Neal Patrick Harris wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:At the risk of having the TLS wolves unleashed on me, I'd like to ask about culture. I like to be friendly and socialize with my co-workers, but I am definitely on the more introverted side. As such, I would like to avoid any "work hard, play hard", fratty environments. Are there any firms that have this reputation that I should know about? Or does it basically come down to which practice group you are assigned to, and firms will offer a variety of cultures that way? How do I ask about this delicately without looking like a douche or a hermit?
Disagree that firm cultures don't exist.
In fact, if you're a certain personality, I'm willing to say you have a better shot of getting a callback if you apply to a firm that has that personality (albeit marginally). I think the best way to figure this out is to meet with people at different firms and see who you like the most. Obviously you could get an outlier and it would be better to go to a firm reception, but this is a credited way to go about it. It'll also vary by practice area (some are more nerdy, some are more fratty).
Blahblahblah stereotyping is bad but I think it's helpful to distinguish between what seem like identical firms.
There are also threads on TLS on the subject.
Unfortunately I don't have time tonight to go through Vault and lay out the culture of every firm I know, but feel free to ask questions about firms you're thinking about (or PM me your bidlist) and I'll answer another time.
Reasonable people can disagree about this, but I find it difficult to say that X firm is "fratty." Skadden has, what, 1000+ lawyers? At my Skadden chicago callback, the hiring partner was a mother of 3 from highland park. Unless you think pinic-ing at Ravinnia is fratty, I don't see it. Choosing a firm because you liked/hated the 4-8 people you met there is borderline insane: they represent between 1-2% of the averaged sized biglaw firm. Also, remember that "culture" will vary dramatically office to office and practice by practice. I promise you that Arnold and Porter's SF based litigators (who were absorbed from a legacy SF firm) are extremely different than their NYC based corporate attorneys (who are mostly laterals from traditional NYC firms). So you can't really characterize an entire biglaw firm's culture.
The problem is that people don't have much to go on, so they lean on the main experience they do get -- and that's the people they meet at callbacks. This is understandable, but unfortunate: even at a firm where you met awesome people, you can end up working for a tyrannical partner. And even at a firm where the 5 people you met on a callback sucked, you will find friends. Luckily, I think there are better ways to actually talk about firm "culture" which you can compare across firms. Client base
: does your firm work for banks or start ups? Energy companies or med tech? This is an ascertainable differentiating factor between firms that can help you figure out where you'll fit best. Clients are the people you will talk to (as a midlevel and beyond), so its probably best to work at a firm whose clients are people you want to talk to. If you like finance and the type of people who work for banks, go to a firm that reps them. If you like working with founders of start ups, go a firm that reps them. I don't know what it means to say that Latham is fratty and paul weiss is nerdy; I do know what it means to say that Latham tends to rep F500's and underwriters while Paul Weiss reps Apollo. These are different types of clients and will create different cultures at the firms that service them.
Also think about the firm's relationship with its clients -- does it have a 50 year history with companies (Cravath/S&C/etc.) or is it finding new clients regularly (Boies/Quinn/SV firms/etc)? There is a big difference in the client relationships in these cases and, in turn, the type of client exposure you'll get.Work:
What type of work does the firm do for its clients? Both Debevoise and STB rep KKR. But it would be a huge mistake to think they're doing the same work (Deb does fund formation, STB does transactional). Its a big difference whether a firm tends to rep underwriters or issuers (cap markets)/sponsors (project development). It's a big difference whether a firm does mostly investment grade cap markets work or mostly high yield work. It's a big difference if the firm reps activist funds or target companies. Does the firm do a high volume of commoditized work (Cahill and underwriter side high yield work/Cadwalader and MBS deals/Kirkland Chicago and mid-market PE M&A/all start up work) or are they more known for innovative deal structures/novel litigation (V5, W&C, etc.) These are, again, real, ascertainable differences that can help you figure what firms will be best. Leverage ratio:
This is a great measure, because it gives you clear evidence about how matters are staffed. Every firm "staffs leanly" -- it's all bullshit -- but what's the firm's leverage ratio between partners and associates? If it's a high ratio, understand what that means. What's the associate retention rate? A low ratio can be good, because people like the idea of a 1-1 ratio culture and less hierarchical structure, but remember that firms make tons of money of associates so a low ratio could indicate that the firm's not very profitable, which sucks if it means you get laid off (Irell is a good example of a firm with supposedly "good culture" and low leverage that has had tough financials for a couple of years now). You want your firm to be profitable, but not if its at the expense of you meeting and learning from partners (ie, Cahill, which has a high leverage ratio).Partnership compensation structure:
I think this is perhaps the most important way to distinguish between otherwise similar firms. Are partners compensated on a lock-step model (Cleary, Debevoise, Davis Polk, etc.), an eat-what-you-kill model (DLA Piper, Wilson Sonsini, Kirkland, Boies etc.), or somewhere in the middle (S&C, Milbank, etc.)? This affects the way partners interact with each other, the way they approach business, and how they handle work. All of those things "trickle down" to associates and affect culture in a big way. The more a firm is lockstep, the more likely to see partner collaboration in a free and open way (no one gets more credit for business origination on their own matters). In an eat what you kill system, expect to see more entrepreneurial partners who go out and get new clients (this can be exciting and dynamic for an associate working with them). There's no right answer, but this is a major difference that creates varied firm cultures. And remember that certain partner comp models are unsustainable (Dewey) and create toxic cultures. Best to avoid those firms.