A Texan beacon for associates who are fueled by a love for energy but don't want to burn out, Vin-Vin is a win-win.
“IF you want to be in Texas, V&E is the place to be. If you want to be in the energy industry, V&E is the place to be.” Quite a statement from one associate there, but we’d agree that V&E would be a good pick if you’re looking for a firm with a high-powered energy practice – the firm earns top Chambers USA rankings nationwide for oil and gas, renewable energy, projects and power – or if you’re gunning for a job in the Lone Star State, V&E earns accolades for capital markets, bankruptcy and tax. Sources in Houston felt “this firm works at the highest possible caliber, but people are still approachable and always have their doors open.”
Big in Texas, but not small elsewhere – Houston and Dallas are the biggest associate recruiters but V&E’s offices in DC and New York are worth a look too. “This isn’t just an outpost office,” one source in the latter assured us, and Vinson & Elkins is ranked in the 'highly regarded' category for corporate M&A work in New York. 2019 saw the firm build its real estate practice with the addition of three partners, three counsel, nine associates and three paralegals from Kasowitz. V&E also introduced a brand-new Women of Color Network.
“If you want to be in Texas, V&E is the place to be.”
Strategy & Future
Sources told us “there’s a very transparent vibe” among management, who are happy to talk about the future of V&E. Chairman Mike Kelly invites all associates to an annual meeting to run through the numbers for each financial year. Junior insiders suggested that “there are plans to grow in New York,including through hiring.” Sure enough, the firm relocated to a larger space in the Big Apple in 2020.
The firm’s allocation coordinators ease juniors into firm life, dishing out assignments to first-years “to make sure they’re equally busy and getting diverse experience.” First-years can seek their own opportunities, and from second year on “it’s more eat-what-you-kill,” so associates have to source their own assignments “including partly from the client base you’ve developed.” Interviewees recognized “it can be daunting asking for work, but it’s like the high dive – you just have to get over the mental barrier.” On the transactional side of the firm, “if there’s a major deal or regulatory proceeding it’s all hands on deck” so you’ll inevitably be staffed on those.
Associates in the energy regulatory group primarily deal with gas pipeline regulation issues governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The odd splash of oil and electricity regulation is enough to keep the practice buzzing. Cross-department collaboration is common: “We even work with the appellate group,” a source revealed. “There are always federal issues to be addressed concerning the rates that pipelines and transmission lines can charge.” A collaborative approach was popular among interviewees: “We’re in it together. People think this work is niche, but we get to wear lots of different hats.”
“People think this work is niche, but we get to wear lots of different hats.”
Regulation isn’t the only energy-powered practice at Vinson & Elkins: energy transactions and projects (ETP) folks busy themselves with M&A for oil and gas clients, joint ventures and project finance. “Our group captures a lot of deals that traditional corporate practices don’t,” interviewees clarified. “It’s compelling work: there’s been a lot of joint venture work lately, especially in the midstream space.” The firm also excels at upstream transactional work (exploration to find oil and gas, whereas midstream is processing and transporting it). Houston juniors got to work “very closely” with counterparts in New York on financing, DC on renewable energy-related tax affairs and even the London office on international projects.
Energy clients: Blackstone Energy Partners, Oasis Petroleum, AltaGas. Advised oil and gas company RSP Permian in its $9.5 billion sale to Concho Resources, forming the largest drilling firm in the Permian Basin.
Some firms separate M&A and capital markets, “but at V&E one corporate group covers traditional M&A as well as capital markets.” As with most of the firm, the department’s “known for anything that’s any way related to oil and gas.” Other recent areas of focus include green energy and tech, and there are some non-energy infrastructure and real estate projects on the go here too. New York juniors were likely to see private equity – “most, if not all, of that work is in the energy space” – as well as shareholder activism for food and beverages or pharmaceutical clients. Early days in the group means “a lot of running checklists and keeping track of deals, but there are definitely options available to rise above your skill level,” especially on smaller deals and M&A auctions.
Corporate clients: Morgan Stanley Infrastructure, Direct Energy, ForeFlight. Advised Bank of America Merrill Lynch as lead underwriter to Sunnova Energy in its $168 million IPO.
V&E encourages all attorneys to do 50 hours of pro bono each year. Everybody’s allowed to count unlimited pro bono as billable “so it’s clear there’s a commitment to making sure people can do it.” Email blasts let the whole firm know if someone’s scored a big win, and associates agreed “V&E takes pro bono to heart – they cover all the expenses that come with representing these clients, not to mention the hundreds of hours we could’ve spent doing something else.” The firm’s full-time counsel circulates pro bono opportunities and “will see if they can jimmy up something interesting” if a cause is close to your heart. “The level of construction and gentrification in DC means a lot of housing matters have come up here,” while in Houston “the Rodeo is a massive ordeal, so we help them at organization level – it’s fun, easy and right up our alley.” New York regularly collaborates with the Bronx Defenders nonprofit and “a number of people work on name changes for transgender individuals.”
“V&E takes pro bono to heart.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 31,775
- Average per US attorney: 49
Hours & Compensation
Billing target: 2,000 hours
Associates can earn a supplemental bonus for additional hours, which is ultimately determined by the practice group leader; interviewees agreed “management tries to be transparent” in that sense. With all pro bono included as billable, one source declared: “There’s really no excuse not to hit the target.” The firm “keeps an eye on everyone’s hours and tries to reallocate work if you’re way over 2,000. They don’t want people to burn out here.” There’s also a general understanding that in the rare instance that work isn’t coming your way, “if you’re slow, it’s not your fault. That depends on your group and where the market is at.” V&E pays a New York market salary in its Texas bases too, an unsurprisingly popular move among Houston interviewees: “I get the same pay but don’t have to sustain the cost of living in a more expensive city.”
“…tries to reallocate work if you’re way over 2000.”
Most of the firm’s practice groups run average hours of 9am to 7pm; attorneys with children can leave earlier to pick up their kids then log on again from home. Tight deadlines can call for late nights, but they’re rare. Facetime requirements, on the other hand, varied by department: regulatory folks told us they have “really high” requirement to be seen, “so who you work with is extremely important in terms of what your day-to-day life looks like.” Working remotely is “very much accepted” for the corporate team, “so on slow days I don’t even need to go into the office. It makes my work/life balance much easier.” Sources were keen to stress that there are advantages to being present and accounted for: “There’s a lot of circling up in conference rooms, people like to interact here because we’re a sociable firm.”
Culture & Career Development
Social happenings include monthly firm-sponsored events including parties at partners’ houses as well as biweekly happy hours. There’s a famous chili cook-off in February: “We’re split into teams and go to a partner’s house to cook.” Interviewees enjoyed frequent opportunities to get to know their colleagues, remarking that “it’s a lot easier to still be at work at 2am if you like the people. It’s very hard to stick around here if you’re not a nice person.” The firm’s roots in Houston carry across to a “typical Southern” feel – what does that mean in practice? “It’s not like anyone is running around with their hair on fire,” and even in New York “people don’t take themselves seriously, so there’s a lot of camaraderie between partners and associates.” Sources in DC agreed: “We’re treated as equals so I’m not afraid to approach senior attorneys with a question. We wouldn’t put up with mean partners.” Texas traditions also bleed into client events, including college sports and even hunting; the firm assured us there are also more family-friendly goings-on.
“It’s not like anyone is running around with their hair on fire.”
“I’ve had meaningful relationships with partners from the beginning,” sources declared. “My opinion is valued, I’m not just a diligence monkey.” Each newbie receives an associate mentor when they arrive; “the firm tries to pair you with someone similar to you – for example, a mentor that went to the same law school.” Associates can give feedback on their mentors, and can nominate three potential choices. “It can be hard for more senior lawyers to invest in juniors because they’re so busy, but I’ve actually had great advice and encouragement, so I’ve been very fortunate,” a junior told us. Others were less positive: “It’s easy to fall through the cracks here given how big V&E is. It can be challenging to figure out how I can improve, which is a pet peeve.”
Interviewees also found informal mentors; one asked “one of the top partners about the route to partnership. People here don’t hate their lives because they’re happy to get out of the office and talk.” With large numbers of new associates arriving each year and partnership classes of eight to 12, “your chances of making it are dicey and the numbers game is hard.” Juniors get training programs over their first two years – they all head to the Houston office each quarter for a series of workshops hosted by law school professors – provided confidence that “there’s a huge emphasis on keeping people here and developing us,” even if partnership is hard to achieve. The Women’s Initiative also hosts a semi-regular networking event, “inviting in junior female clients to talk about how to build a career. It’s really helpful.”
Diversity & Inclusion
V&E’s diversity council “encourages all lawyers to get involved regardless of identity” and supervises a biennial firmwide conference involving roundtable discussions and panels. “It’s clear V&E have made diversity a priority and they’re following through with it,” a source said. “You can see a stark difference between the first-year associate and partnership classes – there’s a lot of ground to cover but I’ve been impressed with their efforts over the past few years.” Recent promotions show just how far the dial needs to move: only one of eight in the last new partner class was female and just a third of the latest counsel class were women. There’s been more visible progress at entry level, partly thanks to a program through which V&E provides summer positions and $10,000 to ten 1L students from under-represented groups.
“I identify as LGBTQ and I feel very included and supported.”
Houston sources reckoned it’s harder to boost diversity in Texas “because so many young lawyers want to be in NYC, so the talent pool is smaller here.” One junior weighed in on inclusion: “I identify as LGBTQ and I feel very included and supported.” Women’s Initiatives (both office-specific and firmwide) run socials to bring female attorneys together, albeit with mixed feedback – “you help women most through a good work/life balance and ability to work remotely, not through groups,” a less impressed voice declared. More popular was a recent firmwide program on mental health, “presented by a partner in Texas who spoke about his own struggles with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Mental health issues stem from the billable hour so it’s a tough topic to address, but V&E is making the effort.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 801
Interviewees outside OCI: 86
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, 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
Applicants invited to second-stage interviews: 394
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
Acceptances: 92 (all 2Ls)
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
Interview with Chairman, Mark Kelly
CA: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
MK: We’re a full-service firm, known for handling challenging and complex legal issues in disputes, transactions, and tax. In fact, more than 60% of our partners are recognized in publications like Chambers USA for their expertise. We’re really focused on building strong relationships and delivering the excellence that our clients expect, providing them consistent quality across the board. We’ve experienced record financial performance over the past 4 years in gross revenues, profits per partner and net income. While I’m really pleased with our performance, we also are prepared for market shifts. In addition to focusing on the practice of law, we also concentrate on the environment we create for the people at our firm. We were named one of the Top Ten Family-Friendly firms in 2019 for the fourth consecutive year by Yale Law Women. We received our ninth perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index, earning the designation as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality,” and we encourage our lawyers and staff to give back to the community through pro bono and charitable efforts.
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently? Are there any trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work that the firm is doing?
MK: A lot of people today talk about the energy revolution. As a recognized leader in the energy space, we also have had a market-leading practice in renewable energy for many years. Concerns about climate change and sustainability have led many of our clients to make new investments in clean energy and cutting-edge technologies. We believe our expertise in areas like regulation, construction, project finance, and the commercial aspects of energy use and consumption allow us to play a leading role in those markets. Our 2019 results reflected a significant increase in transactional activity involving renewable assets.
V&E also has seen an uptick in private equity work in the technology space. Our technology practice is handling some of the most transformative M&A and venture capital deals in the industry. We have seen major growth due to our investment in high-end national real estate and REIT practices. In 2019, 40% of our securities offerings involved REITs. A big area of focus for us going forward is ESG: Environmental, Social, Governance. We have an ESG taskforce which helps clients review risks. Investors are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of their investments and not just the financial return, so we expect to see continued increase in that work.
We really focus on core areas where we think we can differentiate ourselves. We’ve always had a very strong M&A practice and we’ve expanded the technology side beyond pure energy. We do a lot of white-collar criminal and government investigations work nationally. We try to make sure we’re focused on practices globally: in today’s market you have to have your best team on the field not just locally, but nationally and internationally.
CA: Can you tell us about any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
MK: V&E grew significantly in New York in 2019, and February 2020 moved into new office space in Bryant Park’s iconic Grace Building to help facilitate our expansion there. We invested strategically in New York, in practice areas including private equity, infrastructure, real estate, restructuring, litigation, project finance and shareholder activism. Those investments are already paying dividends for us and our clients.
In addition to our growth in New York, we successfully invested in the future of our Government Investigations and White Collar, Environmental and CFIUS practices in Washington D.C. and added to our Litigation team in San Francisco.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in three to five years' time?
MK: Vinson & Elkins is very focused on being one of the top firms in each of the areas that we choose to focus on. While we have a well-earned reputation as the world’s leading energy firm with deeps roots in the oil and gas industry, we are so much more than energy. We are strong in our litigation, transactional, and tax practices, and I would like us to continue to be pre-eminent in those areas. We will always have to adapt to new technology, competition, and economic and market shifts. We will continue to focus on the recruitment and retention of top talent and strategic growth across our offices and practices -- all of these things continue to strengthen the firm for the future. Today’s environment requires us to be nimble, to be constantly looking ahead and to think differently. While we value our unique culture and history, we’re not the same firm we were 100 or even ten years ago, but evolution is a good thing. I don’t know what the future holds, but I believe we’re positioned to do well.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer? What are the main challenges facing law firms and their lawyers?
MK: When I started out, there wasn’t such thing as working remotely because we didn’t have computers! We have a number of lawyers working part-time or remotely now: we have to be focused on their needs. We also have to be sensitive about upping our game to address cybersecurity. Many of our clients are very concerned about how their sensitive information is being handled, so we’ve made a lot of technological changes to address that. One of the main things that keeps me up at night is retaining talent. There’s a much more fluid environment today and a lot more lateral movement of lawyers. We’ve been blessed to retain most of our talent, and also have been the beneficiary of lawyers looking for other opportunities which have allowed us to hire lateral associates and partners. I want to make sure we continue to create an environment where people believe they will be able to expand their platform and have a great, long-term career. We don’t want to be the biggest firm; our model is one of excellence across the board, so we can compete with other firms without having 3,000 lawyers. As a firm, we have to make sure we can differentiate ourselves from our competition and I believe we have done that. We have a culture that encourages a work-life balance and we spend a lot of time on creating a more inclusive and diverse environment.
CA: What do you consider to have been your big break?
MK: When I first started, a few senior partners took an interest in me and helped promote my career and develop my skills. These partners were great mentors and made a huge difference in my development as a lawyer. They showed me it’s not just about the law, but also making sure client service was at the forefront of everything we do. That’s something I try to impart on our lawyers here. We want people to hit the ground running and be integrated into our system, whether they are laterals or have joined us out of law school. Active mentoring and training is paramount.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of?
MK: I’m in my 39th year of practice, I have had the opportunity to mentor a number of lawyers and that has given me great pride. In an age of increased competition and mobility, teaching our firm’s lawyers how to grow and continue to be successful is something I’m very proud of – our talent is critical to the firm’s success!
CA: What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
MK: Your integrity and your reputation are extremely important. How you act, treat others and the decisions you make are with you for the rest of your life. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation, but you can lose it in an instant either through your behavior or the decisions you make, which is very hard to recover from. You have to make sure that’s at the forefront of your mind. Having integrity is critically important for your reputation and the reputation of the firm.
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?
MK: Have a passion for what you do. Not everyone comes into law thinking they want to be a partner at a Big Law firm; what they’re really looking for is a place to grow as a lawyer and a person. I want to make sure I can provide them with that place. One of the things that sets us apart is our huge alumni network. If people leave V&E, I want them to feel like they had a great experience, that we helped them grow as a lawyer and as a person, and that they built strong relationships and continue to have an affinity for the firm.
Vinson & Elkins LLP
1001 Fannin Street,
- Head Office: Houston, TX
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $737,248,000
- Partners (US): 187
- Associates (US): 357
- Main recruitment contact: Gretchen Rollins, Director of Entry-Level Hiring
- Hiring partner: Stephen Gill
- Diversity officer: Julie Tran, Senior Inclusion & Alumni Relations Manager
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 76
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 133
- 1Ls: 38, 2Ls: 93, SEOs:2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office:
- Austin: 6; Dallas: 33; Houston: 65; New York: 14; Richmond: 1; San Francisco: 4; Washington: 10
- Summer salary 2020:
- 1Ls: $3,654
- 2Ls: $3,654
- Split summers offered? 10 week program, varies by office
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case by case
Main areas of work
Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, LSU, NYU, Northwestern, STCL Houston, SMU, Stanford, The University of Texas, Tulane, UC Berkeley, UCLA, The University of Chicago, University of Houston, University of Michigan, University of Richmond, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington University, 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 handson 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.
Twitter: @VECareers; @VinsonandElkins; @VEAlums
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (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: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Government Contracts (Band 3)
- International Arbitration (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
- Oil & Gas Litigation (Band 1)
- Projects: LNG (Band 2)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
- REITs (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)