With the "expectation and hope that associates will one day become partner," juniors feel at home at this energy-focused Texas midsizer.
THE words 'Texas' and 'oil' are hardly a surprising combination. Neither then is Dallas-based Thompson & Knight's focus on the oil and gas industry. With 130 years of history in the Lone Star State this firm has developed something of an expertise in the area, with energy clients cropping up across its practices and a national ranking for its work in Chambers USA. There's more to T&K than just Texas and oil though: the firm has a dozen Chambers USA rankings in Texas for areas including corporate M&A, litigation, real estate, and banking & finance. It also has two small US offices outside its home state – in New York and LA – along with four international offices in Algiers, London, Mexico City, and Monterrey.
Besides being attracted to the firm's location and practice areas many of our interviewees also gushed about the firm's "wonderful and supportive culture." Many felt they got a good deal on work/life balance and liked that "Thompson & Knight is a place where people come in as associates and stay to make partner." "That was important to me," one insider shared. "I was interested in starting at a firm I could stay at for a career."
At the time of our research all juniors were based in Texas, two-thirds of them in Dallas and most of the rest in Houston with just a few in Austin and Fort Worth. The Austin office "leans more toward regulatory and appellate work," while Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth all have varied practices. The corporate & securities and the trial practices take in most juniors, followed by tax, finance, and real estate. The government, IP, oil & gas, international energy, and bankruptcy practices nabbed just one or two juniors each in the classes of 2016 and 2017.
How work is assigned varies between groups. In most, things are "pretty organic and most work comes from seniors." This was seen as a plus by insiders, who said: "Partners and associates freely come to you, which helps build relationships." On the downside this system means that "if sometimes you are a little slow you may feel you need to go around and ask for work." The trial group has a more formal assignment system with a practice group coordinator managing assignments, meaning juniors "are not in a situation where work isn't spread evenly and some people are barely making their billable hours requirement."
"I got to work on the main deal documents like the purchase and sale agreement."
Corporate & securities is split into two groups: a corporate side dealing with M&A – particularly for energy companies and private equity clients – and a securities side which handles capital markets work. For juniors work yo-yos between "document review and drafting." One told us: "We are quite a small firm, so our deals tend to be leanly staffed. As early as my first year I got to work on the main deal documents like the purchase and sale agreement." Private equity deals came in for particular praise from juniors due to their fast pace and more extensive client contact, which leads to "an adrenalin rush whenever you close or sign a deal." More boring work is unavoidable however, and none of our interviewees would admit to liking due diligence.
Corporate clients: Natural Gas Partners, US Bank National Association, and Carrier Energy Partners. Advised Halcón Resources on the $1.4 billion sale of its assets in the Williston Basin petroleum and potash deposit in Montana and the Dakotas to Bruin E&P Partners.
Along with a big focus on oil and gas litigation T&K's trial group takes on healthcare, white-collar, criminal defense, real estate, securities, and patent litigation. For those wishing to spread their wings this is good news as "there's an expectation you will work with as many partners as you can." Like in corporate the firm's relatively small size means leaner staffing and more responsibility. "You don't do a lot of document review," one junior said. "Instead I'm doing direct negotiations with opposing counsel, drafting pleadings or attending court hearings." The main tradeoff for avoiding the duller tasks is "a steep learning curve – the firm has high expectations of its associates especially when you get to the midlevel."
Litigation clients: BNSF Railway, Source Energy Services, and Petrobras America. Defended the San Angelo Community Medical Center in a three-week jury trial against attempts by Shannon Medical Center to dissolve a long-standing cancer treatment partnership.
Energy work also dominates the finance group with "something like 80% of the work based around the energy industry." Associates here seemed to get less responsibility than in other groups. Work is structured such that "the senior associate or the partner take the first cut at the main documents and the junior is responsible for drafting and negotiating the ancillary documentation such as pledge and security agreements." However, substantive work was also available as juniors did get to "negotiate with all the counterparties."
Finance clients: Bank of America, Noble Energy, and Cadence Bank. Advised Wells Fargo on a $1 billion loan to Black Stone Minerals Company for 184 oil and gas mortgages in 14 states.
When we asked about career development we got a consistent response: "The firm hires with the expectation and hope that associates will one day become partner." The partner track normally lasts around eight years. Aiding associates in reaching their goal are dedicated partner and associate mentors, bootcamps in Dallas and Houston, and senior lawyers involving associates in business development, such as bringing them along to client pitches. Given the desire of most associates to stay at the firm, sources weren't too fussed about the question of how much value T&K's name adds to their CV.
"The firm hires with the expectation and hope that associates will one day become partner."
One typical associate described T&K as "a place that wants you to feel supported," giving us the following example: "There have been times when I've mentioned that I needed to cancel a personal social event to meet a deadline, and I'll get told, 'No, no, no, this can be done tomorrow.'" Pondering what makes T&K's lawyers adopt such an attitude, juniors pointed to an active effort to recruit people that have the same outlook at both the senior and junior levels. "We hire a small class of people and you get really close," one junior said, "particularly as you are constantly going to events" – for instance for clients or the women's initiative.
A source in the firm's second office, Houston, told us how they still feel connected to the firm's main hub: "I don't get the feeling we are a lesser office. We do a lot of work with Dallas lawyers, and there are a whole lot of practices here too."
Hours & Compensation
T&K requires its associates to bill 2,000 hours annually, plus a further 200 firm investment hours which encompass everything from firm meetings to happy hours. Juniors thought these targets were "pretty achievable," as the firm's lean staffing model means there's "plenty of work for everyone." One source did note this state of affairs relies on work volume being consistent, and given the firm's lockstep compensation system a bad year could mean being kept at the same pay level. But interviewees were happy with their lockstep base salary and semi-discretionary bonus, particularly as the firm raised salaries to match the Milbank scale in summer 2018. "It was very well received," chirped one insider, "especially since when the Cravath scale was bumped up in 2016 I don't think the firm fully matched that."
"I probably haven't had a period longer than a couple of weeks when it's been busy."
During quiet times juniors told us they start work at 9am and exit at 6:30pm to 7:30pm, though early birds said you can also arrive at 8am and clock off shortly after 5pm. When things get busy many associates start "around the same time but work can go past midnight." One source added: "I probably haven't had a period longer than a couple of weeks when it's been really intense."
Officially associates can count up to 50 hours of pro bono toward their billable target, but approval can be sought to go over 50 hours. Interviewees felt free to explore their pro bono interests, though they didn't seem to regularly go over the limit. "Pro bono's encouraged within those 50 hours," one source told us, reasoning: "Given a law firm is in the business of making money from clients who can actually pay, it's reasonable to have a limit." Getting pro bono work is as simple as responding to one of the regular emails sent out by a pro bono partner. The matters available are driven by what partners decide to take on. We heard about a mix of asylum work, veterans matters, and "representing indigent tenants."
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 3,732
- Average per US attorney who undertook pro bono: 31
Diversity & Inclusion
Associates felt T&K didn't do too badly on gender diversity at the junior level, with close to a 50:50 male/female split. "Racial diversity is more lacking," admitted one – nine in ten attorneys are white. "This is an issue the firm is aware of," one source said. "We have a diversity coordinator and are actively doing more to recruit diverse candidates." For example, T&K attends and sponsors minority recruitment fairs in Texas and elsewhere.
Strategy & Future
Managing partner Mark Sloan was feeling very confident about T&K's market position when we spoke to him. "We are a major player in the Texas market and have among the highest concentration of lawyers in the state,” he proclaimed, adding that the IP and corporate practices did particularly well in 2018. Sloan also told us about the challenges ahead: “There's continued increased competition, and more firms are moving into the Dallas market, so we are focused on continuing to build our profitability and standing out from the competition with value and expertise.” The competition isn't just from big Texas players like Vinson & Elkins and Baker Botts. Sloan points out: “There are a significant number of middle market competitors who have come into this market. So we have competition from people underneath us who may be trying to undercut our rates as well as from the premium players. And we're confident those are challenges we can meet.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 248
Interviewees outside OCI: 31
Over 20 schools and job fairs get a visit from Thompson & Knight. The firm's recruiting focus is unsurprisingly in Texas, with “a long, successful history of recruiting from top Texas schools,” according to hiring sources at the firm. Examples of these include Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas and the University of Houston. In an effort to increase the diversity of schools represented in its summer class, recent hires have come from schools such as Harvard, Duke, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia. The firm tells us that over 40% of the firm’s attorney population went to law schools outside of Texas. TK visits the Lavender Law Career Fair, Southeastern Minority Job Fair, On Tour Job Fair, Tulane Job Fair, Sunbelt Minority Recruitment Program, SMU Job fair and the Southern Legal Interview Program, among others.
The firm normally sees about 20 candidates per interview room, so it varies by school. At the University of Texas, for example, the firm has separate interview rooms for its Austin, Dallas and Houston offices. OCIs are often conducted by partners and associates of the firm who are alumni of the relevant school, though candidates may also meet the managing partner, hiring partner, and members of the management committee. As well as the usual questions on a candidate’s professional and academic background, hopefuls should also expect to be quizzed about their work ethic, when they've demonstrated leadership, and their interest in the office they are applying for.
Top tips for this stage
“Do your homework. Know the firm, the practice areas, and the offices. Be able to sell yourself when talking through your resume.”– Hiring sources at the firm
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 124
Callbacks candidates spend three to four hours being assessed though a mixture of interviews with partners and associates in different practice areas. Candidates may also go for lunch with attorneys at the firm. Questions delve into a candidate’s prior work experience and interest in their stated practice area. Hiring sources at the firm say interviewers are impressed with “students who communicate well and have a professional presence.” Although lengthy, this junior associate remembered it wasn’t as much of a grilling as they’d feared: “My interviewers were telling me a lot about the firm. They seemed to want me there, and it was more of a pitch by them.”
Top tips for this stage:
“To make a good impression during the callback interview process, personalize each interview. Students will receive names of the interviewers ahead of time, and it is nice when they have read the interviewers’ bios and tailor their questions accordingly.”– Hiring sources at the firm
TK runs two summer programs: a 1L program lasting six to eight weeks, and a 2L program lasting eight to ten weeks. For both, summers spend the first half of the program in one practice area before rotating to a second. Associate and partner mentors are on hand to help divvy out work and provide guidance. There’s a social event at least once a week for summers to get to know each other and the firm’s attorneys. Hiring sources at the firm advise summers “participate in the events and get to know the attorneys; the social aspects matters.” The firm makes job offers into specific practice groups. In 2018, the firm made an offer to all of its summer associates.
Notable summer events: Concerts, sporting events, cooking classes.
Top tips for this stage:
“Deliver the highest quality work on your assignments, no matter what.”– Hiring sources at the firm
Thompson & Knight LLP
One Arts Plaza,
1722 Routh Street,
- Head Office: Dallas, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 4
- Worldwide revenue: $226.5 million
- Partners (US): 141
- Associates (US): 84
- Main recruitment contact: Kelly Morgan (Kelly.Morgan@tklaw.com)
- Hiring partner: Jessica Hammons
- Diversity officer: Nichole Dotson-Olajuwon
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 11
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 11, 2Ls: 24
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,653 per week
- 2Ls: $3,653 per week
- Split summers offered? No, 1st half only
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
• Southern Methodist University
• The University of Texas at Austin
• Louisiana State University
• Duke University
• Baylor University
• Texas Tech University
• The University of Oklahoma
• Harvard University
• University of Houston
• Vanderbilt University
• Tulane University
• South Texas College of Law Houston
• Southern Legal Interview Program (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, Washington & Lee University, The College of William & Mary)
• On Tour Interview Program (Northwestern University, The University of Virginia)
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, and 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.
Linkedin: Thompson & Knight LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- 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 3)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 3)
TK: Choosing a firm