With one eye on expansion and another on “human connection,” Vedder knows the price of “staying true to core values.”
As Roosevelt said, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” This philosophy is something Vedder very much adheres to. Speaking with operating shareholder Dana Armagno, we are told Vedder Price is eagle-eyed on a strategy of focused growth. “We try to stay true to our core values.” Armagno tells us both associate and partner lateral growth, and expansion in key practices is a priority. “We continue to grow laterally with associate and shareholder affiliation, adding several partners in key areas; we’ve expanded in international trade and compliance in DC, regulatory and trade compliance support and transactional work in Chicago, and international property. We’re also really proud of how the Dallas office has grown."
With its largest office being based in Chicago, it was no surprise to hear associates tell us the firm’s hefty pedigree in the Windy City was a big draw factor – but delve deeper and you’ll quickly find qualities mirrored across the firm’s seven US offices. Alongside Chicago, Vedder Price’s offices in New York, DC, San Francisco, LA, Dallas, and Miami all play key roles in bumping the firm’s confetti of practices. Vedder Price holds a glittering array of Chambers USA rankings on its resume, most notably for its transportation practices including top rankings in aviation finance and maritime finance, alongside registered funds across the States. High rankings in California for labor & employment,and employee benefits and media & entertainment litigation in Illinois are also worth a shout-out, but rest assured the firm is no slouch in other aspects of its practice, driven by a well-established culture and opportunities for juniors outside of client billables.
Strategy & Future
“We’ve weathered storms because of the way we’re structured, not being reliant on any one practice,” explains Armagno. “But we are also able to be more nimble than most firms! We’re providing services on a spectrum. We focus on relationships, cross-selling, and developing great people." Vedder Price is particularly focused on expansion in international trade and compliance in DC, regulatory and trade compliance support in Chicago, and its IP practice. Ultimately though, while the firm continues to drive its practices like trade and compliance externally in response to international economic and political turbulence, “it’s really about looking within, seeing what skill sets we can expand to our clients.”
In typical fashion juniors are placed into their practices after stating preferences at the end of the summer program. Once within their groups, newbies are dunked into a free-market system of work allocation – there is no dedicated work coordinator to dish out assignments. Of course, some juniors “worried free market would be overly competitive, or there’d be favorites!” but their fears were assuaged. “Partners make an effort to rotate associates, so they focus on giving most of the work to one person at a time. I don’t usually have to search around for things to do!” Across the board the associates we spoke with were positive about the firm’s organic approach to allocation. It’s a format by which, “if there’s something that interests you, you can get more exposure,” and where “you get a sense of what is truly needed in the group and what partners are looking for.” One junior did note that “if you’re lateraling over from somewhere more structured it might take time to adjust.”
“You get a sense of what is truly needed in the group and what partners are looking for.”
Moving beyond the first few months,juniors are expected to seek out and network to be placed on matters. In litigation, associates often find themselves working with people they‘ve worked with before, but can also find themselves on a wide array of cases. “You can work on all sorts,” including standard breach of contract and white-collar cases to more niche cybersecurity matters and “cases that are all over the news!” One junior noted their fondness for securities and government investigations work because there “you’re starting from ground zero. It’s usually pre-litigation where we’re hired by the company to investigate allegations of wrongdoing.” Such investigations include reviewing documents, doing interviews and advising on what course of conduct the company should take, so juniors are given good opportunities to get stuck in. Across the practice though, there is plenty of variety for those who “don’t just want to do doc review; they let me run the process, allocate reviews, work with shareholders, and pull documents for trial… there really is a wide variety of interesting work – if you want more responsibility and opportunities they are there.”
Litigation clients: NHC, Good Worldwide, Controlled Demolition. Defended ETF Managers Trust against a $20 million damages claim alleging ETF withheld fund profits and management fees.
We heard Vedder is trying to grow its investment services practice, especially on the East Coast. This work falls into three buckets: fund formation, deals, and compliance matters. Across the group, associates work on macro-scale registered funds to private funds. “It’s a lot of open and closed end mutual funds,” one junior told us. Newbies are tasked with board regulatory and compliance work, analyzing annual shareholder reports, reviewing strategy risks, and seeing if they need updates with regard to regulatory changes in the world. “The board side is more like looking at minutes, resolutions and memorandums” on the day-to-day, while the M&A side is also “a big part of our practice.” Although with registered funds the firm works with particularly large entities, “we do also have smaller clients that are much more niche and nuanced.”
Investment services clients: DWS Funds, Driehaus Mutual Funds, Independent Directors of American Century Funds. Assisted E-Valuator Funds Trust with the reorganization of six funds into a standalone fund.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,850 target; a guaranteed bonus component determined by class year and additional bonus eligibility starting at 2,000 hours
Juniors should go into work with “BigLaw expectations, hours-wise!” While hours do vary by associate – “some will work a longer day so they have more free time at the weekend” – the juniors we spoke with all found themselves working a little outside your typical Monday to Friday. “You do work on weekends but not every weekend,” and “more often than not it’s me catching up on things, not getting new stuff.” Across the board associates acknowledged that practice leaders are more than reasonable in drawing a line between work and personal life: “People have left me alone when I’m on vacation. The shareholders have been very good about that, jumping in when needed.”
Of course, particularly with the firm’s corporate practices, workload “is pretty cyclical, so you can plan a little better – as the fiscal year-end approached, work increases, but it’s always been very manageable.” Juniors who noted feeling overworked did feel that once they spoke up “the firm listened.” The litigation team now asks associates to report their hours in a traffic-light system, indicating who has capacity to better balance the workload; “even though I’m still busy I don’t have the stress of somebody calling me to do something else! It’s not foolproof but for me it’s worked.”
“A rising tide raises all ships!” one enthusiastic junior chirped, outlining the firm’s approach to associate development. “Beyond the partners taking the time to go through your work,” they continued, “they’ve refocused on more holistic training for the base areas of law and the core competencies,” something that helps create a concrete foundation for juniors to build on.
One insider did note that training could be improved by creating sessions for more specialized practices, but for the most part, training “is in a pretty good spot – shareholders are good at weaving in their own practice experience and make sure it’s relevant.” Shareholders and third parties play a central role in shaping feedback, talks and trainings in “anything from professional responsibility to new regulations in data privacy and how to approach that.”
Across the offices “we stick to a door-open policy – everyone is more than willing to help everyone succeed, even if they aren’t in your practice group.” One associate even noted that some shareholders and paralegals “have been at the firm before I was born; if I’m working with something old, I can find someone who was around in like, 1998!” Juniors we spoke with all underscored their ability to draw knowledge from experienced colleagues as well as “being able to talk to our peers, and being able to lean on each other,” something they felt was integral to Vedder’s culture. In addition, “the size of the groups doesn’t seem to impact that,” and when new associate classes come in “it’s nice to take on a mentoring role. We’ve become really close.” Insiders also brought up a feeling of fluidity across Vedder Price’s offices. “Even with the time differences it’s been relatively seamless,” one grinned, with another adding, “There’s no seclusion – you can work with shareholders in DC, LA, and Chicago in the New York office.”
“If I’m working with something old I can find someone who was around in like, 1998!”
When it comes to the firm’s social culture “there’s not a formal associate planning committee.” But while “no first-year is going to have a robust social life” there are still many events associates can dig into. Vedder holds holiday parties, associate happy hours and lunches at ping-pong bars. “The firm is pretty supportive of anything we want to plan!” including “the Christmas party where we had the children’s choir in and hot chocolate – it was great to see people there!”
Associates are given 100 hours of billable credit for pro bono per year, and most of the juniors we spoke with were actively working on a matter. The firm works on a wide variety of matters, allowing them to “match us at the start based on our interests.” Associates recalled working on imprisonment, asylum and other cross-border matters, supported with the help of immigration attorneys. But case issues and initiatives are much broader than that: DC helps KIND – Kids in Need of Defense, and Community of Hope; LA supports the TransLatin Coalition; and the office in Chicago holds a host of pro bono matters in collaboration with: Legal Aid Chicago; Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; Lawyers for the Creative Arts, among others. “They also encourage people to take on their own” and bring initiatives to the firm – “a couple of people in my class did their own projects for the creative arts, helping with IP disputes related to artistic work!”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 7,835
- Average per US attorney: 24
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Insiders were generally positive about their experience of DEI at the firm, particularly with regard to women’s representation: “There are a lot of women partners who feel like mentors to me. They, in turn, have been taken under the wing of senior male partners who are looking to retire.” The women’s group, WAVES (Women at Vedder Empowering Success) is “pretty active,” and helps with the firm’s intentional recruiting of female first-years.
“There are a lot of women partners who feel like mentors to me.”
Recruiting was also seen as a positive for minority associates: “They do a great job with that, and the diversity scholarship program is brilliant.” Juniors we spoke with did tell us that they were a little unsure of what initiatives the firm has in regards to diversifying, but the firm does have a few other affinity groups including Vedder Diverse and Vedder Pride. “Me personally? I rarely feel excluded,” one associate was keen to highlight – “if my background comes up it’s more out of interest than feeling discriminated against.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI & Job Fair applicants interviewed: 358
Interviewees outside OCI & Job Fairs: 7
Most of Vedder's summer class is recruited via OCIs at law schools across the country, but a few slots are left for job fair and direct applicants, as well as “new and returning” diversity and inclusion scholars. Shareholders at the firm (many of whom are Associate Hiring Committee members and alumni of the law school in question) spend a full day interviewing more than 20 applicants through some schools’ OCI programs; at others they fit 11 interviews into a half-day.
The interviewers are aiming “to get a sense of the student’s communication skills, interest in our firm and the practice of law, and preparedness for the interview” according to associate hiring committee chair Shelby Parnes. In addition to the typical academic and work experience criteria,
Vedder zeroes in on interviewees' practice area interests and any ties to the location of their target office. “Candidates should think through how to convey their interest and relevant work/academic experience in connection with their preferred practice area,” Parnes tells us.
Top tips: “Vedder is looking for people who are genuinely interested in a specific practice group.
That doesn't necessarily mean having a background in it, however.”
“From what I've seen in my group, the firm's looking for someone who can understand the business as well as the legal aspects of a transaction. Vedder is hiring folks who can interface with clients and offer pragmatic advice without always falling back on legal maxims.”
Applicants invited to second stage: 126
By the callback stage, applicants are interviewing for a particular practice area, so it's shareholders from that group who assess them in a group of one-on-one interviews. Interviewees also sit down for more casual chats over lunch or a coffee with two associates; Parnes explains that the entire process is designed so “that students come away with a strong sense of the practice group and the attorneys they would work with as a summer associate.”
The criteria at callback is similar to OCIs but goes into more detail, and Vedder particularly prizes “executive presence” alongside work experience, career motivation and personality. Interviewees get a heads-up on who's going to be interviewing them, so some background research and knowledge of “recent deals or industry accolades” will come in handy.
Top tips: “There's not as much hand holding here as at some other firms so we're looking for someone self-sufficient. Ideally the candidate can juggle a big workload independently.”
“It's about finding someone willing to take ownership of their work and take the job seriously. Having a likable personality is a big plus.”
After an orientation in the Chicago HQ, Vedder's summers fan out to their chosen offices and “are immediately immersed in projects and observational opportunities tailored to their designated practice area.” Summer associates get to pursue their own projects of choice once they're settled in, under the watchful eye of an associate mentor. Reviews come at the mid-point of summer and at the conclusion, though shareholders and associates give feedback throughout the process.
Parnes confirms that summer associates can impress by demonstrating “a strong work ethic, careful attention to their final work product, time-management skills and balance of their workload.” Vedder typically hires 100% of summer associates on a full-time basis and keeps close ties with them until they've circled back to the firm.
Notable summer events: attending baseball games; cooking classes; escape room challenges; and participating in community service/volunteer activities.
Top tips: “Don't be shy about asking questions as juniors are very friendly and not competitive; we're all here to help and it's a cooperative environment.”
“Try to work with as many people as possible.”
“Past summer associates have noted that over the course of the summer they come to know almost every single person in the office," Parnes comments. "We are invested in the long-term success of our summer associates, not just as lawyers, but as future colleagues who will contribute to the culture of our firm.”
222 North LaSalle Street,
Main areas of work
• George Washington
• Loyola (Chicago)
• Notre Dame
• UC Berkeley
• University of Chicago
• University of Illinois
• University of Michigan
• University of Minnesota
• University of Texas
• USC Gould
• Washington University in St. Louis
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Participation in the Cook County Bar Association Minority Job Fair and Loyola Patent Law Program.
Summer associate profile: Vedder Price recruits candidates with strong academic credentials, excellent verbal and written communication skills, initiative and enthusiasm. Ideal candidates have a demonstrated interest in the practice area they are applying for, as evidenced by relevant course work and/or prior work experience. As summer associates will interact immediately with senior shareholders and clients, executive presence and maturity are valued.
Summer program components: Summer associates are integrated quickly into the practice area they are joining, through substantive work assignments, observation opportunities and training sessions. Summer associates will work with an assigned associate advisor to receive practical advice and guidance. A firm-wide summer program orientation is hosted in Chicago during the first week of the program for the full summer class to meet each other and engage with firm management. There are two formal review sessions, one at mid-summer and the other at the completion of the program, incorporating written attorney feedback regarding each completed project. Social events are frequent, both office-wide and in small groups, to ensure summer associates enjoy the collegiality of the firm.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Government Contracts: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Registered Funds (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 3)