Prepare yourself for take-off.
WANT to hear a joke about planes? Never mind, it'll just fly over your head. (Okay, okay, we know we wouldn’t get ranked for aviation humor). What is clearly no joke is Vedder Price’s top-notch rep for aviation finance: the firm rules the nation in Chambers USA when it comes to all things airplane, helicopter, and well, any machine that flies really. But as this associate pointed out, VP’s wingspan is much broader than this: “If you want to do transportation finance then Vedder is the place to go.” From its HQ in Chicago VP has built a world-class asset finance practice that picks up a very high ranking in Chambers Global, especially for its lawyers’ talents in both rail and aviation finance.
“If you want to do transportation finance then Vedder is the place to go.”
As operating shareholder Doug Hambleton makes clear, VP’s expertise does not stop there: “We’re not a firm that focuses on certain industries to the exclusion of others.”Indeed, Hambleton adds that “we have a very strong brand in labor and employment,” which is supported by Illinois-based Chambers USA rankings that especially honor the firm’s work in employee benefits & compensation. VP is also recognized in the state for its banking & finance; bankruptcy; corporate; and litigation expertise. Alongside aviation, the firm also stands out for its shipping/maritime finance and registered funds knowledge on the national stage.
"We are a mid-sized firm – not a very large or boutique firm – which is somewhat a vanishing thing in the US,” Hambleton remarks, “but it works beautifully for us. We’re big enough to support extremely complex work but small enough so we can retain our culture.” The size certainly worked for our sources, who commented that “the firm maintains the Chicago soul while having an international focus.” VP’s overseas offering consists of offices in London and Singapore, while on domestic turf further bases can be found in New York, DC, San Francisco and LA.
Strategy & Future
VP has its eye on growing its corporate practice, operating shareholder Doug Hambleton tells us. “We would also like to grow our registered and private funds practice along the East Coast,” he adds, before going on to explain that general growth is intended in the New York, LA and London offices. In the latter, VP has been building up a private equity practice. “We look at new offices from time to time, but we’re careful about it and only add if there is a strong business case.”
At the time of our research, the majority of the associates on our list were in VP’s corporate groups: global transportation finance (GTF); finance & transactions; and investment services. The rest were split between the firm’s litigation and labor & employment practices.
Newbies who can endure a little turbulence are much sought after at Vedder: “The firm encourages us to be industrious and learn on the job – we aren’t taught aviation in law school.” The GTF department's wingspan covers the aviation, railroad, maritime and aerospace industries. Sources based here spoke of representing banks and leasing companies that own a significant number of aircraft. One source recalled a matter where an investment company was lending money to an airline: “The senior associate on the deal was working on the top-level documents, while me and two other juniors divided up the jurisdictions and managed our part of the transaction. Now I’m on a deal where it’s just me and a partner, and I get to run the entire transaction.” Another junior told of working on a deal involving the sale of over 100 aircraft: “They were on lease to places around the world. There were 30 countries involved and my role was to facilitate the novations [new contracts, essentially] and lease assignments. I dealt with different countries and all the local counsel.”
Corporate clients: BBAM Aircraft Leasing & Management, Southwest Airlines, Bank of America. Acted for Macquarie during its $445 million acquisition of Waypoint Leasing Holdings, a helicopter-leasing business with operations around the world.
Those in the litigation group gained experience early: “I got to prep depositions and trials and saw a lot of the behind-the-scenes of what a litigation attorney does.” As juniors progressed, they found that they were getting “a lot more shadowing opportunities – I've been jumping on conference calls and meeting clients to prepare them for different situations. One thing I think VP is doing is encouraging us to be at the table and present in those situations.” In addition, tasks included “drafting pleadings, motions or objections, as well as helping to put together forms for senior associates and doing legal research.” Sources noted that the department’s “data privacy work is starting to really grow” but also told us about complex breach of contract cases, antitrust matters, trade secrets disputes and restrictive covenants (“a lot of our shareholders are talented in that area”). VP stands out in Chambers USAfor its white-collar litigation work and is a recognized practitioner in the media & entertainment field too.
Litigation clients: Bodum USA, Power Solutions International, Apple. Successfully represented a group of defendants – including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft – during a copyright dispute involving questions of fair use.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
One associate joked about the sometimes taxing hours: “Vedder stands for equality – we’re all equally overworked!” In reality, however, associates’ hours were pretty typical for lawyers. Juniors across the board generally worked from 8:30am to 6pm, with bustling days spanning 12 hours. 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, but a source described “2,100 hours as the sweet spot” to aim for. Amounts rise in increments above 2,000, but up until the third year there is a cap on how many hours are counted (set for first, second, and third-year associates at $15,000, $25,000 and $60,000).“After third year there’s no cap so you can beat the market rate at that point.” Associates are expected to engage in at least 200 hours of substantive nonchargeable activity (e.g., mentoring, writing speeches or business development).
“They upped the hours, so that’s been a big change over the last year,” said one Chicagoan, noting the increase to 100 hours of billable pro bono. “There’s also a new head of the pro bono committee and over the past six months they’ve really been pushing pro bono.”The overall vibe we got from interviewees was summed up by this comment: “Pro bono’s there if you want it. There’s no pressure to do it if you’re busy.” Those in GTF said that the group “isn’t that focused on it, as associates don’t find a lot of time to dedicate to pro bono and there isn’t a lot of encouragement to allocate our hours that way.”
“...you’re doing it for a good cause, which is very motivating.”
Nonetheless, interviewees had seen emails calling for assistance on immigration and homelessness causes and noted that “we do a fair amount of work for artists.”Another mentioned the transactional work the firm had conducted on behalf of “a charity that helps troubled youths build up professional skills and their resumes. We got to see the work they do up close.” For those who’d done this work, they appreciated how “on the pro bono end you’re doing it for a good cause, which is very motivating. The work we usually do isn’t always that engaging!”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 6,789
- Average per US attorney: 26
"Each office has its own flavor," a source stated. First and foremost, the Chicago HQ was said to be like "a check-in point, which does give it a different feel: our main shareholders are here, we have a lot of events here, people often fly in here. At the same time, we’re a particularly close group.” A New Yorker felt that "Chicago is more facetime-focused – inNew York once you've done your work you can go home." Another Big Apple source commented that the office is “a little more laid back than Chicago – we're less formal.”The California offices, we hear, are cool, calm and collected: "Cali has that typical West Coast vibe."The Cali business casual vibe is also said to be having a knock-on effect on the rest of the firm: "I sense a transition as some of the older shareholders are leaving – the firm recently introduced jeans on Friday. It’s nice to see partners loosen the reins a little."
“It’s nurturing, but there are also high expectations.”
Despite regional differences, juniors agreed that there’s an overarching combination of “entrepreneurial spirit”and “camaraderie,”which proved to be a winner: “It’s nurturing, but there are also high expectations. There are resources available and no one gets mad if you ask questions, but they also give you a lot of responsibility.”
Diversity & Inclusion
What was on associates’ minds most was “finding a balance between diversity initiatives and how we can we make minorities stay.”Another source summed it up like this: “I think VP does a good job of trying to hire diverse applicants, but there’s a way to go before we see some real change. I don’t think VP does enough to better understand why there seems to be diverse attorneys leaving.” One of the issues raised was the impact of unconscious bias on diverse individuals as they tried to get work to make their hours and gain experience. While an interviewee appreciated an initiative to organize lunches where diverse attorneys and shareholders meet, they nonetheless felt that they wouldn’t “solve the issue of unconscious bias.” Others did highlight that unconscious bias trainings had taken place: “It was a powerpoint with two presenters explaining how you can make someone uncomfortable by the way you speak or look at them.”
“Development is initiative-based but the firm is receptive to any requests.”
The associate retreat is held in Chicago: “Professionals gave us presentations on how to meet client expectations and how to cope with the stresses of the job. A panel of associates spoke about how they’d been successful and the goals to attain to be a stellar senior associate.” Sources felt that making partner is “attainable”and that by the eighth year associates can realistically do so. “They provide a pretty good roadmap of what we’ve got to do,”said one. “By the time you want to become partner you’ll need a certain rating and billing amount that you’re bringing in. They discuss this more openly with senior associates.” While sources had noticed some departures, what they “did not see was anyone going to another law firm to do aviation finance.” Overall, an entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged: “Development is initiative-based but the firm is receptive to any requests.”
Transactional work at Vedder
Budding lawyers looking to go into the corporate group taste the transactional rainbow via the firm’s rotational program: “During the summer you pivot within the three subgroups.” Those in corporate spoke of an assignment coordinator who was on hand to help but noted that a more independent model was in place: “You have to source and get the work too. It’s more deal-specific and about building trust with the partner you’re working for. They also want you to have a relationship with the client.” In other groups “there’s really no centralized process” either: “Senior associates and shareholders come up to you with assignments and it’s up to you to manage your workload – I say yes or a polite no. I’ve never received pushback when I’ve said no.”
Finance and transactions juniors found themselves working for institutional lenders on the debt finance side and for private equity firms on M&A deals. At the junior level, a source told us that the day-to-day is split between “drafting ancillary documents for transactions and handling the administrative side of deals, so managing checklists, following up with associates on the other side of transactions etc...” There was also interaction with other teams at VP, like bankruptcy, to ensure that all relevant documents were shared and information communicated. Client contact was certainly up for grabs too: “I talk to clients all day! I speak to the CEOs of companies regularly.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 293 Interviewees outside OCI: 31
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: 114
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 Broadway shows; baseball games; cooking classes; and escape room challenges.
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.”
222 North LaSalle Street,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $255 million
- Shareholders (US): 143
- Associates (US): 114
- Main recruitment contacts: Pamela Masters (email@example.com), Elise Rippe (firstname.lastname@example.org) Managers of Legal Recruiting
- Hiring shareholder: Venu V Talanki
- Diversity officer: Jeanah Park, Shareholder
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 8
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 10
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: CH: 7, NY: 2; DC: 1, SF: 1, LA: 1
- Summer salary 2020: 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
• UC Berkeley
• 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, 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, 2020
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 2)