Life's swell at Southwesterner Snell: it's “a regional firm with impact” and a focus on more than just business.
“OUR region has a lot of growing cities, and that's very attractive to lawyers,” says firm chair Matt Feeney. “People come here to raise their families.” Snell's juniors also highlighted the appeal of the Southwest,and observed that “a lot of our attorneys have come from the Midwest – there's a strong group from Iowa and Kansas, and that's definitely influenced the atmosphere of the firm and contributed to its culture of politeness and congeniality.”
Pioneers who cross the Great Plains will find that Snell has much more to offer than a thriving location and a warm culture. Our interviewees were particularly vocal about this firm's desire to nudge its associates toward the partnership via an early focus on business development. “They are very forthcoming about wanting you to become a partner, and they invest a lot in us to enable that to happen,” one chirpily revealed. Snell therefore attracts those who are “looking to set down some roots, stay and have a career.” That kind of loyalty extends beyond the firm, as Snell “wants to give back to the community – they really encourage us to get involved in their volunteer projects.” Feeney also underscores this point: “I believe people want to be part of something that is more than just a business enterprise – something that also does right by its communities.”
Then there's the reputation for great work, of course. In its home state of Arizona, Snell comes out on top for its corporate/M&A, environment, general commercial litigation and real estate expertise, but Chambers USA also dishes out accolades for the firm's work in Colorado, Nevada and Utah. While its offices may be concentrated in the Southwest, Feeney tells us that “we view the firm as regional in geography only; we're pleased with our ability to serve clients both nationally and internationally.” The firm's overseas capabilities are enhanced by an office in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Working relationships between neighboring offices were common, and often originated from the associates' desire for certain work, although they are also facilitated through gatherings like the annual firm retreat: “Each year everyone comes to Phoenix for a couple of nights and a lot of PowerPoints! We see the firm's numbers, then we break out into our practice groups and interact with people from the other offices. It builds a sense of community.” Almost half of the juniors on our list were based in the Phoenix HQ, while the remaining half were split between its LA, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Orange County, Denver, Tucson and Reno offices.
Strategy & Future
“I wouldn't say we are trying to broaden our offering,” says firm chair Matt Feeney, “we are trying to deepen it in certain areas.” In particular, Feeney highlights growth within the life sciences and biotech subsets of the firm's practice. Elsewhere, “one of our goals is to be the preeminent natural resources group in the West. Environmental, water, regulatory – those are areas we do have growth in. We're also seeing growth in the cybersecurity area; we had partner James Melendres join us from the DoJ.”
“One of our goals is to be the preeminent natural resources group in the West.”
This growth has prompted Snell to expand its reach, but not by opening fully fledged offices, but 'presences' in both Albuquerque and DC. With an uptick in oil and gas work under Trump, Snell is currently “exploring alternative models in Texas,” Feeney tells us. “Partners are considering a similar presence in Houston or Dallas to see if there is room for a firm like ours. We will continue negotiations with existing firms, but we're also open to establishing something that enables us to move into the market more slowly.”
Snell's second- and third-year juniors were split between 11 practices, but the firm's corporate and securities, commercial finance, and IP groups held the highest concentrations. Associates get assignments in different ways depending on location. The Phoenix HQ has a more open-market system, for example, while “work often just lands on your desk” for those elsewhere. Phoenix associates “never found it difficult to source work. During the summer program a senior associate assigns us projects so you meet loads of lawyers, which meant I already had working relationships when I started.” A 'litigation pool' allows the department's first-year associates to dip their toes into a number of sub-groups. “I like the variety,” said one litigator, “as it gives me a break but still helps me to hone skills for my primary practice.”
Industry-specific subgroups within the “catch-all” commercial litigation group include financial services, IP, securities, real estate, 'special' litigation and compliance, construction, white collar, and election and political law. The freedom to source work between them saw our interviewees working on the likes of “real estate, civil conspiracy, retail, civil negligence, tort and soft matters – you're not just exposed to typical breaches of contract.” Clients range from large financial institutions to far smaller companies, which provide good opportunities for fledgling litigators: “On those smaller matters I've been the primary contact for the client.” As well as drafting motions and pleadings, associates had attended court hearings and taken depositions. “My highlights have been taking two expert depositions and writing part of a summary judgment. I really felt I was playing an instrumental role in the team.”
“You're not just exposed to typical breaches of contract.”
Corporate and securities associates had covered most aspects of their department's work. “I've been involved in M&A deals and private placement offerings.” Certain partners “specialize in biomedical companies and startups,” which involves “overseeing securities offerings to get those entities started,” as well as “handling company formation matters, like preparing articles of organization, charter documents and operation agreements. It's pretty cool stuff and it's relatively easy, so a young associate can do it.” Sources found that “partners are good at not withholding the interesting work. A lot of what you do as a young associate can be mundane, but there's enough of the more complex stuff thrown in to make it exciting.” Rather fittingly for the Wild West, interviewees had also handled “client wrangling” to ensure information was submitted on time during the due diligence process.
Culture & Development
“I don't know if it's official policy,” one source pondered, “but we have a well-known and well-enforced no-jerk rule. If someone is being a jerk, it gets to senior people very quickly and gets shut down.” Associates went on to paint a picture of a culture with a community ethos where “everyone is available to talk and laugh with. We're a firm that's full of polite, professional people.”
This politeness coincides with a rather formal dress code: “We are still required to wear a full suit every day. People may think we are formal or stuffy as a result of that, but it's not the case.” We heard tales pointing to a healthy social life across the board at Snell: in Denver there's a partner who hosts a wine-tasting event; in Phoenix there are weekly basketball and volleyball games to keep lawyers energized; and in Salt Lake City there's a much-loved tradition of “going to each other's houses to watch The Bachelor – it's good to keep up with it!” On the whole, “there are less firm-sponsored events, but that's because they bring in people who want to spend time with each other. It's the whole mindset of the place and in any given week I'm invited to at least two social activities.”
“We have a well known and well-enforced no-jerk rule.”
Further bonding is enabled by Snell's COACH mentoring program, which is designed to help junior lawyers find their feet and position themselves firmly on the path to partnership. In assigning formal mentors, “the firm ensures you're speaking to the 'grey-hairs' in the firm. It breaks down barriers.” Furthermore, “they want us to work on business development right out of the gate. I brought in my first client with the help of my mentor; they are your best resource for helping you to progress toward the partnership.” Making partner was flagged as a realistic prospect: “The partner track is pretty clear. They focus on you building up a book of business and we have lunch talks with successful partners and associates, who pass on their knowledge to us.”
Hours & Compensation
Average associate hours were pretty reasonable for BigLaw: our sources were usually in the office by 8.30am and out by 6pm, but timings did vary. While we never heard of anyone pulling an all-nighter, some of our sources had stayed in the office until midnight on occasion. Encouragingly, “partners are frank about saying, 'Don't overwork, this is not a grind shop.' Your bonus doesn't increase at a rate that makes doing 2,400 hours worth it. They don't want you working like that.”
On the subject of bonuses: 1,900 hours is the target to shoot for in Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Denver; those in LA should reach 1,950; and in Reno, Tucson and Vegas it's 1,800 hours. “They are well-known marks, and the people who really want to get there can do so,” thought Phoenix-based sources. “It's not a number that will keep you from seeing your family and is in line with the city's average.” They also felt their base salaries were in line with the market, but described their bonuses as “lower compared to other local firms.” Snell's closed compensation system means that bonuses “aren't talked about in the same way as they are at other firms.” Our sources mostly agreed with this junior, who felt that “it simply comes down to trusting the people making the decisions – and I think we have the right people in charge to make us feel confident that decisions are being made fairly.”
Around half of our interviewees could specifically name the firm's diversity initiatives. These include a student diversity scholarship (the FAR program), the Women's Initiative (which provides flexible working schedules that “allow women to stay on the partnership track”) and a legal writing internship for diverse students. Many partners also sit on the boards of community-oriented charities, which are often directed at particular minority groups.
The firm's pro bono commitments also take on a community slant. A Phoenix-based junior told us: “We're very involved in community outreach. Once a month I help at the Homeless Legal Assistance Project, to answer legal questions from those in need.” Our sources had also volunteered at a tax assistance program, worked for a charity, and written wills for veterans. Completing 50 hours of pro bono is encouraged and a technically unlimited amount (pending approval) can count toward Snell's billable target.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 11,870
- Average per US attorney: 28.8
Upon hearing that the firm has every intention of finding its future partners among its joining summers, you might expect a recruitment process that's as tough as nails, akin to Ninja Warrior crossed with Jeopardy! But no, although associates dreaded horror questions such as: “What kind of shoe would you be?” they were pleased to report that Snell's recruiters are “not resume grillers. They don't have a set list of questions, and they're more interested in getting to know you on a personal level. They spend time presenting the culture to candidates.” Anne Meyer, co-chair of the hiring committee, confirms this: “We're always interested in what has drawn people to Snell; we value academics, but we're also looking for well-rounded people. We have a credo that talks about what you can do for the firm, for the community and for our clients. We want people who fall within that credo, so we look for those who are already involved in the community.”
Callbacks enhance Snell's endeavor to fully understand its interviewees. They involve a relaxed meal with some of the firm's associates. “The meals give us a chance to get to know the personality of a candidate,” associates commented. “It's almost supposed to be a hangout session – just food and a chat. Other interviews can be more formal.”
Interview with director of attorney recruiting and diversity Abby Raddatz, co-chair of the hiring committee Anne Meyer and hiring committee chair Adam Lang
Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?
Anne Meyer: We go to schools in our backyard: a number in California, a couple in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. We also recruit on campus at other schools that we have connections to, including Notre Dame, Michigan, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Iowa, Washington University (St. Louis) and Kansas.
CA: Do you find people mainly come from the South West?
Adam Lang: I would say it's more of an even split. People also apply through the website and we do resume collections, so it means we're not committed to only hiring from where we go on campus.
Abby Raddatz: The footprint we have is geographically desirable. It is an appealing place for people to live who are looking for balance in their quality of life. Your dollar also stretches further here. We're not only getting people from the states in which we practice.
CA: Can you very briefly outline your summer program?
AM: Our summer program has students set up with an assigning attorney, and they get to work directly with partners, getting involved with calls and court appearances. Summers are taken to people projects, meaning they interact with clients in closings – it's more like real life. It's more than just working on a project. They will get to experience different work, from different practice groups, from different levels of folks. They should get to see a cross section of the firm.
The assigning attorney helps summers with their area of interest by finding work from specific practice groups, which works pretty well. Summers complete approximately ten projects with four or five different groups. Beyond that they also have a mentor and a partner reader who gives feedback on their first two assignments.
CA: If you could have one quality in an applicant, what would it be?
AL: Bounce-back resilience or a go-getting spirit. It often comes out in an interview. It's hard to see from a resume. We will sometimes see someone who is a first generation college student who can talk about the challenges they have had; or we might have someone who has had a failure or a tragedy in their life. You don't have to be perfect. You just have to show your ability to recover.
AM: We have a long-term approach to hiring and are looking for future partners. We like to see candidates who are enthusiastic about seeking out challenging work and learning from it, but also who fit well within our culture. We have a credo that talks about what we do for the firm, for the community and for our clients. We want people who believe in that credo.
Interview with Snell & Wilmer firm chair Matt Feeney
Chambers Associate: What were the highlights from last year?
Matt Feeney: We have a strong focus on leadership advancement in the firm, and this year we elected more people to our executive committee. In six years, four or five people have changed on the executive committee – that's an example of the advancement available within the firm.
Since January of 2016, six of the nine managing partners of our Western offices – including Mexico in that – have turned over. We have a new executive director who followed a very successful one, and a new director of finance. We have a new director of practice group administration, a brand new director of pricing, and we have a new general counsel position. In the area of leadership advancement we believe that to be successful for 10, 20, 30 years to come, the environment we pass forward must be clear on its commitment to advancement and leadership.
Underlying everything we think about is our focus on people. We believe that if we attract good lawyers, good people who are interested in building relationships, in the firm and with clients, and certainly in communities, then everything takes care of itself.
We're also going to be deepening our focus on practice groups as business units. Critical practice group leaders will have the information necessary to run and manage their practice group teams. We've put time and effort into doing that.
Finally we've continued to focus on taking a hard and fresh look at the dollars we spend. It's critical to be cost-competitive. We invest heavily in marketing and attracting clients; everything else is up for grabs in terms of how to deliver services cost-effectively.
CA: In a legal marketplace where many firms stretch from coast to coast, what are the advantages of being a firm with a distinct regional footprint? Will you stick to that model?
MF: I appreciate that question. It's one we talk about quite a bit. Our region has a lot of growing cities, and that's very attractive to lawyers. People come here to raise their families. It's a good thing for our recruitment.
The cost structures in the nine cities we operate from can be lower than national and international firms, so we can support our clients without excessive costs. Clients are drawn to us because they've concluded they don't need to pay the East or West Coast rates of AmLaw50 firms to get good work done.
Another thing is that from the management angle we maintain a close-knit culture when every office is a plane ride away. You can return the same day. You can stay overnight for dinner with attorneys, but you could easily come back the same day. That allows lawyers to get office to office and means practice groups can function across offices.
Laterals who join, we encourage them to get on a plane and visit as many offices as quickly as possible after their interviews so that they can ask how they can help, and how they might be able to integrate.
If we wanted to become a national firm, any number of firms would be happy to merge with us, but we have not seen the advantage – though you can never say never. We view the firm as regional in geography only; we're pleased with our ability to serve clients both nationally and internationally.
CA: Associates told us about a number of growing practice groups, like IP and natural resources – is the firm trying to broaden its offering?
MF: I wouldn't say that we are trying to broaden our offering. We are trying to deepen it in certain areas.
Let's take IP. That's a core capability. Within IP we have some lawyers who are involved in industry sub-groups. The life sciences and biotech subgroups have been growing over the last two to four years and it's something we have focused on. Also in IP generally, we can deliver patent prosecution in a cost-effective manner. Both that and IP litigation have grown well.
One of our goals is to be the preeminent natural resources group in the West. Environmental, water, regulatory – those are areas we do have growth in. We're also seeing growth in the cybersecurity area; we had partner James Melendres join us from the DoJ.
CA: How is the Trump administration affecting your work? Some of your areas of expertise are on his agenda, i.e. environmental regulation, which you're strong at in Phoenix.
MF: I would say on the regulatory side it's a little too soon to tell. Obviously there are a lot of existing environmental regulations in place both at federal and state level, and we've not noticed any appreciable downturn in the work we do on the regulatory or environmental side.
One area we saw an uptick in since the election has been in oil and gas and the transactional side of natural resources. Companies are more willing to invest, and there's been a commodity price uptick. We have a pretty strong focus on transactional natural resources in the Denver office.
CA: Does that uptick mean you'll consider moving into Texas, a traditionally strong area for oil and gas?
MF: Let me talk about Texas a little bit. We started to explore the option of opening there six or seven years ago. We had some serious conversations over the years with firms, but we've not found the right fit. We're exploring alternative models in Texas.
I want to tell you about two things. We've established a presence in Albuquerque. It's not a sensible market for a full office, but rather a presence with lawyers admitted to practice in New Mexico. We will also be establishing a presence in Washington DC. Partners are considering a similar presence in Houston or Dallas to see if there is room for a firm like ours. We will continue negotiations with existing firms, but we're also open to establishing something that enables us to move into the market more slowly.
CA: Last year you talked to us about analyzing your efficiency and some associates mentioned to us that there were a number of support staff layoffs – I wonder if you could confirm this to us, and is this a strategic move, or the result of financial troubles?
MF: We announced last Thursday that we were letting go about 20 support staff members throughout the firm. The fact is that although it's a painful decision involving human beings, it became clear that the firm was out of step with its staffing model. We had access to really good data, and we were hoping this could be resolved through natural attrition, but that wasn't happening. The judgment brings us more in line with peer firms. Hopefully people understood why we did it, it's not because the firm is not doing well financially.
CA: A number of associates talked about working for partners in different offices, especially if it was work they particularly wanted – is this something you encourage?
MF: Yes is the short answer. I talked last year about a tool which we call the import/export chart. For each office and practice group we provide practice group leaders with information about where work is coming from. For example, as the practice group leader in corporate, I can see which practice groups are sending work to us and which groups we are sending work to. It's the same in terms of offices. We encourage partners to meet regularly to review associates, to see who has capacity so that we can move work from office to office. It's not unusual to tell people to spend a few days to get to know people and work from another office. We're in the habit of sending work to where it makes sense to the client.
CA: What do you think sets the firm apart in terms of opportunities for junior associates?
MF: At the end of the day, I believe people want to be part of something that is more than just a business enterprise – something that also does right by its communities. Our firm offers that. People recognize that, that we do things differently. That's why we have people who stay here a very, very long time.
I was recently having dinner with some partners, and I was sitting next to a new lateral who joined six months ago. They asked causally how long I'd been at the firm – I said 35 years. They nearly fell out of their chair. They shouldn't have been surprised: there was not a partner at that table who had been there less than 12 years.
More on Snell's IP work
The aerospace, financial services and pharmaceutical industries were highlighted as strengths in Snell's IP department, which handles a mix of patent prosecution and trademark enforcement/defense work. Our sources particularly enjoyed the latter, as “anyone can speak the language – patent is more specialized. You can formulate some interesting arguments with trademark disputes – there are ways to argue around points in order to show how a trademark is different.” Tasks included drafting cease and desist letters and complaints, as well as assisting with investigations.
Snell & Wilmer LLP
One Arizona Center,
400 East Van Buren Street ,
- Head Office: Phoenix, AZ
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 1
- Partners (US): 202
- Associates (US): 153
- Main recruitment contact: Abigail Raddatz, Director of Attorney Recruiting and Development
- Hiring partners: Adam E Lang, Craig O’Loughlin, Rebecca Winterscheidt
- Diversity officer: Mina Mendez
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 21
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 20
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Denver: 4; Las Vegas: 2 Los Angeles: 2; Orange County: 2 Phoenix: 12; SLC: 2, Tucson: 1
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $2,211-$3,077/week
- 2Ls: $2,211-$3,077/week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Arizona State; Brigham Young; Notre Dame; U of Arizona; UC Irvine; UCLA; U of Colorado; U of Denver; Iowa; Kansas; U of San Diego; U of Nevada Las Vegas; USC; U of Utah; Vanderbilt; Virginia; Pepperdine; Loyola Los Angeles; Washington University (St. Louis); U of Michigan.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Candidates at non-OCI schools may apply directly through our website. We participate in resume collections at many schools and in the Rocky Mountain Diversity Job Fair. We are not committed to only hiring from schools where we go on-campus.
Summer associate profile:
Snell & Wilmer seeks candidates who not only demonstrate high academic achievement, but also are social, energetic, unique, genuine, motivated, have a sense of humor, and enjoy working with their friends and colleagues and are committed to their communities. We desire diverse individuals who want to resolve new and exciting legal challenges, who enjoy working as part of a team and who will uphold our valued firm culture. In other words, we want great people who will become great lawyers.
Summer program components:
The firm appoints several senior associates to coordinate the program and assign summer associate projects. In addition, each summer associate is assigned a mentor, a partner reader and a reality partner. Summer associate mentors are responsible for making the summer a positive experience for each summer associate. Partner readers provide invaluable feedback on two written assignments a summer associate completes. The ‘Reality Snell & Wilmer’ program matches summer associates with a partner who brings them into other cases and transactions, as needed, to simulate the day-to-day reality of working as an attorney.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Environment (including water rights) (Band 1)
- Environment: Water Rights (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Native American Law (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Environment, Natural Resources & Regulated Industries (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)