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, our litigation assignments coordinator meets individually with associates on a regular basis to review the opportunities they have had and how they can augment them in the future. All associates meet annually with their “Professional Development Partner” to go over the skills they have acquired and to identify goals or development opportunities for the coming year. Associates track their skills via an online Skill Checklist, which they can update during the year.
How and how often do you get feedback on your work and professional development?
We think constructive feedback is essential to attorney development. All associates receive detailed annual (or semi-annual at the junior level) written evaluations from all senior lawyers they have worked with during the review period. Partners also regularly provide informal feedback to help associates develop.
How is work assigned?
Assignments in each department flow through an assigning coordinator or partner who take account of firm/client needs as well as associate interests, caseload, and professional development goals. Associates own their matters and are involved from the beginning to end of a matter.
Do you have a mentor?
All associates are assigned an Onboarding Partner and Associate Mentor who reach out to the incoming associate before they start at the Firm. Associates are also assigned to an “Associate Learning Group” each year, consisting of 6-12 associates and one partner who meet quarterly for a variety of events. Additionally, the Firm’s four resource groups – Women Lawyers at Patterson, Patterson Attorneys of Color, Out at Patterson, and Parents at Patterson – all have events that help to foster additional mentoring relationships.
Who are your clients?
Our clients include a diverse group of institutions and individuals: from major media and publishing empires to consumer products companies; from fine art museums to famous entertainers; from pharmaceutical and medical device companies to financial institutions; from colleges and universities to private foundations of all types.
What experience have you had speaking in court?
Opportunities naturally vary, but our partners encourage associates to take an active role and work to have associates argue matters or take other speaking roles when the situation presents itself.
Do you speak with clients or opposing counsel?
Associates here are expected to be able to handle conversations with clients and opposing counsel.
Do litigation associates work in particular practice groups?
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.
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 partners applaud your pro bono efforts?
Yes, applaud and encourage. And associates applaud partner efforts as well. Pro Bono is a core value of Patterson Belknap and our substantive work is largely focused on underserved populations in New York City. 100% of our attorneys participate in pro bono.
Are you involved in case strategy and case management?
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. 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 does your Firm look for in recruits?
We hire people – not bodies. We look for smart, engaging people who desire a high level of visibility and responsibility, and who are highly motivated to solve complex legal problems.
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.