Meet the BigLaw Firm That's Devoted to Associate Development

Published: Jun 06, 2016


Willkie is committed to transparency and associate development. The firm strives to equip all Willkie associates with the right tools to develop their skills and practices and to achieve professional success—either by progressing through the ranks to partnership, or by harnessing the firm’s resources to transition to a different employer, role or industry. Everyone from the firm’s Chairmen to its practice leaders conveys this message.

An unconventional message for a large law firm, this concept is one that resonated, in particular, with Howard Block, a senior associate in the Corporate and Financial Services Department. Howard left the firm as a sixth-year associate to take a position in-house. At that time, he was looking for a change and was curious about the business side of a company’s operations.

Because Willkie trains its corporate associates as generalists, Howard had first-hand experience working on both public and private mergers and acquisitions, private equity/venture capital transactions and corporate restructurings and reorganizations, in addition to his experience in general corporate and securities matters. The broad knowledge base Howard developed at Willkie helped him land his highly sought-after in-house position.

As Howard puts it: “Willkie is a great launching pad for in-house opportunities, and Willkie associates who leave can land great jobs. Whether companies are looking for attorneys with a broad range of experience or specific knowledge areas, Willkie’s training of associates as generalists makes for well-rounded, excellent candidates. Since associates acquire experience across the board—and on behalf of a wide range of companies, PE firms and other financial institutions—associates have a lot of options if they want to move in-house. ”

Howard missed the diversity of the legal work at Willkie, as well as the range of clients and industries he interacted with. He also craved the excitement of leading transactions rather than supervising the outside counsel that were running the deals. “The leadership at Willkie supported my desire to develop professionally more than I could have ever imagined, and that made me consider returning to Willkie,” he says. He rejoined the firm last year.

Willkie encourages its attorneys to constantly contemplate and evaluate their career goals as they rise up the ranks. Whether associates ultimately decide to build a life-long career at Willkie as a partner, or to pursue external opportunities with clients or government, the firm’s practical and cultural support of these aspirations is consistent across the board. Indeed, the firm’s formal and informal training is customized to account for associates’ needs at each stage of their careers. At the junior level, the firm focuses on orientation, exposing attorneys to a wide array of work, helping them adapt to large-firm life and educating attorneys on best practices for top-notch client service. Mid-level training focuses on helping attorneys transition into a supervisory role and developing a niche. For senior associates, the firm is committed to identifying client-facing opportunities and providing marketing and practice development training and support.

Willkie’s tailored approach to professional development is recognized and appreciated by junior associates. Ashley Singletary-Claffee, a first-year in Asset Management, joined the firm last September. Ashley was convinced Willkie would give her the best generalist training in a preeminent multidisciplinary practice with A-list clientele. She has already completed an intensive boot camp and refresher, and she attends weekly practice group meetings to discuss the latest developments in the asset management industry. “I love Willkie and think it’s a fantastic place to build and maintain a legal career,” says Ashley. “It’s good to know that the resources and training available to me here will position me to succeed elsewhere if, down the road, I decide to leave big law.”

Several of Howard’s and Ashley’s colleagues have transitioned to other opportunities by capitalizing on Willkie’s resources and client network. The firm helps associates in the following ways:

  • Identifying Opportunities: Senior leadership at the firm recently helped a corporate associate get an associate GC role at a portfolio company client in his dream location. “When we know an associate is looking to make a change, we want to make sure they find the best possible position with a firm client,” says Bill Gump, co-chair of the firm’s Corporate and Financial Services Department. “The more frequently we place superb lawyers at our clients, the stronger the firm-to-client relationship becomes. We are very proud of our associates, and we know that alumni’s outstanding performance at a client reflects well not only on them, but on us as well."
  • Getting Associates the Right Experience: Early on at Willkie, a senior litigation associate expressed her interest in white collar defense work and working in government. Several partners at the firm went out of their way make sure she got the right type of work as a junior, mid-level and senior associate. They also facilitated her direct interactions with regulators and prosecutors by letting her take the lead in negotiating responses to subpoenas and presenting to the government. This former Willkie associate stated that “the partners were extremely helpful in shaping my chosen career path by discussing their own prior experiences working in government, encouraging me to apply, and ultimately supporting my candidacy throughout the interview process.”
  • Mentoring Both Personally and Professionally: A transactional associate recently left to become Deputy General Counsel and Chief Transaction Officer at a fund. He credits Willkie with fostering his broad skill set, particularly crediting the firm for training him to be an effective leader and creative thinker. He also recognizes partner/mentor relationships at Willkie as instrumental to both his professional and personal growth. He credits his Willkie mentor with helping him navigate numerous years of firm life and always having had his best interests in mind.

Tom Henry, the head of the firmwide Professional Personnel Committee explains: “What helps distinguish us is our commitment to ensuring that people are rewarded and recognized for hard work. Culturally, we make sure that people have the right balance between working hard and a life—the associates want a work-life balance and, frankly, so do the partners. We are in it together. To that end, we have no billable hours requirement.

We expect the same of all of our associates—if they put their best foot forward, we commit to providing them with the best work regardless of whether they plan to stay for four years, eight years or forty years.”

This is a sponsored blog post from Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. You can view Willkie's Vault profile here.


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