Outwardly, this New Yorker is a litigation beast; inside people "are somewhat bookish or perhaps intellectual."
PEOPLE and businesses disagree, they disagree often, they disagree fiercely, and many are willing to pay lawyers top dollar to fight on their behalf. Law firms that capture part of this market can do pretty well for themselves, and this New York outfit is just such a firm. It practices from a single office in Midtown Manhattan, has just over 150 attorneys, and revenues of almost $200 million, but it acts for high-profile corporate clients on some really interesting cases and wins several Chambers USA rankings: top-tier national recognition for advertising litigation and New York rankings for IP and real estate.
The firm's bread and butter is courtroom battles and corporate spats, but it has expanded into some corporate transactional work and has a small trusts and estates team and nonprofits practice. And pro bono is a huge focus here, with some of the best hours billed in the city. Given the firm's litigious focus it will come as no surprise that many of Patterson's associates are ex-clerks. "It was a firm I heard a lot about while clerking," one source said, while another added that before they joined they had the impression that "people here respected clerking and that there was an intellectual approach to things." Read on to find out more.
The overwhelming majority of junior associates are in litigation. (At the time of our research there was just one junior in trusts and estates, and one in the nonprofits and charities practice.) Juniors get nearly all their work through two assigning coordinators. Although it's a rigid system, sources felt that "one of the big pros is that there is more equity in terms of how assignments are doled out. It avoids people getting crushed." Another source noted the system "makes it easier to say no if your plate is full." However, there are some potential downsides. "I have not had this experience myself but if you wanted to get on a particular case that becomes more daunting," one source shared.
The experience of future litigation associates may be different from what we've described here. Patterson has promoted one of its partners, Michelle Cohen, into the role of 'chief people, diversity and professional development officer'. Along with pushing diversity initiatives, she will to continue to handle work assignment for all litigation associates.
"I've already drafted some briefs and motions to dismiss."
Patterson's litigation practice is "pretty broad – most of the clients are corporations or businesses, but there are some nonprofit institutions and some high net worth individuals that we litigate on behalf of." Cases range across white-collar crime, product liability, art law, general commercial litigation and IP, and juniors get to sample this full range. Cases are usually handled by teams of three to four attorneys, and our interviewees report that this leads to high levels of responsibility. "I've only been here a couple of months and I've already drafted some briefs and motions to dismiss," one source shared. "It's daunting at first, but a lot of us come from clerkships which involve a lot of writing." Another said they'd been drafting dispositive motions, which generate "a level of excitement because it may decide the case." There is doc review too, but "that's not been a huge time commitment," one source said.
Litigation clients: Coca-Cola, Siemens, Johnson & Johnson, Time Warner, and Standard & Poor's. Helped Blue Buffalo and General Mills sue their suppliers over falsely labeled ingredients, and advised financial holding company Ambac on a long-running series of disputes with Bank of America and Countrywide over fraud and warranty breaches.
Making partner takes eight to ten years. We heard that juniors have plenty of opportunities to discuss their professional development goals: first, they have an annual review with a partner, where juniors fill out a form "saying I completed a brief on this or that." Second, they also have partner mentors assigned to them, who they can chat with about their progress. Third, litigators meet with Michelle Cohen and "sort of plot out the things you've done and what you would like to do in the next calendar year." And if that wasn't enough, managing partner Lisa Cleary also sits down regularly with associates to find out how they are doing. Once litigation associates reach their sixth or seventh year, the firm will let them know whether it is 'possible' or 'unlikely' that they will be promoted further.
Insiders said they hadn't noticed many colleagues leaving to go elsewhere, but those who do leave tend to go in-house or work for the government. Although our sources felt Patterson's name would be fairly well regarded in future job searches, "the way the legal market has developed means there are many larger firms that are better known - Patterson may not have the same name recognition that other firms have."
"People really enjoy diving into the intellectual and academic process of the law."
With ex-clerks dominating Patterson's associate classes, we weren't surprised to hear that "people are somewhat bookish or perhaps intellectual – it's a nice extension from clerking." So, for example, "people really spend time going through what your assignments are. No one rushes it. And people really enjoy diving into the intellectual and academic process of the law, which some people might not like."
The firm's academic bent also creates "a vibe that is very calm – almost to a fault at times." One source admitted: "I felt a little bit lonely when I started because things are so quiet. Everyone I would speak to was incredibly nice, but I felt they wanted to keep to themselves and work on their stuff." This attitude can be seen in the presence of a mostly unused games console in the associate lounge. "Folks want to have their work and their home life separate," mused one junior, "so even though there are a fair few people here who do play video games it's something they do at home. Patterson is not a place where you stay long hours and you need to have that recreation time."
Still, Patterson isn't a social desert. There are monthly associate socials along with breakfast meetups every Friday for new juniors. One source shared: "The way we approach social events is done with a level of sensitivity. We want to create a space that's inclusive. For example, there's a lack of focus on alcohol. I'm not a teetotaler, but I do appreciate the fact that there's the opportunity to talk to co-workers where alcohol is not the driving force."
Hours & Compensation
Base pay is lockstep with bonuses handed out to those who hit their hours. There's a target of 1,850 billable hours plus an extra 250 non-billables, which can include things like pro bono, writing blog posts for the firm's website, and CLEs. Most juniors felt they could reach these two targets easily as "we go to trial relatively often, and for people staffed on a trial, 1,850 hours is nothing."
Juniors usually start work at 9am and normally finish at about 7pm, which during a busy period would extend to 8pm. There's little working from home – "our firm is much more classic in the sense that people are expected to be in the office." While juniors had had their salaries upped to match the Milbank scale there was grumbling that those in their fifth year and above had not. "I think everyone was kind of expecting the firm wasn't going to match though," one source shared. "It's obviously not a good feeling, but I think a lot of people who choose to come here see a value other than compensation." The firm clarified that these associates nonetheless received a bump to their base salaries, but the increase wasn't in line with the rise set up by Milbank. When it comes to bonuses, those who don't hit their 1,850 billable target still receive 50% of their bonus, and subsequent bumps are also considered on a case-by-case basis if an associate has committed time to non-billable activities.
"Highly intellectual stuff like amicus briefs for a travel ban case."
For the past 15 years 100% of Patterson attorneys have participated in pro bono projects each year. Sources said the firm is accommodating of pro bono, with one commenting: "In instances where I've told partners I have a hearing, they'll be like 'good luck' or 'go get 'em.'" New juniors get assigned a pro bono case automatically, after which regular emails go round listing available opportunities. Cases range from "highly intellectual stuff like amicus briefs for a travel ban case" (on behalf of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers) through to things like "representing senior citizens suing over housing violation issues" and "representing a woman who was denied social security disability insurance, which involved going through 2,000 pages of medical records."
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 29,614
- Average per attorney: 167
Diversity & Inclusion
Patterson stands out in BigLaw for having a female managing partner. In other respects the firm is less striking. Just 40% of associates are female, and under a quarter are non-white. At the partner level the firm is more homogeneous than most: nine out of ten partners are white, and nearly eight in ten are male, though the good news is that three of the six partners promoted in 2019 were women.
"The clerking pool tends to be disproportionately male and white."
Some sources felt Patterson's focus on hiring ex-clerks helps explain its lack of diversity. "The costs of applying for clerkships is incredibly high," one source explained, "and as a result, the clerking pool tends to be disproportionately male and white because of the class dynamics of American society." In terms of efforts to improve diversity we heard there are reduced work schedules to make being a parent easier, and "they don't seem to impact your chances of becoming a partner." We also heard a big part of Michelle Cohen's future role will be advancing diversity initiatives. So watch this space.
Strategy & Future
“The firm's next agenda is to focus on data security and privacy issues,” one junior confidently told us. Lisa Cleary confirms that Patterson has been eyeing up this space. She informs us that “cybersecurity is a critical business, and reputational risk for our clients, and we expect our practice in that area to continue to grow.” In addition, the firm has recently been expanding its financial litigation work to act for hedge funds, and there has been an uptick in the amount of white-collar work taken on.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP
1133 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York
- Worldwide revenue: $194,939,000
- Partners (US): 52
- Associates (US): 109
- 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 2019: 5
- Clerking policy: We hire directly from clerkships
Main areas of work
For 3Ls: Columbia, Harvard, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Patterson Belknap hires associates directly from judicial clerkships. We will also recruit in August 2019 to hire a select group of 3L law students graduating at the end of the 2019- 2020 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 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, 2019
- 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)
USA - Nationwide
- Advertising: Litigation (Band 1)