Vinson & Elkins LLP - The Inside View

Drawn by the light of the Lone Star State or the glow of V&E’s energy expertise, associates were proud to call this firm home.

New York may be the traditional BigLaw stronghold, and California the largest state economy in the US, but if we’re talking energy, Texas is undoubtedly the place to be. Houston-born Vinson & Elkins taps into the booming energy economy here, but there’s more to the firm than that: “It is large enough to allow junior associates to find a niche in strong practices in diverse areas," one junior told us. “I chose Vinson & Elkins because it represents the pinnacle of the Texas market; the work is high-caliber and the lawyers are high-quality, both as professionals and as people.”

Among a veritable power grid of nationwide Chambers USArankings, V&E glows brightest with top spots for oil and gas work (regulatory, transactional and litigious) as well as renewables projects. But its recognition in Texas is more widespread: V&E ranks as a leader in banking & finance, bankruptcy, corporate/M&A, environment law and tax in the Lone Star State. The DC base picks up lesser awards for antitrust and environment; and New York earns a corporate M&A prize.

“…scope for growth and ability to get to know people personally.”

At the time of our research, Houston housed just over half the junior associates on our list, with Dallas and New York completing the podium of entry-level recruiters. The rest were scattered throughout Austin, Richmond, San Francisco and DC. Interviewees from smaller offices spoke volumes about the “scope for growth and ability to get to know people personally.” A source in New York had this to say: “Everyone at V&E made an effort to introduce themselves in the summer. The class was smaller than most, so everyone got to know all of us.”

Strategy & Future



The renewables market is an obvious target for growth, and in early 2021 V&E picked up a six-strong renewable energy finance team from Wilson Sonsini in New York and Los Angeles. The firm has also recently added partners to government investigations in DC, investment funds in San Francisco, and M&A in New York, with an eye on expanding the firm’s reach into the Latin American scene. Our junior sources felt they had more insight into high-level thinking than peers at other firms: “Management does a quarterly call for all associates and they give us a high-level picture of where we are financially. Our practice group leaders also give updates.”

TOP READ: Becoming a renewable energy lawyer - with Vinson & Elkins

The Work



Different practices take different approaches to work assignment. In the M&A and capital markets group, for example, there’s a work allocation committee to help first-years get to grips with life at the firm: “Each week we update an email chain with our availability and then the work is distributed.” As they settle in, juniors can start to build relationships with partners and senior associates, to get them ready for their second year when “the hands-on approach goes away, and the onus moves onto the associate to dig out work.” Sources throughout the firm’s practice areas agreed that “it becomes easy to reach out to people and get work. Everyone is really supportive, and partners do keep an eye on your workload.”

Energy runs at the core of V&E, and the sector powers two whole groups: the firm’s regulatory practice, and energy transactions and projects (ETP). Junior associates in the former were primarily dealing with “natural gas pipeline regulation issues” governed by the DC-based Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “It’s a very well-known practice in Houston,” interviewees noted. Oil and electricity regulation also powers the department, and projects call for interaction with both federal and regional regulatory bodies. “There’s a real mix of typical junior due diligence tasks and proofreading, alongside some client interaction and helping to draft negotiations and agreements,” juniors revealed.

"... helping out on the purchase and sale agreements."

ETP is a department in its own right but will often work in collaboration with the regulatory wing. Here you’ll find M&A for oil and gas clients as well as joint ventures, environmental compliance matters, project finance and tax issues. “We have a strong renewables practice and the bulk of the project finance work is focused in this space,” an associate in Houston told us. “We work with a mix of solar and wind companies.” The firm also excels at upstream transactional work (exploration to find oil and gas). Other Houston juniors said the team does “a great job at giving you challenges and making sure you have the basic skills to progress. As the majority of work is agreements-based, we’ll be helping out on the purchase and sale agreements; on the projects side we would see trade and energy procurement construction agreements.” Our interviewees over in New York were also pleased with their responsibility levels, “thanks to the smaller size of the office and group. We have regular communication with clients.”

Energy clients: Oasis Petroleum, AltaGas, Energy Transfer Partners. Advised Jordan Cove on federal regulatory issues relating to its proposed $10 billion Energy Project and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline.

V&E's combined M&A and capital markets group also handles energy deals and often calls upon the ETP team for assistance. “The department is known for oil and gas transactions, as well as renewables and tech,” insiders explained. A Houston junior recounted their experience in 2020: “This year we also became the SPAC house, having done around five deals of that type. Several were centered around electric vehicles.” Shareholder activism cases for food, beverages and pharmaceuticals clients have also been a hot topic lately. The split between M&A and capital markets for juniors is partly dependent on the market, and partly on their personal preferences. One told us they’d “only worked on one note offering, while my colleague had done five – and we were based in the same deal team.”

“V&E gives you what you’re ready for.”

Deal management is the core responsibility for juniors. “We keep tabs on the flow of the documents, as well as doing a lot of consolidation of commentary from counsel and other groups,” one explained. “We also do a lot of precedent research.” One example is for “merger agreements to see where counsel came up with certain deal terms, and whether they are market or not.” Reviewing their experience, sources suggested “V&E gives you what you’re ready for. You can be the person who sends out the emails or the one who wants to run deals and be involved in the drafting.”

Corporate clients: Coolsys, CryoLife, Blackstone Infrastructure Fund. Advised Delaware Basin oil fields operator Felix Energy Holdings in its $2.5 billion sale to WPX Energy.

Pro Bono



V&E encourages all attorneys to do at least 50 hours each year, but they can count unlimited pro bono toward their billable target. “We do some really great work here,” associates agreed. The firm’s pro bono counsel is in charge of sending out blast emails “summarizing what’s been going on as well as giving accolades to those who’ve made notable achievements.” DC and New York handle a host of “matters related to public housing,” while Houston has a strong connection with the city’s Volunteer Lawyers legal aid arm. “We work on active asylum cases and immigration work, and set up state documents,” sources explained.

“It’s been very enlightening.”

Our sources had also done work with civil rights group Lambda Legal. “There was one matter where we worked on reverting a rule which was changed to allow social workers to discriminate based on sexual orientation and disability,” one explained. “There’s some really great pro bono work to be done.” Whatever their experience, juniors appreciated getting to draft at a higher level and interact more directly with clients, “you wouldn’t get that otherwise at this stage in your career.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 32,567
  • Average per US attorney: 50.1

Hours & Compensation



Billing target: 2,000 hours

The firm pays the same salaries to associates in Houston and Dallas as it does New York; V&E’s bonus allocations are also “pretty much aligned with the market.” A junior told us “it’s solely merit-based for first-years but following that I think hours are taken into account as well. You don’t have to meet the requirement in your first year, so the firm takes a more holistic approach when deciding bonuses.” Along with pro bono, associates can also bill some of the hours they spend on D&I, recruitment, mentoring, and business development activities.

Most of the firm’s practice groups run average hours of 9am to 7pm. “I usually wouldn’t work too many times past midnight, but that can happen,” a source shared. Significantly later nights are “matter dependent. I’ve had periods where I’ve logged in first thing in the morning and didn’t log off till ten minutes before sleeping; then I’ve had instances where I’ve logged off pretty early in the afternoon,” one junior recalled. Weekend work can also be a possibility and we heard that “partners are respectful if you have weekend plans booked, but there is an expectation to be available when and if something pops up.”

“A Southern tinge.”

Culture



Never mind summer or Christmas – the V&E social calendar really hots up every February, with the annual chili cook-off. Before discussing recipes, we asked juniors to run us through the ingredients of the firm’s culture: they highlighted intelligence, genuineness and “a Southern tinge.” According to one, “the partners set the tone. They are serious about their work and their clients but still manage to cultivate a fun, collaborative atmosphere for those working under them.” They explained further that “V&E lawyers have always shown themselves to be engaging and good-humored, but also passionate about what they do.”

Slight cultural differences exist between the firm’s offices, but our interviewees were quick to emphasize that “each runs their own matters and not everything goes through Houston or Dallas. Other offices like New Yorkand DCshouldn’t be pictured as satellites – there’s certainly an overall firm culture and each office plays a part in shaping the dynamics of the firm.” The famous chili cook-off aside, the firm also hosts tasteful happy hours and the diversity council runs conferences once every two years, “which are great as the managing partners also attend.”

Diversity & Inclusion



“Being based in Texas doesn’t help,” a Houston insider admitted. “As a woman in the Texas energy community, it can feel like a good old white boys’ club at times – but the energy regulatory team at V&E is more evenly split now between male and female.” Another associate felt V&E “knows the partnership isn’t the most diverse group on the planet but they are trying to fix that and have pledged to achieve a certain proportion of minority partners.” Recently the firm signed up to the Mansfield Rule 4.0 and donated $100,000 to organizations working against racial and social injustices (you can read about the firm's initiatives here).

The firm's V&E Scholarship is awarded annually to seven graduating high school students in Texas, offering them a summer internship and a $10,000 award. "We also have a diversity scholarship at different law schools for 1Ls and 2Ls,” which provides summer positions and bursaries to students from under-represented groups. Our junior associate sources were keen to praise the firm’s commitment to “a wellness lifestyle. Being a lawyer isn’t easy and V&E wants to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.” Steps to do this include hosting meditation sessions and offering an in-house counselor “who acts as a great sounding board for when anxiety creeps in.”

Career Development



In turn, partners are on hand when it comes to career development and mentorship for junior associates and midlevels. ETP associates told of “weekly lunches and CLEs where various associates and/or counsel reps would provide an overview of different areas of the practice. We’ve also got to attend a number of litigation and regulatory beginner trainings, where we would learn about the basic motions practice.” We heard from one in more detail: “In one session, we learned all about the details of what a natural gas project looks like. The training really has been quite individualized for us.” Informal career coaching also got good reviews, though juniors were less uniformly pleased with the feedback they received day to day. “It’s something you have to push for,” one argued. “It would be nice to have more immediate feedback so we can have more of an idea of what an individual’s trajectory looks like at the firm.”

“The training we receive here is invaluable in this field.”

For those who decide to move on “in-house or lateral to another firm,” V&E associates were confident of the opportunities that could open up for them with the prestige of the firm’s name. “It’s certainly a big name in the Texas market and it’s growing in New York too,” one said. “It’s also a boost on my resume if I decide to go in-house to an energy practice. The training we receive here is invaluable in this field particularly.”

Get Hired 



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: 801 in 2019; 567 in 2020/21 

Interviewees outside OCI: 86 in 2019; 143 in 2020/21 

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 Partner and Talent Management Chair, Steve Gill tells us:  “We select schools based on their rankings, and beyond the top 20, we look at other great law schools where we have historical relationships, such as the 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 couple of 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. Gill 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 demonstrate leadership and problem-solving qualities,” says Gill 

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 will help direct the conversation, and help us when making decisions regarding flyback interviews”.  –Steve Gill, talent management chair 

 

Callbacks 

Applicants invited to second-stage interviews: 394 in 2019; 379 in 2020/21 

Most offices have two or three 30-minute interview slots and a lunch. Interviews are hosted by partners, counsel, and associates from the practice areas the student is interest in. 

“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, and/or how their prior background and experiences will translate to the practice of law,” explained Gill. 

Top tips for this stage: 

“Be yourself, come prepared, be respectful, and ask good questions.”  – Steve Gill, talent management chair 

“You need amazing grades from an ok school or ok grades from a top school, plus we really care about personality.” – a third-year associate 

 

Summer program 

Offers: 195 in 2019; 125 in 2020/21 

Acceptances: 92 (all 2Ls) for 2020; 76 (2Ls) for 2021 

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.” 

Summers 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 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.  Gill added: “There also are many social and community activities that give students the chance to get to know their colleagues in a relaxed environment.” 

Students receive an offer to join the firm at the end of the program, and “in the spring of their 3L year, we send out our Practice Group Preference Survey, which each incoming new lawyer will complete.” 

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. Take advantage of opportunities to get to know our lawyers by attending as many events and networking opportunities as possible.”  –Steve Gill, talent management chair 

“We look for leaders who are articulate, understand business, and are agreeable: you cannot be arrogant or condescending.”– a third-year associate 

Vinson & Elkins LLP

1001 Fannin Street,
Suite 2500,
Houston,
TX 77002-6760
Website www.velaw.com

  • Head Office: Houston, TX
  • Number of domestic offices: 8
  • Number of international offices: 4
  • Worldwide revenue: $782,352,000
  • Partners (US): 179
  • Associates (US): 414
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Gretchen Rollins, Director of Entry-Level Hiring
  • Hiring partner: Stephen Gill
  • Diversity officer: Julie Tran
  • Recruitment details 
  • Number of entry-level associates starting in 2021: 73
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Number of summers joining 2021: 43 1Ls, 76 2Ls, 3 SEO Pre-Law Fellows
  • Number of summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office (1Ls & 2Ls): 6 Austin, 20 Dallas, 67 Houston, 14 New York, 3 San Francisco, 9 Washington
  • Summer salary 2021 (effective July 1) 1Ls: $3,894/week 2Ls: $3,894/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



 Antitrust; appellate; banking/finance; capital markets; clean energy/renewables; commercial litigation; condemnation; construction and engineering; employment and labor; energy litigation; energy regulatory; energy transactions; environmental and natural resources; ESG; executive compensation and benefits; government contracts; government investigations; intellectual property; international dispute resolution and arbitration; investment management; M&A; media and entertainment; MLPs; national security; physical and digital infrastructure; private equity; professional liability; project development and finance; real estate; REITs; restructuring and reorganization; securities litigation; SPACs; tax; tax controversy; technology; venture capital; white collar criminal defense.

Firm profile



 Vinson & Elkins has provided deep legal experience in handling transactions, investments, projects, and disputes worldwide for more than 100 years. Today, the firm is a trusted adviser in the most important industrial and digital industries. With more than 700 lawyers working across 12 offices, Vinson & Elkins is a highly regarded firm in banking/finance, infrastructure, technology, real estate, renewable energy, and transportation. As a source of pride for the firm, Vinson & Elkins has a reputation for a culture built on collaboration and inclusion. The firm is known for empowering exceptional careers, offering early opportunities for hands-on client involvement, providing competitive compensation and benefits, and having the opportunity to give back through rewarding pro bono work.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, LSU, Northwestern, NYU, SMU, Stanford, STCL Houston, Tulane, University of Chicago, 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 Minority 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.

Social media



Recruitment website: www.velaw.com/careers/
Twitter: @VinsonandElkins
Instagram: @vecareers

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
    • 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 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 5)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • 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)
    • 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 1)
    • Projects: LNG (Band 2)
    • Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
    • REITs (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)