Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
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Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett's famous "niceness" hasn't kept it from competing in the rough-and-tumble field of law -- the firm is securely in the top tier of law firms. Simpson's business is routinely the stuff of which national headlines are made. Attorneys routinely complain about grueling schedules, but Simpson has somehow discovered a way to cultivate a pleasant atmosphere featuring a unique combination of gentility, professionalism, and mutual respect.
No one doubts that Simpson Thacher deserves its reputation as a civil, and gracious workplace -- for the time being, anyway. "Partners generally treat associates with a high level of respect," reports one contact. "There's no yelling going on here." "There is an emphasis on teamwork," adds another insider. "The people are very supportive, smart, cool and nice." Camaraderie is encouraged by the office assignment system. The offices are not segregated by department; litigation, real estate and corporate lawyers may work right next to each other. Mellowness extends to treatment of the opposing side as well -- "the firm insists that attorneys treat opposing counsel respectfully." "It's very civil here, even friendly," one associate tells Vault. "It's fairly relaxed." This is not to say that Simpson Thacher lawyers let it all hang out. "The firm is a bit stuffy," says one insider. Agrees another, at least in part: "Simpson is very white shoe and status conscious. It's not crass or brass, but good natured and hush hush."
Simpson Thacher is not a tea party either. "People are courteous," concedes one insider, "but everyone works hard. We bill a lot of hours, so it can be a fairly hardcore place." Most associates cite billable hours in the mid-2000s and say those hours can be "unpredictable " and "sporadic, averaging out at heavy." And several associates express fear that the firm is "growing faster each day and losing more of its personality as a nicer law firm for associates." According to one "As a partner recently put it, 'We are a sweatshop, but we feel bad about it.'" Still, most associates concur that "Simpson is still the nicest and most congenial atmosphere to work in of any major NY law firm." "If you're going to work for a big law firm" maintains an associate, echoed by many peers, "this is the one."
Trouble hanging on to mid-level associates
Simpson Thacher seems to have some trouble keeping associates. "The firm's biggest problem is retention at the senior levels," confides an insider. "I have no sense that Simpson Thacher has a commitment to retaining mid- to senior-level associates. Most leave after two or three years." "Most people here don't even try to make partner," confirms another contact. "Yes," sighs another associate, "it's very difficult to make partner. In fact, I don't think most associates set their sights on this. You can kill yourself and be an excellent attorney and still not make partner. It's very daunting." The firm many top firms in New York City are suffering from attrition, a phenominon it says is due to a slowdown in hiring entry-level lawyers in the ealry 1990s that has resulted in too few senior associates and heavy workloads now. But one associate has a theory of his own: "Because retention is not emphasized, partners assume you will leave and do not give you the kind of responsibility that would make you hard to replace. Accordingly, everyone leaves."
Simpson Thacher associates compliment their firm for offering interesting perks. The firm pays two-thirds of gym membership costs for any gym, offers free meals and rides home to associates working past 8 p.m., subsidises a broker fee for new lwayers moving ti New York and hosts a "cookie hour" on Thursday. Every Thursday at 4, part of the cafeteria opens, and serves an assortment of fresh-baked cookies, tea and milk. "Most of the young associates go," reports one insider, but "not partners." To add to that slumber party feel, the firm also offers free pizza every other Friday. Simpson Thacher also runs a lottery, through which it distributes tickets to games, shows, and other events. Some of these tickets are rather hot -- for instance, tickets to the Emmy award show. One associate points out, however, that "in theory, the monthly raffle is a perk. But you can only win again once all the other associates have won or passed. Considering we hire 90 associates a year, we basically each get two tickets to something once a year."
Simpson Thacher is "very committed" to pro bono work. "Time is credited just like work for paying clients," which is just one way in which "the firm very actively encourages it." In fact, with the new program in place, "they basically require first-years to do it, though they wouldn't fire you if you didn't." The pro bono committee "sends around e-mail lists [of matters] quite frequently" and "has brought people in to pass out literature and introduce the groups we can work with." The committee is known to approve most matters that associates request. "If you have your own causes or issues, you can bring them to the committee, but most people just work within the system." Some recent examples of matters made available include "work with a shelter for the Coalition for the Homeless, a lot of work for the arts, and death penalty cases." At the same time, comments one associate who has been unable to take part, "nobody has bugged me about not doing it."