Small in size but big on quality, you’ll find a “breadth of litigation” in this TARDIS-like NYC firm.
“I wanted a smaller firm where I wouldn't feel anonymous; where I would get to have substantive work experiences; and where I would be surrounded by smart, respectful colleagues,” a Patterson junior began. Those are some big asks in the often-intimidating New York legal scene, but they and other associates assured us they’d found this mythical balance at their firm. Very much sold on Patterson’s “reputation for excellent litigation,” juniors were equally enamored by its predilection for bringing in “kind people.” Just over 200 such people make up the ranks of Patterson’s New York office, its one and only base of operations.
Chambers USA confirms the firm’s litigation reputation – PB earns a top-tier nationwide ranking for advertising litigation and a handful of rankings in New York for areas including IP, real estate and white-collar crime & government investigations. Like many other litigation-focused firms, Patterson hires large numbers of candidates with clerking experience. Juniors who fit the bill already felt they had a lot in common with one another upon arrival – one told us they “loved clerking so much and loved meeting other clerks. The firm immediately felt like home.”
At the time of our research Patterson had close to a dozen second and third-year associates, the vast majority of which were in team litigation; small numbers could be found in groups such as tax-exempt organizations and corporate. Litigators get work from an assigning coordinator (Michelle Cohen) who also deals with diversity and hiring. “There aren’t many lawyers in our firm compared to bigger ones, so she really knows what everyone is doing,” insiders reported. They were pleased to have someone keeping an eye on the workflow: “It feels like there’s someone there to look out for you.”
“You’re given responsibility when the firm knows you can handle it, but there is also no pressure to take responsibility for subjects you wouldn’t know anything about.”
Interviewees described Patterson’s litigation practice as “pretty diverse,” covering areas including white-collar defense, patent and IP litigation, media and entertainment law and general commercial disputes. One had only just joined the firm before getting “immediately staffed to a trial team for a Hatch-Waxman patent litigation,” which called for them to do “various research assignments and take a stab at discovery motions.” This junior was unfazed: “It was cool to be at trial so early in my career.” Patterson also runs a program with the New York City Law Department that sees juniors represent the City in tort cases, like car accidents between citizens and city vehicles.
Newly arrived litigators found they were often “sitting in on court meet-and-confers” and occasionally put in charge of them while the “higher-ups would be focusing and prepping for the actual trial day.” Taking to their legal careers like gymnasts, our sources enjoyed a balanced approach to skill-building: “You’re given responsibility when the firm knows you can handle it, but there is also no pressure to take responsibility for subjects you wouldn’t know anything about.”
Litigation clients: Johnson & Johnson, Hershey, BNP Paribas. Represented the Alavi Foundation in $500 million+ cases alleging unlawful services on behalf of the Iranian government.
Patterson is one of a relatively small group of firms in the US that has a practice dedicated solely to tax-exempt organizations. Juniors here described working for clients ranging “from small nonprofits to large private foundations or family foundations, as well as some work for universities and hospitals.” One source explained: “There are special rules for the kind of organizations that don’t need to pay tax, so we provide legal advice on how to make sure all their activities remain charitable.” Unsurprising then that typical junior tasks include tax research projects, as well as “drafting governance documents to set up a new entity – perhaps by-laws or statements of charitable purposes – or drafting petitions to the government when trying to get approval for sales.” Interviewees in this practice got to “interact with clients right away,” which one was particularly keen to boast about: “I already have clients that come to me first, even though I’m quite junior!”
Casting an eye to the future, sources felt becoming a Patterson partner would be achievable eventually, with the caveat that “partnership is still far off in the distance” at this point. “Most partners in my group started as associates here, so if I wanted to stay it feels like I could,” one told us. What about those with other plans? One such interviewee declared that “the firm can partner associates with awesome general counsel or in-house opportunities, which has happened for some firm alumni.”
“Most partners in my group started as associates here.”
“A factor that comes with Patterson as a slightly smaller firm is the sense that senior attorneys want you to stay long-term and grow,” we heard. Sources saw “commitment from partners to working closely with juniors” and described the Patterson office as a “nurturing environment.” A major part of that is "professional development phone calls” for each associate to go over what they’re working on and if there’s anything else they’d like to do. Sources also kept a professional development checklist to “maintain a record of milestone career moments like defending a deposition or writing a brief.” Even during remote working, juniors subscribed to frequent CLEs and highlighted having “a speaker deliver a workshop about communication skills. There’s always training available to attend.”
Patterson has maintained its streak of 100% attorney participation in pro bono for an impressive 17 years. One junior recalled: “The minute I started at the firm, they asked what my pro bono assignment would be.” New starters need not be spooked as they have plenty of options including a veterans’ discharge project, criminal appeal matters and regular immigration law work. “There are loads of established places to get cases – I hope to take more advantage of that as time opens up,” one of our insiders reflected. Associates can include up to 250 hours of pro bono (and other related nonbillable hours) toward bonus eligibility.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 23,580
- Average per attorney: 134
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,850 target
To become bonus-eligible, associates need to reach 2,100 hours. At least 1,850 hours must be client-billable, which leaves associates the option to fill the remainder with up to 250 hours of pro bono, D&I and other nonbillable work such as “writing for firm blogs or CLEs.” We did hear from one source that “if you don’t hit the requirement you can still get half your bonus.” Our junior associate survey respondents generally agreed that Patterson handles its bonus allocation and dollar value fairly, and also felt the overall benefits package made the workload worthwhile. Salary is in line with the market through to the end of year seven, at which point it dips slightly below the average.
“…a focus on getting work done in ‘normal’ hours.”
Insiders also found their typical workday hours were “very reasonable,” with most “starting around 9 or 9:30am then leaving around 6:30–7pm.” Juniors concluded that the firm encourages “a focus on getting work done in ‘normal’ hours” and that “there is appreciation for people’s time” outside the office (increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic when all time is outside the office…)
Normal times see the whole Patterson crew working from the firm’s one office in New York. One source described the environment as “like a small town – it’s very friendly and warm.” Another suggested “it’s almost more like the feeling you have at university where you’re surrounded by smart people, than a large law firm. There’s a strong sense of community at Patterson.” We heard senior attorneys work to make sure “you’re not slipping through any cracks.” The firm’s ranks include many former clerks, contributing to an intellectual atmosphere: “It’s a lot of people who loved law school and like being lawyers. People are open to learning and just really like the practice of law.” Sources reckoned this encourages mutual respect across the board: “We're all treated as adults whose ideas are valued and who are capable of making decisions.” This in turn fostered “collegiality between lawyers regardless of ‘rank’, year or title.”
“It’s a lot of people who loved law school and like being lawyers. People are open to learning.”
Back in ages past (i.e. before March 2020) the firm ran monthly associate-only socials in the form of happy hours in a local bar, sit-down lunches or raffles. When new arrivals start at Patterson, the firm typically puts on a ‘tea’: an informal bash with food.“Partners suggested going out for lunch as a welcome to the firm,” one of our interviewees recalled.
Diversity & Inclusion
Conscious juniors flagged that they “see a very strong female presence” around the firm, including manager partner Lisa Cleary at the very top. Others were keen to highlight “there’s a strong presence and support for” LGBTQ representation – this bears out in the firm’s diversity statistics, which put Patterson toward the top end for the industry. Sources were less impressed by the firm’s ethnic diversity efforts but credited them with at least being “open and self-critical about it – they’re not trying to paper over the weaknesses.” Juniors appreciated “full transparency” surrounding firm numbers and noted programming in place to address diversity including a committee, affinity groups, and annual diversity training for each cohort (junior associates, senior associates, partners, and business services folks).
We also heard that the firm has placed an emphasis on raising awareness of various racial and social issues. These efforts have included circulating resources that people at the firm can access at their convenience and launching a diversity, equity and inclusion speaker series. As mentioned earlier, the firm’s chief people, diversity and professional development officer also acts as the litigation assignment coordinator and monitors teams with diverse staffing in mind.
Strategy & Future
At the time of our research, Patterson was just about to have its annual ‘state of the firm’ meeting. We quickly caught up with managing partner Lisa Cleary to get some insight into the firm’s future. “I think we have every reason to be extremely optimistic about 2021 and beyond,” Lisa Cleary reflects. “We’re excited with our recent promotions to the partnership ranks, and we’re also going to be looking strategically at the possibility of lateral partner hiring to ensure that we have opportunities to build our business consistent with our strategic planning.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed in 2021: 12
Interviewees outside OCI: 0
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!”– Co-hiring partner Catherine Williams
Applicants invited to second stage interview in 2021: 4
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.” – Co-hiring partner Catherine Williams.
And finally… "Be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions!” – Co-hiring partnerCatherine Williams
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP
1133 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York
- 2020 revenue: $215,033,000
- Partners (US): 51
- Associates (US): 101
- Main recruitment contact: Shannon Curry, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hiring partners: Catherine Williams and Josh Goldberg
- Diversity officers: Peter Harvey, Chair, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee; Michelle Cohen, Chief People, Diversity and Professional Development Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 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, 2021
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 3)
- 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)