This Texan titan is staring down the competition by sticking to its strategy of being a “super regional firm.”
“A LOT more firms have moved into Texas recently so the competition is greater,” managing partner Mark Sloan tells us. “We know we have to adapt with the changing times.” It may well be fending off some of the national heavyweights that are edging their way in, but T&K's strong foundation in Texas should see it through: the firm celebrated its 130th birthday in 2017 and, together with its HQ in Dallas, operates three other Lone Star bases in Houston, Austin and Fort Worth. It also has something else that should thwart those out-of-towners' attempts to conquer the state: “It's a very hot market and there's a lot of pressure on the lateral recruiting front, but one thing that sets us apart is that we have a lot of loyalty in our partnership,” Sloan says.
“It's very rare to see people leave.”
This wasn't lost on our associate sources, who told us that “the firm attracts people who want to be in it for the long haul – they want people who want to make partner here. It's very rare to see people leave.” Consequently our interviewees felt that T&K “really invests in its young associates, via training and both formal and informal mentorships.” Of course, what was on offer work-wise also played an important role in attracting juniors: the firm's origins are clear to see in its Chambers USA nationwide ranking for oil and gas transactions, but T&K also receives a range of commendations for its Texas-based work in areas like real estate, tax, IP, healthcare and energy-related regulatory and litigation matters.
Strategy & Future
T&K's reach extends far beyond the confines of Texas though: it has additional domestic offices in New York and LA, and overseas outposts in Algiers, London, Mexico City and Monterrey. So is the firm looking to balloon into a global powerhouse anytime soon? Well, not quite, as Sloan explains: “Our strategy is to remain a 'super regional firm,' so to speak. We're not focused on trying to become national or expanding all over. What we are focused on is strengthening our current bench and getting into new practices like cybersecurity. More than anything we listen to our clients, and we direct our resources to wherever they have a need.”
T&K's trial, real estate & banking, and corporate & securities departments took on the majority of the 27 associates on our list; a handful were assigned to the firm’s finance, tax, IP, and bankruptcy & restructuring practices. Our sources revealed that there's “a more free-market approach” to work assignment in the transactional groups: “The partners get in touch as and when they need you. It does all depend on experience, and often you'll get work because people have seen what you've been able to do on previous matters. As people progress they tend to work with a narrower range of partners.” Over in the trial group, however, there's a more formal work assignment system that is overseen and coordinated by a departmental manager.
“The name of our group is trial, not litigation, which means that every lawyer here can show up, argue and actually see a trial through,” said juniors in this practice. “Obviously we do a lot of work for our oil and gas clients,” they added, highlighting their work on pipeline disputes, as well as “complex partnership, real estate and regulatory matters.” Teams are staffed leanly (“a max of 15 attorneys”) so “the learning curve is very steep: at the moment I'm taking the lead on drafting motions and working my way up to arguing in court. It's about getting the trust of the partners and showing them that you can handle responsibility.”
Real estate & banking juniors told us: “We do lending and development work, but also have a big CMBS [commercial mortgage-backed securities] practice – one of the great things about being a junior is that you can sample all of those lines of work.” Sources were pleasantly surprised to “do projects across the country – it's not just local work, and a lot of the banks we work for are national clients.” When it comes to tasks, “the partners want you to get more than just the typical diligence experience early on; they'll give you as much as you can handle, and I've been able to get a lot of drafting experience on leasing, sale and loan agreements. You take a first stab at those and get comments from partners.”
“...more than just your typical diligence experience.”
Those in corporate & securities had gravitated toward the M&A side of things, but also spoke of a sizable private equity practice which “deals with both fund formation and the implementation of strategy.” Interviewees here found that “you end up doing a lot of oil and gas deals, especially in the midstream and upstream areas.” Like their real estate counterparts, sources felt that “you're not pigeonholed with first-year work.” On M&A deals “you can be working with a senior associate, which will mean that you're drafting the ancillaries and smaller documents for them, but on others it can be just you and a partner, and you'll be sitting in on the negotiations and doing a large part of the drafting on main purchase agreements.” Oil and gas is what the finance group is “most famous for,” but juniors here also pointed to “smaller, more diverse financings where banks lend to chemical, equipment and furniture companies, for instance.” These generally bestowed more responsibility on juniors, “as you get to draft the main documents – on the oil and gas deals you're doing more organizational work like reviewing checklists and conducting searches.”
Training & Development
New joiners spend their first three days in Dallas for some introductory training, before heading back to their home offices and starting their practice-specific run of CLEs. In real estate, for example, “we have weekly CLE meetings where partners present on topics to the whole group – they cover title and survey training for first years and it's so nice to have that ongoing education.” A monthly business development program was recently introduced too: “It's broken down into sessions for first, second and third-year juniors, and focuses on the level of client development you should be aiming to do in those years, which is helpful.”
Juniors get a formal end-of-year evaluation and a midyear review too, which was appreciated: “You get a check-in and the opportunity to turn things around if you're not doing something so well. It's also a chance for you to make sure your career is developing in the way you want it to.”
Culture & Offices
Two-thirds of the juniors on our list were based in T&K's Dallas HQ; Houston housed the majority within the remaining third, with just one or two juniors calling Austin, Fort Worth and New York home. Those in Dallas loved the downtown location, which is “within walking distance of lots of restaurants – we're right in the mix of things!” Inside, “the offices are really nice and modern, plus the IT support is top-notch – I've asked for their help at 3am before!” The Houston office was also warmly received: “We've just moved into a brand new space on Main Street; the office was built from scratch and we have everything we need. It's brighter too, which has been good for morale!”
“We have a team mentality and zero complaints.”
Not that the firm needs too much of a morale boost, from the sound of things. “There's a strong, cohesive culture here,” associates agreed, comparing T&K to “some of the bigger firms that have moved into Texas” in recent years. This relieved junior told us: “My girlfriend works at one of those firms and it sounds like a nightmare! Here people get along – we have a team mentality and zero complaints.” In this cohesive vein T&K invited all of its lawyers from across the network to celebrate the firm's 130th anniversary in “a cool events space in Dallas.”
Many sources felt that T&K's partners played a major role in shaping the firm's culture. “They foster it: many of them have families and therefore understand the need to have a work-life balance. They leave at 6:30pm most days, and there's no face-time requirement to stay here until they leave – they really trust you to get the work done.” The partners' approach also means that “we all work closely together, so that it doesn't feel that everything's on you all the time – you feel very involved and that you can walk into anyone's office to ask questions. Having that level of interaction with the partners makes for a more relaxed environment.”
Hours & Pro Bono
Billing 1,900 hours makes first years bonus eligible and allows them to advance to the next year's pay scale; after the first year juniors need to be hitting 2,000 hours (plus 200 hours in 'firm investment time') to achieve the same result.Our sources across the offices found the target fair (“I thought it would be harder to hit than it actually is!”) and were glad that the firm “discourages people from going above 2,200 hours to avoid burnout and fatigue.”
That doesn't mean that T&K associates don't work hard. Real estate juniors on leanly-staffed teams said they’d had to work late nights and some weekends, but were glad to report that “the group is taking steps to improve staffing issues.” Corporate associates, meanwhile, said that preserving a work-life balance “is more difficult because our schedules can be erratic; you can't really plan ahead, but when the slow times come you take advantage of them.”
Fifty hours of pro bono can count toward the billable requirement, “but you can apply for more to count, and I've never heard of any request being turned down.” Juniors pointed to “a number of resources” at their disposal, including a pro bono chair “who sends out emails every couple of weeks,” legal clinics and opportunities sourced via the Houston Bar Association. We heard of associates helping to revise a women's shelter's bylaws and assisting Habitat for Humanity with a project to build a hospital in Ghana.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 3,212
- Average per US attorney: 26
“The firm is making an effort but the desired outcome hasn't quite been achieved yet,” associates concluded when it came to diversity. T&K's efforts to promote gender diversity received the most praise, with a female interviewee telling us: “I feel very supported here. The women's organization gets together on a quarterly basis, and there are a lot of women in high-level partner positions across the different practice groups.” Sources agreed that “they could do a better job at boosting ethnic diversity,” but did flag the firm's emphasis on trying to do that during recruitment efforts. Hiring partner Jessica Hammons tells us: “We’ve made great strides in this area: our fall class this year was 44% women and minorities, and 50% of our laterals were diverse too.”
When we asked associates involved in recruiting what they’re looking for (aside from grades) they told us: “We often ask why they want to work for us and not somebody else in order to figure out if they have a connection to the particular office. A candidate once said that they had no particular interest in Houston and had just heard that it was nice from a friend – and that wasn’t a good answer!” A commitment to the firm and to specific offices came up a lot in our interviews: “The firm attracts people who want to be in it for the long haul. We want people who are going to make partner – we're not looking to just burn through associates.” Others added: “People’s resumes speak for a lot of the hard criteria, so most of our questions are focused on trying to get to know the candidate, their personality and their goals.”
A Dallas junior told us: “I’ve had several people reach out before the interviews to ask about the environment here, and that’s a good way to do your diligence on the firm.” They added: “Reaching out to people in a particular practice group is a good way to better understand what you might be getting into.” We also heard this from a seasoned recruiter: “One trick I’ve told a couple of students is to ask interviewers whether they went anywhere nice over the summer. If they didn’t go on vacation you should consider whether you really want to work there!”
Interview with managing partner Mark Sloan and hiring partner Jessica Hammons
Chambers Associate: Have there been any significant developments over the last 12 months that readers should know about?
Mark Sloan: Business has continued to be good first and foremost. I think our new offices in Houston showed our commitment to the market there. We’ve also continued to expand our Mexico City practice (that opened in 2014) by hiring new real estate and tax lawyers. A lot more firms have moved into Texas recently so the competition is greater; we know we have to adapt with the changing times.
Jessica Hammons: We’ve just extended our summer program from eight to ten weeks for 2Ls. We invite 1Ls to come for eight weeks, which is a program we didn’t offer until 2016. I definitely think there’s a benefit in getting in front of students before they get to the 2L stage – they get to have a great experience at the firm and become ambassadors for us and the summer program.
CA:Where do you see the firm in five years' time?
MS: Our strategy is to remain a 'super regional firm,' so to speak. We're not focused on trying to become national or expanding all over. What we are focused on is strengthening our current bench and getting into new practices like cybersecurity. More than anything we listen to our clients, and we direct our resources to wherever they have a need. We’re a full-service firm (with the exception of criminal and family law) and that’s what we will continue to provide.
CA:What is the state of the market where your key practice areas are concerned?
MS: The great majority of our work is based in Texas because a lot of our practice areas relate to the energy industry. Energy prices have been depressed for the last three or four years, but we are actually doing well; private equity has remained very busy – even during the down times – and so has our trial practice. A lot of our ongoing success in that practice has come down to the amount of royalty litigation we do – I'd say we're one of the strongest firms in the region for that type of work.
Another thing affecting the market is an increasing amount of competition in the form of national firms looking to establish offices here. It's a very hot market and there's a lot of pressure on the lateral recruiting front, but one thing that sets us apart is that we have a lot of loyalty in our partnership.
CA:What is the firm doing to encourage diversity?
JH: We’ve had a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. We continue to try to recruit great talent across the board and we’re committed to expanding our recruitment pool. We’ve made great strides in this area: our fall class this year was 44% women and minorities, and 50% of our laterals were diverse too.
MS: We’re involved with several programs to encourage diversity. We also provide scholarships; at the University of Houston, for example, we sponsor preparatory courses for diverse students. The population and our clients are very diverse and we want our firm to reflect that. Everybody is competing for the same diverse talent, so it’s important to have a good track record. If you go way back, we were the first Dallas firm to have a female partner, and the managing partner before me was female. We have a long record of promoting gender diversity and we’re trying to pursuing greater ethnic diversity as well.
CA:How would you describe the ideal Thompson & Knight lawyer?
MS: Thompson & Knight has a reputation for having lawyers who are intelligent and professional, with high standards of integrity and a personable nature that allows them to relate to our clients. We want people who want to work in a team-oriented environment – we’re not looking for people who just want to do their own thing.
JH: We set that tone at the very beginning of associates’ careers. When we set up our summer program we take a holistic view and determine the needs of practice groups so that associates can earn a spot on a full-time basis. This means that we’re very team-oriented; there’s a lack of competition among the associates that continues up the ranks.
CA: Can you tell us more about the firm's formal training programs?
JH: One of the things that sets us apart is what we call the ‘Anatomy of the Deal.’ It involves taking summer associates through a deal, with corporate partners and senior associates, from start to finish, so they can see what a transaction looks like and get a practical feel for what negotiating a deal involves. There’s also a trial academy for our litigators, which is essentially a mock trial where partners act as judges and mentors. We bring in jury panels to listen and give feedback; it’s really great because it allows our summer associates and full-time trial associates to get hands-on experience at an early stage in their careers.
CA:What does Thompson & Knight offer that is unique?
MS: It might sound a little clichéd to talk about culture, but there is a different feel in a firm with 300 lawyers as opposed to one with thousands. Our size definitely sets us apart: here you get to work in small groups and get to know the partners well. The compensation is also competitive – we’re on a New York pay scale. We offer sophisticated work and we’re looking for people to come here and stay and grow. We do recruit laterally as well, but our partners have often started out here in the firm. We don’t over-hire associates to ensure that they get plenty of mentoring and opportunities to get involved.
JH: I think we offer the best of both worlds. You get sophisticated work but also the benefit of the environment here. Associates get a lot of responsibility because we staff our teams more leanly, but they also get to enjoy that responsibility in a collaborative working environment.
Thompson & Knight LLP
1722 Routh Street,
- Head Office: Dallas, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 4
- Worldwide revenue: $212.02 million
- Partners (US): 148
- Associates (US): 79
- Main recruitment contact: Hattie Wheeler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Jessica Hammons
- Diversity officer: Nichole Dotson-Olajuwon
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 7
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 8
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,462 per week
- 2Ls: $3,462 per week
- Split summers offered? No, 1st half only
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
■ Texas Tech
■ University of Houston
■ Vanderbilt Job Fair
■ South Texas
■ Southern Legal Interview Program (UNC, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee, William & Mary)
■ On Tour Interview Program (Northwestern, UVA)
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Visit local law school campuses during finals to host lunches, happy hours, etc. Attend job fairs hosted by law schools and send attorneys to speak on law school panels to represent the firm.
Summer associate profile:
Individuals who are a cultural fit, intelligent, hardworking, team-players, self-starters, service oriented, honest, and have a genuine interest in the firm. Having long term goals, a commitment to his/her career, prior work experience, involvement in the community, a strong academic record, and moot court, mock trial, law review experience can all make a candidate stand out.
Summer program components:
Summer associates work in two practice areas and have partner and associate advisors who assist with work assignments, provide feedback, and ensure a rewarding experience with T&K. Formalized training opportunities such as ‘Anatomy of a Deal’ and ‘Trial Academy’ (i.e. completing a deal or trial start to finish under the mentorship of senior associates and partners) are provided. Events include scavenger hunts, casino parties, cultural events, firm’s Management Committee dinner, and sporting events. Volunteer opportunities with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Housing Crisis Center, and Amazing Place are also offered.
Linkedin: Thompson & Knight LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 1)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Oil & Gas) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)