Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP - The Inside View

Patterson is a New York litigation powerhouse with a lot of time for judicial clerks and even more for pro bono.

THAT old cliché that 'this firm punches above its weight' is somewhat overused in legal marketing, and should be reserved for exceptional occasions:a Patterson review is one of them. Although no punching goes on here; this is “a humane place to practice law,” noted associates, contrasting the firm's inner culture with its  formidable courtroom persona. This 200-strong firm makes a worthy opponent to any of the huge names in litigation, and in advertising litigation, Patterson is itself a huge name, winning a top-tier nationwide ranking in Chambers USA. The directory also bestows rankings on the firm's IP, securities litigation, media & entertainment, and real estate practices.

This New York firm is no herd-follower a mentality that begins at recruitment, with the firm's penchant for hiring from clerkship (although not exclusively). Our sources drew comparisons with the BigLaw stereotypes and insisted that this is “by no means a sweat shop.” With a clerkship behind them, juniors at Patterson are expected to be a little more independent. They found working in "smaller and leaner teams of two or three" beneficial to their development and told us partner interaction is a reality from day one.

The Work

While litigation takes the heavy load of the firm's shiny new recruits, Patterson sends a few into the noncontentious practices: corporate, tax, real estate, trusts and estates and employee benefits. “Our work often overlaps," explained one litigation attorney, "especially with tax-exempt organizations. I got to work on a big commercial case that Patterson has been advising on for the past 15 years, so there's plenty of interaction across the firm.”

“Everyone at the firm is encouraged to be a generalist”

Asked if they found the litigation focus at all limiting, our interviewees all chorused that the work was “really diverse, with varied cases and big-name clientsdropping names like Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson into the conversation. “Everyone at the firm is encouraged to be a generalist,” we learned. “I really didn't know the type of litigation I wanted to do, so the fact that you can try all the different areas Patterson offers was a huge advantage,” one third-year told us. "There are a few people who have advanced degrees in science who choose to do mostly patent work,” but those with less focus can get experience on  internal investigations, patent cases, cybersecurity, FCC matters, product liability and nonprofit work. The media, entertainment and false advertising practices offer associates some particularly toothsome work: some of the latest clients include Hershey's, L'Oréal, Time Warner and Standard & Poor's.

How do juniors know where to begin? "There's a formal structure in place – there are two assigning partners that all matters go through," which ensures that all attorneys are "well rounded and handling a good balance of cases." A source added: "The assigning partners are kind of a buffer to help you maintain your sanity and work balance and make sure you get to do the things you want to do." We've also been told that "it's up to the associates to take the initiative with the work available and create their own career paths.” 

"One of the other nice things about Patterson is partners are willing to take you to hearings," explained one newbie, "and even though I'm quite junior, I've had cases where I've been staffed with just one partner." Attorneys have plenty of responsibility from the get-go, and should be prepared to take the lead on briefings, motions, independent depositions and legal drafting.

Training & Development

Newbies are enrolled onto a formal training program called 'Litigation Nuts and Bolts' that takes attorneys through all aspects of the litigation life-cycle, "from drafting a complaint, to drafting a settlement – and everything in between." These sessions are also attended by writing and public speaking experts to help polish your courtroom skills.

"There is an expectation that you're going to raise your hand"

Check-ins with the assigning partners are organized every two months for newbies. Juniors are also assigned to an 'Associate Learning Group', consisting of six associates and a partner. Each group plans three social events throughout the year, perhaps to a theater or a high-end restaurant: “It's such a valuable opportunity to socialize with the associates outside of the office, as well as get some extra mentorship from the partner.” Juniors also get informal mentoring with a midlevel associate throughout the year, "which is great, as you always have someone you can call for if you need help."

"I've never run into a situation where I couldn't handle the work,” associates reflected. "There is an expectation that you're going to raise your hand and ask for help if you need it," explained one junior, and that doesn't preclude knocking on managing partner Lisa Cleary's door. As one insider revealed, "you feel completely comfortable speaking with her. She is genuinely interested in any problems that you might have and understanding how things could be better."

Strategy & Future

"I think we're a bit lower-profile," said one insider. "The firm made the choice to stay small and not merge in the 80s and 90s." One associate pointed out that “we have always been a relatively cautious and conservative firm in the sense of expansion. We have a relatively unique thing here and it would be a shame to lose it."

Patterson has seen a recent change in leadership however, and while Lisa Cleary remains managing partner and cochair for another term, she was joined by Peter Tomlison who inherited the role as new cochair in April 2017. “We are really continuing to focus on our litigation strengths,” Lisa told us, “and even though we're only a single office, we are able to service our clients across the United States.” The key to Patterson's ongoing success? “We are moving forward on a number of technological fronts to modernize all aspects of our practice going forward to provide the best service client possible,” Lisa explained. “We can create virtual offices in a nanosecond with our crackerjack IT team.”

Culture & Offices

Patterson has all the prestige of a big New York firm, except we're not drowning in 30 offices and 1,500 employees,” one insider explained. “But the one thing that is annoying about our office is that we are right off Times Square so we have to deal with that on a daily basis.”

“We're a little more alternative – or at least, as alternative as you can get in a corporate law firm.”

Our sources thought their firm attracts "the type of people who aren't just in it for the money," but definitely for "the love of the law." Others described their fellow attorneys as "a little bookish, but not in a negative way” and “very intellectual.” According to one litigator, Patterson can be classed as "a little more alternative – or at least, as alternative as you can get in a corporate law firm. The associates in particular have a wide variety of interests and career ambitions." Others have pointed out that "it's a really down-to-earth place that values individuality. People will introduce me as 'this is my colleague', not as 'this is my associate'.”

For all its contrasts to the BigLaw stereotypes, Patterson is still no easy ride. "Lawyers here need to be able to stand up for themselves," insiders thought. "People take their work very seriously here, not least because there are complicated issues and a lot of money at stake," declared another source, “but you don't hear people screaming or slamming their doors.”

It's not all work and no play; attorneys and partners have been spotted "letting their hair down at the Winter Party... but only to the extent that nobody wants to be the one acting out the story the next morning." Associates have also praised the firmwide events as providing "plenty of opportunity to do some internal networking," with the latest party hosted at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. "The firm rented out a big ballroom, there was an open bar with every kind of food you can imagine,” and while everyone had drink in hand, juniors were mindful to “sip their drinks very slowly” in the presence of the powers that be. Asked if associates would change anything about the culture, one ventured: “I would definitely adopt a casual dress code. I'm not sure it's something the firm is ready to do yet, but I think it will happen one day.”

Hours & Compensation

The hours requirement is 1,850 billable and a further 250 of citizenship, which includes pro bono. Translating that into a typical day's work, most attorneys we interviewed were in the office between 9.30am and 7pm, and while the firm's new recruits were "pleasantly surprised by how little I've had to work on the weekends," there's no escaping the inevitable: "The nature of the work means there will be between five to ten occasions of the year when you need to stay at the office past midnight.” This was a relief to our sources: “I was worried about being a lawyer in New York. I didn't think I'd be able to find a place where I'd enjoy the work and also have a life outside work, but so far I've been able to accomplish both of those things at Patterson.”

"I didn't think I'd be able to find a place where I'd enjoy the work and also have a life outside it."

I feel like it's a good balance between the salary and hours I put in,” reported one insider, “I know that I'm making market.” Associates are also eligible for a bonus upon hitting both their targets, however if they fail to hit the right figure on either of those, the amount of bonus the attorney gets is reviewed on a case-by-case basis (provided they've hit 2,100 hours overall).

Pro Bono

Attorneys are expected to jump straight into the vast pool of pro bono from the moment they step through the door. Patterson has seen a 100% pro bono participation ratefor well over a decade. Notable examples include working with the Corporation Counsel where you'll be defending multiple depositions, exercising your writing skills and sitting in the hot seat. It also means that “you get a lot of contact with the partner, as often it will just be the two of you trying to help this person,” chimed one junior. “It also gives me an opportunity to take a lead role, so it's really rewarding for both of us.”

Aside from depositions and smaller housing projects, the firm has its fair share of veterans' initiatives, domestic violence cases and landlord/tenant matters to get involved with.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 23,301
  • Average per attorney: 139

Get Hired

Patterson hires most of its associates from the judicial clerk pool. After taking on increasing numbers of clerks, the firm made the decision three years ago to focus its hiring efforts in this area, although it still takes on a few 3Ls straight from law school.

The seduction begins in January with clerks receiving an invite to a clerks' reception in Tribeca. According to Patterson associates the reception's “the best one out there.” This past year, the event was held at Nobu Downtown and was the largest so far with over 100 clerks attending.  The recruiting and marketing teams ensure that the attendees are strategically introduced to Patterson attorneys.  The subsequent hiring process is refreshingly uncomplicated; applicants submit a resume, cover letter and transcript, and go through a single round of interviews. The interviews typically run from January to June each year, but places are filled on a first come, first served basis.

Most of the interviews before an offer is made are conducted by four partners and a couple of more senior associate; juniors felt it was “nice to be able to speak with them; it shows they're interested in bringing in good talent.” Junior Associates often meet candidates after the offer stage, like for lunch. Although they weren't involved in interviewing, our interviewees did have a few insights into the kind of people the firm employs. “I think we like people who don't need a lot of hand-holding and direction,” one rookie reckoned. “We tend to be on the quieter side. We're gregarious but there are no large personalities,” claimed one interviewee, adding that Patterson “tends to attract a bookish intellectual type. We're interested in law but we don't want it to consume our life.”

Diversity at Patterson

Associates pegged diversity as “one place the firm struggles, but they do recognize that.” Juniors reckoned the switch to predominantly recruiting juniors from clerkships – “which is smaller and normally a lot whiter and male than law school” – had added to the difficulty of bringing on board diverse associates. “I don't think it's just a Patterson problem, but a problem across the legal industry,” one interviewee told us. “I'd like to see more diverse faces in leadership but the tone of support is there.”

Among the higher ranks “there are no female partners of color. That is not my favorite fact,” one associated stressed. 15% of the partnership is female and attorneys of color make up only 10% of it. At a lower level just under half of the associates are women and 22% come from ethnic minorities.

All that said juniors were at pains to point out that “although the firm has a way to go, they are making a lot of efforts.” Many of these focus on the importance of mentorship, which drew support from our sources: “I've been encouraged to get in touch with senior female associates or female partners and talk to them if I'm struggling with anything.” one interviewee reported.

The Patterson Attorneys of Color group has recently overhauled its meetings to incorporate this – instead of monthly get-togethers, the PAC now congregates en masse every other month while during the "off" months members meet in smaller mentoring groups consisting of around five associates and a partner. Women Lawyers at Patterson also offers the chance for attorneys to get together in small mentorship groups. A few sources did point out the time commitment to attending sessions can be difficult, especially for those attending both PAC and women's mentoring groups. “It adds up in the long term so that women lawyers of color spend the most amount of billable time a year attending these events, which doesn't help,” one source noted. Logistics aside, however, the concept itself was roundly praised, with juniors pleased that “there are people in the partnership investing in and advocating for diverse attorneys.”

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

1133 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10036

  • Head Office: New York
  • Worldwide revenue: $192,000
  • Partners (US): 50
  • Associates (US): 105
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Robin L Klum,
  • Hiring partners: Catherine Williams and Josh Goldberg
  • Diversity officers: Peter Harvey, TJ Tu, Co Chairs, Diversity Committee
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 2
  • Clerking policy: We hire directly from clerkships

Main areas of work

 Our clients are at the forefront of their industries, whether in white collar investigations, privacy and data security, pharmaceuticals, biosimilars or medical devices, finance or philanthropy, music, museums or sports, the Internet or newspapers. 100% of our lawyers and paralegals work on pro bono cases each year and our contributions have repeatedly put us first among New York City-based firms. The firm is regularly recognized in industry publications as a leader in litigation areas including intellectual property and false advertising. In addition, the firm has the leading personal planning and tax-exempt organizations practices in New York City.

Firm profile

 About to celebrate its centennial year, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, is a law firm based in New York City with more than 200 lawyers committed to maintaining its independence, its diversity and its focus of providing superior legal advice and service to clients. The firm delivers a full range of services across more than 20 practice groups in both litigation and commercial law. The National Law Journal has included Patterson Belknap on a list of firms which it considers to have ‘the nimbleness and adaptability that come from lean operations and strong client ties.’ The firm highly values public service and has consistently ranked at or near the top of The American Lawyer’s annual pro bono survey.


Law schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
For 3Ls: Columbia, Harvard, NYU, Yale.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Patterson Belknap hires associates directly from judicial clerkships. We will also recruit in August 2018 to hire a select group of 3L law students graduating at the end of the 2019 school year. We look forward to meeting with outstanding law students through both clerkship and 3L recruiting.

Diversity Fellowship for Judicial Clerks:
Patterson Belknap believes that a workforce made up of people from diverse social, racial, economic and cultural backgrounds results in a dynamic and supportive workplace for our attorneys and staff and enhances our ability to provide the highest quality representation for and service to our clients. As part of our ongoing commitment to recruiting, retaining and promoting attorneys who contribute to the diversity of our firm and our profession, we are pleased to offer the Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP Diversity Fellowship to a current judicial law clerk planning to start practicing at the firm as an associate in the fall of 2019. In addition to our standard clerk bonus, the Fellowship includes:
■ $25,000 as a financial award
■ The firm will make a $5,000 contribution in the Fellow’s honor to a non-profit organization that supports diversity (to be selected by the Fellow, with input from the firm)

Social media

Recruitment website:
Linkedin: patterson-belknap-webb-&-tyler-llp

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs Spotlight Table
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)