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Life is good for Texas associates. This year’s overall results for Texas Lawyer‘s Associate Quality of Life Survey make that clear. The leader — Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr — scored 4.17 points overall, a mere .64 above the lowest ranked overall score of 3.53, garnered by Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. Despite the overall high scores, there are still plenty of disgruntled souls who aren’t afraid to express their opinions about desired changes within their respective firms. Every firm rated in the survey included at least one comment from an associate who wanted lower billable-hour requirements in return for less pay. One Baker Botts seventh-year associate wished that this option could be an entirely separate career track. Texas Lawyer conducted its last Associate QOL Survey in 1999. At that time, Gardere Wynne Sewell commanded the overall top spot with a score of 4.17. The other overall 1999 ratings were as follows: Haynes and Boone (4.15); Andrews & Kurth (4.06); Winstead Sechrest & Minick (4.03); Baker Botts (3.97); Jenkens & Gilchrist (3.97); Fulbright & Jaworski (3.93); Vinson & Elkins (3.93); Weil, Gotshal & Manges (3.93); Thompson & Knight (3.90); Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld (3.88); Arnold White & Durkee — which has since merged with Washington, D.C.-based Howrey & Simon — (3.77); Jackson Walker (3.71); Strasburger & Price (3.68); Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton — which has since merged with Houston-based Andrews & Kurth — (3.57); Locke Liddell & Sapp (3.51); and Hughes & Luce (3.44). 1. MUNSCH HARDT KOPF & HARR A newcomer to this year’s survey, Dallas-based Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, entered the charts at the top, winning the top QOL rating from its high marks in partner feedback, partner treatment, associate relations, management openness and the importance of billable hours. “This is a great firm. I’d say it’s as good as you can get within the traditional structure of a law firm,” says a seventh-year associate. Other than a request for reduced hours in return for less pay by a fourth-year, the firm received only one other negative comment. “[I would] eliminate the purgatory the equity shareholders created when they began naming people non-equity shareholders,” says one sixth-year associate. Some individuals inevitably will disagree with particular decisions made by firms, managing partner Jim Jordan says. “Of course those decisions tend to be particularly emotional when they relate to promotions. Obviously our firm does not consider the shareholder position to be ‘purgatory,’ ” he says. “ We’ve had several shareholders become equity shareholders. Many firms have two-tier partnership levels. It’s the equivalency of income partner. But it’s certainly not designed to be purgatory.” 2. BROBECK, PHLEGER & HARRISON Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s Texas associates ranked the firm’s Lone Star offices a close second, although the firm didn’t make a 4.00. The California-based firm took the top score in compensation but ranked last in training quality. Lacking, says one fifth-year associate, were “smaller cases that the associates could largely handle themselves for experience and training.” Regardless, associates seemed relatively happy. “This firm, and my group in particular, does an excellent job managing associates and providing a good place to work,” says a fourth-year. “The only issue, which there’s no getting around, is that there are very few, or no, opportunities to get in the courtroom or to take depositions. … I believe the partners in my group are trying to address this, but, so far, it is still a problem.” Ed Fernandes, the firm’s Texas managing partner, says the lack of casework is a function of caseload demands. “The opportunities arise from cases that come in the door,” he says. “We’ll have to try a number of cases over the next nine months.” And Fernandes promises good things to those associates who wait: “Although there may not be a large docket of small cases, our associates will be second- and third-chair on major cases involving millions of dollars at a younger age than they would if they were at other firms.” Perhaps associate attitudes can be summed up by this comment from another fourth-year: “I’d rather be traveling the world and not working, but, if I have to work, this is a great place to be.” 3. ANDREWS & KURTH Running a mere one-tenth of a point behind Brobeck is Houston-based Andrews & Kurth. Responding associates gave the firm the highest ranking in the amount of client contact. It took second place in its compensation and partner treatment rankings. Comments made by respondents were generally positive: “It has a very open-door policy and a great atmosphere,” says one fourth-year associate; a seventh-year states, “If you’re going to practice law, A&K is one of the best, if not the best, place to work.” Suggestions for improvement included receiving more feedback on what is expected from associates regarding billable-hour requirements and partnership qualifications and the need for an improved training program. “[We] could use more formal training methods for the first- and second-year associates,” notes one third-year. “As I suspect occurs in most firms, partners sometimes tend to take for granted that young lawyers know certain things that can only be acquired through several years of lawyering.” While there is no substitute for experience, most practice areas have some sort of basic training available beginning in the fall when new people arrive, says Bob Jewell, Houston office deputy managing partner. “Lawyer training is important to us. We try to do it on a practice group basis with a little overlay throughout the firm but most occurs in the practice group. We’d like to do more and we’re trying to do more.” Another associate takes issue with the firm’s information distribution system. “Although I don’t think the firm intentionally keeps associates uninformed with regard to firm management and financial matters, the formal dissemination of information is so slow that by the time the ‘official’ announcement is made about anything, the associates are already well aware of the matter by virtue of unofficial channels,” says a seventh-year. The comment surprises Jewell. “I think we’re doing what we can there. It may be that we have so much information available for our partners that it takes time to distill it down a bit further for the nonpartners. But, I don’t think there are any other firms that give their associates any more information or share it more quickly than we do.” Anyone expecting fallout from Andrews & Kurth’s merger with Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton will be disappointed, according to a fourth-year: “I do not personally know any associates who are disgruntled or actively considering leaving the firm (myself included). The merger between A&K and MDCK has gone better than I think anyone expected. … “ 4. THOMPSON & KNIGHT Dallas-based Thompson & Knight took fourth place with an overall score of 3.91. It had the highest rating in the time expected to remain at the firm category. It also earned impressive marks in training quality, partner feedback, associate relations, management openness and the importance of billable hours. As always, however, associates had some suggestions. One first-year suggests more help “distributing the work and billing.” Tim McCormick, a member of the firm’s management committee, says some sections have a nonlawyer administrator whose main function is to ensure the even distribution of work. A third-year says (s)he would like associates to have more input into important management issues. Already taken care of, says McCormick. “We have associates involved in a number of major firm initiatives and committees.” To a third-year who is particularly disgruntled about billable-hour requirements — “we are factory workers producing a billable hour. And the assembly line keeps going faster and faster” — McCormick believes the firm already has the lowest minimum billable hours and the most flexibility of same-caliber firms. “Everyone has to pay attention to billable hours, but — compared to our competitors — we believe we offer more flexibility to our associates,” he says. “We made a conscious decision not to follow everyone by significantly increasing the billable hour component.” A more balanced viewpoint on life at the firm came from one first-year: “I’m happy at Thompson & Knight. It’s not always easy or stress-free, but it’s enjoyable, and I feel that my skills are improving. I like the exposure I get to a broad range of clients (large/small and across many industries).” 5. GARDERE WYNNE SEWELL Dallas-based Gardere Wynne Sewell placed fifth in rankings with an overall score of 3.86. The firm had its highest score in management openness with a 4.24 rating. It earned its lowest rating in the category of training quality, although none of the associates’ comments addressed the firm’s training program. One issue raised by a fourth-year involved the firm’s unwillingness to “openly discuss and make available nonpartner career options.” Managing partner Steve Good denies that secrecy is in play, as does Craig Florence, chairman of the firm’s associates’ committee. “There’s nothing confidential about senior attorney positions,” Florence says. Comments also addressed more personal frustrations. “I like the firm, but not the partner I work for,” laments a third-year. “I have tried to work for other partners, but my main supervisor (and source of work) has gotten upset and punished me in various ways.” These have included having projects taken away and receiving projects at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. “In general, it’s my perception that partners have far too much influence over the careers of the associates who work for them,” says this associate. “If you work for a good partner, good things can happen, but if you work for a bad partner, you can get screwed in more ways than one.” There are confidential routes available for associates to make complaints, Florence says. “During evaluations, we ask associates to talk about their personal circumstances.” Associates also are encouraged to discuss these matters with the associates’ committee or their practice group leader, he says. Associates also would like more input into staffing decisions, particularly regarding the secretarial pool, according to a sixth-year. The firm attempts to give associates input into those decisions, Good says. “Within the realms of business realities, we try to make pairings that make sense. Otherwise, it’s not efficient for anyone,” he says. “Associates have the opportunity to give feedback to human resources. They have the opportunity to review their secretaries annually. If there are problems with a pairing, they have an opportunity to make that known, and we try to do something about it.” But it’s not all gripes at Gardere. “If you have to be a first-year associate, this is definitely the best place to do it,” says one respondent. A third-year agrees: “As far as working in a big firm goes, Gardere is probably as good as it gets. With the current economy and the escalating associate salaries, firms have no choice but to make you ‘earn’ your salary. Gardere is no exception as they expect high-quality work and considerable hours. But, from talking with classmates and colleagues at other large firms, I feel we have it as good as, if not better than, most large firms.” 6. STRASBURGER & PRICE One of the areas Dallas-based Strasburger & Price struggled with in the 1999 QOL survey was its compensation, and that category continues to be an issue for the firm in this year’s survey. One ninth-year complains that the route to partnership was closed to anyone who worked reduced hours. Strasburger’s managing partner Kirk Sniff did not return a phone call for comment by press time. Although there were some complaints and suggestions to change the firm’s compensation system, the pay levels don’t appear to be particularly bothersome for some associates. “[It's] not the highest-paying firm in town, but the quality of life makes up for it to a certain degree,” says a first-year. Other first-years offer similar quality-of-life kudos: “I can’t imagine a firm the size of S&P that has the type of ‘community’ I have found here,” says one. “The firm has a great mentoring program and a great family environment,” comments another. Although several associates commented favorably on the firm’s training program, four associates say they’d revamp the program to provide more training. The firm received second place in the training quality category with a score of 4.09. 7. HUGHES & LUCE Hughes & Luce received mid-range marks in almost all categories, except compensation and associate relations, where it scored near the bottom compared to its competitors. One seventh-year associate comments that the firm’s compensation is “significantly below market.” Management response? There are ample opportunities for its associates to out-earn almost any other firm in the market, says managing partner Bill McCormack. One eighth-year associate concedes that the firm may not be the highest-paying in town, but says experience is more important than earnings anyway. This associate calls the firm “remarkable” for its entrepreneurial spirit and appreciates the firm’s “smart, decent people, young entrepreneurial management, respect for quality of life (and a reasonable shot at making partner without sacrificing quality of life), challenging national-level work, commitment to excellence, diverse clients and high profits per partner.” In response to criticism regarding the amount of direction given to associates, McCormack concedes that the issue has been a sore spot, but it is being corrected. “We’ve hired a director of associate development in the last year,” he says. “We’re trying to be proactive about getting our associates all the training they need and want. We can do better.” A fifth-year associate suggests making the evaluation process more meaningful. “If you are well-regarded, the evaluation process reflects that people are happy and the form is a nice piece of paper in the file. When problems are identified, the evaluation process does not provide useful feedback or a structure for improvement; there is no assistance for getting back on track, and (so it seems) you are eventually let go.” Substantive reviews are provided twice a year to associates, McCormack says. “We have formal systems intended to ensure that associates get reviewed on numerous factors regularly,” he says. “Some of our stars here had challenges early in their careers. We’ve made a substantial investment in these people, and we want them to succeed.” A second-year identifies a common problem many firms struggle to address. “I’d like to see a more structured, successful and sensitive program regarding maternity leave/parents with young children. I believe this accounts for the lack of women partners.” The firm has put a lot of thought into its policies in this area, McCormack says. “I don’t think our percentages are worse than many firms.” The firm’s mentoring program, however, gets an appreciative nod from a first-year, who says it “provides benchmarks for us to meet and a mentor-partner who we can go to with questions or concerns. I have been impressed with the firm’s dedication to its associates.” A second-year complains that the firm’s culture changed when salaries increased. “Hours became the emphasis and any notion of QOL is only lip service.” Quality-of-life issues are important to the firm but realities also must be faced, McCormack says. “I think Hughes & Luce is known as a quality-of-life firm, but we also provide tremendous career opportunities to lawyers at an early stage, and those opportunities require some sacrifices,” he says. “We want people to have full lives, but this is a demanding profession, and success requires some sacrifice. We’ll do everything we can to accommodate people’s lifestyles, subject absolutely to client requirements.” 8. BRACEWELL & PATTERSON Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson came in No. 8 overall with a score of 3.75. Its high scores were in the categories of partner feedback and client contact, with low scores in the areas of compensation and the importance of billable hours. In a surprising twist, some Bracewell associates state a desire to link higher billable hours to higher compensation. Others comment unfavorably on its compensation system, revealing the reasons the firm received low scores. One third-year has strong opinions on the subject: “Our compensation system is voodoo economics — they stick needles in our eyes in an effort to blind us to the fact that they are screwing us.” Patrick Oxford, the firm’s managing partner, disagrees. “We believe our salaries are close. We don’t do it dollar-for-dollar like we used to,” he says. “We have a range of compensation over our classes. There is no mystery. It’s to be communicated in detail as to why your bonus is higher or lower than others.” More than one associate echoes these sentiments. “I’m happy to say that the maximum bonus quoted in the firm propaganda is actually paid out on occasion. At too many firms, there is a pie-in-the-sky number that no one ever really reaches,” says one eighth-year. “This firm proves you can have an excellent salary and create an immensely enjoyable work environment at the same time,” says a first-year. Management touts a detailed, in-depth review process. “We have a formal and standing associate evaluation committee. It’s charged with reviewing them in person,” says Oxford. However, several associates say the program misses the mark. “[A]nnual evaluations are very short, general and don’t tell you much unless you’re really lacking in one of them (such as billables). It would be nice to get more detailed reviews, especially since the partners always boast about how we have the best associate-evaluation program in the country — not even close.” More than one associate also requests more specific information about firm finances. Unlike compensation structure, however, these details may remain under wraps. The firm purposely keeps some of that information away from associates, Oxford says. “In our firm, we actually de-emphasize the financial information that might emphasize ‘how the pie should be divided,’ ” he says. “ We try to avoid giving young people information of a competitive nature. Partners have that information, but we’re trying to create a noncompetitive atmosphere among our associates.” A seventh-year’s comment highlights problems perceived by female associates with children: “Bracewell tries to make it work for women associates with children, but it’s still hard. … It chaps me that when a man at the office has a child it entails nothing except ‘congratulations,’ but when a woman has a baby (or worse, two), it puts in question her commitment to the firm and viability as a long-term employee.” That’s a difficult area, Oxford concedes. “In all honesty, particularly in the business law side, the issue of the mother partner track is one all firms grapple with. We crossed the Rubicon — we made a young woman partner this year who has been on an alternative partner track. Ten years ago, law firms wouldn’t consider a partnership track for women with children. … Over half of the top law students are women. There’s a stupefying basic reality there. Whichever firm learns to deal with the reality of the human condition best will be the most successful. We intend to be that firm.” 9. BAKER BOTTS Next in the rankings is Houston-based Baker Botts. The firm’s lowest score came in the areas of partner feedback, management openness and the time period in which associates expect to remain. Several female associates note the firm’s perceived inability to provide a balanced lifestyle, summed up by this comment from a third-year: “I and many of my colleagues (women in particular) are actively searching for other jobs. This is a terrible environment if you want balance or if you insist on being human. Great place if you want to focus on billable hours and putting money in partners’ pockets.” The firm’s managing partner, Richard Johnson, did not return a phone call for comment by press time. Other associates question the desirable partnership traits within the firm. “I’m not sure how partners are chosen, but based on the incumbents, it obviously has nothing to do with personality or people/managing skills,” says a senior associate. These remarks from a fourth-year characterize the discontent some associates feel regarding the management openness category. “There is definitely a ‘closed-door’ mentality at Baker Botts. Associates are told what the partners deem necessary and announcements (for example, salary increases) are often communicated to the associates in a negative, and often insulting, manner. I believe a lot of associate discontent would be resolved by timely, respectful communication of firm matters to associates.” But there were plenty of satisfied survey responses, too. “I expect to stay at the firm if I make partner at some point. I’m getting excellent experience, responsibility and am more than adequately compensated,” says one third-year. This sixth-year agrees: “Having been in private practice with another large firm … I’m very pleased with my decision to join Baker Botts. I’m treated as a valued member of the firm and have been given meaningful opportunities to assist in practice area development. I’m especially impressed by the firm’s commitment to associate training and development.” One Baker Botts first-year gushes, “I would change nothing so far. I’ve landed in heaven.” 10. WEIL, GOTSHAL & MANGES New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges clocks in near the bottom of this year’s list, mostly because of low rankings it received in the areas of partner feedback, partner treatment, client contact and the time period in which associates expect to remain at the firm. One fourth-year associate wants “more detailed information on what it takes to make partner, what you can expect to make as a junior partner and [for management to realize] that moving to the New York office (or some other office) is not a viable alternative for everyone they can’t or won’t make partner in the Dallas office.” The firm takes a tough stance in response to this comment. “It’s not enough to be a good lawyer. There are a number of other criteria that go into partnership [choices] including judgment, the strength of the business case and the leverage model for each partner candidate,” says Glenn West, the firm’s Dallas managing partner. “We’re very vigilant in our selectivity. I think we communicate the criteria very well. We make no bones about being highly selective in our partner choices.” A fifth-year appreciates this hard-driving mentality. “Having lateralled from a major Texas firm, I can honestly say that all the rumors about Weil are false and are promulgated by disgruntled associates of Texas firms who need to believe such falsehoods so they can sleep at night knowing that they make less that two-thirds the money and work on ‘second-tier’ transactions.” And a sixth-year expresses satisfaction with the firm’s work-style arrangements, citing the firm’s flexibility about “nontraditional work arrangements like part-time work and work from home.” On a technological note, some criticism was levied against the firm’s information infrastructure — one fifth-year likened the firm’s computer and IS support system to the Stone Ages. West acknowledges there was a problem, and says it’s on the mend. “We’ve been going through a switchover to a new computer system, but I think all those bugs have been worked out in the last month,” he says. “It was quite frustrating.” In spite of its low rankings, many of its associates are happy with Weil as characterized by this comment from a second-year: “The firm is a great place to gain great experience in a short period of time. The workload is tough but worth the effort.” 11. LOCKE LIDDELL & SAPP Houston-based Locke Liddell & Sapp scored 3.61 overall. Its lowest rankings were in the categories of training quality, partner treatment, management openness, client contact and the importance of billable hours. The firm scored well in the compensation category, coming in at No. 4. The frustration about billable hours is apparent in these comments from a sixth-year associate. “[The firm should be] more honest with themselves and associates about the importance of billable hours (and the de facto ranges) for salary and bonus potential (e.g., if there is some minimum threshold required or in effect for top bonus, tell us even if that isn’t a ‘formal’ policy).” There is no formal policy at the firm, says managing partner Bryan Goolsby. “Everyone looks for science when, perhaps, it’s an art.” This third-year’s comments also reflect frustration. “[I'd like] more personal contact between partners and associates, more information shared with the associates regarding firm policies and expectations. [There should be] less emphasis on exceeding billable minimums, which now require brown-nosing and ass-kissing in order to get the quantity of work from partners in order to book the hours. [There should be] more concern for ‘quality of life’ issues.” But too much information can be a distraction, Goolsby counters. “Each year, we have an associate meeting where we go over financial information with the associates,” he says. “We don’t share individual associate performance with other associates. We share both macro and individual areas that we’ve been making progress in. At the end of the day, you want people to build their own practice and focus on that. How others are performing is a distraction from focusing on being successful as an individual. We want to promote teamwork.” Although a second-year says people at the firm are professional and mostly courteous. “The firm is schizophrenic. At times, it can be hospitable, even warm. At other times, it can be cold and calculating. Attrition is high at the firm. I cannot say there is any loyalty at the firm, although I think there is some sense of camaraderie, however superficial that may be.” And one third-year calls the firm “an incredibly difficult, treacherous and dispiriting work environment.” This last comment, Goolsby says, is disheartening. “We’re trying to motivate and incentivize our young people. We try to give them responsibility early and allow them to stretch themselves professionally, which sometimes creates anxious moments. That’s why teamwork is important. Our recent favorable financial performance is indicative of our firm’s philosophy rewarding teamwork and individual performance.” Still, several associates express happiness with Locke’s environment. “Nice, friendly people make this firm a near-perfect place to practice,” says an eighth-year. This sixth-year agrees: “I truly enjoy my work at LLS (no b.s.). Understanding that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I have no plans to practice elsewhere.” 12. JONES, DAY, REAVIS & POGUE At the bottom of this year’s survey is Dallas-based Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. Although the firm topped the training quality category and did well in the compensation and importance of billable hours categories, it lost out in the remaining six categories. The firm received the lowest rank in the management openness category. “My only complaint about the firm is that partner compensation and financial matters are entirely a black box,” says a seventh-year. “Although there are advantages to this system (lack of jealousy among and between partners because they don’t know each other’s compensation either), as an associate, it makes it extremely hard to evaluate the financial aspects of making partner.” Managing partner Francis Hubach did not return a phone call for comment by press time. Jones Day also received the lowest ranking in partner treatment. One fourth-year says the firm has many wonderful partners, but it’s the rotten apples that spoil the barrel. “Since these partners tend to get good results in their cases/deals, the partnership turns a blind eye to their methods. Many associates are driven away from the firm (and even the practice of law) as a result. I wish the partnership recognized that by standing there silently they bestow their implied approval,” says the associate. The same associate questions the method the firm uses to announce new partners within the firm. “On a somewhat surreal note, Jones Day announces new partners by posting lists in the bathrooms. What a bizarre way to cap off a 10-year journey through the ranks of associates to the vaunted partnership.” Several associates expressed dissatisfaction with the firm’s bonus system. “Bonuses are completely discretionary. It’s impossible to know whether to expect a bonus, no matter how many hours were billed or commendations received,” says a first-year. But this fourth-year couldn’t be happier: “I’ve been employed by other regional firms and can confidently state that the velocity and complexity of work is unsurpassed. This firm is in a league of its own for this market. The partners are at the top of their game and provide an excellent opportunity for personal development. Unlike regional firms, most of the partners here made ‘partner’ because of their skills instead of because of who they had as a college roommate.” Then again, as with all the other firms included in this survey, there are plenty of Jones Day associates who wouldn’t change a thing about the firm. Notes a second-year, “It’s a great firm; I’m very happy here.” Related charts: Associate Quality of Life On the Plus Side … Law Firm Perks

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