Global megafirm NRF has a Stateside stronghold in Texas and a superb reputation in projects, energy, and litigious work especially.
A lot of firms pitch themselves as global these days, but few can point to a lineage that contains a merged combo of mega UK, US, Canadian, South African and Australian firms – but NRF can. The US side of the equation came in the form of Texas-founded outfit Fulbright & Jaworski, and those Lone Star State roots remain a big draw for associates: “I wanted to go to a large law firm with lots of resources and training opportunities, but I also wanted to stay in the Texas market and join a firm with history here.”
“...an overwhelming number of top-tier litigators.”
With 12 domestic offices across the US, NRF’s reputation extends beyond its Southern origins, with a source in New York explaining that the firm’s interviewing style clenched the deal: “I went to an event in New York with lots of firms that seemed similar, but the people at NRF stood out with their ‘Hey, how are you?’ approach. They wanted to get to know me and there was a feeling of ease during the conversation.” Of course, the work is just as important, and many of our sources highlighted that NRF “puts an emphasis on litigation and trial practice that is quite rare in BigLaw.” This interviewee added that NRF has “an overwhelming number of top-tier litigators,” but there’s still plenty on offer for the more transactionally minded: “In corporate they brought us in as generalists and let us run free for a bit! Crossing over is common and I’ve been able to do a mix of M&A and finance work.” The firm has changed its approach for the upcoming class: associates will now be placed in a specific practice group, like M&A or finance.
Half of the associates on our list were spread across NRF’s Texas offices in Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. However, the New York base held the highest concentration of juniors in a single office, while a few associates were working out of the firm’s DC, LA and Minneapolis strongholds. An examination of the firm’s Chambers USA accolades reveals nationwide strengths in areas like projects, bankruptcy and restructuring, transportation, and oil and gas litigation. The firm’s strongest collection of Chambers USA rankings can still be found for its work in Texas, where practices like commercial litigation, corporate/M&A, healthcare, IP, labor and employment, and antitrust stand out.
Strategy & Future
“We have a counter-cyclical balance in our practices – that's how the firm is built,” says US managing partner Jeff Cody. “When we see a recession around the corner, our litigators will start to get busier, while there may be a slow down for our deal lawyers. However, we do well whether the economy is going gangbusters or slowing down.” On a broad level, “our project finance and renewables practices stand out in the US, but overall, the markets decide where we focus. When we go to market, we do so on a sector basis. At the moment, we have lawyers focusing on sectors like energy and transportation, as well as the consumer markets in a cross-disciplinary way – our clients expect us to know their industries.”
The US arm of NRF implemented a five-year plan back in 2021. “It formed a measured, sustainable growth strategy,” says Cody, “that is focused on development in areas such as project finance, private equity, M&A, patent prosecution, brands and disputes work.” When it comes to geographic presence, Cody tells us that NRF “already has a really good footprint, but we want to continue growing – we recently opened an office in Chicago with 20 lawyers to start with, who were a mix of project finance attorneys and litigators.”
Practice groups with many associates included commercial litigation; corporate, M&A and securities; projects; and regulations, investigations, securities and compliance. NRF has a predominantly free-market approach to work assignment, which was a selling point for interviewees: “I like that I can choose my own adventure and reach out to specific people I want to work for.” Another source highlighted how “they do encourage us to build our own relationships,” which was deemed a pro because “I’m now working with people who I have determined connections with.” However, there is a safety net in place that is especially helpful for newbies who are just starting to find their assignments: NRF has a legal talent management structure containing personnel who “monitor first-year lawyers and can give them sufficient work projects on a national level if needed.” This source explained that “it's like the training wheels on your bike when you were a kid – it’s there until you can do it yourself!”
“If you do good work, they’ll give you more work.”
We’ve already highlighted NRF’s prowess in energy disputes, but Chambers USA also flags the firm’s strength in areas such securities, product liability, and general commercial cases. Alongside energy, the litigation department attracts many clients from sectors like finance and healthcare. The setup for associates is clear: “If you do good work, they’ll give you more work.” Our sources spoke of researching and writing motions on “huge cases with several partners,” as well as handling the responses to subpoenas and managing the discovery process. Some were very pleased to note their involvement in trials: “I attended a high-profile trial for weeks, which was incredible and put me on other people’s radars for additional work. It was a turning point!” The bonus here for interviewees was that “you’re not limited by the subdivision you’re in – you can get other types of work, whether that’s breach of contract matters, cyber security cases or internal investigations.” This junior enthused: "When I tell other lawyers about the amount of access I get to the courtroom, depositions, brief writing, and clients, they're shocked!"
Commercial litigation clients: Arbor Pharmaceuticals, Bank of Montreal and Huntington Bank, Qualcomm Incorporated. Represented the Office of the Attorney General of Texas in a matter against Google involving the tech company’s alleged violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
“I like to draft anything that throws me into the fire – I’m a businessperson!”
In corporate, M&A and securities, there’s “a flatter structure compared to other firms – on some of the matters you’re given a lot of autonomy and the partners will ask you to go ahead and do the first draft of a document. I like to draft anything that throws me into the fire – I’m a businessperson!” In Texas, NRF is ranked in the ‘elite’ category by Chambers USA and is praised for its work in areas like M&A, regulatory compliance and corporate governance. The department’s client base includes big names from the energy and manufacturing industries, as well as family-owned businesses. Sources also noted that they’d done work with well-known banks and commented on “the cross-office scope of the work, both on a national and an international basis – I might be working on a matter where the primary partner is in London, for example.”
Corporate clients: BP, Shell Enterprises, AmeriQual Group. Advised Shell Enterprises on an agreement to sell part of its business to ConocoPhillips for $9.5 billion.
“All of my friends are really sad at their BigLaw firms, but I’m really happy and feel like I’ve landed on my feet here!” exclaimed a junior. What contributed to associates’ feelings of content at NRF? “One common thread in the culture is that the partners are willing to take their time with teaching and investing in you. I’ve done doc reviews for partners where they’ve given me a solid hour of detailed feedback and scheduled in follow-up conversations.” For another interviewee, it was the level of transparency at the firm and the “leadership qualities that the senior people exhibit in terms of how they communicate with us: our US managing partner does a monthly call with us, and the partners and practice group coordinators will share information about strategy and financials. That level of open communication takes a lot of stress out of the job and I admire it.”
“...we’re all professionals and can be trusted to do our own thing.”
Another plus point for NRF was the reported balance between the work-related social life and personal time away from the firm. “We have a happy hour every Wednesday across the street,” said one Dallas resident. “The social stuff doesn’t really have to take up your free time and I think it’s considerate of people who may just want to drop in but then go and have dinner with their kids.” This source felt that “people will show up and make the effort at work, but they’re respectful of one another’s lives outside of the office – although I’m still friends with a lot of my co-workers and we go to concerts and dinners together.” On the whole, there’s a “relaxed corporate culture – no one is breathing down your neck, because we’re all professionals and can be trusted to do our own thing.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 target
Bonuses kick in at 1,900 hours, and are mostly lockstep. Associates can receive discretionary amounts on top if they impress in areas such as matter origination and client billables. Up to 50 hours of ‘firm investment’ work can count toward the targets, with pro bono, DE&I, training, recruiting, shadowing, and business development tasks all falling within that category. “They do keep a small eye on your hours,” a source noted, “and when I was low they reached out and gave me work – but now I’m well over the bonus target!”
“...they prioritize you taking your vacation time.”
A source noted that their realistic goal was to bill 160 hours a month, but some fly past that on occasion: “I’ve had months where it’s been close to 300 and others where I’ve billed significantly less than that!” Another interviewee indicated that working 42 hours a week was typical, while this junior was glad to tell us that “my bad days hours-wise are not as bad as my friends’ at other firms! During periods of trial prep, you can be working for 16 hours a day, but it’s mostly around nine hours.” When associates had been billing at the higher end consistently, “they prioritize you taking your vacation time – a colleague of mine was supported to have two weeks away.”
“I didn’t expect in the first few years that I would be leading teams of more junior associates on my own pro bono matters,” one associate was quick to tell us. Many of the matters we heard about were related to asylum and immigration work, including cases for Afghan families and children with special juvenile status. “I have partnered up with another associate and we have totally led those cases with some oversight from the head of pro bono – we've drafted all the necessary ancillaries and materials needed,” a junior commented. Another told us that they were “proud to be working on matters in the immigration field – I'm so happy to be doing them!” Ultimately, “we are definitely supported to take on pro bono: we get emails with opportunities circulated and can reach out to the pro bono coordinator whenever we want to.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 19,805
- Average per (US) attorney: 27
Litigators were especially happy with the formal training they’d received: “We have sessions once a week and they’re mandatory for the first year. They’ll get us doing practical things like mock depositions and summaries, which shows that they care. They want to make sure we’re getting experience and we have a partner evaluating us every step of the way.” We also heard about a national training program for first-year litigators, which brings everyone together in Houston “for an intensive trial program, where we learn skills related to things like cross-examining. It’s a great way to meet associates across the country.”
“...it’s great to check these items off the list to make sure I don’t pigeonhole myself.”
In addition, partners “give us really useful feedback,” a source commented. “I have a nine-page document that details the experience associates at each level should be getting, so it’s great to check these items off the list to make sure I don’t pigeonhole myself.” This junior explained that they “touch base at least once a month with a partner to talk about where I’m at, where I want to be, and where the gaps between those two are. As a junior, I wouldn’t be able to identify these things without that feedback.” Partnership can seem like a long way off for a junior, “so they tell us to focus on our work for now and we’ll talk about it later. They tend to have more detailed conversations with you about it as a second or third-year associate. I personally would be happy to stay at NRF for the rest of my career!”
“Partners and seniors see diversity as a priority.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Associates appreciated that “partners and seniors see diversity as a priority” and were quick to mention the firm’s Racial Equity Council, which was instated after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. “The council focuses on the strategy to ensure Black lawyers succeed. Through our sponsorship program with our partners and Black associates, we’re tailoring our support to help individuals achieve what success looks like for them. We are seeing impactful progress,” Cody shares with us. A junior added that “the council has done a lot of really important work in the communities where we have offices.”
Beyond this, “we have a ton of affinity groups that meet up,” a source enthused, while another commented on the extent of LGBTQ+ inclusion at the firm: “That was one of my priorities when choosing a firm, and I found an active community of LGBTQ+ associates and partners here.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1268
Number of interviews outside OCI and callbacks: undisclosed
Norton Rose Fulbright conducts OCIs and attends job fairs at over 40 law schools, and takes part in around 15 résumé collection programs. Its recruitment efforts encompass national and regional law schools, but the firm often focuses on schools which it’s had success with. “We also actively recruit judicial clerks, both those who have worked with us during the summer and former clerks looking to enter or return to private practice,” explains US hiring partner, Judi Archer.
Throughout the year, Norton Rose Fulbright sponsors and participates in over 100 events with law schools and affinity groups to maintain ties with students throughout the 1L year and beyond: “We place a high value on building meaningful relationships with the students.”
When it comes to OCIs, “We carefully select our campus interviewers to reflect the diversity across our offices, practice teams, lawyers and experience levels,” says Archer. “In many instances, we have law school alumni interviewing on campus. Students can expect to interface with representatives from our firm ranging from first-year lawyers to members of our management committee.”
Interviewers are likely to keep the conversation fairly ‘organic,’ but candidates can expect to be asked questions that will give the firm an understanding of their interest in Norton Rose Fulbright specifically, and of which practice areas the candidate has in mind. “The practice of law is challenging and exciting, but it is also hard work!” says Archer. “We seek candidates who demonstrate a commitment to excel, achieve success throughout their academic careers, exhibit entrepreneurial traits and demonstrate leadership abilities.”
Top tips for this stage:
“While academic excellence – such as grades and class ranking – is one factor for getting hired, it is not the only one. Candidates should be able to articulate their experience, including how it ties into the practice of law and the development of business, show that they’ve done their research on the firm and understand our practices and the legal industry. In addition, we are interested in hearing about candidates’ different life experiences and their path to the practice of law. We are not a one-size-fits-all firm.” – Judi Archer, US hiring partner
Number of applicants invited to callbacks: undisclosed
Typically, the firm hosts Callback Days in some of its offices (during the pandemic, this process was conducted remotely). Groups of candidates will be given a presentation about the firm before going on to do one-to-one interviews with a panel of five lawyers. The questions are focused on eliciting responses which help the interviewers decide if a candidate aligns with the core competencies of associates at the firm. Norton Rose Fulbright also looks to learn more about the individual candidate and their passions outside law. Well-rounded students are the winners here.
Some offices host post-interview dinners with junior associates: “We encourage candidates to let us know if they have questions that might be best addressed by particular lawyers that may share their experiences, such as parents, women, lawyers of color, LGBTQIA+ lawyers, new lawyers, etc.,” says Archer.
Top tips for this stage: “Candidates should have a general idea of what type of law the interviewer practices and do some research about the firm. Law firms do not expect their candidates to possess encyclopaedic knowledge about the firm to demonstrate an interest. Candidates should take notes during OCI/job fair of what interests them about the firm during the initial meeting and reference those points during the callback interview. We are eager to hear how from students about their experiences and how they have shaped their development and will make them an important addition to our firm, as well as how their inclusion in the firm will benefit us and our clients.” - Judi Archer, US hiring partner
Archer tells us: “Our goal is to quickly integrate our summer associates into the firm by pairing them with mentors, offering training opportunities and giving them substantive work,” alongside introducing them to the social aspects of firm life throughout the program.
Norton Rose Fulbright makes an effort to interview summers about the type of law they’re interested in so they can gain experience in those areas. Designated coordinators are on hand to make sure summers get out of the office at least once a week to attend client meetings, depositions, trials and hearings.
The 2021 program was virtual. The 65 summers were involved in an array of firm-education activities, like local and nationwide D&I initiatives, legal skills seminars, professional development training and socials: “We hosted virtual firm alumni client panels throughout the summer, which not only provided valuable insight into the industries and companies we represent and support but also highlighted the strength of the firm’s alumni network,” says Archer. A high percentage of summers return to the firm as first-year associates.
Top tips for this stage: “The summer associate program is a lengthy job interview which starts before candidates participate in OCI. Candidates are deciding if our firm is the best fit for them while, at the same time, we are evaluating summer associates to determine if they will fit and succeed at the firm: we expect our summer associates to produce exceptional work, demonstrate a can-do attitude and work ethic, show a true desire to practice law and succeed in doing so. And they need to get to know us. We do not expect our summer associates to show up with substantive knowledge of how to practice law. We show summer associates what it is truly like to be a lawyer at our firm so they can make a fully-informed decision about their future.” - Judi Archer, US hiring partner
Final words of wisdom from Judi Archer: “Help us to see your talent, enthusiasm and dedication to the practice of law, our clients and our firm. We want bright and engaging candidates who are academically successful with a strong work ethic who will be good contributors and team players.”
A note on lateral hiring at Norton RoseFulbright: “We expect to continue to hire in areas where we see potential areas of growth. We expect to continue growing our disputes, business and intellectual property practices as our client needs expand,” explains Archer. The firm’s lateral hiring needs are driven by client demands and business need: in 2021, 34 attorneys joined the firm as lateral associates.
Norton Rose Fulbright
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Environment (Band 5)
District of Columbia
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- Public Finance (Band 1)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
Texas: Houston & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
Texas: San Antonio & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 2)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
- Healthcare: The Elite (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 4)
- Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Projects: LNG (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
- Public Finance (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 2)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 2)
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