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Editor’s note: Hiring partners can be among the most powerful lawyers at Texas firms. Their decisions do a lot to shape the future of firms. They not only have a role in recruiting, but also have a big say in which law students are asked to join the firms. And of great concern to the young lawyers, the hiring partners are charged with assessing the market and determining whether it might be time to raise compensation. On April 27, Texas Lawyer brought together hiring partners from seven prominent Texas firms at a roundtable discussion to talk about these and other recruiting and retention issues. The discussion below has been edited for length and style. Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, Texas Lawyer: What criteria do you use in deciding which students to hire as first-year lawyers, and how big of a factor are grades in that process? Taylor H. Wilson, Haynes and Boone: We look at a number of factors at Haynes and Boone. I think that certainly grades are one important factor in that. But, generally speaking, we try to project whether a student is going to have the talent, the academic strengths, the commitment levels and determination to ultimately be a partner at Haynes and Boone. So we look at a number of factors. James A. Reeder, Vinson & Elkins: We use grades as a threshold. Obviously, the pool of law students out there is much larger than we could possibly accommodate in one firm; therefore, you’ve got to at least make some judgments early on … . But grades alone obviously will not get a candidate an offer with Vinson & Elkins. We rely heavily … upon the interview process — the interview process on campus as well as the interview process once they come through the office, because it is our lawyers who are going to be working with these young lawyers ultimately … . Robert Rivera Jr., Susman Godfrey: We do exactly the same thing. Grades are the most important threshold we use: grades and what people do on the law review. We like to see writing samples. So academic achievement as a whole is the absolute No. 1 factor we use as the first screen. But that’s just the screen for people to come in and interview and then go on to the summer clerkship program … . [W]e’d like to hire, if we could, exclusively out of the summer clerkship program because then we not only get to see the grades, but we get to know the people and get to see them working. Denise A. Acebo, Beirne, Maynard & Parsons: … [T]he clerkship program is one of the most important things in deciding who gets a job as a first-year lawyer. I cannot remember in the nine years that I’ve been with the firm ever hiring a lawyer as a first year that did not clerk with our firm … . It’s very important to us to evaluate not only the grades … . We look at criteria such as … doing the mock trial and moot court competition … . John F. Sullivan III, Fulbright & Jaworski: I think interviewing is very important, and especially talking to those people who have conducted the interviews, because [often] you can pick up on subtle aspects of what we consider to be important, such as: Is this person really a self-motivator? Is this person a well-rounded candidate? Obviously they’ve got good grades; they got in the door. Then you look at, is this a person that’s really going to thrive in our environment, in our culture that we’re trying to create and actually contribute to it? Oftentimes we’ll actually talk to the people who conducted the interviews to kind of get some insight about how they perceived that candidate. Jeffrey J. Horner, Bracewell & Patterson: Grades are an important factor, but we try to look at the whole person and try to look at the whole candidate … . Work experience outside the context of the law [is important]. People might have had a life previous to being in law school. You look at that. You look at fun things about a person. They may have been a ski instructor in Colorado. They may have been a varsity football player at Yale. You try to judge the whole person and come up with the best candidate possible … . Jeffreys: So if grades are the threshold, how do candidates distinguish themselves? What should they be emphasizing in their interviews? Wilson: … I think that we look for a well-rounded applicant. I think that we like to see someone who has interests beyond those that are just academic. For example, one of the things we look at is community involvement. That can certainly be a very positive factor in a person’s r�sum�. And then as you get them into the firm, get to know them, we want to see somebody who’s a good fit with us, within our culture. Acebo: … [O]ne of the most important things in the interview process to me is that they aren’t trying to say what they think we want to hear. I want the interview candidate to be themselves and to talk about their experiences and their views as opposed to reading an article in the Texas Lawyer about what the hiring partners expect from an interview candidate and trying to regurgitate that in the interview … . Reeder: I think what law students have to understand is, for instance, if you’re on campus at the University of Texas, you’re going to see 20 candidates in one sitting in a day. By the 17th or 18th candidate, I can’t remember whether I’ve asked this person the question that I asked [everyone else] because it is all sort of blurred at that point. And then at the end of the day I’ve got to go back and I’ve got to try to remember the 20 candidates that we have seen. And we typically have two rooms there, so we’re looking at 40 candidates in a day. And so to do anything, frankly, that will distinguish yourself — and I can’t say that it’s any one thing — but if you can distinguish yourself through your personality, through what you talked about — typically it’s not going to be something that’s necessarily on your r�sum�. It’s going to be something that happened in that 20-minute interview that’s going to enable me after being there for eight hours to say, “Oh, I remember him or her. She was the one who did this, or he did that, or we had a really great interview.” Jeffreys: Regarding the summer clerk programs, how do you make sure that you’re giving the summer clerks a good sense of what it’s like to work at your firm? Horner: You’ve got to give them work they would be doing when they’re an associate instead of just busy work. I don’t want a clerk to come in and write an article for me or something like that. I want them to come in and attend depositions, attend hearings … . Now, I don’t think we’re going to do the Howrey & Simon model and give them a boot camp and have them work 16 hours a day. I think that would be so far afield from what folks have done in Houston for years that that would be a negative experience. But I think if you give them not busy work but the type of work that they would see when they’re associates, you get a feel of what kind of lawyer they’ll be. Acebo: … If all [the clerks] do is have fun and games in the summer and then they walk in the door in the fall when they’re ready to start work [expecting a similar environment], their nightmare happens. They have to work many hours a day and they’re, like, “Wait a minute. Where’s the golf?” … [Y]ou have to let them know what it’s going to be like in the summertime so they can evaluate you and you can evaluate them. Reeder: … What you want to avoid is the gap between the expectation and the reality once they get there, and the expectation is formed from the summer associate program. And so you want that to compare as closely as possible to the experience that you’re going to get when you’re an associate … . [W]e actually have lawyers who are assigned to the summer associates who are responsible for their work as opposed to getting their work from some broad array of people. And, in fact, what we tell a lawyer who is the mentor of a summer associate for a period of time is that this summer associate is part of your team. They are an appendage to you. And they will sit in the office with them while phone calls are being made, while conference calls are being made, go to client meetings, go out to out-of-office experiences and do the work like they would if they were an associate. But it’s difficult. Law school does not give a law student an idea of what it’s like to practice law. The part that I think law schools really fail on is the role of the client. It is remarkable to me how many law students get out of law school without understanding what the role of the client is and how important the role of the client is. And what we hopefully can do through the summer associate experience is to enable a law student to see the interaction of a lawyer to and responsiveness to a client’s needs, a client’s wants, and the role of the client in what we do. RETENTION ISSUES Jeffreys: I’d like to talk about diversity a little bit. How do you attract minority lawyers, and how do you keep them? Sullivan: … [F]rom Fulbright’s point of view, you’ve got to really look for opportunities, and we try to participate in as many minority job fairs as we can, which, of course, are the job fairs that are put on by the consortia of law schools. And all of our offices participate in as many of those as possible. We also try to sponsor BLSA [Black Law Student Association] events, other minority-related law school association events not only in Houston but in these other locations as well … . We do our best to really try to get out front and show that we’re a great place to work and have a diverse environment … . Acebo: And with respect to keeping them once you get them, I don’t think you do anything any differently than you do in keeping other associates. I mean, it’s the same to keep all your associates. You want to have a great workplace. You want to give them good work. You want to fairly compensate them — which I’m sure we’re going to talk about salaries sometime today — and you want to reward them with bonuses when they deserve it. I don’t think the goal in keeping the diversity at your firm is any different once they’re there than you would with any other associate. Reeder: I disagree with that a little bit at least at our firm. I think that we do have unique needs with regard to keeping our diversity at our firm and our minority lawyers at our firm. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation for us, which is that our young minority lawyers would like to make sure that they’ve got other minority mentors within the firm … . And, therefore, you need to have minority lawyers in your upper ranks, in your partner ranks, to provide that type of mentoring to a young lawyer. And yet, if you don’t keep your young lawyers, your young minority lawyers, they’ll never become partners at your firm to become mentors for others … . Wilson: … I think that one point that has been made here is that the pool that we’re recruiting from is small, and one of the things that we’re exploring is the possibility of advertising — not specifically for Haynes and Boone but more for Texas — and seeing if we can advertise Texas and the strengths of a legal practice in Texas together with some of the other larger firms to see if we can draw more of those qualified candidates down to Texas. We think that that would be beneficial not just to Haynes and Boone but also to Texas, and so it’s a real commitment … . Reeder: We’ve gone so far as to try to increase the size of the pool. And one of the things that we do is we give out scholarships every year, $10,000 scholarships to high school students, minority high school students in Houston, Austin, Dallas, who show an interest in the law and have an interest in going to law school. We guarantee them a job with us during the summer. And we stay in touch with them. And our hope is that we can convince minority high school students graduating from Houston, Dallas, Austin — which is a natural fit for us, obviously — to go to law school and hopefully increase the size of the pool that’s available. Jeffreys: I’d like to address associate salaries. It’s no news that salaries went up considerably last year. Are salaries too high? Rivera: No. The salaries are just right. If anything, they’re too low, really. I mean, look, associates work really, really hard. They come into our firm, and they work very hard. They do great work. They contribute as much as anybody else to the success of the law firm. So why shouldn’t the law firm share its success with the associates? Obviously, they don’t take the risk that the partners take, so it’s a little different … . Reeder: I don’t think they’re too high. I think there was a concern … [about] what more are you going to expect from me? What you have to understand is that the salary’s not necessarily a correlation between anything with regard to the value of what we get from an associate. It is a market condition. And in order for us to compete in the market, we have got to be competitive with our salaries — regardless. As firms become more globalized — we used to be able to ignore what a firm in the Silicon Valley or San Francisco did with their salaries or what a firm in New York did with their salaries — we now compete with [other] firms, and we compete as a buyer of resources, the resources being associates. And, therefore, we need to be competitive with them in order to attract associates to our firm. So when Silicon Valley upped their salaries, those firms … all have offices in Austin, which is a place where we compete with them. And it was important for us to be able to compete with them. Jeffreys: Are any of you sensing rumblings from the associates that it’s time for another raise? … Rivera: Our associates are pretty happy, but it’s not just the compensation … . I think what makes them happy is they know we have a very short partnership track. I think that’s as, if not more, important to the candidates that we attract than the salaries and bonuses we pay them. They really like knowing that four or five years out they’re going to be elected to the partnership. And then we also do a few other things that keep people happy. We don’t really treat people differently, whether they’re partners or associates, beginning with the most obvious things like all of our offices are pretty much the same size … . You get the same staff help … . Associates at our firm vote on [nearly] everything … from which cases do we accept to where do we go on our firm retreat, which lawyers do we hire. And I think that’s what ends up contributing more even, really, than the salaries and the bonuses to keeping people happy. Do [salaries] matter? Of course they do. I mean, especially on the front end, especially with these chat rooms they have on the Internet now called Greedy where they’ll have every law firm in the world lined up and have salaries and bonuses listed. And a lot of people you would never even get to look at if you didn’t match up well on the Greedy Associates boards. But once they come in, which is really the important part, the compensation is only one of many, many other factors. Jeffreys: I’d like to talk a little bit about lateral hiring of associates, going beyond the first-years and summer associate programs. How do you find laterals? Horner: Variety of sources. Headhunters certainly play a role. R�sum�s that just come in the door play a role. Referrals from clients of the law can play a role. It’s really a variety of sources, and I think a lot of the firms here have a similar system. We also encourage our associates to recruit laterals by offering them a bonus if they successfully refer a lateral to the firm, the lateral accepts and the lateral is still there a year later. Wilson: … [O]ne example of a lateral hire that we made this past year was an SEC lawyer who was on the other side of a particular case that we worked on, and we got to know him through months of interaction in that case. And he was looking to jump to a private practice, and that was a great opportunity for us because we picked up a good lawyer, and it was someone who we had seen in action. And there’s a lot of good stories like that that I’m sure that others at the table could tell. Rivera: … [T]he best way to find lateral hires is people that you work with … . I mean, you’re working on a case against Jim Reeder and 15 of his finest friends, and you get to know them and you might try to steal one or two of them. Acebo: And the investigative process in making a decision on a lateral hire is really different because there are so many people in the legal community that have either worked with that person at the firm or on other sides of the case with them. And so there’s a wealth of information that you can get about particular lateral candidates that you may not be able to get with respect to first years just by talking with other folks in the legal community that have worked with them. You have to do that. Reeder: … [O]ne of the difficult parts for us is orienting that many new lawyers who did not come up or were not sort of born and bred at V&E to our culture and ensuring that they value the same things that we value. And the other thing, of course, is to protect sort of the psyche of our young lawyers who are already there. For instance, if you have several fifth-year associates and all of a sudden you bring on five other fifth-year associates in a particular practice area where they are, those five associates that are already there become very concerned about a variety of things. One: “Is this a reflection of the fact that I’m not doing my job well and that I can’t handle what’s going on?” Two: “Is this going to diminish my opportunity to advance in the firm and become a partner because all of a sudden there are going to be 10 of us up for partner as opposed to five of us up for partner?” We’ve realized that there is a great deal of communication that has to go on with our associates to ensure that they understand the reasons why we go to the lateral market, the talents that our new laterals bring to the practice, why it is that we’ve done that, and hopefully pave the way to ensure that they’re comfortable, that they’re as comfortable with the new lawyer coming in as the leadership of the firm is. But there are unique problems, I think, associated with going to the lateral market. And if we had our druthers, it would be that we would hire all of our needs through a summer associate program. TEMP TO PERM Jeffreys: Do you ever use contract lawyers, and is there ever a situation where that lawyer could become a permanent lawyer at the firm either as an associate or as a partner? Acebo: We have in the past used contract lawyers for really large cases where we’ve needed additional assistance, large in documents in the cases. I can’t remember a situation where the contract lawyer has actually become a member of the firm after the specific need was gone that we hired them for. But I can’t say that we would be opposed to doing that. If someone were at the firm working on a case for a year on a contract basis and had proven themselves, we would certainly be open to offering them a permanent position, I’m sure. Jeffreys: How do you let associates know how well they’re doing on their route to become a partner or a shareholder? Rivera: Tell them very, very candidly. Twice a year we have formal evaluations where the partners fill out these evaluation forms that have some number rankings that are completely meaningless because there’s no standard. Nobody really knows what they mean. But then we also have the second and third pages, which is where you write your comments. And that’s where you tell somebody whether they really did a good job or a bad job over the last six months. And we tend to be really, really candid with people about how they’re doing … . [I]t’s a little harder than it sounds because the firm is not one unit; who decides whether you become partner is the entire partnership. And in our firm, to become a partner you have to get 75 percent of the partnership voting in your favor. So we try to make sure that associates get to work with as many partners as they possibly can. Since we’re small, that’s not necessarily that hard … . Sullivan: … [I]t’s really a question of consistent feedback to the associates so they know whether they’re on track, whether they’re doing their work as others would expect him or her to do the work. We’ve got some checks and balances in place at Fulbright that kind of assist in that process. What we do with new attorneys is we appoint a mentor attorney that actually works with that new associate; and it doesn’t really matter what practice area, whether it’s litigation or transactional or whatever it may be. But then the mentor attorney, who is usually a partner, will … monitor whether the assigned associate is completing certain levels of responsibility at a certain point in their career. In other words, in litigation, for example, has this person completed X number of depositions by the first nine months of their practice? Have they attended a hearing? In the transactional realm, have they attended a client meeting, a closing, whatever it may be? And then that way at least there’s some checklist, and an associate at least can feel like there’s someone else assisting them in making sure they get to do certain tasks and responsibilities before they reach a certain threshold level … . Jeffreys: Has this changed? Is it more feedback and more communication? Sullivan: In this environment I think it’s more focused, and there’s probably more desire for feedback by the associates. And also the attorneys have a reciprocal desire to let them know how they’re doing, as well so there’s no surprises down the road. Reeder: … It is an important, important, important process for an associate to develop into a great lawyer; and it’s a combination of formal evaluative processes, which we utilize as well as informal evaluative processes. And I know there are practice groups in our firms who have young lawyers create business plans for themselves, goals, that type of thing; and then you have the ability to sort of assess that on a regular basis … . You’ve got to have a clear understanding of what the criteria is to achieve success within your firm if you’re going to be able to then evaluate an associate and let them know how they’re doing with regard to that criteria … . Horner: … It really is a generational thing. When I was probably a young lawyer, feedback was the exception rather than the rule. Now young associates are demanding it. And I think that this process — associate evaluation process — has developed out of that to try to give them as much feedback as they want and to try to give them an idea how they’re going, whether they’re doing OK or whether maybe they should look to go somewhere else. Rivera: We also want feedback from [the associates, so] we started doing evaluations of partners by associates. They’re anonymous, and nobody knows who’s writing them, but they are awesome because people know they’re not going to be retaliated against. I mean, they ought to know by now. And those who thought it would be worthless said, “They’re going to say everybody’s great and everybody’s nice.” But they didn’t … . You learn all sorts of very interesting things that help you run the law firm. If there’s a problem, you fix it. But it also tells you what it is that the associates are looking for in terms of mentoring. A lot of [comments] aren’t going to be, “This guy’s a jerk,” or “He’s too demanding,” or whatever. It’s going to be, “I wish so-and-so would take a little more time not only to grade me after the fact and tell me you did OK at this hearing but I wish you had done this other thing differently or argue this other point.” And they’ll say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we went to some place and got a margarita the night before and you told me exactly how you thought I needed to do it?” So you see some of that. So it’s not exactly a criticism on someone but it’s some way of telling us, “Here’s something that I wish you were doing differently.” And it has worked great.

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