Vinson & Elkins Hiring Partner Spills the Beans
June 3, 2010
Two weeks ago, we inaugurated our hiring partner Q&As with a chat with Jones Day's Gregory Shumaker in Washington, D.C. This week, we're talking big law in the big-D (that's D for Dallas) with Vinson & Elkins hiring partner Tom Leatherbury. Let's hear what he has to say about lassoing an offer from this old-line Texas firm.
Leatherbury_Tom How does this year's summer program compare with last year's?
We have 30 fewer students. This summer, there are 97 [participants] firmwide.
The firm extended offers to only 75 percent of last year's summer associates. That's a bit discouraging. Any chance that rate will improve this year?
Generally, our offer rate is north of 90 percent. We had a large program last summer and the economy was uncertain. Things are more stable now; we have room to make everyone an offer.
The breakdown last year was: a 100 percent offer rate in New York, 66 percent in Washington, D.C., 70 percent in Houston, and 80 percent in Dallas. Were the summer associates in New York that much sharper?
In New York, students tend to spend the whole summer with one firm; in some cities, they might split the summer. The offer rate tends to be higher in cities where people don't split the summer.
So it pays to stay put?
It helps if you can see more projects from a student. Also, if they have a misstep, they can correct it if they are there longer.
Let's talk about the fun part of your summer program. Any big, fabulous parties at some sprawling ranch coming up?
We used to fly all the summer associates to Austin or Houston for a weekend, with nice parties from Friday to Sunday. But last year, in keeping with the rough economic times our clients were having, we had to cut costs. There's no rush [now] to run the tab back up. We've eliminated the summer associate weekend; instead, we'll do presentations on topics like law firm economics at the offices.
Scintillating. Okay, back to more serious matters. What do you look for in candidates?
The folks who do best are self-starters, they tend to be a bit entrepreneurial.
How do you assess that quality in an interview?
You ask them questions that go beyond the resume--like how they handled a difficult client situation in a clinic.
V&E must look at the usual paper credentials--grades, journal work. Would you ever hire a student who did poorly in contracts or civil procedure?
There are no automatic exclusions. Our grade guidelines are guidelines. We look for trends, and some who took time off from school might not do so well in the first semester.
What impresses you in an interview?
Some of the most memorable interviews have been with people who've worked with the Peace Corps or Teach for America or went to graduate school. We've had great successes with people for whom law is a second career.
Any candidates that bombed?
Two years ago, we had lunch with an interviewee who insisted on ordering top-shelf liquor. It was bad judgment.
Have you ever made a hiring decision you later regretted?
You won't find a hiring partner who hasn't. Most mistakes come from being too lenient in evaluating work product. You rarely find someone who was only marginally successful as a summer associate who's also successful as an associate.
So work trumps personality?
It's a service business, and you have to hold your own.
One final question: V&E has 14 offices around the world, but Houston is still your biggest outpost. Would you say that Texas culture pervades the firm?
Only if you think that's a positive.