Combining a clear track to partnership with an easy-breezy culture, this Windy City native is a breath of fresh air.
“Reputation” was often the succinct answer associates gave for joining Vedder Price, but what exactly drew them in? We soon got clarity on that front: the “amazing culture, which has a Midwestern feel” was a core reason for most of our sources, as was the firm’s size, which suited those who wanted to work at “a large firm but not a megafirm where you would be easily replaceable or just a number. Vedder has a small firm feel where everyone knows each other, but where the resources are those of a larger organization.” Vedder was also singled out for its “reputable thought leadership,” which, as this source implied, partly comes from its ability to attract attorneys from different career backgrounds: “I looked at the attorney bios before joining, and I noticed that several of them had had previous careers in alternative industries, which I really appreciated.”
“Vedder has a small firm feel where everyone knows each other, but where the resources are those of a larger organization.”
Chambers USAcertainly recognizes Vedder’s prominent position in several areas. Transportation work is a strength, particularly when it comes to all things aviation finance – a practice that Vedder is top-ranked for on a nationwide basis. The firm’s shipping finance and registered funds know-how also receive nationwide nods from Chambers USA, while on its home turf of Illinois Vedder picks up accolades in areas like media litigation; white-collar crime and government investigations; labor and employment; corporate; banking; and bankruptcy matters. Most newbies join the Chicago HQ, but the firm’s New York base also takes on a number of juniors. The remainder of the associates on our list were spread across theLA, DCand the new Dallas bases. Internationally, Vedder has bases in London and Singapore.
In most cases, summer associates primarily work in one practice area (and will likely join that group when they join full time), but may get exposure to other areas too. There isn’t a formal system for work allocation; shareholders either reach out to associates with assignments, or juniors contact seniors if they have capacity to take on more work: “There are pros and cons. It means you can seek out the work you’re interested in, but it can be challenging to get enough work in the beginning.” As a slight safety net, the firm recently hired two professional development managers to assist practice area leaders in monitoring associate utilization. Investment services and litigation were the most popular practice groups among the associates on our list, while IP, real estate, government securities and capital markets, international trade, labor and employment and finance all took a newbie or two.
"It’s so exciting to be a part of such impactful deals.”
Vedder’s litigationgroup deals with everything from business tort and commercial disputes to privacy and cybersecurity matters: “Privacy is interesting because it’s always in the news,” an associate enthused. This work is all about helping companies navigate incidents, so they can return to business as usual. Associates partake in client meetings and continue to help advise them throughout the process: “For example, if there’s a ransom demand, I’ll explain the state and federal regulations involved,” one junior explained. If sensitive data has been compromised, rookies will draft reports to the relevant government agencies. Associates’ roles on more traditional litigation depend on how the leading shareholder prefers to work: “On some matters I essentially run the case, so I’ll draft motions and briefs, correspond with opposing counsel and keep track of deadlines.” If the shareholder takes a more hands-on role, rookies will reportedly do more research and help with tasks as and when they arise.
Litigation clients: ReliaStar Life Insurance Company, Controlled Demolition, High Tech National. Defended online directory Whitepages against a putative class action concerning the directory’s use of the plaintiff’s information.
We heard Vedder is trying to grow its investment services practice, especially on the East Coast. Irrespective of the location, associates get to work with “the perfect mix of small and big clients. We work with a few well-known names.” This work falls into three buckets: fund formation, deals, and compliance matters. Where the latter is concerned, associates will handle ‘blue sky filings’: these relate to state-level, anti-fraud regulations that require securities issuers to register the details of their offering: “Whenever we form a new fund, I’ll decide where we need to register and generally manage that process for the client.” Deal work typically involves fund-related M&A: “These transactions are very document-heavy, so each associate is given a set to own during the process.” A big part of this is quality control: “I won’t do much drafting, but I make any revisions that come up. It’s so exciting to be a part of such impactful deals.” These transactions have a defined timeline: “It’s clear when you’ll be busy and when it’ll wrap up, so the work-life balance is pretty positive.”
Investment services clients: Janus Henderson Funds, Great-West Funds, Nuveen Funds. The firm serves as counsel to the independent trustees of the Columbia mutual funds, which involves advising on factors such as policies, procedures and charters.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,850 target
Survey respondents recorded working an average of 51 hours in the preceding week, which was just below the market average we registered in 2021. “The workload can be daunting if I have a busy schedule,” one interviewee commented, “but it balances out, so I have time to recharge before the next wave.” Sources tended to agree that “they never push you if you’re at capacity, and nobody bothers you if you’re on vacation or parental leave.”
The firm recently introduced a base performance bonus allocated by class year: all associates who are in good standing will receive this base bonus, whilst those who bill more than 2,000 hours are eligible for an uncapped bonus. Credited client collections result in a collections bonus.
There have also been some changes to salaries: Vedder matched the Davis Polk scale in 2021, but attorneys must bill least 1,850 hours to get the raise. Salaries do, however, start to deviate from the new market rate around fourth year.
"It fosters an environment where people are able to develop business, which is important to the firm."
However, this deviation from the market “didn’t bother” one source, who flagged that Vedder dishes out additional remuneration to those who bring in new clients, meaning attorneys could potentially earn more overall than those at comparable firms: “I don’t think a lot of BigLaw firms do this, and the 15% is very significant. It fosters an environment where people are able to develop business, which is important to the firm. They’ve given us techniques for business development, but there isn’t any pressure to do so at this stage.”
“There’s a very clear path to partnership and not a lot of bureaucracy here. I’ve already been told that if I continue to do well, I will make partner,” declared one motivated interviewee. Our survey respondents’ perception of how achievable partnership is at Vedder was rated higher than the average we collect from participating firms, and many intended to stay at the firm long-term. “Something that really stood out to me when I first met people is how long they’ve stayed at the firm,” an interviewee emphasized. “Most people have been here at least ten years.”
“There’s a very clear path to partnership.”
All associates receive a mentor who can be either a partner or an associate: “Mine is in my practice group and has been instrumental in answering my more nuanced questions,” said one satisfied source, while another praised their mentor for “helping me to set up informal lunches and meetings with shareholders and senior associates. They helped to integrate me into the firm.” Although the pandemic inevitably put a stop to facetime, those who joined the firm remotely still got to meet their new colleagues remotely: “You can call anyone in any office and they will gladly take your call; they want associates to grow with the firm.”
This all led quite naturally to conversations about Vedder’s culture, which this interviewee described as “not competitive at all – other associates are more than happy to help!” Juniors had witnessed this level of camaraderie at a high level, too: “Shareholders often refer work to each other if one of them is busy, which is really nice because it means the other shareholder can make more money.”
“...people notice when I’m not there, in a positive way!”
Another source felt this atmosphere was preserved by the firm’s more modest dimensions: “I joined because I was interested in being in a smaller firm and everyone here is kind and welcoming – people notice when I’m not there, in a positive way!” As one associate neatly summed up for us, “it's not a burn and churn culture.”
Newbies found pro bono to be a great way of getting practical experience: “First years don’t have much opportunity to get involved in strategy for billable work, but on pro bono cases I’ve done everything from research assignments to drafting motions,” a source highlighted. Associates can credit up to 100 hours of pro bono toward the billing target, but they also exceed that amount, with 100% of survey respondents agreeing that they have autonomy over the amount of pro bono they can take on.
“The firm is very open to pro bono work that sits outside the specific areas they push for.”
Vedder recently implemented a platform called Paladin: “You select your interests, and it connects you to relevant pro bono work,” an interviewee helpfully explained. Attorneys are also encouraged to bring in their own matters: “The firm is very open to pro bono work that sits outside the specific areas they push for.” The firm has a strong veterans’ advocacy practice: “We help veterans who have unfairly received a less than honorable discharge, which affects the benefits they are entitled to.” Other regular matters include asylum, sex trafficking and child labor cases. On the transactional side, juniors had helped non-profits to get tax-exempt status.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 8,500
- Average per US attorney: 25
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Vedder scored higher than the market average in our associate survey for its wellbeing initiatives: “We’ve had several seminars with external speakers about mental health, and the firm includes resources in our newsletter, like exercise tips and cool recipes for healthy eating,” a source enthused. More informally, “shareholders will ask me if I’m ok if they see me working late, so I do feel supported.”
“The firm is very supportive of people having families.”
Interviewees did point to active D&I initiatives at the firm but acknowledged that the pandemic had made it “tricky to hold events.” Nonetheless, we heard that multiple D&I-focused meetings had taken place: “We had lots of discussions when the racial justice protests were happening in the US, and we recently had one about how having diverse attorneys staffed on matters helps the client.” An associate was also happy to point out that “lots of the shareholders across the firm have children. The firm is very supportive of people having families.”
Gender diversity was felt to be good in the investment services department especially: “Half of the shareholders are women in the DC group, which is pretty rare – most of the women have been here for a long time, which shows they don’t want a revolving door when they hire.” New York was viewed as having “a better diversity pool to recruit from” compared to other locations in which Vedder has an office: “There are a lot of LGBT+ individuals, women, and women of color here,” we were told. On the recruitment front, Vedder has a diversity scholarship program which is open to first-year law students: “There’s an interview process, a bit like OCIs, and the winner is offered a summer associate position here.”
Strategy & Future
The Dallas office opened in January 2021 and has been “growing and thriving” ever since. According to operating shareholder Dana S Armagno, “there is a lot of middle market M&A, private equity, litigation and labor work in Dallas,” which was the primary reason for entering this market. She adds that the firm made "a few key shareholder affiliations and associate hires in the government investigations group in Dallas, so we’ve rounded that office out nicely during our first year by adding nine attorneys.” We were told that this group, plus the investment services practice, has been expanding outside of Dallas too.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI & Job Fair applicants interviewed: 282
Interviewees outside OCI & Job Fairs: 3
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 more than 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: 99
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 Armagno
CA: Are there highlights from the past year or in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
Dana Armagno: We opened an office in Dallas in January 2021, and it’s been growing and thriving! There is a lot of middle market M&A, private equity, litigation and labor work in Dallas. More recently, we made a few key shareholder affiliations and associate hires in the Government Investigations Group in Dallas, so we’ve rounded that office out nicely during our first year by adding 9 attorneys.
Outside of Dallas, our Investment Services and Government Investigation practices have definitely been expanding, which I would attribute to the focus of partners and associates in those groups. Every year as part of our strategic planning we talk to our partners about what they need to expand their practices and what their clients need from the firm, whether that is a new service line or perhaps geographic expansion. Our firm’s strategy is to grow based on the goals set during these strategic planning sessions.
CA: Tell us about the firm’s core practices.
DA: We have five core practice areas: Finance and Transactions, Labor & Employment, Corporate, Litigation and Global Transportation Finance. Our Global Transportation Finance Group practices in aviation, maritime and rail finance which are speciality sectors that facilitate the financing of big pieces of equipment. It’s a transactional practice, so we work with a lot of banks, airlines and shipping lines, mainly representing the lessors and finance companies.
CA: Tell us about the firm’s hybrid working policy.
DA: Remote working willbe with us for a long time, so our firm has built flexibility into our working model. Our lawyers, paralegals and staff are working three days in the office and two from home. As part of this model we obviously have to consider the variety of governmental requirements and restrictions in our office locations. For example, our London office reopened later than our Chicago office because of local rules in the UK. We are relying on our Practice Area and Practice Group leaders to guide their teams and assess when people should be in the office from a client-service and team collaboration perspective.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic from a pastoral perspective?
DA: We have a number of resources for our employees to access or take advantage of if they are dealing with mental, physical and spiritual concerns individually or within their families. Our Human Resources team identifies these resources in our communications with our people and directs them to the information or provides detailed guidance about resources covered by our healthcare provider.
CA: How has the firm maintained its culture remotely?
DA: We like to pretend we’re still gathered round the water cooler! Throughout the pandemic we coordinated a number of Zoom meetings like other firms, but we did not put pressure on people to turn their cameras on if they weren’t comfortable doing so, particularly early on when people were getting used to the face-to-face technology. At the beginning of the pandemic, people would ring me in advance to find out when a good time to talk was, but I’ve told everyone to just talk to me like they did in the office – there’s no need to ring in advance. We’ve tried to find ways to socialize and communicate with each other on a consistent basis – some of our folks even started a book club.
CA: How does remote working affect training?
DA: Remote working is terrific in that it serves a purpose and is now more broadly available, but ultimately we’re an apprentice profession. Our lawyers and team members learn best by seeing, doing and experiencing. Being able to read body language and bring humanity to a conversation is so important in our industry. Our firm has considered who we are and in which ways we should be flexible because although people appreciate flexibility, it’s not always in the best interest of our clients or our professionals. Remote work is here to stay so it’s definitely a bit of a balancing act. More often than not, being shoulder to shoulder with our lawyers and clients is the best way to learn.
CA: Do you consider the rise of ALSPs to be a threat?
DA: No I don’t. There is room for these providers to handle projects that do not address a strictly legal issue and advise people on it, and if people find that useful they’ll use them again. As a general matter, these providers can’t actually practice law without a license. Frankly, it’s impossible to advise a client if you don’t understand all aspects of a legal issue.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets or initiatives with regards to diversity?
DA: We’ve had a Diversity and Inclusion Committee for decades, but we’ve recently included D&I in our strategic planning meetings, discussing how to better weave it into the fabric of our firm. Merisa Lima joined us in December 2021 as our Director of Diversity and Inclusion. She will work with me and the Chair of our Diversity Committee, Andy Torre, to understand how we can do better as a firm.
Statistically, it might not look like our efforts have been fruitful but actually we do so much that it’s a win for us. We have a Women at Vedder program, substantial community outreach and we offer summer scholarships to diverse 1L students. Unlike lots of firms, we do actually hire 1Ls as summers, and everyone who gets a 1L summer associateship is guaranteed a 2L associateship, too. We plan to expand that program and the monetary award that goes with it soon.
CA: What advice do you have for people who are about to enter the legal industry?
DA: Think about why you went to college and law school. Figure out what you’re interested in, and how to translate that into a law career you’re passionate about. It’s also important to understand this is a marathon not a sprint: never feel like you made a bad choice, because you can always change the direction of your career.
222 North LaSalle Street,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $272 million
- Shareholders (US): 149
- Associates (US): 121
- 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: Merisa Lima, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, and Andrew Torre, Shareholder and Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 12
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 13
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: CH: 8; NY: 3; DC: 1, LA: 3
- Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $3,942/wk
- 2Ls: $3,942/wk
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
• George Washington
• Loyola (Chicago)
• Notre Dame
• 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, 2022
- 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)
USA - Nationwide
- Registered Funds (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 3)