Labor and employment law is at the heart of this Chicago native, but real estate gives junior associates the old razzle dazzle too.
MUCH emerged in the wake of World War Two. The world of fashion swapped utilitarian attire for Christian Dior’s ultra-feminine look. Penicillin entered the drugs market. Tupperware and instant coffee came on the culinary scene. And in the world of labor law, Seyfarth Shaw was established. After serving in the National War Labor Board (which handled workplace disputes during WWII), a couple of chaps called Lee Shaw and Henry Fairweather joined forces with their buddy Henry Seyfarth in 1945 to set up a labor law boutique. 75 years later, the firm’s offering is more varied, with real estate, corporate, and litigation on the go. But labor and employment law is still very much the pièce de résistance. For example, firm chair and managing partner Pete Miller tells us how the team responded to the early stages of the coronavirus crisis: "We’ve been busy helping clients manage concerns about advice from the WHO and what kind of employment policies they should be adopting, like remote-working procedures." Chambers USA singles out Seyfarth as one of the best in the US for labor and employment, and it’s achieved rankings across seven regions.
Well over half of incoming juniors join this group, and it’s been bringing in lateral talent lately too – the DC office hired a former Kirkland & Ellis partner, and Atlanta is now home to three labor and employment partners from Polsinelli (a litigation partner also joined). Juniors are also recruited into real estate, litigation and corporate, and spread among seven of the firm’s 11 domestic offices. Chicago took in a good chunk, followed by New York and the two LA bases. A handful were housed in San Francisco, Atlanta and Boston, while just one junior called DC home. Seyfarth also has five offices overseas.
Strategy & Future
The firm recently announced it will open a Seattle office in 2020. Chairman and managing partner Pete Miller filled us in on why Seattle was the destination of choice for its latest opening. "Seattle has always been a region where we’ve had tremendous client support," he tells us. "It will be a very strong market for us given its rapid growth both from a technological and demographic standpoint. It’s also the center of intellectual expansion, so there’s tremendous opportunity for growth there." The news comes after the firm opened in Charlotte in 2019. “Charlotte is the second biggest financial center outside New York and we’ve got relationships with most of the major banks and insurance companies there, so we realized it was time to move into that market," says Miller. "It has tremendous law schools and universities so it’s a very well-educated market and a terrific business center."
Summers join specific groups and if all goes well they’ll return to that group when they join the firm full-time. Interviewees appreciated having pre-established relationships in their groups upon joining again, partly because it made it easier to get work – a bonus given that associates have to source their own assignments. “It doesn’t always play out equally,” one told us. “Some partners only want to work with certain associates and others don’t want to work with juniors at all!” That’s a two-way street though, as this junior pointed out: “It’s good because you can work with who you want.” Juniors also have mentors who can help them to find work.
“Partners trust us to tell them where the facts are directing us on a case.”
The labor and employment team handles class actions, government investigations, traditional labor law, and bet-the-company trials. Around third year, associates are asked to ‘declare their major’ – a fancy way to describe choosing one area of work to focus on. In Chicago and New York “most people do a mix” of single plaintiff and wage and hour cases to start out. LA juniors were “mainly staffed on single plaintiff cases” when they joined, and as they got more experienced the work became “more class action-heavy.” Wage and hour class actions “are big and high-value, so I wasn’t expecting much responsibility,” one associate recalled, “but I’ve written motions, taken a couple of depositions and conducted witness interviews.” Another marveled that “even as a first-year I got to write briefs.” Our sources had also done their share of discovery work. “Partners trust us to tell them where the facts are directing us on a case,” one said. “We’re ‘gut-checking’partners’ ideas.” The team also deals with disability discrimination cases. Juniors had worked on cases concerning issues like whether store aisles were wide enough for people who use wheelchairs, and whether websites with audio had captions suitable for deaf people.
Labor & employment clients: Wells Fargo, BP, Costco, Nike, Toyota. Represented the US Soccer Federation in a lawsuit filed by players on the US Women’s National Team alleging that they were paid less than players on the men’s team.
“I have 80 properties to review!”
The firm’s real estate practice has four Chambers USA rankings, and juniors were sold by the fact that “being in a big firm means you handle big transactions.” First-years start out by getting much of their work via a group called ‘The Hub.' Folks at The Hub prepare work for commercial real estate deals that's “specifically geared toward entry-level attorneys, like doc review.” After a year at the firm, juniors reckoned around a quarter of their work came from The Hub, explaining that “something that takes you eight hours to do in the beginning will take about two after a few months.” The real estate team “does a lot of large portfolio work,” meaning one deal can concern “maybe 120 properties!” One told us: “I have 80 properties to review!” On these matters, juniors were responsible for lease review, title and survey work and “basic” drafting. This “bread and butter” work gave juniors the grounding to be able to “explain to clients what issues might come up and how to avoid them.” Attending meetings and conference calls was also “really valuable to see the relationship between the client and the business folks, like the investors or the construction team.” When properties are in different states, associates might also work across offices.
Real estate clients: Mack-Cali Realty, New York Life Insurance Company, LBA Realty. Represented SunTrust Bank as a lender in a $46 million loan to finance the construction of three warehouses in DeSoto, Mississippi.
We all know about pro bono, but at Seyfarth there’s something known as ‘no bono…’ “It’s a phrase people use about attorneys who’ve never done pro bono,” associates explained. “You don’t want to be on that list!” We imagine it’s a pretty short list, as apparently it’s pretty darn hard to shy away from this work. A pro bono team outlines available opportunities in weekly email blasts and monthly practice group lunches. Suffice to say, associates said it was “highly encouraged.” In Atlanta for example, there’s a dedicated pro bono day for all attorneys to do pro bono.
Given its labor and employment expertise, it’s no surprise that reviewing employee handbooks for nonprofits was common, but “we’re encouraged to do work outside of our practice area.” Our sources had worked on adoption cases and researched resources for domestic violence victims, and some had even helped clients with applications to sell cannabis (in a state where it’s legal, naturally). There’s no limit on how much pro bono associates can put toward their billing target, but only 50 hours can count toward the bonus-eligibility threshold.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 21,744
- Average per US attorney: 24.4
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 requirement (1,950 to be bonus-eligible)
Seyfarth's billing requirement is 1,900 hours, but associates need to bill 1,950 hours to get a bonus. We also heard that there are bonus increases for every 100 additional hours attorneys bill, and the firm confirmed that there’s a discretionary additional bonus for extra contributions. Sounds pretty complicated, but one blasé source told us: “It’s all arbitrary anyway – I didn’t hit the target and still got a bonus, albeit a smaller one.” Juniors can also bill up to 300 ‘contribution hours’ – nonbillable work “like writing blogs about new laws.”
Seyfarth’s base compensation doesn’t match the rate set by Milbank, but sources weren’t too disappointed, pointing out that “labor and employment firms don’t tend to command higher rates.” They also reckoned their hours were “a little lighter” than peers at other firms. Associates arrive about 9am and wrap up around 7:30pm, though an LA source said earlier shifts are sometimes needed “if you’re dealing with the East Coast.” For the most part, interviewees felt free to work remotely: “Partners expressly say it’s fine so long as you’re available.” That said, some felt the firm could shell out more on remote-working technology.
Culture, Diversity & Inclusion
Budgets also cropped up when we talked about the firm’s social scene. “Rather than paying for socials, they’ll tell us we can go home early instead,” one grumbled. “They call it being lean, but some might call it cheap.” Others pointed out that many associates have children, so socials might not be well attended: “It’s not worth the investment.” The firm does host parties to celebrate milestones, like the launch of its new logo in 2019. It also put on a spread to celebrate its 75th anniversary, with offices providing food and champagne, "and they played a video recounting our history.” Cute. Our interviewees approved of the firm’s ‘dress for your day’ dress code: people can wear what they like – so long as they don’t have any important client meetings!
“Top-notch diversity initiatives.”
Something Seyfarth does shell out for is diversity: “There’s very little friction if you ask them to sponsor something diversity-related.” Case in point,the firm has sponsored LGBT careers fair Lavender Law for more than a decade. It’s also Mansfield-certified, and in 2019 the firm hired Kori Carew as its first ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. Associates also commended “top-notch diversity initiatives.” Associates told us that the firm’s African-American affinity group (called A+) coordinated an “amazing” firmwide retreat in Atlanta. The women’s network hosts quarterly lunches where women attorneys are put into groups with a mix of associates and partners. “It’s a good way to get facetime with leadership,” one praised.
Speaking of female leadership, 60% of the latest partnership class was female. When it comes to representation in numbers, a New Yorker reported that “most of my office mates are diverse.” Even in less diverse cities like Chicago, sources were pleased to see improvements: “There were only three African-American attorneys when I started but now there are nine.”
“Seyfarth is big on mentorship.”
Associates also told us: “If I ever needed support with mental health, there are people at a senior level I would feel more than comfortable talking to.” To “keep things horizontal,” everyone, including the managing partner, has the same-sized office. This translated into the sort of atmosphere where “you won’t find partners walking down the hallway to see who’s at their desk!” Juniors also felt comfortable popping into a partner’s office to ask questions: “Seyfarth is big on mentorship.”
Like most firms, Seyfarth assigns each newbie an ‘advisor’ (mentor) when they arrive, but associates can also elect to join a more unique coaching program, which pairs associates with a specifically trained partner for six months. “They help you with any goal you’ve set yourself,” one explained. “It doesn’t even need to be career-related – it could be how to excel at work and still be a good mom.” Diverse associates are given an additional mentor “to help overcome the obstacles that come with being diverse.”
Associates get training at practice group meetings, where experts are invited in “to talk to us about new laws.” Real estate first-years are also given training that includes both video-conference and in-person sessions to learn the basics of the practice.Some felt there still needed to be more training for juniors. “After the first couple of weeks the training just stops,” sources told us, with one suggesting: “Maybe they’re afraid juniors will leave so they don’t want to invest in people until they’ve been here for four years.” That said, associates can attend any of the level-specific training sessions as well as the real estate video-conference training. There are also regular business development programs “like lunches on how to build business and move up through the firm.” One was encouraged to see “a lot of the partners have been here since they were first-year associates. It shows that movement isn’t just possible; it’s actually been done.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 125
Interviewees outside OCI: 325
Seyfarth does a combination of traditional OCI interviews and job fairs, many of which focus on increasing diversity in the legal profession. The firm also regularly uses resume drops for offices that hire smaller class sizes: “We calculate our on-campus interview numbers based on statistical analysis of past hiring rates and the number of summer fellows we intend to hire, so we can ensure a broad and diverse pool of candidates without over-interviewing,” explained Seyfarth’s national director of legal recruiting, Lindsay Callantine.
All of the OCIs are conducted by Seyfarth attorneys, typically in pairs and “ideally with a mix of a partner and an associate.” At this stage, candidates are asked to explain how they decided to go to law school, what areas of the law do they feel passionate about and what they are looking for in a summer program. Callantine told us: “We are looking at how candidates make analytical decisions, what drives them and asking questions about what they want to ensure our summer program is a fit for what they are looking for. Great communication skills are always something we seek as well.”
Top tips for this stage: “I know how busy OCI is, and how hard it is to keep everything straight, but candidates who focus on knowing how to answer “why do you want to work for Seyfarth?” show they have done a bit of research on us. OCI is highly stressful, but allowing yourself to enjoy the process and realize it’s just a series of conversations makes for a much better 20 minute experience for both sides!”–Lindsay Callantine
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 131
For the most part, there is just one interview with four to five partners and associates, lasting between 20 and 30 minutes. Callantine explained: “Some of our offices will do round-robin interviews or super days, where a number of students will come at one time and rotate with a group of lawyers, followed by a lunch or cocktail reception.”
This stage is more focused on the candidate and the firm are a good match for each other: “We want to ensure we have the practice areas in which the candidate is passionate, as our summer program hires into specific departments.” There’s also a greater focus on communication skills and analytical ability “to ensure the students will embody the culture of our firm,” says Callantine.
Top tips for this stage:“We want to see students make personal connections with interviewers during the callback process, so preparedness is key! Try to jot down one question specific to each interviewer, but be prepared with at least three questions for each. Lastly, don’t be afraid to rely on notes during interviews – there is no shame in referring to your list of questions, it actually shows that you took the time to prepare.”– Lindsay Callantine
Summers are assigned to a particular practice group before joining. Callantine told us: “We begin training them as we would a junior associates during the summer program, so they hit the ground running in their practice area as a junior associate.” There’s a lot of training on offer, including seminars on ethics, client service, marketing, legal writing, communications and finance. There’s also the opportunity to go to client meetings and court appearances. The vast majority of summers return to the firm as junior associates.
Top tips for this stage:“Be a sponge. Be open to taking on new assignments, go to different “tag-along” events, attend all of the office and summer events. Being present is the best way to get to know the firm and its attorneys. The relationships you build during the summer program will be strong bonds that will carry you well into your career as an attorney, so take advantage of that time.” – Lindsay Callantine
And finally…“Our summer program is just the beginning. If you join us as a new associate, you will be able to immediately jump in and take advantage of the many talent programs we have in place for your development” – Lindsay Callantine.
Interview with firm chair and managing partner Pete Miller
Chambers Associate: Can you tell us a bit about the decision to open new offices in Charlotte and Seattle?
Pete Miller: Looking at our national footprint, we thought Charlotte had been the missing piece in the Southeast and Seattle had been missing in the Northwest for several years. We’ve grown in different regions throughout our history to places where clients have pulled us. Charlotte is the second biggest financial center outside New York and we’ve got relationships with most of the major banks and insurance companies there, so we realized it was time to move into that market. It has tremendous law schools and universities so it’s a very well-educated market and a terrific business center.
Much like Charlotte, Seattle has always been a region where we’ve had tremendous client support: we represent some of the biggest companies there. It will be a very strong market for us given its rapid growth both from a technological and demographic standpoint. It’s also the center of intellectual expansion, so there’s tremendous opportunity for growth there.
CA: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
PM: We fit into the market well both from a geographic and demographic standpoint. In the US we really are Coast to Coast, North to South. For the most part, we’ve grown pretty organically. We’re not a firm that wants to be in 50 locations but with small offices, we prefer fewer, substantial positionings. We’ve had success with this, and it’s enabled us to be a place where people are supported in whichever practice they want to implement; a place where people can find their home.
We’re also pretty regularly an AmLaw top 50 or top 70 firm. I’m not sure whether any firms are truly full-service these days, but we’re dedicated to being multi-disciplinary and we offer career opportunities in most of the legal field’s major sectors. We have a very large and deep labor and employment group, plus large commercial litigation, real estate and corporate groups. We also have one of the premium international groups worldwide which we’re proud of.
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently?
PM: Transactional work is more cyclical but our counselling and adversarial practices like labor and employment and commercial litigation are very steady year in, year out. Commercial litigation was particularly strong in 2019 and since its launch seven years ago, our international practice has grown in revenue every single year: 2019 was our biggest year yet.
CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
PM:Clients are doing well in their own spheres and we do well when they’re doing well, but we’re certainly on the lookout for a recession. Presidential elections affect us either positively or negatively. 2017 was a difficult year following the 2016 election, so we’re certainly mindful of reactions to elections regardless of who is elected.
Of course Coronavirus is out there and spreading across the globe, so people are travelling less and shutting down conferences. We’re mindful this could impact investment because the transactional space is slowing down. We’ve been busy helping clients manage concerns about advice from the WHO and what kind of employment policies they should be adopting, like remote-working procedures.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in three to five years' time?
PM: We’ve been successful in attracting quality people so I expect we’ll continue to evolve. I’m certain we’ll add offices in one or two new locations within the next five years as our international department grows. Obviously Brexit is having an interesting impact so we may need to be in more European countries. In the US, our clients pull us to where we need to be but I doubt we’ll open up elsewhere in the next couple of years as we need to allow the new Charlotte and Seattle offices to take root. If we do open another US office, I expect Dallas will be the next city: we’re already in Houston but we have clients in both cities.
CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers face compared to when you started practicing?
PM: Technology has certainly changed the industry. When I started practicing 30 years ago we didn’t have computers – our secretaries wrote our memos and letters. The ability to work anywhere has changed how we train lawyers. The desire to work remotely can impact the ability to pull people together and make sure they’re being trained the right way: young lawyers learn best face-to-face. We also have a strong culture of collegiality and team work, so we have to maintain that culture as we grow and more people are dispersed. I do think the legal industry is here to stay and there will never be a shortage of law students who want to be associates and grow to become the next generation of leaders.
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
PM: It’s a respected profession that challenges people and presents a lot of opportunities. Going to law school opens a lot of doors, even if you don’t stay in private practice, because there inhouse, government and public interest opportunities. The compensation reward is also materially better than other professions and the industry is very steady.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of so far?
PM: I’ve had every title someone could ever hold, but the reason I’ve been at Seyfarth for 26 years is because the partners mentored me when I joined. Being in a position to do that for others is what I enjoy the most. It’s also a way for senior partners to keep the pipeline moving forward: we have a year-long program which takes high performing senior associates and help them to break barriers so they’re ready for partnership. During out last graduation ceremony for that program, I realized over 40 associates have done the program in the past eight years and have become partner. That’s a remarkable thing, and something we’re all very proud of.
CA: What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
PM: The bottom line is that we’re here for clients. Everything revolves around that because without them we wouldn’t be here. Seyfarth opened its doors with just three lawyers 75 years ago but we now have over 900 lawyers. Learning what client needs, being available for them and giving them the tools to be successful is what makes an excellent lawyer. That’s what’s helped me have a long-lasting career. If you know how to take care of a client, there will always be a home for you.
Seyfarth Shaw LLP
- Head Office: Chicago, IL 60606
- Number of domestic offices: 12
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $717,370,000
- Partners (US): 380
- Associates (US): 451
- Main recruitment contact: Lindsay Callantine email@example.com
- Hiring partner: Pete Miller, Chair
- Recruitment website: www.seyfarth.com/careers.index.html
- Diversity officer: Kori Carew
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 24
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls 3, 2Ls 24
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office:
- Atlanta, 2; Boston, 3; Chicago, 6; Houston, 1; Los Angeles, 5; New York, 5; San Francisco, 3; Washington, D.C., 1 Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: cbc 2Ls: Atlanta, $30,076; Boston/Chicago/LA/San Francisco, $31,730; New York, $34,611
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Seyfarth offers a full portfolio of practices in advisory, litigation and transactional legal services to companies around the world.
Seyfarth is home to high-performing, dedicated attorneys and allied professionals who embody the firm’s core values of excellence, inclusion, teamwork, client service, innovation, and commitment in everything. Working together, we have created a forward-thinking talent story, allowing those who exceed expectations to advance on their own terms. For attorneys, we do this by offering a unique set of tools, resources, and pathways to serve as a platform for your success. If you want to be a part of a team that has the freedom to grow at a firm that is invested in your future, we want to hear from you.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020: Boston University, Boston College, Northwesters, Michigan, Illinois, Loyola, Chicago- Kent, USC, UCLA, Loyola Marymount, UC Berkeley, Southwestern, UC Hastings, Columbia, NYU, St. John’s Fordham, Cardozo, Hofstra, American, Georgetown, George Washington
Recruitment outside OCIs: We attend several diversity job fairs, including Lavender Law, HNBA, NEBLSA as well as regional fairs. We also consider write-in applicants.
Summer associate profile: Demonstrated academic achievement is important, but we highly value diverse backgrounds and experiences and students with strong analytical skills and communication skills.
Summer program components: Our program is one where summers are assigned practice groups before joining, so they know the scope of the work they will be given. This approach allows for customized training and assignments based on the area of practice in which the summer has chosen, so the training begins well before the first year of full time work. We offer a specialized training curriculum, including substantive seminars on important legal topics; training in ethics, client service, marketing, legal writing, communications, and finance taught by leading practitioners from throughout the firm. Summers are also afforded practical learning opportunities, including attending depositions, court appearances and client meetings. And our summers do real work, for real clients on cutting-edge legal work on active cases and client projects.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Construction (Band 3)
- ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
- Immigration (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 1)