out inclusivity training at which “attorneys gave examples of how they’ve been discriminated against in their lives outside the firm.” This year the firm also runs a diversity scholarship program offering 2L students a summer associate position at one of its 25 offices.
OCI applicants interviewed: 551
Interviewees outside OCI: 29
Nelson Mullins recruit at more than 30 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: 104
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
Interview with managing partner Jim Lehman
Chambers Associate: What has the firm done to mitigate any disruption to the firm’s operation during the pandemic?
Jim Lehman: We were able to set up remote working very quickly and the transition was much smoother than anticipated by virtue of our strong IT group. We have a system where everyone is a part of a team, so they can stay connected to the firm better. There’s a book written by General Stanley McChrystal called Teams on Teams, and that’s the model we aspire to. Every person here is part of a smaller team within their practice group, like a family unit, which helps people keep connected with each other and the firm. It also enables teams to be more nimble and focused, so we don’t have to micro-manage. Our system enables partners and the rest of the team to figure out what they think is best to serve clients and grow the practice, rather than having someone who isn’t familiar with the practice tell them what to do. It also helps associates’ development because they get the opportunity to chart their own course and be part of a ‘small firm’ under the larger firm umbrella. That model really helped us navigate the pandemic. We were also fortunate because we still had a lot of work: it’s easier to navigate difficult times when you’re busy.
CA: What opportunities has the pandemic provided?
JL: We have a number of clients who were unsure how to do business during the pandemic. For example, we represent a lot of companies in the auto industry who had questions about how to sell cars at dealerships during the restrictions.
The litigation practice continued to be strong because even though there weren’t court hearings, there was still a lot of other work to be done. Courts did open up virtually, but cases weren’t heard at the same rate as before, but we have done lot of remote depositions.
CA: What is the firm’s model for training associates and how has remote working affected it?
JL: We have formal and informal systems. I believe our team model was essential for informal mentorship during the pandemic: when you work with the same group of lawyers you get a lot more coaching than you would if you were passed from one partner to another, because the people you work with regularly are better at noticing areas that need improving. I believe the most important training is to learn on the job, but we have Nelson Mullins University to ensure all training across the firm is unform and everyone has the same opportunities, even though they’re not necessarily working on the same cases.
CA: Tell us about the firm’s D&I initiatives.
JL: We’ve had an active Diversity Equity and Inclusion program for over a decade and it’s continuing to grow. We’ve also hired a full time director of diversity and a member of our executive committee is also our Chief Diversity Officer. Each practice group has a diversity partner, who works with the diversity group to make sure we’re maintaining and developing diverse practice groups.
CA: Does the firm plan to grow any practice areas?
JL: We’re always looking to broaden our services, and that will continue this year. We added new cyber and FinTech practices in the past 12 months
CA: What challenges are facing those who will become first year associates in the next couple of years?
JL: The US legal market is changing rapidly. Lots of the alternative legal service providers are continuing their consolidation effort, so we’re working hard to adjust and make sure we’re focused on the changes that are coming. Those changes don’t necessarily affect entry-level associates. Our goal with new associates is to help them become the best lawyers they can be, so we work very hard to insulate them from broader industry changes so they can start establishing their practices. We’re a little unusual in that we encourage associates to do business development rather than waiting until they’re more senior so they can serve clients and look for opportunities in the market: it’s very difficult to become something if you haven’t already started working on it, so entrepreneurship is in our DNA.
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Meridian, 17th Floor,
1320 Main Street,
- Head office: Columbia, SC
- Number of domestic offices: 25
- Number of international offices: 0
- Worldwide revenue: $ 577,075,000
- Partners (US): 482
- Associates (US): 241
- Main recruitment contact: Emily Martin (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Brandee J. Kowalzyk
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 31
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls – 24; 2Ls – 46
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Atlanta: 15, Baltimore: 2, Boca Raton: 2, Boston: 2, Charleston: 2, Charlotte: 5, Columbia: 14, Denver: 1, Fort Lauderdale: 1, Greenville: 6, Huntington: 3, Jacksonville: 1, Los Angeles: 2, Miami: 3, Myrtle Beach: 1, Nashville: 1, Orlando: 2, Raleigh: 3, Tallahassee: 1, DC: 2, WS: 1.
- Summer salary 2021: California: 1LS $3,000/2L $3,000 Colorado: 1LS $2,600/2L $2,600 Georgia: 1L $2,600/2L $2,600 Florida: 1L $1,500/2L $1,800 Massachusetts: 1L $2,600/2L $2,600 Maryland: 1LS $2,600/2L $2,600 Miami: 1LS $2,600/2L $2,600 New York: 1LS $2,600/2L $2,600 North Carolina: 1L $1,800/2L $2,000 South Carolina: 1L $1,400/2L $1,500 Tennessee: 1L $1,500/2L $1,800 Washington, DC: 1L $2,600/2L $2,600 West Virginia: 1L $1,400/2L $1,500
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Firm profile Established in 1897, Nelson Mullins has more than 800 attorneys and government relations professionals with offices in 11 states and Washington, DC.
For more information on the firm, go to www.nelsonmullins.com.
Boston College; Boston University; Campbell University; Charleston School of Law; Columbia, Duke, Emory University; Florida International University; Florida State, Fordham; George Mason; George Washington; Georgia State; Harvard; Howard University; Loyola Law School; Mercer University; NC Central University; New York University; NOVA Southeastern University; Northeastern University; Notre Dame Law School; The Ohio State; Suffolk; University of Alabama; 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 Pennsylvania; University of South Carolina; University of Southern California; University of Tennessee; University of Virginia; UCLA; Vanderbilt University; Villanova; Wake Forest University; Washington & Lee; West Virginia University; William & Mary.
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.
Facebook: Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Linkedin: Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
District of Columbia
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
Florida: North & Central
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Mainly Regulatory (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- 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)
- Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts: The Elite (Band 3)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Transportation: Road (Automotive) (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
Hear from attorneys across the Nelson Mullins network:
Ashia Crooms, associate in Charlotte:
Marc Williams, managing partner of the Huntingdon office:
Ashley Barebo, associate in Huntingdon:
Tim Hodge, managing partner of the Baltimore office:
Colleen Pleasant Kline, partner in Baltimore:
Deborah St. Lawrence Thompson, partner in Baltimore:
David Wilkins, partner in Greenville:
Mark Raymond, managing partner of the Miami office:
Rich Otera, partner in LA:
Doug Starcher, managing partner of the Orlando office:
Shaniqua Singleton, associate in Atlanta:
Matt Bogan, partner in Columbia:
John McElwaine, managing partner of the Charleston office:
Randy Saunders, pro bono committee chair and partner in Huntingdon:
Tips for women litigators from Nekia Hackworth Jones, partner in Atlanta:
More from Nelson Mullins: