Perkins Coie LLP - The Inside View

Seattle may have given the world Starbucks, grunge music and the doughnut maker, but for the aspiring lawyer only one Emerald City creation should matter: Perkins Coie.

GIVEN that they work for a firm that houses one of the nation's top political law groups, you can be sure Perkins Coie's attorneys kept a close eye on 2016's presidential race – and be pretty certain which candidate they favored. “We represent a lot of Democratic bodies, and it should go without saying Perkins is generally a liberal firm,” one junior said, “but it's not aggressively so. There's no hostility to different points of view.” Partner Marc Elias acted as general counsel to the 'Hillary for America' campaign, and even after Clinton's defeat the firm has continued to “actively fight the Trump administration” where it can.

It's not all politics at Perkins though – its vast array of Chambers USA rankings stretch across ten states and encompass both litigious and transactional strengths; top praise goes to areas like IP, white-collar crime, natural resources, and corporate and commercial. Nationwide, technology is an important focus, especially with regards to startups, fintech, data security and renewable energy. But the good rep goes beyond sterling work, as interviewees made clear: “Perkins is also known for treating associates fairly; there are lots of opportunities to excel and take on interesting work.”

The Work



Most Perkins rookies find themselves in the firm's business, commercial litigation or IP practice groups (all of which divide into subgroups, into which the firm directly hires). A handful slip into smaller teams like political law or product liability. Juniors tend to communicate directly with partners and associates to get staffed on matters – “there's an entrepreneurial spirit to it and the responsibility is primarily on us” – but a weekly check-in keeps management aware of associates' availability, and most interviewees felt “the firm is generally pretty good at keeping tabs on our workload.”

Subgroups in the business department include corporate governance/transactions; emerging companies & venture capital; financial transactions/restructuring; private equity; and tech transactions & privacy. In most groups, deals can involve “any kind of company,” from industry giants to blooming new businesses. A junior's day to day “fundamentally consists of drafting,” whether that's general commercial agreements, client memos or more specific documents. “Quite quickly we get a lot of direct client contact and responsibility,” but juniors still have “the ability to say no to work. Managing your own workload is very much respected – hell, it's encouraged.” Interviewees found that responsibility was ramped up on smaller matters; one enthusiastically recounted being “given work typical of a fifth-year within twelve months,” thanks to the leaner staffing model at Perkins (a feature across groups).

“I take charge of everything including frequent interaction with the client.”

Options for litigators include antitrust, business litigation, construction, environment, insurance recovery, securities, and white-collar/investigations. Juniors aren't always restricted to one subset, with some reporting “a really broad practice that covers a bit of everything.” Most at least dabbled in the technology sector, where clients range from giants like Facebook and Twitter to ambitious start ups. Working closely with the latter, associates got to “take charge of everything including frequent interaction with the client. Those opportunities are rarer on larger matters, where we'll usually have a discrete task,” like managing discovery, drafting briefs or filing motions. “It's been an appropriate learning curve,” sources agreed, “supervision is there when you need it but I also have the ability to work independently and take on a lot of responsibility.” Things move even faster in small niche groups – we heard of at least one junior getting to argue in court.

A mix of large pharmaceutical companies, smaller tech startups, universities and other institutions fill the client roster in IP. Attorneys there choose to specialize in patent prosecution, patent litigation or trademark & copyright. “Right off the back I'm the primary client contact on smaller cases,” one IP junior ethused. “Overall the seniors in the group have been pretty good about listening to what type of work associates want to do and making sure that happens at some point.” Associates in smaller departments also had relatively free rein: “I'm surprised how much discretion I have and I think they trust juniors more at this firm.” In some cases, their work had a more local dimension compared to matters in the three largest practice groups, resulting in less cross-office collaboration but more immediate client contact.

Offices



Many associates – particularly those in smaller offices – work with colleagues across the US. Some juniors felt that decision-making has become more centralized as the firm's expanded, but others reported that “partners have enough authority in the smaller offices to not make them feel like satellites. At the same time it's nice that the bigger bases make an effort to pull us onto relevant projects.” Different digs have different specialisms: DC is the political law capital, for instance, while Palo Alto is an emerging companies hotspot.

“The bigger bases make an effort to pull us onto relevant projects.”

Perkins Coie's bases can often be found within Wi-Fi range of their tech clients; one, for instance, is situated in “the Pearl District, one of the hottest places in Portland,” while another is nestled in SoMa, the “epicenter of start ups” in San Francisco. Those in New York liked the “nice location” of their 30 Rockefeller Plaza home, and added: “We're split between floors 22 and 25, which is tricky, but it's great to work at 30 Rock!” The Seattle HQ may never have inspired a network comedy, but sources labeled it “a great building that balances modern and traditional styles. We all have sit/stand desks after the office was remodeled five years ago.”

Training & Development



Following a firm-wide new starter's retreat in October (hosted in Seattle), monthly departmental training sessions are broadcast by video conference across offices. Associates agreed that “training is one thing the firm could improve on, as it feels quite broad. It would be more helpful to tailor training to more individual situations.” On the job learning therefore plays a major role in associate development, and it's something that “happens naturally: I'm never scared to email a partner or senior counsel with a dumb question.”

In addition to informal feedback, there's a “very elaborate” annual review system. First, juniors submit a self-evaluation to a partner outside their office and practice group. This allotted partner also receives evaluations from (nominated?) lawyers that an associate has worked with, and after collating the material arranges a meeting to suggest areas for improvement. “It's very goal-oriented, and a really good process,” sources said, though they admitted its usefulness is dependent on how much time partners can spare for it. To round everything off, juniors also receive a written summary of their performance from the associate evaluation committee.

Culture & Hours



Looking back fondly at their law school days to draw a comparison, one Perkins associate suggested the firm's atmosphere “is like walking into the school library and hanging out with a study group. Everybody here really likes the law, and there's no competitive vibe among associates.” Others credited the lack of strife to “people having a West Coast attitude” whether they're in Seattle, California or the Eastern Seaboard. This extends to all attorney levels too: “Very senior partners will just pop into my office and say hello.” Painting a picture of a “pretty social environment in terms of amiability and sharing anecdotes in the hallway,” interviewees nonetheless suggested “there's not a lot of after-hours socializing,” something some wanted to turn around. “The social side depends on the practice group, and in some people have developed really strong relationships.”

Dishing out “nothing but extreme praise” when the time came to talk of transparency, sources reported that management “is very open to disclosing financials and firm strategy to associates” through quarterly meetings in each office. Director of recruiting and retention Mike Gotham cites “transparency and accessibility of management” as two keys planks of the firm's culture, citing extensive meetings with lawyers in different offices on the new bonus program as an example.

“Even if you don't hit hours targets, partners won't look down on you.”

Previously based solely on the number of hours billed, associate bonuses are now determined via a more “holistic” approach, which takes into account broader firm contribution, client service and business development. “It's still a bit unclear how that will affect us exactly,” sources felt, “but even if you don't hit hours targets, partners won't look down on you or hold it against you.” That said, most felt their goals were “very achievable given the amount of work available, though it can require some work/life balance sacrifice.”

Perkins doesn't keep too close an eye on its associates' comings and goings, and new parents or those with commitments outside work are free to “work normal 8.45am to 5.15pm office hours then go home – that's fully respected.” For others, the “deviation in hours can be massive,” but a flexible approach to remote working means juniors can be home in time for dinner, log back on later and still notch up the expected number of hours.Billing targets (ranging from 1,800 to 1,950 hours) and salaries are linked to local markets.

Pro Bono



There's no cap on the number of pro bono hours associates can count towards their billable targets. “The firm is pretty highly committed to pro bono – I've never heard of anybody being told to do less, and one associate down the hall has billed 200 hours to one matter!” However, we did hear that a case has to be made for matters that are likely to go above 100 hours.

Immigration and asylum matters are a Perkins mainstay; they've become even more common following the executive orders introduced by President Trump. Our sources also took on LGBT rights cases, landlord/tenant disputes and will drafting matters, and often took the lead on them. “We get to run our own cases, but every week we also get matters circulated, which we can work on with support from partners.” Those who want to go the extra mile can apply for the Sher Kung Memorial Pro Bono Fellowship, which allows associates to devote six months wholly to pro bono.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 56,717
  • Average per US attorney: 60.8

Diversity



Gender diversity is “strong among the associates and there are a lot of women at every level,” but sources noted the industry-wide issue of firms struggling to  maintain those numbers.The firm offers a reduced hours option so that attorneys working at a certain percentage of their expected billables will not have their progress to the partnership hindered – a scheme devised to ensure working mothers aren't disadvantaged. “We did have one women on reduced hours for most of her tenure, and she made partner the first year she was up for it. They love to highlight her but she is an outlier at the moment.” Turning to racial and socioeconomic diversity, “there's a lot to be improved, but the firm's attuned to it and trying to increase representation. The partnership group doesn't seem as ethnically diverse as it could be; associate-wise it's better but there's a long way to go.”

“It's great to see female partners helping other women make informed career decisions.”

Two firm-wide diversity retreats take place every other year: one for women, and one for all other minorities. “I went to this year's not knowing what it would be like,” one source said, “and it turned out to be an outstanding program. It's great to see female partners helping other women make informed career decisions.” The firm has several affinity groups and offers a 1L diversity fellowship scheme.

Strategy & Future



Perkins Coie prefers gradual refinement to revolutionary change. Mike Gotham tells us: “The firm's offices have grown over the last several years as the economy has continued to strengthen. And we have more offices now as well. Our recruitment has kept pace with that growth."

Interview with director of recruiting and retention Mike Gotham



Chambers Associate: How has your recruitment process evolved in recent years, have there been any significant changes?

Mike Gotham: Our summer program has continued to grow in size. The firm's offices have grown over the last several years as the economy has continued to strengthen. And we have more offices now, as well.  Our recruitment has kept pace with that growth.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

MG: We continue to offer around a dozen diversity fellowships to 1Ls every year.  We continue to reach out to various law school affinity groups. Each year we tend to focus on a different group, but not at the expense of others. Last year, for example, we made a real push to reach out to LGBTQ groups on campus.

CA: What attracts people to Perkins Coie in particular, rather than other firms?

MG: Two elements that stand out are transparency and accessibility of management. The firm has a very transparent approach to management, sharing information with associates on various developments via quarterly all-associate conference calls.  Even if associates aren’t concerned about some of the topics we address in those meetings – like firm financial information --  they do care that we're making the effort to share it.

Moreover, management is very accessible to associates, who really can reach out to a national practice group chair, members of the management committee and even the managing partner about the firm and any concerns they have.  I think that’s quite remarkable and different from the environments at other firms.

CA: What can students do in their 1L summer to increase their chances of impressing in their applications and at interview?

MG: There's a base line of what students need to bring to the table. Their intellect, life experiences, academic achievements, and such – that's the core package a candidate has to bring for any employer. What I think makes a student stand out for our firm is when they have given a lot of  thought to their career and they’ve thought about their strengths and how those strengths might fit into various areas of practice. To be clear, they don't have to know what they want to do, but thinking about it and having a good understanding of our practices puts them ahead of others.

CA: What makes your summer program distinctive compared to other firms?

MG: Our program offers summer associates the opportunity to do real client work; it's never made up work. We'll give them a client's problem and say 'you're smart and talented, we need you to help solve this, go!' On the social side, I think one way we may be different is our emphasis on informal contact and on opportunities to get to know people. We do the parties and organized outings of course, but we really emphasize the importance of informal interaction, and getting to know people over a cup of coffee.

CA: We heard from associates about mooted changes to how bonuses are worked out – could you give any insight into that?

MG: The new structure was rolled out last fall. The new structure takes a more holistic approach and a lot of factors can be considered. Previously the primary driver was simply how many hours you billed; now not only will we take into account that, but also other contributions in terms of excellent client service, business development, etc. When we rolled out the new bonus program we had meetings to explain the changes in every one of our 16 offices, and members of the firm’s management committee flew across the country to participate.

CA: Finally, what advice would you give to a law student looking to apply to interview with the firm?

MG: I'd advise a law student interested in Perkins Coie to come here if they want to be fully committed to their career and the firm, and that commitment will be returned wholly by the firm. This isn't a place for people to just come in, work the required hours, go home and after a few years move on – there are obviously exit opportunities, but the people who really invest in their career here will see that investment returned. relationship with them, that's another form of long-term investment.

Get Hired



“Intellectualism, curiosity, critical thinking and a personable approach” are the qualities favored in a Perkins Coie candidate. Several associates told us “there's a real premium on people who are interested in the areas of work we focus on – the people I've seen do best in interviews are those who are excited by what we do.” The more specific you can be here, the better, as “we hire into practice areas rather than a general pool. We do look for genuine interest and, ideally, relevant experience in the actual practice area.” Don't be discouraged if you haven't narrowed down your preferences, though.

Interviews at Perkins have a behavioral dimension, so “candidates should be prepared to answer questions on a time where they've had to reach a goal, whether they succeeded or not. You should have some examples in mind, from prior internships or employment stints, for example.” Clerking and volunteering stints are particularly helpful additions to your resume, while wannabe litigators would do well to practice their skills at moot court. The open market work assignment system means Perkins is “looking for entrepreneurial people, and every candidate should have the skills to solicit their own work. That becomes important down the line as you career becomes more outward-facing.” Showing your potential for business development activities goes down well.

Be enthusiastic, but make sure your passion doesn't veer into aggressive territory, as “this firm isn't looking for gunners or snipers – someone who's going to throw colleagues under the bus.” One source told us: “The people who impress at the interview stage are those who are gracious, kind and likely to fit the team.” Another made this point crystal clear: “You're not a rock star and nobody is going to treat you like one. To stand out, be committed and recognize that BigLaw is not always glamorous but it is intellectually engaging.”

Emphasize your initiative, enthusiasm and teamwork skills to rock your interviews.

Perkins Coie LLP

1201 Third Avenue,
Suite 4900,
Seattle,
WA 98101-3099
Website www.perkinscoie.com

  • Head Office: Seattle, WA
  • Number of domestic offices: 16
  • Number of international offices: 3
  • Worldwide revenue: $785,991,000
  • Partners (US): 513
  • Associates (US): 497
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Michael Gotham, Director of Legal Recruiting and Retention (mgotham@perkinscoie.com)
  • Diversity officer: Theresa Cropper
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 42
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
  • 1Ls: 18; 2Ls: 44
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
  • Bellevue: 1; Chicago: 8; Dallas: 3; Madison: 2; Palo Alto: 9; Phoenix: 4; Portland; 5; San Diego: 2; San Francisco: 4; Seattle: 16; Washington, DC: 8
  • Summer salary 2018
  • 1Ls: $2,693—$3,462 (depending on location)
  • 2Ls: $ $2,693—$3,462 (depending on location)
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work



 Perkins Coie’s practice areas include:
■ Intellectual Property
■ Commercial Litigation
■ Business (M&A, Emerging Companies, Corporate & Securities)
■ Environmental Law
■ Political Law
■ Real Estate & Land Use
■ Labor Law
■ Privacy & Data Security

Firm profile



 With more than 1,000 lawyers in 19 offices across the United States and Asia, Perkins Coie LLP represents companies across a wide range of industries and stages of growth—from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. This year 281 of the firm’s attorneys were listed among the ‘Best Lawyers in America’ and the firm was named ‘Law Firm of the Year’ in patent law for the third time. Perkins Coie is very proud to have been named one of Fortune magazine’s ‘Best Companies to Work for’ for the past 16 years.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
Arizona State, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, GWU, Gonzaga, Harvard, Howard, Lewis & Clark, Loyola (LA), Northwestern, NYU, Santa Clara, Seattle U., SMU, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, Univ. of Chicago, Univ. of Illinois, Univ. of Michigan, Univ. of Oregon, U Penn, USD, Univ. of Arizona, Univ. of Texas, Univ. of Washington, Univ. of Wisconsin, USC, UVA, Vanderbilt, Wash U (St. Louis), Willamette, Yale

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Each year Perkins Coie attends a number of interview or job fairs including the Patent Law Interview Program (PLIP); Lavender Law, the Northwest Minority Job Fair, the Bay Area Diversity Fair and the Cook County Bar Association Minority Job Fair.

Summer associate profile:
Perkins Coie seeks self-starters who have demonstrated academic excellence, leadership in and service to the community, and dedication to excellence in the legal profession.

Summer program components:
Perkins Coie’s summer associate program provides varied work opportunities and social events designed to promote interaction among summer associates, attorneys and staff. Summer associates work on a wide range of challenging legal assignments similar to those given to new associates which typically include legal research, analysis and drafting. Summer associates are invited to attend depositions, mediations, deal closings, client meetings, trials and other professional activities and events. They are welcome and encouraged to work on pro bono projects.

Social media



Recruitment website: www.perkinscoie.com/en/about-us/careers/entry-level/overview.html
Twitter: @PerkinsCoieLLP
Facebook: Perkins Coie LLP
Linkedin: PerkinsCoieLLP

This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Environment, Natural Resources & Regulated Industries (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
    • Environment (including water rights) (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Life Sciences (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
    • Venture Capital (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
    • Corporate/Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Natural Resources & Environment (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Government Contracts (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 2)
    • Native American Law (Band 2)
    • Political Law (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 3)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 5)
    • Retail (Band 1)
    • Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
    • Transportation: Aviation: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/Commercial (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)