You’ll hear more than just a pitter-patter of praise for this single-office NYC outfit: associates delivered a resoundingly positive verdict on litigation-focused Patterson.
As the saying goes, good things come in small packages. Patterson is a case in point: with just over 200 lawyers and a single base of operations, the firm certainly packs a punch for its size. Boasting, as one source put it, “an extremely accomplished roster of associates and partners, with genuine legal curiosity and intellect,” the firm has a history stretching back over 100 years. In that time the firm has established a highly respected reputation for its litigation work, which bags a top-tier Chambers USA ranking in advertising litigation. Patterson also earns praise for its capabilities in IP, white-collar crime and government investigations, and real estate work in the Big Apple. Litigation accounts for roughly 70% of the firm’s practice, with the remainder devoted to commercial work that comprises corporate; real estate; tax, trusts & estates; and tax-exempt organization matters.
“It’s big enough to be a major player in NYC but small enough to give you substantive experience.”
It’s therefore not surprising to find most of Patterson’s associates honing their craft in the firm’s litigation department, but a handful are spread between groups such as tax-exempt organizationsand corporate. Patterson's first-year associate class comes to the firm via law school, but we should point out that most litigation associates that join between the second and fifth year do so from judicial clerkships (typically from federal courts, but also top-tier state courts). “It does add to the firm’s reputation as an intellectual place,” an associate reflected, while others highlighted Patterson’s size as a pull factor for joining: “It’s big enough to be a major player in NYC but small enough to give you substantive experience.”
A central coordinator (Michelle Cohen, Chief People, Diversity and Professional Development Officer) takes charge of work assignment at Patterson: “The staffer acts as an intermediary between a partner and you,” an associate explained, “so the partner has to reach out to the staffer, who will either reach out to you or the entire class to say, ‘This is the project and this is how long it will take,’ before assigning it to someone who’s interested.” The staffer keeps track of each associate’s docket, and those we spoke to were quick to tell us they appreciated that “you are never alone in making sure your hours are filled.” One associate advised: “Be clear about what you are and are not interested in working on, and talk to the staffer about it, because the firm does a really good job of accommodating your interests if they know.”
“Right now I am busy with trial prep, so I’m drafting talking points and preparing visual aids for the court.”
With over 20 streams of expertise, Patterson’s litigation group offers associates plenty to explore: “I’ve done product liability work, as well as white-collar investigations, legal malpractice, advertising, antitrust, and copyright matters – the list goes on and on!” one associate remarked. Juniors tend to be assigned a broad mix of cases. The firm also runs a two-week training program with the New York City Law Department, where juniors are able to assist the city with depositions that are taking place. Among other areas on our sources’ radars were complex contractual disputes, art matters, civil fraud cases and issues connected to the 2008 financial crisis.
Litigation clients: L’Oréal, Change.org, Johnson & Johnson. Represented Coca-Cola against class action suits in DC and California that alleged the company engages in false and deceptive marketing practices by representing itself as sustainable and environmentally friendly.
“I definitely do a lot more than just document review!” one satisfied source told us. “I’m drafting briefs in response to summary judgments, as well as deposition outlines, which I go on to second-chair.” There are opportunities for court experience too: “Right now I am busy with trial prep, so I’m drafting talking points and preparing visual aids for the court.” Associates were overwhelmingly positive about the level of partner and client contact available at Patterson. “It’s particularly high, especially compared to my peers at other firms,” an interviewee noted, while this source highlighted the benefits of “having the freedom to sit in on client meetings, which allows you to get an understanding of the dynamic and what the clients need from the firm.” Sources were also able to conduct “substantive research for case teams” and compile investigation reports, which are “great, because you get experience in legal writing.”
Patterson’s tax-exempt organizations group is relatively unique in the world of BigLaw; it’s been a part of the firm’s practice from the beginning and is dedicated solely to charities and other types of not-for-profit organizations. Associates in the group assist clients with charitable giving, corporate governance, regulatory, and transactional matters for clients such as museums, galleries, colleges, and environmental and advocacy groups.
The firm’s cozier dimensions mean that there’s no room to hide (“the expectations are high!”), but also that there’s a more evident emphasis on collaboration: “My teams truly feel like teams.” Despite much of the class of 2020 joining remotely, associates told us that partners and more experienced associates provided ample support: “People have always really gone out of their way to mentor and support me, despite the fact that I was working remotely – maybe even more so.” As one put it: “I feel comfortable asking questions and reaching out to any of my colleagues.”
“I would describe the culture as intellectual. It’s a very professional and respectful place.”
The pandemic has of course had an impact on the culture at the firm: “We – like everybody else – have two dynamics, one virtual and one in person,” one associate explained, “so in many ways, the post-pandemic culture is still in the works.” That being said, there’s still plenty that makes Patterson, well, Patterson: “I would describe the culture as intellectual. It’s a very professional and respectful place; people are friendly, but it’s not the type of firm where people are constantly going to a bar together,” one associate pointed out. This doesn’t mean that Patterson is not a social firm though: “The firm puts on class lunches where we can get together and talk casually, and the firm will foot the bill.” As a general rule, it’s acknowledged that associates have a life outside of work: “Since I’ve joined, they try not to bother you on weekends and holidays unless it’s absolutely necessary.” When it comes to returning to the office, Patterson has opted for a hybrid approach where attorneys are encouraged to come into the office for three days a week and work remotely for two (this has not been mandated, however).
Future juniors at Patterson can expect to learn by doing: interviewees were quick to point out that it’s not unusual for a first-year to defend a deposition or have direct client contact. Indeed, all survey responses indicated that the firm offers good levels of responsibility, client contact and partner contact. We heard that a lot of the formal training “takes place on Zoom these days,” with lunchtime sessions homing in on “topics we are interested in – the litigation department also hosts sessions where people share their experiences on matters and what worked well.” The firm has been organizing more in-person sessions and will continue to make trainings available via Zoom, too.
“...you can be really honest about what you want to do!”
“Every year we go through what the firm calls a professional development checklist,” one associate explained, “it’s something entirely separate from the review process, and it’s about what you’ve achieved this year and what your goals are for next year.” Because the checklist does not form part of an associate’s evaluation, “you can be really honest about what you want to do!” Associates can also take the feedback from the review process and factor that into the goals they want to set themselves. While there’s not a formal guide to making partner, each associate is assigned a professional development mentor who walks them through the checklist and goal-setting processes. “Just the fact that people are willing to talk to and teach me makes me feel like they are interested in my development,” said one source, while another highlighted that they “always feel like there’s someone higher up making sure I have the skills and experience I need to progress.”
“Frankly, I’ve never seen the firm prohibit anyone, at any point, from picking up pro bono work,” one associate remarked. Indeed: for the last 18 years, 100% of Patterson’s lawyers have participated in pro bono work and the firm logs more pro bono hours per attorney than 86% of the firms we survey. Pro bono can form part of the 250 hours that associates are able to put toward their overall hours target (see below). Associates can potentially get more pro bono approved “on a case-by-case basis if you are stuck on a pro bono case and don’t quite make your billable hours requirement.” In addition, “there’s no restriction on the type of pro bono cases you can handle,” a source enthused. “We have a pro bono coordinator and dedicated pro bono partners who we can reach out to for matters. We also have partnerships with the Legal Aid Society, who provide us with a lot of criminal aid cases, plus a number of asylum and veterans matters.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 20,606
- Average per attorney: 125
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,850 billable hours target (2,100 overall hours target)
There’s no avoiding it: high-profile litigation work can mean some demanding hours at times. “But that’s something endemic in BigLaw, not just Patterson,” one source rightfully pointed out. While associates did feel that the workload could be intense, there was a general understanding that any expectation to be available outside of office hours was restricted to associates’ working weeks. “I’ve had 45 to 50-hour weeks,” one source reported, “and a bad week would be somewhere between 55 and 60 hours.” The average reported in our survey was 48 estimated hours in the previous working week. On average, survey respondents had taken seven vacation days in the previous 12 months.
“...we could hit the ground running with remote working.”
The firm’s handling of the shift to remote working was viewed positively: “They set everyone up with a technology kit – everything you needed to be able to set up your office at home,” an associate explained, “and they did this early on, so we could hit the ground running with remote working.” Compensation-wise, associates become eligible for a full bonus if they hit their 2,100 annual hours target, which they can put up to 250 nonbillable hours toward (these hours can consist of pro bono, legal education, and client development activities, as well as DE&I recruiting efforts). Even if associates don't reach the overall target, they are still eligible for 50% of their bonus. All survey respondents agreed that bonus allocation at Patterson is fair and transparent. Patterson matched the market compensation rise initiated by Milbank in 2022 up to the sixth year of practice.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Sources felt that there was a genuine intention to boost diversity at Patterson: “The positive is that the firm is really aware of it. We’ve hired two external consultants who are putting out surveys and contacting focus groups and that’s really great.” Associates do complete diversity sessions at the firm, including training on unconscious bias. While there is still work to be done, Patterson falls into the top half of the firms we survey when looking at the representation of female partners and ethnic minority partners.
Strategy & Future
“There’s a ‘state of the firm’ event every year,” one source explained, “where they talk about the revenue, who our biggest clients are, and where the firm wants to expand. We certainly do have clarity about where the firm is headed.” All survey respondents at Patterson expressed that they were confident about the firm’s overall trajectory. Co-chair and managing partner Lisa Cleary tells us that Patterson is in growth mode: "The way this plays out is in actively recruiting in litigation and on the commercial side. We’ve also made some lateral hires in our white-collar and securities law practice groups, and they are really going to add to our white-collar and enforcement practices. Our white-collar practice is also going to be deepened with a next generation of partners."
Cleary adds: "Real estate has also seen a significant rebound with the world normalizing to some extent. And finally – we like to call it the crown jewel of the firm – we represent tax-exempt organizations, and they are going gangbusters right now. We’ve also recently brought in a chief information officer who is continuing to modernize our technology infrastructure and keep abreast of the cyber risks that all law firms face."
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed in 2021/2022 academic year: 20
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. H. Gregory Baker, partner in the firm’s litigation department explained: “As a firm with a single office, we’re interested in students who want to be in New York. We also typically 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 Senior Talent 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 Baker.
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!”– Litigation Partner and Chair of Securities Litigation H. Gregory Baker.
This stage sees candidates meet with five partners or counsel and two associates, plus a member of the Professional Development & Recruiting department. 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 Baker.
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 Baker.
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.” – H. Gregory Baker.
"Be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions!”
Interview with Lisa E. Cleary – Co-Chair and Managing Partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler
CA: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
LC: I would start off by saying that we had an excellent 2021. We’ve got twelve trials and arbitrations scheduled for this year already, and several for the first six months of the year. Because we are primarily a litigation firm -- that’s our largest department in terms of partners -- litigation is a driver of our business success.
CA: What have been some of the firm’s highlights over the past year?
LC: Obviously, we had a strong financial year, but I would highlight a number of areas that really signify some of the core strengths of the firm. We were very proud that 2021 marked our 18th consecutive year of 100% attorney participation in pro bono activities. For 20 years, before I became managing partner, I was chair of the pro bono committee, and I’m happy to report that no other firm of our size is ever going to beat this record, because we started so much earlier than other firms. The early bird gets the worm. The other very significant highlights were that we were named Benchmark Litigation’s New York Firm of the Year, and the Pro Bono Firm of the Year. In January of 2022, we followed up on the very successful launch last year of a diversity pipeline program for diverse college students interested in a life in law, where we introduce them to the legal and business aspects of working at a law firm. The partnership with the TEAK Fellowship Program has been a huge success. TEAK is a fantastic mentoring program that identifies talented students at a middle school level and places them in private schools and supports those students through college. One of our lawyers came through this program, and I have had the opportunity to visit and see some of the fantastic work myself.
CA: Would you characterize the firm as being in growth mode?
LC: Yes, absolutely. The way this plays out is in actively recruiting in litigation and on the commercial side. We’ve also made some lateral hires in our white-collar and securities law practice groups, and they are really going to add to our white collar and enforcement practices. Our white-collar practice is also going to be deepened with a next generation of partners.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? (and how has it impacted the firm’s strategy?)
LC: I don’t think it’s really had an impact on the firm’s strategy, because our strategy has always been to build on the firms’ strengths. As a firm that specializes in litigation, with a particular strength in trials and a deep bench of trial lawyers, we haven’t changed our focus in those terms. But what I would say is that our actual trial docket, the things that are happening now with in-person trials and arbitrations, has changed the landscape. Real estate has also seen a significant rebound with the world normalizing to some extent. And finally - we like to call it the crown jewel of the firm - we represent tax exempt organizations, and they are going gang busters right now. We’ve also recently brought in a chief information officer who is continuing to modernize our technology infrastructure and keep abreast of the cyber risks that all law firms face. We have a clean sweep of female chiefs at the firm, with our female chief information officer, chief people officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief client service officer, and managing partner and co-chair.
CA: What are the main challenges facing law firms in general over the next few years?
LC: Obviously, all firms are trying to reflect and be adaptable to the hybrid work changes that are occurring across the country, and the challenges that this presents from a mentoring perspective. Law firms have always believed that apprenticeship; learning by observing more experienced lawyers do things like conduct depositions, have client interactions, and speak to a court or a jury, is a priority. And these things are best done in person. So it’s a question of how you marry that with a new generation of lawyers that are asking for more flexibility when it comes to working from home, at least when there is client flexibility to do so. But you always have to be thinking about what is critical from a learning opportunity standpoint. And our firm is like any and every other firm in this respect.
CA: How has the rise in legal technology had an impact on the firm?
LC: I guess what I would say is – if the pandemic had happened back when I started the practice of law, we wouldn’t have had a law firm by the end of the pandemic. I can analogise this with my own experience with cancer. When I received the diagnosis, as awful as it was, I thanked my lucky stars that I went through that experience at a time when the medical knowledge around cancer had developed so much in such a short space of time. It was a similar scenario with working from home during the pandemic. In many ways, and as much of a challenge as it was, we had the technology in place to make a success of working remotely. It didn’t prevent us from providing legal services to our clients. And we were very fortunate that was the case.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets around diversity?
LC: We’ve achieved Mansfield Certification Plus from the Diversity Lab in 2021, but as is the case at all law firms, we want to continue to improve our diversity numbers, our recruiting, and most importantly, retention, so that we can maintain a diverse workplace to continue to meet our clients’ business need.
CA: Any advice for those entering the legal industry?
LC: I would start by emphasizing the importance of apprenticeship -- learning by observing and seizing the opportunity to have daily exchanges with people who have had substantial years of experience as a lawyer. There’s nothing better in terms of advancing your career than making it a priority to value the working relationships that you have developed, and to make the most of those relationships. It’s important to understand that partners love to share their experiences about the practice of law, and in turn, to provide a learning opportunity for those with whom they work to learn from those experiences. And there is nothing that makes you feel better as a partner than helping an associate become their best self as a lawyer.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP
1133 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York
- 2021 revenue: $223,318,103
- Partners (US): 52
- Associates (US): 87
- Main recruitment contact: Shannon Curry, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hiring partners: H. Gregory Baker andJosua Goldberg
- Diversity officers: Kito Huggins, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 8
- 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, 2022
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
- Securities: Institutional Plaintiffs: Mainly RMBS Litigation Spotlight Table
USA - Nationwide
- Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)