It's plane to see that Vedder soars when it comes to transportation finance, but that's not all the firm's wingspan covers...
IS it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's obviously a law firm – this is Chambers Associate after all – but look to the skies and you might see some evidence of Vedder Price's work soaring through the clouds. Aviation and transportation finance is the firm's highest-flying practice, and operating shareholder Doug Hambleton says: “Vedder really punches above its weight. We're top-ranked in Chambers USA for transportation finance and we're up there with much larger firms.” Vedder also earns strong rankings for its shipping expertise nationwide, plus its labor and employment and white-collar litigation capabilities in its home state of Illinois.
Most newbies start in the Chicago HQ, which is surrounded by four more domestic bases: New York and DC on the East Coast and Los Angeles and San Francisco in the West. Overseas, Vedder has offices in London and Singapore. “What drew me was the chance to work directly with shareholders [the firm's term for partners],” a junior explained, mirroring the motivations of many others that we spoke to at Vedder. “There's that chance to interact and build relationships – you don't necessarily get those opportunities at other firms.” Vedder's more navigable midsized dimensions were highlighted time and time again, with this source explaining that “it's a BigLaw firm with the culture of a midsizer; you get to do a lot of the types of work that the bigger firms do, but in a familial, friendly place that's not cut-throat.”
More than half of Vedder's second and third-year juniors were in one of the corporate groups: global transportation finance (GTF) or finance and transactions. The firm's labor and employment and litigation practices held almost all of the rest. We heard that there's no formal work assignment system but “the good thing about having smaller class sizes [of around ten each year] is it's not difficult to get staffed on matters. More often than not you just show interest in something and shareholders reach out to you.” The potential downside was thought to be “getting stuck in an area you don't enjoy as much,” but most interviewees had avoided this situation.
“...it's cool to work with clients and attorneys all around the world.”
GTF juniors earned their wings on aircraft leasing and structured finance matters, as well as “some straight-up purchases or sales, it runs the whole gamut.” The aviation, rail and shipping sectors are all covered here, and we heard that cross-office staffing on matters is common. “I'm handling the day-to-day communication and often running calls with clients,” an insider outlined. On the finance side, there's “lots of international work and the deals are really exciting. The con is handling the different time zones, but it's cool to work with clients and attorneys all around the world.” Alongside “handling the day-to-day communication and often running calls with clients,” insiders were also able to “take the first crack at drafting a document.” On smaller deals, “I'm more or less running them and reaching out only if I get stuck. It's awesome. Even as a first-year you get substantive opportunities.” On the whole, sources enjoyed working on most deals with just a shareholder and a senior associate. “It's much more personal – I speak to shareholders multiple times a day to discuss terms that have changed. There's definitely a lot of contact.”
More generalist corporate matters are on offer in finance and transactions, including acquisition finance and private equity deals. M&A transactions are reportedly the bread and butter; these required juniors to “manage the closing checklist, coordinate ancillary closing documents and draft a lot of ancillaries.” Vedder works for both private equity funds and companies across the financial services, manufacturing and healthcare sectors, and more besides. “The highlight for me has been getting the chance to work on product agreements or operative documents when a smaller deal comes through the door,” one insider shared. They and others were still happy to do their time in the trenches (completing the more project management and due diligence parts of deals) as “you get to really understand how a transaction is structured.”
Corporate clients: Southwest Airlines, Wells Fargo and RoundTable Healthcare. Advised aircraft leasing manager BBAM on $8 billion acquisition of 132 Airbus aircraft and option on 50 additional A320/321 models.
Vedder's labor and employment practice overlaps a fair bit with the generalist litigation group, which also covers white-collar investigations, contract disputes and a growing cybersecurity and data privacy practice. Government-oriented work means “a lot of document review – I've just led a team of people reviewing literally thousands of pages – but I've also got to prepare clients and witnesses for trial.” There's a similar mix of tasks in labor and employment, which cover “anything from advising a client on making employee handbook updates to conducting discovery and some document review. Sometimes I'm really running the show and go to court by myself, other times I'm more behind the scenes.” Employee benefits and compensation is a subdivision that picks up a high ranking by Chambers USA in Illinois – this strand of the practice includes whistle-blower and discriminatory dismissal disputes.
Litigation clients: Breaking Media, Sears Holdings and PeopleConnect. Obtained voluntary dismissal of $150 million claim brought against tech giant Oracle alleging violations resulting from sales compensation plan.
Formal associate training is delivered through Vedder Price University, which runs classes that are “geared toward individual practice groups.” On a broader note, sources praised the way in which “Vedder puts a lot of effort into providing the right environment for associates to grow as fast as they choose.” There's also a formal mentoring program, with senior associates supporting juniors. “Our mentors are there to help you realize your goals," one source said. "This firm is very focused on career development and keeping you on the shareholder track – it's one of the big pros of being here.”
“Lots of people come to Vedder for the long haul.”
With this in mind, sources went on to tell us that “lots of people come to Vedder for the long haul. There are plenty of associates in their eighth or tenth year so it's not a partnership or out kind of firm.” Wannabe lifers reckoned “making shareholder is very possible,” with this female source pleased to add that “as a woman, I feel that I have lots of opportunities to pursue partnership – at this point I'd like to.”
Diversity & Inclusion
We heard from several sources that “there are a lot of female shareholders here. It's a strong point for Vedder and there's definitely a focus on diversity and inclusion.” The firm's WAVES (Women At Vedder Empowering Success) group was mentioned by a few interviewees, who said that the organizers behind it “work hard to put on networking opportunities, events and learning experiences.” Interviewees from GTF flagged the group's efforts to help women “feel included in a male-dominated practice area; they're always putting on events and activities.” There are also two diversity scholarships that encompass a $7,500 award for law school expenses and a summer position in either the Chicago or New York office.
“There's not as much hand-holding here as at some other firms so we're looking for someone self sufficient,” Vedder juniors told us. “Ideally the candidate can juggle a big workload independently.” Find out what else the firm's looking for when it's hiring by clicking on the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
The recipe for Vedder Price's culture would read something like this: mix some Midwestern warmth with “people who don't take themselves too seriously,” filter out any lingering traces of internal competition, leave to let all the ingredients combine nicely, and store in a smaller container than your average BigLaw firm. We heard many a story about positive interactions at the firm, with sources reporting that they spent their first couple of weeks with “a full itinerary of people popping into my office and going out to group lunches with associates. It became clear that everyone is happy to be here and there's no air of competitiveness.”
“There's no air of competitiveness.”
This wasn't a case of attorneys putting happy faces on to impress new arrivals: “Every day people ask me how I am and really try to get to know me,” an interviewee declared. “One thing I found surprising and cool was that shareholders will invite people round to their house for dinner and it's totally casual. We're told not to talk about work!” The Chicago HQ “seems a little more formal” than Vedder's smaller offices, with insiders in these bases adding: “Chicago hosts a lot more events than us but the vibe is a little more relaxed here.” Vedder's largest office definitely had the busiest social calendar, with juniors explaining that “the events aren't just there to impress potential employees during the summer; they make a consistent effort which really means a lot. The expectation is that you get to know each other.”
Hours & Compensation
One common thread throughout our interviews was captured well in this comment: “You have a lot of free rein in terms of when you work as long as you're responsive during the main hours of the day.” Most juniors were in the office around 9am and out of the door again before 7pm on an average day, though a few we interviewed said that they “rarely go home in the evening without pulling out the computer to finish things up.” As at every firm, duty sometimes called for longer days (and nights).
“We're never biting our nails over making hours.”
The hours requirement for associates is 1,850 billables per year, while the bonus target is 2,000. In GTF especially “there's always plenty of work going around so we're never biting our nails over making hours.” However, “certain other groups can struggle to get enough. It's not a 'hit this target or else' situation though.” Associates who bill above and beyond 2,000 hours get bigger bonuses. Vedder did match the 2018 market salary increases, but wasn't one of the fastest firms to do so. Its cautiousness wasn't deemed a bad thing though: “Vedder is definitely more conservative, which is a trait that has helped us weather recessions. If enough firms move, ours will follow.”
Strategy & Future
“We tend to be practice area-agnostic when it comes to growth,” operating shareholder Doug Hambleton explains. “We'd love to continue growing our corporate and transactional practices. At the same time our labor and employment practice accounts for about 20% of the firm and we'd like to keep our edge in that too.” Midsizers have been under threat in recent years, but Vedder has a strategy to help keep it fighting fit. “I think it's difficult for a midsized firm to be all things to all people,” Hambleton suggests; “the most successful midsizers will have a very strong leading or niche practice. For us that's both transportation and generalist finance, and labor and employment.” Click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read the full interview with Hambleton.
Associates can count 60 hours of pro bono as billable. “It would be nice if they bumped it up to 100 like some other firms,” a few interviewees proposed, “but if you go beyond 60 you can informally petition to count more.” These charitable go-getters had no problems with the range of pro bono work on offer: “You can really do whatever you want, you're given leeway for whatever speaks to you.” GTF juniors were mostly too busy to get in on the action, but common choices in other groups included immigration cases (which were reportedly popular in Los Angeles and San Francisco), landlord/tenant issues, NGO formations and matters sourced through Lawyers for the Creative Arts.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 307Interviewees outside OCI: 28
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.”
Offers: 25Acceptances: 7
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 – sometimes you have to say no to someone so you can have the opportunity to be available to others.”
“Past summer associates have commented that over the course of the summer, they come to know every single person in the office,” Talanki comments, “and in our view kindness counts.”
Interview with operating shareholder Doug Hambleton
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
Doug Hambleton: We are a midsized firm of around 300 lawyers firmwide, yet we have practices that are incredibly sophisticated for our size. Our transportation finance is top-ranked worldwide by Chambers USA and we're up there with firms that have much larger footprints and headcount. Vedder Price really punches above its weight.
CA: Are there any broad market trends that are currently affecting the transport finance practice in particular?
DH: More than anything the market is driven by the overall state of the economy, which is strong right now, and therefore the practice has in turn been very strong. Credit markets and sources of funding play a big role, and over the last two years things have looked very good.
CA: Last year you outlined Vedder's plans for 'incremental growth'. How has that played out over the last 12 months?
DH: It's played out very well and its our continued goal going forward. We don't open new offices quickly or without a strong business case to do so, and when we do we take a very considered approach with just a few attorneys. We also grow our existing practices incrementally by hiring individual partners. In 2018 we added ten partners laterally across all our offices, an unbelievably talented group that helped us keep our edge and grow our practice.
Of the ten who joined us last year, a large percentage were in the DC office and that's proven to be a great shot in the arm. Our hires also spanned various practice areas including corporate, litigation and labor & employment. When we add lateral hires we don't tend to bring in groups – what characterizes our program is when people come they tend to be successful, and not many people tend to leave, which we're very proud of.
CA: Beyond the firm's trademark aviation finance practice, which areas have you earmarked for growth over the next few years and why?
DH: We tend to be practice area agnostic when it comes to growth, and don't pick one area to the exclusion of others, though we do have ideas. We'd love to continue growing our corporate and transactional practices, but labor and employment is about 20% of the firm and we'd like to keep our edge in that too. We have targeted pinpoint searches we do each year based on input from practice planning meetings, but overall we're interested in continued incremental growth across the firm as a whole.
CA: With the nature of the legal industry as it is, with big firms getting bigger and increasing competition for legal services, how can midsized firms like Vedder Price adapt and thrive?
DH: I think it's difficult for a midsized firm to be all things to all people and have a general practice, the most successful midsizers will have a very strong leading or niche practice that will distinguish them from other firms their size. For us that's both transportation and generalist finance, and labor and employment.
CA: What impact does being part of a mid-size firm have on the junior associate experience?
DH: The nice thing about a midsized firm is you get to know everybody. There's no one right platform for a law firm – Dentons and DLA Piper for example are phenomenal firms but with a very different feel to Vedder Price. At Vedder an associate will, over time, get to know everyone. It feels more like a partnership and it's easier to have professional relationships with a large number of attorneys at a firm of this size.
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
DH: Law has always been competitive and the same professional opportunities are still there – different practices might be hot but in today's environment there are lots of great areas to get involved in. Every year more great people are coming out of law school and into practice.
CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
DH: I was not one of those people who woke up one morning loving the law and wanting to become an attorney, I got there by process of elimination. I can't say my route in was methodical, but I've enjoyed legal practice immensely and I'm one of the increasingly few people who's been at one firm their whole career. My time at Vedder Price has been amazing.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of?
DH: Helping to grow the firm by bringing partners in laterally, setting up new offices and watching them succeed.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
DH: My answer to this is always to think long term, as so many students starting out in the law will think too short term. It's a marathon and you should be thinking about what will make you successful ten or 20 years from now, not necessarily in the immediate future.
222 North LaSalle Street,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $257 million
- Shareholders (US): 150
- Associates (US): 124
- 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 2019: 10
- Clerking policy: No
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 8
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- CH: 6, NY: 2, SF: 1, LA: 1
- Summer salary 2019:
- 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
• UC Irvine
• 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; 2L write-in applications accepted after July 15th.
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, 2019
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment: Employee Benefits & Compensation (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation Recognised Practitioner
USA - Nationwide
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance (Band 2)