The best tools at your disposal are specific questions, the kinds you should consider asking of associates everywhere you interview. Candid answers will provide a telling picture of the responsibilities they are given as associates, the skills they have acquired and the interest the firm takes in their professional development.
Does your work go directly to a partner?
At Patterson Belknap, you’ll find most of your work goes directly to a partner, even as a junior associate.
How does the firm assess whether associates are acquiring the skills they need to develop as a lawyer?
There’s no one-size-fits-all; associate development is tailored to the unique aspects of each department and each attorney. For instance, designated partners in our litigation department meet individually with associates on a regular basis to review the opportunities they have had and how they can augment them in the future.
How is work assigned?
At Patterson, no one has dibs on anyone else. Rather, assignments in each department flow through an assigning partner who takes account of firm/client needs as well as associate interests and caseload.
What experience have you had speaking in court?
Opportunities obviously vary, but our partners are not shy about letting associates argue matters or take other speaking roles when the situation presents itself.
Does the client or opposing counsel have your number?
That is your phone number, of course. Associates here are expected to be able to handle conversations with clients and opposing counsel.
How many associates are staffed on the matters you’re working on and what’s the ratio of partners to associates?
Some firms succeed financially by having a large associate to partner ratio. That’s not how we operate. Fewer associates per partner on a matter means more direct work with partners and more opportunities for associates.
Have you ever set up a new not-for-profit company?
Patterson Belknap is well known for its Tax-Exempt Organizations practice where associates often prepare the documents for new tax-exempt companies and advise them during the approval process.
How many depositions have you taken or defended?
There’s no rule at Patterson Belknap about which year an associate has to be to perform a particular task. Many of our litigation associates have conducted depositions in their first or second year of practice at the firm.
How often does the firm go to trial?
Patterson Belknap prides itself on being able to take cases to trial. Our associates are a full part of that experience, including preparing and examining witnesses.
Have you interviewed witnesses or do you just take notes for someone else?
Corporate investigations and white collar defense work are an important part of the firm’s practice. Associates on these cases routinely have the opportunity to interview witnesses, working under the supervision of former government prosecutors.
Have you ever negotiated a corporate transaction on behalf of a client?
Our corporate associates aren’t passengers along for the ride; they help drive. A majority of our corporate associates have negotiated all or part of a transaction or deal as an associate.
How much of your time do you spend on document review?
Documents often are the key to the case, and document review is part of any litigation. But we know there’s more to it than that. We do our best to provide each of our associates with a diverse plate of matters – large and small. On large document productions, we often call upon the assistance of outside professionals, freeing our associates to do other work.
Do you find that you are being pigeon-holed?
Patterson Belknap firmly believes that attorneys develop their skills best and help clients most by starting as a generalist in any given practice area. No attorney is forced to focus on a narrow piece of the law.
Do partners applaud your pro bono efforts?
Yes. And associates applaud partner efforts as well. Pro Bono is a core value of Patterson Belknap. 100% of our attorneys participate in pro bono.
Has anyone let you know how what you are doing fits into the overall scope and strategy of the matter you are working on?
At Patterson Belknap, we try to make sure that all attorneys on a case or matter understand how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together so that everyone is finding the right pieces.
Do you attend team meetings?
On big cases or deals, we don’t want associates to get lost. Team meetings on cases and matters happen regularly, help communicate the “big picture” and enhance the quality of service to our clients.
How big are your big cases?
A big case at Patterson may be one with seven lawyers, 10 lawyers or even 12 lawyers from the firm. But it’s not one with 20, 30 or 40 lawyers. We think you understand what that means without saying anything further.
What does your firm look for in recruits?
Patterson Belknap associates can’t hide and they don’t want to. We hire people – not bodies. We look for smart, engaging people who desire visibility and responsibility, and who are highly motivated to solve complex legal problems.
When was the last time you were called upon for your ideas and approach on case strategy?
Associates are expected to offer ideas and opinions. Partners recognize they don’t have all the answers and encourage associates to think independently, creatively and strategically about matters.
What are you doing today?
Ask a Patterson Belknap associate what he or she did today and you’ll get as many answers as there are associates. Odds are you’ll be intrigued.