Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP - The Inside View

There's a tight-knit community at this pro bono-loving Boston firm.

PEOPLE knowing your name, your story, and whether you're well.” That was how one junior summed up the culture of this Massachusetts firm. Another added: “It's large enough so there's lots of stuff going on, but also small enough that you recognize the same people day in day out.” But, most of all, our interviewees valued Nutter's balance of lawyering and personality. “I would say it's a professional, fun, and lively place,” one junior reflected, “full of people who consider themselves to be humans first and great lawyers second.

“Professional, fun, and lively.”

Someone who everyone can certainly recognize as a great lawyer is Louis Brandeis, who co-founded this firm in 1879 and worked here till his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1916. As you may know, Brandeis was known as 'the people's attorney' and helped kick-start the nationwide tradition of lawyers undertaking pro bono work. Brandeis would be pleased the tradition continues at the firm he started, and juniors still have an awareness of their wider responsibility to society. “Boston is developing very rapidly with all kinds of luxurious apartments going up,” one junior observed, “but there isn't a parallel development of low-income areas, so they're getting squeezed out.”

The overwhelming majority of attorneys' time is still spent on billable work for both business and private clients. The firm is top-ranked by Chambers USA in Massachusetts for banking & finance, and also receives nods for litigation, real estate, environment and labor & employment. Nutter's also ranked by Chambers High Net Worth for its private wealth work in the Bay State.

Pro Bono

Given the firm's pro bono legacy it seems fitting to start with this area: associates can count an unlimited number of pro bono hours toward their billing target, “which really speaks to how much we value the whole process” and “actively encourages everyone to engage.” The options are varied and “anything you're interested in can be brought to the table.” Juniors might find themselves chairing sessions at an appeals clinic, working on guardianship cases, or providing advice to medical partnerships.

“It seems like everyone's working on housing-related issues.”

Attorneys are also responding to the pressing needs of their city. The number of homeless in Massachusetts increased 17% in 2018 to 20,068, and one associate observed: “Here in Boston, it seems like everyone's working on housing-related issues.” There's pro bono work for corporate-minded folk too. “The firm's asked us directly to find out what sort of matters we could do,” an interviewee informed us. “We're trying to figure out what the need is in Boston with nonprofits and startups based here.” There are commendations for those who have committed to the cause. “We're recognized at an annual lunch,” a junior reported. “They highlight people who take pro bono seriously with awards for big meaningful projects.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 4,354
  • Average per attorney: 31

The Work

In the classes of 2016 and 2017 taken together five juniors were based in litigation; two in private client; and two in corporate. Juniors told us they “send workload reports every two weeks to department managers with red, yellow, or green markers to indicate availability.” One interviewee informed us: “Work is delegated organically, but during slammed and busy seasons, practice leaders will step in and make sure there's an even distribution.”

“I wanted to work... with small teams on matters connecting to the region I'm in.”

The litigation practice has “informal subgroups” which cover things like trade secrets, IP, antitrust, data security, and liability. The experience lived up to expectations, according to this source: “I wanted to work somewhere where I could mirror partners on cases, and work with small teams on matters connecting to the region I'm in. Nutter checks all those boxes.” Many clients are Massachusetts natives, but the department also serves businesses from out of state and even some international corporations. For example, we heard that in 2018 attorneys advised banks with European clients on the European Union's new data protection regulations. Juniors are the “fact gurus on most of the cases,” doing “the heavy lifting on the research.” One interviewee reported: “Because everyone's in the dark, my role helps translate these documents from legalese to English.” Another source had been “involved in drafting mediation memos, been in on every client call, led client calls, and asked fact-based questions to assess claims. I love making sense of cases and putting together memos and other pieces of writing that'll be inserted into the case.”

Litigation clients: Fidelity Bank and Tuft Health Plan. Advised one of the parties in a property dispute over a multimillion-dollar waterfront development on Cape Cod.

Corporate associates tackle “anything from $100 million M&A deals to financings,” as well as private equity work and banking. Juniors take on “sort of whatever you're comfortable with,” though continuous improvement is required, and “by the time you're a third-year you're expected to run smaller deals on your own, handling all the ancillaries, disclosure schedules, and drafting the M&A agreement.” One source told us of their involvement on an “M&A deal with a company doing a ton of government consultation work with the armed forces.” The team also does work that comes in via the private client group – “we get work from them doing things like forming LLCs to manage estates.”

Corporate clients: Northeast Retirement Services, Lallemand, and McCarthy Capital. Advised the Worcester-based Commerce Bank & Trust Company on its $209 million acquisition by Boston bank holding company Berkshire Hills Bancorp.

The private client department was formerly called 'trusts and estates,' and it does work in four broad areas: estate planning; estate administration (“after death”); trusts administration (“after trusts are funded”); and financing. “Estate planning involves meeting families, couples or individuals to talk about how to structure a plan for what they need,” a junior told us. “That may be complicated because there's a business owner with interests in lots of different corporations or they want to benefit a charity.” The work is sometimes literally a matter of life and death and long-term relationships with clients tend to develop. “It's never just one interaction and you're done – it's very much a lifelong process,” an interviewee said. “Grandpa and grandma may have looped in their children, who looped in their children, and so on. I started off doing one piece of drafting for a family and that snowballed into something I work on every day.”

Career Development 

Nutter doesn't make many partners each year, but then it doesn't hire many summers either. “They only hire folks who think they could become partner one day,” one source said, “but there's not necessarily clarity about what it means to be a partner here.” Another said that “aspects of becoming a partner are quite opaque.”

“Partners give one-hour lessons every week to teach us the nuts and bolts.”

The good news is that we heard “revamped and reestablished” associate feedback is now in place providing the building blocks for incremental development. A “robust weekly training program” received praise for its formative nature. “Partners give one-hour lessons every week to teach us the nuts and bolts of fact discovery, civil procedure, government investigations, and more.” There's a formal mentoring program – “which is great” – but one associate said the core of good learning and progression “is being able to poke your head into someone's office, ask questions, and find out what to do.”

Hours & Compensation

Associate felt the annual billing target of 1,800 hours was very achievable. And at Nutter both early birds and midnight owls can find their suited rhythm. “I've always been an early person,” one interviewee shared. “Usually I'm in before 8am and stay until 6pm. But it's not frowned upon to come in at 9am. There are stretches when I stay until 7:30pm, which I'd consider a late night.” Another interviewee told us they usually work 9:30am to 7pm – “I’d come in earlier if slammed, and leave at around 9pm. And I have occasionally been here after midnight.”

We heard some small gripes about compensation. “The delayed announcement caused a bit of discontent,” remarked one associate, “but ultimately we got there in matching firms of equal size in the city.” Another went further: “While we're under-market for BigLaw compensation, our hours expectations make for a happy trade off.” In order to get a bonus, associates must bill 1,900 hours.


Our interviewees proudly declared that “people here know there's a life outside these four walls!” Interviewees used all kind of positive buzzwords about Nutter's culture (“collegial,” “friendly,” “great”), with one saying: “We're people with passions outside the law, which are then brought back to the law, ultimately making us betting lawyers.”

“The secretaries have lunch with the partners.”

In part juniors credited the firm's size for its positive culture: “It's the perfect-sized firm – you matter, you stand out, and you get to know people and build personal relationships. People know each other on an intimate level.” Another interviewee gave an example of this “inclusive flat culture,” telling us that “the secretaries have lunch with the partners.”

Diversity & Inclusion

Nutter has the unusual distinction both of having a female managing partner and that well more than half of associates are women. But representation of women and minorities in the higher ranks remains low. “There's not a lack of effort to recruit and retain,” an associate commented, “but there is a lack of diverse lawyers in the higher ranks. There just aren't that many black and brown faces, especially in the leadership.” One interviewee pointed to a generational shift occurring at the firm: “The partnership is less diverse, but that's changeable. Fixing the problem is talked about, and it looks like the younger classes reflect the diversity we'd like to attract.” Another source pointed out the need to take steps to improve inclusion too: “We've got lots of work to do and it's not just a recruiting concern. It's about making diverse candidates happy once they're here.”

Strategy & Future

Beyond (hopefully) improving diversity, what are we to expect from the folks at Nutter in the future? “The firm is trying to establish itself while Boston is growing,” said one source, suggesting that Nutter needs to retain enough lawyers with the right specialties to stay fighting fit. “The city's booming with developments and a great startup scene, so the firm is taking steps to leverage our skills in those areas.”

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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Corporate & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)