Patterson Belknap and the judiciary go together like PB & J. This disputes dynamo "isn't a factory firm;” it offers the New York market something a little different...
REMEMBER Goldilocks and her struggle to find the optimal oatmeal? Well, associates felt that among New York's buffet of scaldingly hot and lukewarm legal gruel, Patterson stood out as their “Goldilocks firm.” It's “big enough that it’s established, but small enough that people are valued as individuals, not just bodies.” The firm has just the one office, which is home to around 200 lawyers, but that’s not stopped them from doing “cutting-edge” work. Patterson has a Chambers USA top-ranked false advertising practice: “it’s not really done by BigLaw firms, so it’s a little unusual,” and won another accolade in Chambers USA’s latest rankings for its white-collar crime and government investigations work.
Litigation is the name of the game here; the litigation practice group drew in a whopping 80% of new hires (the remaining five lateral hires were dispersed among the corporate, real estate, trusts & estates and tax-exempt organizations groups). To feed its litigation demand, Patterson is very keen on hiring from clerkships – so keen in fact, that they reel clerks in with a joining bonus. Patterson doled out an additional bonus this year, “which was a complete surprise and a sizable amount."
Assignment allocation is a pretty straightforward affair: two senior attorneys are responsible for dishing out work, but the primary responsibility lies with Michelle Cohen, chief people, diversity and professional development officer, who “came up through these ranks herself, she knows all the partners and how things get done.” If associates show signs of drowning in work, the assignment partners assume the role of lifeguard: “They’re very cognizant of your time so you’re never trapped.”
“It’s similar to a clerkship – you jump on a new case in a new area of law and run with it.”
The litigation practice covers the usual suspects such as employment, antitrust, white-collar crime and product liability disputes, but we heard there’s more nuanced work available too: civil litigation was favored by juniors who told us: “it’s not just for run-of-the-mill financial institutions, we have art law cases too, which are fascinating.”
Juniors had been involved in cases stemming from the 2008 financial crisis: “a lot of mortgage transactions went bust so the investors want to be paid – we represent the insurers who say, ‘It’s not our fault the loans were terrible.’” The leanly staffed teams means juniors take on more responsibility earlier than peers; one interviewee boasted: “I drafted over 50 substantive motions for a product liability case,” while another was relieved “we don’t have to do 20,000 doc reviews like at other firms, we just do a little bit to get our hours in.” Some put this down to the high proportion of former clerks, “which means almost everyone comes in with significant writing and courtroom experience.” Those who don’t want to take their clerking hats off straight away can be comforted that “you’re expected to be a generalist here, so it’s similar to a clerkship, you jump on a new case in a new area of law and run with it.”
Patterson also participates in a program with the New York City Law Department, which sees juniors defend the City in tort cases, like car accidents between citizens and city vehicles: “It's an amazing experience where you get to actually ‘lawyer’ for a couple of weeks.”
Litigation clients: Hershey, BNP Paribas, L’Oréal. Defended Coca-Cola in a class action alleging the term ‘diet’ in Diet Coke is false because it does not aid weight loss and can lead to weight gain.
… is clearly something Patterson encourages, given every single attorney has done it for sixteen years in a row. “We’re expected to treat it the same as billable work – it’s really woven into the fabric of the firm.” Associates had been kept busy with recent changes to federal asylum policy, which reassigned asylum offices in Boston and Newark to the US–Mexican border.
Folks also help local high school students with moot court and mock trial competitions “to help them break out of their shells, boost their confidence and give advice about college.” Patterson’s various partnerships with local legal aid organizations means a good breadth of projects on offer, like helping former prisoners get jobs and representing women and clinics in out-of-state abortion cases.
“Pro bono is really woven into the fabric of the firm.”
Attorneys can credit pro bono hours toward the 2,100-hour target, which they must hit to be bonus-eligible. That said, “if you’ve spent a lot of time on a pro bono project they’ll usually convert it to cover the minimum 1,850 billing requirement.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 20,804
- Average per attorney: 118
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,850 required
Attorneys can also boost their overall hours by taking part in CLEs and recruitment events. Sources unanimously agreed: “It’s really not difficult to hit 1,850 – that’s less than eight billables a day so most people comfortably make it.” Bonuses are pro-rated as long as you hit the billing target, “which takes the edge off,” and those who haven’t or spent significant time on nonbillable work get half the bonus.
“A major selling point of this firm is they treat people well.”
Most people rock up at 9am and it’s uncommon to get emails past 6pm: “even at half past six the hallways are empty – no one expects you to be here unless you have to,” so “you can have dinner at a reasonable time or go work out and still get eight hours’ sleep.” Juniors boasted they “almost never work weekends” and on the rare occasion they do, “it’s either self-inflicted or you get a profuse apology” from whoever asked you to.
Although Patterson recently 'crystallized' its remote working policy, sources revealed that in reality “they prefer us to be in the office, which is a bit annoying, but we understand that meetings can pop up at any time.” The upside is “once you leave the office, you leave your work behind.” We did hear that lawyers can request flexible work arrangements for caregiving reasons and, according to the firm, requests for 80% schedules upon return from parental leave are routinely approved. “You don’t even have to petition for it – a major selling point of this firm is they treat people well.” Salary is in line with the market up until seventh year, when it dips slightly below the average rate, but Patterson provides “really good benefits to make up for it: they just increased parental leave for caregivers.” Others noted: “People stay here for lifestyle reasons, rather than salary.”
Culture and Career Development
The social scene isn’t exactly buzzing, but this didn’t bother busy bees who pointed out “time spent socializing is time that could be spent getting work done so you can go home to your family.” The result is an “intellectual environment so there’s no plugging and chugging; it’s about wonky talk, which I appreciate.” Those who can’t survive without the occasional soirée can look forward to monthly associate-only socials, which come in the form of happy hours in a local bar, sit-down lunches or raffles. Some lamented that “there are days when you come in and don’t talk to anyone, whichcan be lonely, but we do pay attention to what’s going on in people’s lives – we know each other’s kids’ names.”
“Partners really set the tone that we’re all in it together.”
If someone new joins the firm, Patterson puts on a ‘tea:’ an informal bash with food. It’s worth noting that “we don’t have a big drinking culture and there’s a lot of respect for the fact some people don’t drink.” Others were comforted by the fact “I’ve never heard anyone raise their voice even if you make a mistake. We’re treated like attorneys, not just bodies.” It’s also pretty common to go for lunch with other associates, “which the firm pays for so long as we’re not in the same class year,” and “everyone is willing to take you to coffee and answer questions.”
One thing Patterson is hot on is mentorship: “Partners really set the tone that we’re all in it together and we’re all equals. They value what we have to say and respect the work we do, which really struck me.” In fact, cochair and managing partner Lisa Cleary holds regular one-to-one check-ins with associates, “which she’s religious about.” These aren’t just focused on work, either: “she really takes an interest in how we’re adjusting to life at the firm, as well our lives outside work.” One associate told us: “She came into my office the morning of a hearing and said, ‘Go get ‘em, you’ll be great;’ things like that are really encouraging and shows she’s tuned in to what’s going on.”
Rookies are assigned a formal associate and 'onboarding' partner mentor when they first arrive, but (as Chambers Associate often hears) juniors tend to find mentors organically: “the people you work with give detailed feedback throughout the year, so when it’s time for the annual review nothing comes as a surprise.” Formal training comes in the form of inter-practice group CLEs. For example, the trusts and estate folks give presentations to litigators “about how their work is relevant to ours.” There are also lunchtime sessions called ‘Nuts and Bolts’ which run through basic legal skills with new associates.
Diversity & Inclusion
Associates were pleased there are “multiple female partners and counsel” and “a number of women have joined the associate ranks in the past year.” The firm has several women in senior positions including Lisa Cleary and Michelle Cohen. There are "multiple opportunities for female lawyers to feel close to each other." Cleary hosts a party on the roof of her house every other summer for all the female attorneys, and Patterson often invites women in legal positions from around the city to give talks: "it's really interesting because they have law degrees like us but are doing something completely different."
"It's not just surface-level support."
Juniors also praised Patterson for its approach to attorney welfare, like encouraging attorneys to stay home if they’re sick, “which never happened at my old firm.” Newbies can also use their monthly check-ins with Michelle Cohen to make sure they’re mindful of their wellbeing: “the first thing she said at my last check-in was that my hours were high, so she asked if there was anything she could take off my plate, which I really appreciated.”
That being said, the firm isn’t doing as well representing racial minorities, which interviewees put down to the fact Patterson recruits so many clerks: “It’s a very white, male pool and skews toward schools like Harvard and Yale.” The firm is planning to address this, though: “we had an associate-wide meeting recently and the managing partners made it clear they’ll be emphasizing diversity initiatives.” One such endeavor is the annual Diversity Fellowship, which awards $25,000 to a clerk from an under-represented background who wants to join Patterson and donates $5,000 to a nonprofit of the clerk’s choice. In addition to the firmwide implicit bias training, Patterson put on a second round of training for lawyers with diverse backgrounds "to help us navigate the bias when it's against us – they address issues multiple times for different groups and several partners show up, so it shows they care and it's not just surface-level support."
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 26
Interviewees outside OCI: 17
Patterson Belknap focuses their OCI efforts on the East Coast, but also “strongly encourage and regularly receive” write-in applications from candidates throughout the US. Co-hiring partner, Catherine Williams, explained: “As a firm with a single office, we’re interested in students who want to be in New York. We also limit our on-campus recruiting to students who are specifically interested in litigation.”
The OCIs themselves are usually conducted by two litigation partners, whilst either the Chief People, Diversity and Professional Development Officer or Attorney Recruitment, Diversity and Professional Development Manager are also on-hand to answer candidates’ questions. Given the interviews last around 20 minutes only, “We try to get a sense of the candidate as an individual and legal thinker to see if they’re a fit,” which means “intellectually curious, engaging, collaborative people who want early responsibility and are highly motivated to solve complex legal problems,” said Williams.
Top tips for this stage: “Be prepared to talk about a legal issue you have worked on. And of course, we like to hear why you are interested in Patterson Belknap in particular!”– Catherine Williams
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 8
This stage sees candidates meet with five attorneys, plus the Chief People, Diversity and Professional Development Officer or Attorney Recruitment, Diversity and Professional Development Manager. Candidates are asked to speak about a legal issue from their resume, summer internship or law school classes: “We ask questions to determine intellectual ability and enthusiasm for litigation and whether they are prepared to take early responsibility for their matters,” explained Williams.
Throughout the process, Patterson ensures candidates are given the opportunity to connect with associates: “We find that our associates are often the most valuable resource for prospective candidates, so we make every effort to ensure candidates have the opportunity to speak with associates during the formal interview process,” explained Williams.
Top tips for this stage: “Ask questions that demonstrate you have thought about our firm and our clients. Show that you are motivated to work hard, think independently, and take ownership of your work.” – Catherine Williams.
And finally… "Be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions!” – Catherine Williams
Interview with co-chair and managing partner, Lisa Cleary
CA: How would you describe the firm's current market position to our student readers?
LC: 2019 marked our firm’s centennial, which was a wonderful thing to celebrate. It gave us the opportunity to pause, reflect on our past accomplishments, and think about how to continue to thrive for another 100 years. We are poised to continue attracting the very talented attorneys and business services staff who are at the heart of our firm’s success. We are working very hard to develop the next several generations of our firm’s leaders, which will further strengthen our long-term financial and cultural health. We take great pride in our commitment to our people and to their professional development.
CA: Tell us about the firm’s culture.
LC: We try to live our core values every day – in our interactions with lawyers, staff, courts and clients. That means engaging in respectful dialogue, listening to one another, having strong communication skills, and demonstrating excellence in our work. We bring together very smart people from different paths, and this diversity of life experiences helps us to solve our clients’ complex problems. I truly believe it’s a privilege to practice law, which is a concept that’s deep-seated in our approach to pro bono work. 2019 was the 16th consecutive year that 100% of our attorneys participated in pro bono projects, which cannot be matched by any firm our size – much less by larger firms. Each year we host a Pro Bono Tea for all lawyers and business services staff, where several of our associates present on their accomplishments from the past year. At the end of this year’s Pro Bono Tea, I said to my husband, “Of course the stories were very moving, but more moving was the fact that every associate said during their presentation that they chose to join our firm because they knew we would support them 100% in their pro bono work.” I’m very proud that our associates feel this way about our commitment to pro bono service.
CA: Are there broader trends that are currently shaping the type of work the firm does?
LC: At the moment we’re getting a lot of questions from clients about the coronavirus and its impact on their operations. These questions can be as simple as “Should all of our employees now work from home” or more complicated, such as “‘We need to cancel our largest fundraising event of the year – how do we ensure that we comply with our legal obligations under the contract that we signed.” We are optimistic that, despite these unsettling times our country faces, law firms will continue to remain busy serving the ongoing and evolving needs of their clients.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in three to five years' time?
LC: We don’t plan to look very different in three to five years from how we look right now. We love being in New York City, and the fact that every partner knows everyone who walks our halls is something we hold dear. We do hope to continue building upon our core strengths. As you know, we have a significant focus on litigation but, for example, we also have an exemplary tax-exempt organizations group which works with colleges, universities and other non-profit organizations on complex legal problems. There’s also a strong focus on cross-selling between our groups, which enables us to service our clients across a broad range of needs.
What makes us a very special place to practice law is the tremendous talent amongst our ranks. We feel very lucky to have so many smart, talented, out-of-the-box thinkers, and want to nurture and mentor them to be the best lawyers they can be.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started practicing?
LC: What we do for our clients – providing legal counsel based on experiences and judgment – remains the same, but the mechanisms by which that legal counsel is provided look different in some instances. As we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, effective communication is still critical to this profession – but now we are able to communicate virtually when needed through highly effective videoconferencing tools.
The market has changed considerably over the past decade. Many in-house legal departments have grown in size, and buyers of legal services have become increasingly sophisticated. As a result, private practice attorneys have entered an era of striving to improve the efficiency of the legal services being provided, while maintaining the highest quality of the legal services being delivered so that we are able to meet the business needs of our clients. We are using alternative fee arrangements and working closely with our business services team to ensure we’re using the technology platforms that enable us to provide best-in-class service that meets our clients’ changing needs.
CA: Is there a moment in your career so far that you consider to have been your big break?
LC: I wouldn’t cite any single “big break” in my career, but instead am grateful for the many mentors and sponsors who have inspired and supported me throughout my career. I am also grateful for the confidence that so many clients have placed in me. Together, they have helped me to become an effective advocate and counselor for clients of the firm, and have served as role models for me with respect to the importance of mentoring and giving back to the community for the privilege of practicing law.
CA: What’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far?
LC: I have learned that if you lead by good example, enthusiasm for helping others is contagious. I had the privilege of chairing our firm’s pro bono committee from 1994 – 2014, and have maintained a very active pro bono practice during my tenure as co-chair and managing partner. As noted above, this year, our firm celebrated 16 years of 100% attorney pro bono participation. This type of pro bono engagement doesn’t come as a result of an edict from management. Instead, it reflects a firm-wide ethos and enthusiasm for helping those who would not otherwise be able to afford legal representation – which our partners, counsel, associates and staff attorneys demonstrate on a daily basis.
CA: Why is law still such an attractive profession?
LC: Law is a continually-evolving field, allowing lawyers to become life-long learners. For example, my practice focuses on employment law, which is frequently changing based on state, federal and local laws and regulations. There are always new problems to solve, and new ways to solve problems, which keeps lawyers “on their toes” and intellectually stimulated throughout their career. In the past few weeks, our employment law practice group has been scrambling to learn about the new laws passed at the federal and state levels in response to COVID-19. It’s been great to collaborate with enthusiastic lawyers who understand we are learning about new laws in “real time” so that we can be immediately responsive to changes our clients need to make in response to this legislation. It’s been an exhilarating experience to draw upon the intellectual abilities of our practice group.
Practicing law gives us the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on our clients’ businesses and – frequently in our pro bono practice – on our clients’ lives. Whether we’re handling a large litigation for a corporation or a small sensitive matter for a nonprofit organization, as lawyers we are able to strategically and compassionately assist our clients through a time of crisis, or a time of opportunity.
CA: What advice do you have for students who are about to begin their careers as lawyers?
LC: Mentorship is a two-way street, so I hope you will seek out mentors, and dedicate time to building mentoring relationships. At Patterson Belknap, we are committed to creating a culture of mentoring, with many formal and informal opportunities to organically develop mentoring relationships. I have found that the most successful mentoring relationships are a result of an equal investment of time and energy from both the mentor and the mentee. For example, we have a “take-a-partner-to-lunch” program each summer, and our partners are always thrilled when an associate reaches out to schedule a mentoring lunch.
Take advantage of the opportunity to do pro bono work early and often in your career. Through pro bono service, our associates have early opportunities to work directly with pro bono clients, first chair depositions, and get on their feet in court before administrative law, state and federal judges. This year we had a three-week pro bono trial in federal court, and our associates made our firm very proud by putting on direct witnesses and cross-examining other witnesses and doing a fabulous job.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP
1133 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York
- Worldwide revenue: $215,1 million
- Partners (US): 51
- Associates (US): 101
- Main recruitment contact: Michelle Cohen, email@example.com
- Hiring partners: Catherine Williams and Josh Goldberg
- Diversity officers: Peter Harvey, Megan Bell, Co Chairs, Diversity Committee; Michelle Cohen, Chief People, Diversity and Professional Development Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 4
- Clerking policy: We hire directly from clerkships
Main areas of work
Columbia, Harvard, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Patterson Belknap hires associates directly from judicial clerkships.
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 annually 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 addition to our standard clerk bonus, the Fellowship includes:
• $25,000 as a financial award
• $5,000 contribution in the Fellow’s honor to a non-profit organization, recommended by the Fellow, that supports diversity
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation Spotlight Table
USA - Nationwide
- Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)