Although a high-flyer in all things transportation finance, Vedder remains grounded by its Midwestern roots.
Taking flight in the Windy City, and gaining altitude fast, Vedder Price has spread its wings across international skies. The firm now has satellite offices in New York, DC,San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, and overseas in Londonand Singapore. The firm is distinguished for its work on all things transport, be it airplanes or submarines, within its GTF (Global Transportation Finance) group: “Vedder’s GTF group is what drew me to the firm, the work is so unique – you can’t really find it anywhere else.”
“The work is so unique – you can’t really find it anywhere else.”
Coming in close second for our juniors' many reasons for choosing Vedder was its compact regional offices, as a New Yorker explained: “The Chicago HQ has just over 150 attorneys, the other offices still have those BigLaw resources but with a small-firm feel.” And of course, the firm's strong Chicago soul appealed to many a lawyer-to-be; managing partner Dana Armagno affirmed: “We consider ourselves the ‘Vedder family’ – we value every individual, whether it be attorneys, staff or partners.”
Although the firm earns flying colors in its GTF practice, its wingspan is much broader; Chambers USA rankings for Illinois honor the firm’s work in banking & finance, employee benefits, litigation (white-collar crime & government investigations) and media & entertainment litigation. And, naturally, Chambers USA gives Vedder a big nationwide round of applause for its transportation (aviation, shipping & maritime finance) work.
Strategy & Future
Vedder has bucked the 2020 trends and come through the pandemic stronger than ever, says Dana Armagno: “Our clients have had to adapt their businesses to the recent outbreak. We’ve seen an uptick in work because of this, particularly those in the bankruptcy, labor, litigation and M&A space.” Once the world has returned to something approximating normal, the firm is looking to geographically expand: “We have a very open mind to new offices, we’ll go wherever our clients take us. That’s the five-year plan.”
Juniors taste the legal rainbow during the summer and then state preferences from there. “Vedder's summer program does a great job at giving you a glimpse into each practice. We work closely with associates and shareholders to feel out the workplace.” On daily work allocation, our interviewees were either “randomly” contacted by shareholders and staffed on matters or they had to exercise a more entrepreneurial spirit. “There are pros and cons to our allocation system, it can be difficult for junior associates to always have work,” an interviewee said.
“While it is very niche, the group gives young associates a chance to develop their skills across the corporate practice.”
The corporate offering mainly covers M&A and private equity transactions; our sources had worked in the aerospace, gaming, banking and healthcare industries. GTF previously fell into the corporate group, but as of 2021 it is its own standalone department. The team covers the aviation, railroad, maritime and aerospace industries. Sources based in GTF spoke of representing banks and leasing companies that own a significant number of aircraft. For juniors, this meant working on transportation assets, e.g. planes, trains and automobiles. Due to lean staffing, juniors received large responsibility on these matters and, although quite specialized, they added general corporate skills to their toolboxes too. A junior stated: “While it is very niche, the group gives young associates a chance to develop their skills across the corporate practice.” On aviation finance deals, newbies got to grips with “handling ancillary documents, managing the deal flow and regulatory filings.” Associates in the corporate coop also got to work on “tender and exchange offers, going-private deals, spinoffs and divestitures, leveraged buyouts and asset purchase transactions.”
GTF clients: Air Canada, MUFG Bank, Global Container Terminals. Represented investment firm Castlelake in the total $1.5 billion structured loan financing of 18 aircraft for Virgin Australia.
Over in litigation, attorneys stand out for their significant trial experience, litigating disputes in antitrust, bankruptcy, environment, IP, media and white-collar crime. A rookie outlined the steps they take on a data privacy investigation: “We play the middleman between our clients and the consultants that do more forensic investigations. We then communicate with the client on any data breaches.” Other typical junior tasks within litigation include "drafting motions, assisting with document demands, document review, writing article and first complaints.” One associate illustrated how a less hectic day might start: “I wake up and check in with my team, make sure we are updated on laws globally, check in on where I’m at with cases, send out a few emails and attend a few virtual team meetings.”Although things are usually fast-paced... Within the distinct labor and employment group (which does some disputes work), an interviewee worked on “employee handbooks for the COVID vaccination practice, attended virtual depositions and prepped for witness interviews.”
Litigation clients:Amazon, Apple, Microsoft. Vedder represents Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund in connection with a $175 million fraud committed out of IMET’s funds.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target for bonus
“The hours can be taxing but I still love my job!”
Juniors in litigation worked a pretty balanced day, spanning 8:30am to 7pm, sometimes opening their laptops in bed for a quick peek at the next day's inbox. Associates in labor & employment and banking found the hours a little tougher. But despite the longer hours, juniors hadn't become jaded: “The hours can be taxing but I still love my job!”The pandemic had the alternative effect on the litigation group: during the initial months of 2020, assignments were struggling to reach lower-level associates. A source explained: “My hours were very low this year and so I didn’t receive the bonus, the firm was understanding and knew it was out of the ordinary.”Sources did assure us that their workload has since returned to normal... phew!
Associates are required to reach a minimum of 1,850 hours each year to qualify for their market lockstep salary. Bonuses are handed out at 2,000 hours, and amounts rise in increments above 2,000, but up until the third year there is a cap on total bonus monetary amount, set for first, second, and third-year associates at $15,000, $25,000 and $60,000 respectively. Associates are also expected to bill 200 hours of substantive nonchargeable activity, such as mentoring, writing speeches or business development.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 8,609
- Average per US attorney: 32
"We work for clients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford our resources."
With the recent increase in pro bono hours, associates can spend 100 billable hours on such projects. Interviewees are pulled into pro bono matters via email. Chicago works with the creative arts, immigration, and low-income families and neighborhoods. Washingtonassociates we spoke to worked on child protection and aid for low-income families, while associates in LA had advocated for the trans Latin community. New Yorkis said to work on a lot of veterans' affairs, schools and asylum cases. No matter the office, our sources agreed that pro bono work is “highly encouraged,”and substantiative. An associate working on a child abuse allegation explained their role: “We were working for a nanny who was wrongly convicted of child abuse. I drafted the complaint and worked to get her lost wages back.”The associate continued: “What I love about pro bono is that we work for clients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford our resources and get the help they need.”
Vedder gives praise when it’s due, demonstrated through the ‘public interest law initiative recognition’ (PILI) award. “They hold a whole award ceremony for the highest billing associate on pro bono – it shows just how much Vedder values its associates,” a junior appreciated.
"All the offices have a warm culture."
Common to many firms we research anchored in the Midwest, "all the offices have a warm culture; this comes from the firm's Chicago roots.” Even in New Yorkthe firm held onto its roots: “New York firms are generally stereotyped for being quite frosty but we definitely get our laid-back and friendly culture from Chicago.”Vedder reveals its Chicago soul through its open-door policy, which many juniors appreciated. One enthused: “The firm is very collaborative; I feel totally comfortable reaching out to shareholders with questions.”This opened up the floor for free-flowing conversation between all levels of seniority. However, a source in Chicago wanted “a little less importance put on face time.”
Still, attorneys and partners alike bond over the colorful social events at the firm, whether it be a casual drink, the 'Christmas Christingle', the summer party, breakfasts or happy hours – pandemics notwithstanding, or course.
Diversity & Inclusion
In line with much of the industry, diversity at Vedder is an area that could be improved upon. However, interviewees felt the firm had been “making efforts to further diversify its workforce.” These efforts are visible through the firm's scholarship program; the program gives $10,000 to recipients toward law school expenses and a summer associate position. A source went on: “I’ve seen a lot of hiring for new associates and the candidates are very diverse.”Vedder also has WAVES: a women's group that supports women attorneys' development and relationships. The firm has a below average number of women at associate level, and associates thought “it would be great to see more women in shareholder positions.”
A large chunk of the training at the firm is on the job, but juniors thought the quality of the training was strong: “There is a real investment and interest in my professional development.” Associates felt that partners let them shine but offered a safety net when needed: “Partners are willing to take their time and explain matters to me while letting me show my potential.”Juniors receive both a midlevel associate mentor and shareholder mentor to go to for advice and feedback. Formal training is also a feature and is well received, with CLE courses, webinars and the associate retreat held in Chicago. Training programs are held on a weekly basis, covering “employment issues, drafting or how to best write a brief.”
“There is a real investment and interest in my professional development.”
Associates discuss partnership during theirmid-year and annual reviews. Partnership generally becomes possible at around their eighth year at the firm. To make partner, associates need to have reached goals on client collections, chargeable hours and performance ratings. One junior didn’t feel partnership was a feasible goal: “Knowing that I won’t make partner within ten years is a little disheartening.” The route cannot be for everyone, but many sources hadn’t given it a second thought: “I’m still trying to get the hang of the job!”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 271
Interviewees outside OCI: 5
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 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 at some schools and see 20 applicants; 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 preparedness for the interview, with questions to that effect” according to associate hiring committee chair Venu Talanki. As well as the typical academic and work experience criteria, Vedder also 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 the practice area they are applying for,” Talanki tells us.
Top tips: “Vedder is looking for people who are genuinely interested in a specific practice group here. 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 aspect of the transaction. Vedder is hiring folks who can interface with clients without always falling back on legal maxims.”
Applicants invited to second stage: 51
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; Talanki explains that the entire process is designed so “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.
Talanki 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," Talanki 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.”
Interview with operating shareholder Dana S. Armagno
Chambers Associate: What would you identify as Vedder’s unique characteristics?
Dana Armagno: “We focus on what we do best, we don’t try to be a law firm that’s all things to all people. What we try to do is understand the capabilities we have, and make sure we are excelling in all these capabilities, whether that’s geographically or with our clients.”
CA: Are there any market trends that are currently shaping the work the firm is doing?
DA: “The overarching market trend is the pandemic! Our clients have had to adapt their businesses to the recent outbreak, we’ve seen an uptick in work because of this, particularly those in the bankruptcy, labor, litigation and M&A space.”
CA: The associates we spoke to took pride in the culture of the firm. How has this culture been created and maintained?
DA: “I’m very proud of our culture, we are a large firm, but we are a team, we consider ourselves the ‘Vedder family’. We value every individual, whether it be attorneys, staff or partners. Another part of our culture is that we staff very leanly which means there is a need for constant communication from the most senior members down to the most junior members – we must operate as a cohesive team. Like any service profession, you’re serving the client's needs while treating your teams with respect and an understanding that some days are harder than others for everyone. We view ourselves as one firm- that's our culture.”
CA: What is the firm’s five-year plan?
DA: “We’re in the process of a strategic plan right as we speak; we are focused on growth. We want all of our practice groups well represented in each of our office locations. We are also looking at geographic expansion - we have a very open mind to new offices, particularly if we can better serve our clients in other geographies.”
CA: What has the firm done to mitigate the impact of COVID-19?
DA: “We provided everyone at the firm with the tools they needed to work from home. We’ve utilized our tech team to assess what our attorneys needed to work effectively at home, the communication lines have been very constant between our management teams. We’ve continued to communicate with our lawyers over WebEx and Zoom to maintain that personal connectioneven if it’s just to check in.”
CA: Looking at your career so far, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
DA: “My advice would be to pick a practice and a firm that you’re genuinely interested in. The key is to really find what you love about the law and then translating that into your career.”
222 North LaSalle Street,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $255 million
- Shareholders (US): 147
- Associates (US): 103
- Main recruitment contacts: Pamela Masters (firstname.lastname@example.org), Elise Rippe (email@example.com) Managers of Legal Recruiting
- Hiring shareholder: Venu V Talanki
- Diversity officer: Andrew Torre, Shareholder
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 12
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 8
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: CH: 5; NY: 2; LA: 3
- Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $3,654/wk
- 2Ls: $3,654/wk
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
• George Washington
• Notre Dame
• University of Chicago
• University of Illinois
• University of Michigan
• University of Minnesota
• USC Gould
• Washington University in St. Louis
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Resume Collect at Boston University, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, UC Berkeley, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt and Yale. Participation in Cook County 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, 2021
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Registered Funds (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 3)