This megafirm started out in Forest City and is just the tonic for those who want to fell BigLaw logs and plant their roots in some of the fastest-growing cities in the US.
What do Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Nina Simone and Squire Patton Boggs have in common? No, it’s not their powerhouse lungs and vocal cords – all of them came rocking out of Cleveland, Ohio. Like these trailblazing musicians, SPB has plenty of drive to make a mighty impact: it’s a global behemoth, with an annual turnover north of a billion and a total of 45 offices (16 in the US and 29 overseas). The firm traces its roots back to 1890 with the founding of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in Cleveland. Patton Boggs, meanwhile, was founded in 1962 in Washington DC. Their 2014 merger created the firm we see before us today, and while Cleveland continues to play an important role in SPB’s network, “DC is the firm’s biggest office in the US,” sources said. The firm has 19 rankings in Chambers USA, with the four standout performers – banking & finance, insurance, natural resources & environment and corporate/M&A – all in Ohio. Evidence of the firm’s governmental prowess shines through in nationwide rankings in government relations and highly-regarded international arbitration work.
“It’s all over the world, but in its heart, it has its Midwestern values.”
The firm’s expertise was a huge draw for interviewees: “I looked all over the place, but I knew I wanted to work at SPB because it was coming into its own in terms of international arbitration.” While the firm is undoubtedly BigLaw, we consistently heard that “at SPB, it’s a bunch of people who work well together. It’s all over the world, but in its heart, it has its Midwestern values.” DC and Cleveland took over half of the junior associates on our list between them, with Phoenix and Columbus housing a handful each. San Francisco, New York and Miami eachtookon a pair of squires, while Atlanta, Cincinnati, and LA had one each.
If, like How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Mosby, you’re searching for that special something without knowing exactly what it is, SPB “encourages you to take work from every group, all across the US,” during its summer program. By the “end of the summer you have an idea of what you like,” grateful sources reminisced. Summers then rank their top-three choicesand “the firm tries to fit you into one of those groups.Most people got their first or second choice.” While prospective associates typically summer in the office they’ll hopefully be working at full time, “it is possible to switch offices” (although admittedly rare). The two biggest practice groups on our list were corporate and litigation.
Litigation “has a practice group leader if you’re looking for work,” but it’s also possible for associates to source matters on their own. In corporate, there’s “a staffing coordinator based in Cleveland.” On Mondays, lawyers in some of the corporate teams “put in our capacity: below 80%, 80-100% or above 100%. Work is then funneled through.” However, sources said that partners can also contact associates directly for work and “you’re encouraged to reach out to the head in Cleveland if you’re slow.” Interviewees told us that cross-office work was a feature of their practices. “Only about 30% of what I do comes from Cleveland,” said one corporate Clevelander. “I do work for a bunch of the other offices, including the UK offices.”
“We do really well with mid-market M&A, but we’ve done some billion dollar deals as well.”
In the transactional space, the firm’s corporate team does “lots of M&A work. Wedo really well with mid-market M&A, but we’ve done some billion dollar deals as well.” Talking of billion-dollar deals, the firm advised Mutual of Omaha Bank on its $1 billion merger with CIT Bank. Sources told us about other types of work opportunities like energy and projects matters, as well as “work with the finance group on development projects and construction assignments.” Juniors explained that “responsibility varies. When I first started it was a lot of doc review and due diligence.” Once associates progress further, they can expect “a lot more responsibility, like leadingcorporate governance calls with clients,” alongside doing more drafting on ancillary documents.
We were told that SPB implements “pretty lean staffing on matters. It’s mostly me and a partner, or someone very close to becoming a partner,” a source confirmed. Juniors added that responsibility “depends on the partner. Some partners will let you get on with it, while some will check in more.”
Corporate clients: Applied Industrial Technologies; chemical company, Ashland; and Procter & Gamble. Recently advised Sterling Bancorp on its $10.3 billion combination with Webster Financial Corporation.
The firm uses words like ‘formidable’ and ‘heavy-hitting’ to describe its general commercial litigation practice and nothing junior associates said dispelled that notion. “We generally work on class actions,” nodded one source. “We’ve handled quite a few disputes on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act,” which is aimed at restricting unsolicited telemarketing. Sources also mentioned encountering “supply chain litigation, as well as breach of contract, large-scale construction, sovereign-entity, and personal jurisdiction disputes.” Another interviewee noted: “We’ve recently strengthened data breach and consumer privacy areas.”
As with corporate, responsibility in litigation “depends on the size of the team,” the size of the matter and the partner you’re working for. As a junior, “you’re doing doc review, statutory research, and drafting parts of documents.” We heard of juniors “writing different briefs, summary judgements, responses and so on,” while some had had “interaction with clients: I can send emails and pick up the phone and call.” In conclusion, as a junior you can expect “a little bit of admin” alongside more responsibility on matters.
Commercial litigation clients: American Family Insurance Company; Equity Management Inc. (EMI); Vertafore. Recently acted for the latter during a $69.9 billion class action relating to an alleged violation of the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 hours (first year); 1,950 (thereafter)
For those worried that BigLaw means being bogged down at the office, our squires told us “an average would be about 50 hours a week.” While that is at the upper end (the average across all firms we surveyed was 53 hours a week), sources liked that “there’s a fair bit of flexibility,” and “the vast majority of partners respect weekend time.” For SPB associates, “you’re expected to be top of your game during the working hours, but that’s it.”
Compensation generally “starts off at market in terms of base pay in the first year,” but can drop off after that. Sources gratefully noted that “recent salary raises means we’re closer in terms of salary for second and third years.” However, despite feeling that “some discrepancy makes sense,” the consensus was “the size of the gap is too big. It’s a factor in terms of whether I would stick around.” SPB associates do shift to a merit-based compensation system, so the overall package does vary depending on performance.
“You’re expected to be top of your game during the working hours, but that’s it.”
The firm can award two bonuses each year. The first is an hours-based bonus made up of 1,900 billable hours in the first year (1,950 thereafter), and “a non-billable goal of 350 hours [for second-years and above – first years have a 400 goal].” Associates can count 100 hours of pro bono towards that target “and you don’t have to hit your billable target first for that to count.” We were told that associates have to meet 101% of their billable target to qualify for the bonus. After that, amounts go up in increments of 1%. The second bonus is a discretionary one.
Interviewees were positive about pro bono at the firm. “You can do whatever you want more or less,” gushed our happy sources. “Last year there was a concerted effort to help veterans get benefits,” one source said. We heard about projects to help sexual assault survivors,as well as a “recommitment to Legal Aid” along with lawyers “reaching out to LGBTQ+ services to help with trans name and gender changes.” While it’s common to hear that pro bono is often the realm of litigators across the industry, at SPB associates across departments were involved. Sources felt it was a good way to take the lead on a matter. As one explained, while a “partner does need to be involved, I’ve felt I can be a real lawyer.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed
Reviews on culture ranged from “generally, folk treat each other with basic human dignity,” at one end to “I’ve gone on double dates with partners and their spouses. I have friendships that go beyond working together,” at the more enthusiastic side. We consistently heard that “partners and associates step in to help cover me,” which speaks of a highly supportive and noncompetitive environment.
We heard that the firm’s entrenched Midwestern values of friendliness and respect, where employees are “a person and not just a number,” were “everywhere. You work so much with different offices that you don’t just get the feel of one office, you get the whole picture and it’s the same,” one DC-based source said. That uniformity meant our sources worked with “nice people, who are relaxed and laid back.” Of course, “if you do poor work, you’re going to get people’s backs up, but all around the firm has a good culture. Other firms didn’t have the same vibe.”
Diversity & Inclusion
As with many a law firm, when it comes to diversity, sources felt SPB was “working on it. We don’t have a great amount of diversity, but I think the firm is making progress and we have some women leaders.” The firm recently signed up for the latest iteration of the Mansfield Rule certification program (Mansfield 5.0), and interviewees added that diversity both in terms of gender and ethnicity “has grown. The new classes are much more diverse.” Another source noted that “there was a huge push last summer  after George Floyd, and the firm is taking active steps – we had speakers come in on Juneteenth, for example.” One diverse source was happy to tell us they felt like they belonged: “I feel like I fit in. I feel like there’s a lane for me.”
Given what we’ve said about the firm’s values, we weren’t surprised to hear that even as “a junior there’s a lot of trust.” We heard that associates “have the ability to ask partners about any issue, which is great. I feel I have a safety net.” The firm assigns “a mentor to everyone” upon joining, though most of our sources said informal mentoring quickly took over the formal arrangement. A few of our sources did highlight that the firm’s current compensation levels would affect their decision to stay with the firm, but at the same time an interviewee was pleased to point out that SPB is “not the type of firm to push you out if you’re not on the partnership track.” They added: “It’s a lot of work, but with good people around you it makes it worth it.”
Strategy & Future
Juniors noted that “the firm is fiscally conservative. It really prioritizes that.” Sources were confident that the firm wouldn’t be “aggressively making moves” in the near future: “This is why we’re able to weather different situations.” However, representatives at SPB told us that the firm has been in growth mode of late and steadily hiring across the latter half of 2021 in response to rising work levels across the industry.
Associate testimony gave us the impression that the firm looks for something a little different. Recollecting their experience of recruitment one source told us: “I do remember that people who got interviews here were not the predictable people, and that is the same every year. They look for qualities that maybe other firms don't look for.” To give us a little indication, one ventured that the firm “hires people who are smart, pretty relaxed and personable, but they've all done great things. They are picky.” Associates felt it necessary to show “willingness to learn, to put in the time.”
As for the interviews, their structure was “pretty normal. It's a half day where you meet with five or six different partners and have lunch with a couple of associates.” For one source, “something that struck me about the interviewing process was the degree of close questioning about my person, not just about my academic accomplishment, though that was certainly a focus and to be sure a pre-requisite, but once the bonafides were established, Squire took more of an interest in who I was and how I worked and how I didn't work. Also what I did in my time off.”
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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Insurance: Insurer (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Natural Resources & Environment (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
Ohio: South & Central
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Government Relations (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Highly Regarded (Band 2)