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Matthew Kanna was granted a clerkship for the European Court of Justice right after joining Arent Fox in 2001. The firm allowed him to take six months off to work in Luxembourg. Alison Besunder took a year and a half off after law school to travel around the world before even applying to Arent Fox four years ago. The firm did not hold it against her; indeed, it seemed like a selling point. Eric Baxter’s fourth child was born in March. He returned to work in late April and left again for a 10-day vacation on June 4. He says that none of his colleagues suggested he change his plans after returning from paternity leave. Managing partner William Charyk teaches tai chi and a form of kung fu, and is co-writing a book about the Chinese epic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He sums up why associates � as well as, he says, partners � are so happy at D.C.-based Arent Fox: “We treat them like adults.” Arent Fox ranked fourth in The American Lawyer‘s Midlevel Associates Survey, up from 28th last year. Fifty-four percent of the firm’s 26 midlevels responded, praising its humane approach to billable hours and support for pro bono work. They rated it a perfect 5 for opportunities to work with partners. Arent Fox offers more than lip service toward treating its associates as adults. The firm pointedly recruits associates who have extracurricular interests. It trusts associates like Besunder, who alternates taking classes in Spanish and Hebrew, to be mature enough to balance their work and their hobbies. “Law has never been how I define myself,” says Joanne Schehl, chair of the professional development committee. She teaches yoga, tastes wine, bicycles, and gardens. Schehl insists that these interests make her a better lawyer as well as a better marketer. Kanna says that that message resounds with associates: “People have quirks. You don’t have to worry about little things at the office that might upset somebody [who will] decide you’re not partner material because you don’t happen to wear a suit every day, or if you wear the same thing every day, or you’re just weird. Everyone has weird quirks. If you don’t have to spend your time hiding them, you can focus on your work.” That’s just what Kanna wants to do. Despite being told by his supervising partner not to work so hard, he estimates he’s labored every weekend in the past five months on anti-dumping and countervailing-duty cases. “It’s not because anyone was cracking the whip, but because I [am] doing work I really enjoy,” Kanna explains. On the other hand, litigation associate Randall Brater grew up watching his uncle toiling day and night as a Wall Street lawyer. “I always said I would never have that life,” he recalls. His weekends are his own. He says he’s flourished in his three years at Arent Fox specifically because “I control my life, my docket, and my schedule. There is an inherent trust that whatever I’m working on will be taken care of.” Though associates set their own pace for accomplishing their work, Arent Fox gives bonuses based on their billable hours. They kick in at 1,900, 2,050, and 2,200 hours. Arent Fox is not laissez faire about its expectations for associates to help manage the firm. Associates sit on most committees. They make up a majority of the hiring committee, according to chairwoman Quana Jew. “We need to be an integrated firm, but also they’re the future of the firm. We don’t wait for their advancement,” she says. This lifestyle-friendly atmosphere trickles down to the bottom line. On financial measures, Arent Fox is less successful than other big D.C. firms. For example, midlevels earn an average base salary of $141,000, according to survey respondents, compared with $149,000 at other Am Law 200 D.C. firms. But, as Kanna explains, at 1,900 hours, Arent Fox has a lower billable hours expectation, and the productivity bonuses are guaranteed in writing. “I like knowing exactly: I work this much, I get this much,” says Kanna. Thanks to those bonuses, Kanna says that he’s on par with other associates around D.C. While the current partnership track is eight years, Schehl says that associates can move on and off track depending on their own goals. Those with other professional experience, legal and nonlegal, can argue for lopping off up to two years. Anthony Lupo, chair of the intellectual property group, says that three IP associates have jumped to partner early, thanks to their success in developing areas of expertise and books of business. Faith in associates’ maturity manifests itself in Arent Fox’s willingness to open its books to them. Arent Fox has traditionally given full details on its financial performance to all lawyers. In 2003, there were rumors that the firm was foundering after a series of partner defections. Nonetheless, Arent Fox continued its tradition at its October retreat. The slide show, detailing information like the top 10 clients, billings, receipts, expenses, and net realization, reassured associate Kate Briscoe that “no one is trying to hide the ball.” Ultimately, Arent Fox’s associates respect the firm and its partners because they respect their associates. Heather Smith is a reporter at The American Lawyer , where this article appears in the October issue.

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