Fueled by the Lone Star State’s energy economy, this Houston-born firm shines the brightest.
Just as DC attracts those interested in government work and New York draws those with a hankering for high-flying finance matters, Texas has long been the go-to destination if energy is a core focus for a burgeoning legal career. Vinson & Elkins is synonymous with this kind of work - particularly renewables and transitions - but you should also be aware that it sets its sights on sectors beyond energy, particularly when it comes to technology, infrastructure, and real estate. In addition, “V&E has great specialists in almost every practice area you can think of, and as a junior you get to coordinate with and learn from each of them,” a proud associate declared.
“We get high-quality work without the New York BigLaw lifestyle.”
On the nationwide front,Chambers USA shines its spotlight on V&E’s transactional, regulatory and litigation-related oil and gas work, but also gives plenty of kudos to the firm’s extensive renewables expertise, especially as it pertains to projects work. In Texas, the firm’s banking & finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, capital markets, corporate/M&A, environment, real estate, and tax groups are deemed gold star material. However, this source was quick to note that although the firm is largely Texas-based, its clients are spread nationally and internationally: “We get high-quality work without the New York BigLaw lifestyle.” Associates who do fancy New York BigLaw with a touch of southern hospitality can set up camp in V&E’s Manhattan base, where the firm’s bankruptcy and restructuring know-how outshines many a rival.
V&E’s eight domestic offices can be found in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Richmond, LA, New York, San Francisco, and DC. The majority of juniors on our list were based in the firm’s Houston office, followed by Dallas and New York; the remaining offices took on a handful each.
Strategy & Future
Firm chair Keith Fullenweider took the reins in early 2022 alongside three new vice-chairs. The new quartet – consisting of two corporate attorneys and two litigators – are spread across Houston, Dallas, Austin, and New York. “We’re looking ahead to a period of significant growth, and the location of leadership will give an indication of our focus,” says Fullenweider. He adds that V&E is “focusing on four industries that are going through significant changes – energy and infrastructure, technology, real estate and private equity. We’re seeing tremendous investment into these industries, and there will be many disputes that arise around this investment.”
Newbies are assigned a sponsor for their first sixth months at V&E but can subsequently pick a mentor. “You’re not married to your sponsor!” one source joked. “They function as someone who can hold your hand while you acclimatize.” Another highlighted how “partners are very perceptive when it comes to associates’ career preferences. They really want to advance your career by allowing you to focus more on the type of work you’re interested in. That’s what sets V&E apart.” As part of this, “you’re encouraged to build cross-office relationships and gain exposure” to different types of work. As associates approach the mid-level stage, “you can become more invested in what you enjoy,” and by the senior point “you’re taking on more client communication and negotiation, and business development stuff.”
“...you’re encouraged to build cross-office relationships and gain exposure.”
While making partner was deemed “a tough process,” interviewees still felt that it was an option and were encouraged by the promotions they had seen of late. A few sources reckoned that V&E looks to place attorneys in counsel positions for at least a year before they go up for partnership (though this depends on the individual), so the path was viewed as a little longer but “definitely attainable” if you “really push for it.”
Work assignment at V&E has “historically been free-market and based on associates’ interests and availability,” but as the firm has moved into a hybrid working arrangement “there’s an emphasis on even allocation – they introduced a work allocation committee to look at workflow within larger practice groups. The free-market system worked great before, but when people aren’t in the office all the time, you need to monitor it.” V&E’s complex commercial litigation and M&A/capital markets groups housed the most associates on our list, but others with a significant number included energy transactions/projects, finance, tax, and environmental and natural resources. The firm also highlighted it was trying to grow its real estate group.
“I wanted to be at a firm that was investing in renewable energy and energy transition work."
“I wanted to be at a firm that was investing in renewable energy and energy transition work,” an associate in the energy transactions/projects (ETP) group told us. We heard that each office has its own strengths: Houston is reportedly big on M&A, while New York isa go-to for project finance and private equity, and LA deftly handles tax equity matters. A source explained that a lot of their time was spent on M&A deals, and there was a mix of renewable and traditional energy work available. “There’s no pressure to specialize early on,” we heard. “Partners have said they want us to get a wide range of experience.” On M&A deals, juniors were tackling “the standard diligence assignments, keeping checklists organized, and doing some minor drafting on the main documents.” Projects work comes with similar responsibilities, but we heard that these matters are “more long-term and come with different types of agreements for you to master.” The primary task for any associate here is “making sure the deal is moving forward!”
Energy clients: Blackstone Energy Partners, Saudi Aramco, Goldman Sachs Renewable Power. Advising 8 Rivers Capital on two clean energy projects, including one that will be built in Illinois and help to decarbonize industrial, transport and electricity sectors.
Thecommercial litigation group certainly keeps associates on their toes: “One minute you’re working on an arbitration and then it becomes a state court matter. One matter can take so many different shapes and it depends on the strategy the team comes up with – I appreciate being a part of that.” Securities, white-collar, and regulatory matters are handled here, on top of a whole host of other commercial disputes like breach of contract and malpractice claims. “It’s great that I can continue to be challenged and can learn something new,” a source shared: “I’m not forced to bank on anything specific.” We heard of associates preparing and taking depositions, drafting motions, communicating with clients, and tackling research questions. “You get solid, substantive work experience early on,” an interviewee declared, “and that’s one strength of the litigation group at V&E.”
Commercial litigation clients: Barclays, Blackwells Capital, Comscore. Represents medical device entity Neovasc in relation to an anonymous online defamation campaign that was waged against the company.
In the M&A/capital markets (dubbed MACM) group, juniors can be spotted working on (surprise, surprise) capital markets and M&A matters, as well as fund formation and private equity investment deals. The New York office handles a bunch of shareholder activism matters, while the folks in Dallas are reportedly pushing to get involved in more energy transmission deals. “We’re the most general corporate group at the firm,” concluded a MACM source. Traditional M&A deals involve both public and private companies, and the group advises on the buying and selling of equity or assets. On fund formation matters, the MACM group works with private equity folks to set up funds, while capital market deals involve the usual IPOs, bond offerings, and SPACs – the latter have been particularly active of late. Juniors learn the ropes through admin tasks, but alongside this there’s plenty of opportunity to hone more advanced drafting skills. “The earlier you can get started, the better, because then you can help the team out hugely,” shared a seasoned associate. “I’m doing the first draft of the document by taking the precedent we have and incorporating comments. I’m also managing more junior associates to keep things on track.” Newbies are also given the opportunity to take the lead on the first review of data room documents.
M&A/capital markets clients: Bonanza Creek Energy, Apollo Global Management, Enable Midstream Partners. Represented Woodside Petroleum during its $30 billion merger with BHP Petroleum.
Juniors had no minimum hour requirements for pro bono, but they could count up to 100 hours towards their billable target to reach bonus eligibility. We heard associates can apply for more pro bono hours to count towards their billable hour target, too. Our sources had devoted time to asylum cases, which gave them valuable learning experiences. “It’s high stakes,” shared an interviewee, “as you’re handling someone’s life and it feels really empowering to be able to give back.” Newbies are generally able to take on leadership roles on pro bono matters: “I was able to make decisions with no backstop,” this junior enthused. Others also highlighted that pro bono provided them with a great opportunity to build connections at V&E and do cross-practice work. We also heard that there were good transactional pro bono opportunities, which included helping to set up non-profit foundations.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 25,820
- Average per US attorney: 38
Hours & Compensation
Billing hours: 2,000 target
Juniors become bonus eligible when they hit their annual hours target. The firm's pro bono hours allowances also include legal development work (which encompass diversity and recruiting activities). “No one’s breathing down my neck in terms of billables,” explained an untroubled source, summing up the vibe at V&E. In terms of compensation, juniors gave the firm a thumbs up. "The pandemic has really highlighted how strong some firms can be, while others have fallen short,” reflected an associate, and V&E definitely came out on top. When asked about whether the firm was quick to match increasing market salaries, we were met with a resounding “YES!” Interviewees told us that V&E was usually the first among its home rivals to step up to the market, and the firm's lockstep bonus structure is reportedly aligned with “whatever Cravath pay.” Associates can also receive above-market payouts if they meet certain criteria.
“People are happy to cover for you and you’d do the same for them.”
Weekend work generally depends on what matter you’re staffed on and its level of urgency. “If you have to work weekends or late nights, people do feel bad about it,” insisted a source. “I’ve had a really good experience with vacations,” emphasized another interviewee, echoing the views of others, who told us that colleagues pick up work to allow people to enjoy their time off: “People are happy to cover for you and you’d do the same for them.” Our survey respondents reported that they’d worked an estimated average of 48 hours in the preceding week and had taken an average of five vacation days in the last 12 months.
Our interviewees were adamant about the firm’s supportive atmosphere: “There’s a really big emphasis on having an open-door policy, or whatever the equivalent is in Covid times – open-phone?” jested a junior. “We’re in the trenches together but trying to have a good time,” shared a source who was keen to tell us about V&E’s pre-pandemic happy hours (which we also heard were making a steady return!). The New York bunch were running Wednesday happy hours to incentivize folks to return to the office at least twice a week, and it seemed to be working.
“It’s common to see partners popping over to their kid’s soccer game.”
“Nobody takes themselves too seriously,” was a common statement used by associates to describe the people at V&E, with this source proudly declaring: “From the top down, the attorneys are just great people. Lawyers can have big egos and be hard-headed, but I have yet to meet a V&E attorney with an ego problem.” New Yorkers identified “a southern feel” to the office that was in keeping with the polite and considerate atmosphere recorded in the Texas bases. Don’t mistake Texan charm for a laid-back approach to work, however: “Everyone tries to be the best attorney they can be, and people aren’t afraid to give you constructive criticism – and that’s never felt awkward.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“It’s common to see partners popping over to their kid’s soccer game,” shared an associate, who pointed to the firm’s inclusivity for attorneys with children. Firm chair Fullenweider tells us that the firm’s most recent summer class consisted of 38% associates of color, while the last two partnership classes saw approximately 40% of promotions awarded to women lawyers. “We’re focusing on tangible ways to give back to the community and looking at the pipeline of students going into law school and investing in that pipeline activity,” Fullenweider elaborates. V&E offers a number of diversity fellowships that award law students $25,000 and a clerkship opportunity in their 1L or 2L year.
In late 2021, V&E achieved Mansfield Rule 4.0 Certification after collaborating with Diversity Lab; the firm subsequently signed up to take part in the next iteration of the process, Mansfield 5.0.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 821
Vinson & Elkins visits roughly 30 law schools and job fairs, plus diversity-focused events each year. The firm also collects resumes from numerous other schools. V&E Lead Partner for Recruiting, Manuel Berrelez, tells us: “We select schools primarily based on their rankings, and beyond the top 20, we look at other great law schools where we have historical relationships, such as U of H in Houston, SMU in Dallas, and Fordham in New York.” He notes the firm interviews between 20 and 60 students at each OCI, but he says: “The number of total interviews we conduct has decreased over the last few years as the number of students we have interviewed outside of OCI has increased.”
Partners, counsel, and associates who represent a variety of offices and practice groups conduct the interviews, and the firm aims to make sure the interviewers have diverse backgrounds. Berrelez tells us, “All of our attorneys are prepared to interview students for any of our offices and practices.”
“We ask behavioral questions in our interviews, to help us get to know students beyond what we see on their resume. We look for students who are driven, and have been active and/or served in leadership roles in on-campus activities, both in undergrad and in law school. We also value previous work experience, especially where students have had the opportunity to develop team-oriented skills and demonstrate problem-solving qualities,” says Berrelez.
Top tips for this stage:
“Just be yourself and be honest. You want to like the place you’re working. In law school we were told women should wear skirts for interviews, but I don’t wear skirts, so I thought if that’s important to a firm, I don’t want to work there.” – a third-year associate
“We want to hear why students are interested in our firm and their city of interest. It is also helpful for us to know their practice area(s) of interest, which can help direct the conversation, and help us when making decisions regarding callback interviews”. – Manuel Berrelez, Lead Partner for Recruiting
Applicants invited to second-stage interviews (OCI & Pre-OCI): 477
Most offices have two or three 30-minute interview slots and a lunch (if the interview is in-person). Interviews are hosted by partners, counsel, and associates from student’s practice area(s) of interest.
“At this stage, the students are meeting more attorneys from their practice areas of interest, so we are expecting students to be able to give more insight into how they became interested in a specific practice area,” explained Berrelez. “We’re also interested in learning how their prior background and experiences will translate to the practice of law at a firm like ours,” explained Berrelez.
Top tips for this stage:
“Be yourself, come prepared, be honest and respectful, and take the opportunity to ask good, thoughtful questions.” – Berrelez
“I was really impressed with the recruitment process – talent management was very invested in each individual candidate that made it to the callback and offer phase, and that was apparent through their outreach and the connections they facilitated with their lawyers.” - a second-year associate
Acceptances: 54 (plus 26 returners from 2021 SAP)
V&E’s summer program gives students the opportunity to “do substantive work in a variety of practice areas, have direct client contact, and work side-by-side with attorneys on a variety of client matters.”
Summer associates are assigned ‘sponsors’ to mentor them throughout the program, plus a work coordinator “who is responsible for gathering meaningful work projects for the students.” It’s worth noting that some offices have a formal rotation system. The numerous training sessions include a writing workshop, programs for building relationships and developing a professional presence, and several wellness programs. Berrelez added: “There also are many social and community activities that give students the chance to get to know their colleagues – both fellow summer associates and attorneys – in a relaxed environment outside the office.”
Students receive an offer to join the firm at the end of the program. Berrelez explained that “in the spring of their 3L year, we send out our Practice Group Preference Survey, which each incoming new lawyer will complete.” The firm uses those survey responses to determine practice group assignments based on client and practice group needs.
Top tips for this stage:
“Remember that the summer program is a 10-week job interview. We want our summer associates to take their projects seriously, do their best work, and meet deadlines on projects. It’s also important that they take advantage of opportunities to get to know our lawyers by attending as many events and networking opportunities as possible.” – Berrelez
“We look for leaders who are problem-solvers, understand business, and are good team players: you cannot be arrogant or condescending.”– a third-year associate
Interview with firm chair Keith Fullenweider
CA: Would you say that Vinson & Elkins is in growth mode?
It’s an interesting time for us. We have a new leadership team that started on January 1, 2022, replacing our current team which oversaw a period of tremendous success. They’ve led us from being a great Texas firm to being a great national firm – they solidified our position in the Texas legal market and expanded our national practices in New York, DC, and California. There are four of us in the new leadership team and we’ve all been actively involved in the firm’s growth and strategy over the past few years. We now have leadership based in four different offices – Houston, New York, Dallas, and Austin – and the team is made up of two corporate and two litigation attorneys. We’re looking ahead to a period of significant growth, and the location of leadership will give an indication of our focus.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic and has it affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
We’re all still waiting to come out of the pandemic. We’ve taken a flexible approach, and the technology we have has served our lawyers well during the pandemic– people have remained connected, happy, and productive. We’ve worked very hard – in the past six months in particular – to regain physical connectedness. We had a partners’ retreat in October, and there has been a lot of travel between offices. This has all been voluntary, but we found that a lot of people were present in the office over the fall. There’s been a bit of a step back with the new variant, and we want to remain safe. Overall, we’re confident in our flexible approach as we go forward into 2022.
Our main focus going into the new year is how the pandemic has changed people’s views about work and physical location. We’ve historically had a flexible culture around office time – we've always used technology to help, and we’ve found that people are happier, more productive, and fulfilled when they’re not tied to their desks. At the same time, we want people to be together physically in the office. You’ll see that most of our lawyers enjoy being in the office more, but of course, tremendous consideration goes towards individual circumstances.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade?
The challenge is keeping up with the opportunities that are presented to us. Moving forward, we’re focusing on four industries that are going through significant changes – energy and infrastructure, technology, real estate and private equity. We’re seeing tremendous investment into these industries, and there will be many disputes that arise around this investment. We’ve invested in our investigations and construction disputes practice in anticipation of these trends. The challenge will be keeping up with our clients and being their trusted advisors as they go through change. There will be some fantastic opportunities for Vinson & Elkins to do some of the most interesting legal work.
CA: How has the rise of legal technology affected the firm? Are you implementing any specific programs/initiatives with regards to technology?
We were really well-positioned at the beginning of the pandemic with state-of-the-art systems, so it was easy to transition to remote working within days. We have strong backup systems in place. The main opportunity of technology in the service industry is to keep people connected and make it easy to work from wherever you are. The aim is to stay connected to our clients and each other regardless of location.
CA: What is Vinson’s approach to DE&I like?
Our outgoing leadership team has made DE&I a top priority. Mark Kelly led our DE&I Executive Committee, and Scott Wulfe co-led the Women’s Initiative. We’re focused on the issues and recognize that we will be able to do a better job for our clients if we can present a workforce that is diverse and inclusive. We, as a new leadership team, are taking a look back at what’s been most effective, and what changes we can make to enhance our effectiveness. We look at the numbers: our most recent summer class was 38% attorneys of color, and our last two partnership classes have been 40% women partners. As you’ll see in any law firm, numbers are still lagging, in the partner ranks especially. We’re aiming to focus on two areas in particular as we start the new year: 1) junior associate experience at the firm – looking at improving our processes so that everyone gets off to a strong start and making sure we have a good job pipeline to partnership for senior associates. 2) We’re focusing on tangible ways to give back to the community – like our recent investment with The University of Texas School of Law to increase diversity in the profession – looking at the pipeline of students going into law school and investing in that pipeline activity.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
My son is an associate in a major national firm and one of my daughters is going to start law school in the Fall of 2022. So this question is personal to me as well as something I think a lot about as a leader of our firm. With the increase in compensation, the industry has increased its focus on billable hours and revenue generation. These metrics are important but I think they are far less important than longer term professional goals. Think beyond the billable hours. We all work hard to learn the profession – it's a hard profession, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think about developing your relationship skills to become a trusted advisor, a good listener, and a friend to your clients. These relationships make good and happy lawyers. We want to do our part to reduce the number of stories you hear about unhappiness and lack of thriving in the profession. My professional work has really contributed to my sense of fulfillment and happiness. It has brought many great friends into my life. That is what we want for everyone in our firm. It is a key part of our culture at Vinson & Elkins.
Vinson & Elkins LLP
1001 Fannin Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 4
- Worldwide revenue: $912,337,000
- Partners (US): 143
- Associates (US): 335
- Main recruitment contact: Gretchen Rollins, Senior Director of Attorney Recruitment
- Hiring partner: Manuel Berrelez, Lead Partner - Recruiting
- Diversity officer: Deborah Martin Owens, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Number of entry-level associates starting in 2022: 75
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Number of summers joining 2022: 62 1Ls, 79 2Ls, 4 SEO Pre-Law Fellows
- Number of summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office (1Ls & 2Ls): 4 Austin, 30 Dallas, 74 Houston, 20 New York, 1 Richmond, 2 San Francisco, 10 Washington
- Summer salary 2022 1Ls: $4,135/week 2Ls: $4,135/week
- Split summers offered? 10 week program, varies by office
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case by case
Main areas of work
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, LSU, Northwestern, NYU, SMU, Stanford, STCL Houston, Tulane, University of Chicago, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Houston, The University of Texas, UVA, Vanderbilt, Wash U, Washington & Lee, William & Mary, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
V&E participates in job fairs such as: Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, Loyola University Patent Law Program, and Sunbelt Diversity Recruitment Program. V&E accepts write-in applications from 2L students and awards several Diversity Fellowships to 1L and 2L law students. V&E also considers 3L applicants and judicial clerks for associate positions.
Summer associate profile:
Vinson & Elkins hires talented and highly motivated law students from top schools who are looking for a sophisticated legal practice. V&E seeks candidates who offer diverse perspectives, take initiative, are creative, and enjoy working alongside top lawyers in a friendly, team-oriented environment.
Summer program components:
V&E offers Summer Associates opportunities to work on high-level projects from a variety of practice areas of interest and on pro bono matters. Law students experience hands-on legal training, develop strong mentoring relationships, and gain a real understanding of what it is like to practice law at Vinson & Elkins. Additionally, there are plenty of social and wellness activities that help students get to know future colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere.
LinkedIn: Vinson & Elkins
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Takeover Defense (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Electricity) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 1)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
Texas: Houston & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
- Climate Change (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 5)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 4)
- Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 2)
- Projects: LNG (Band 2)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- REITs (Band 3)
- SPACs (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)