Highlights Ropes & Gray LLP
History: A crimson beginning
Ropes & Gray was founded in in Boston in 1865—the last year of the Civil War—by Harvard Law School grads John Codman Ropes and John Chipman Gray, Jr. The firm rapidly grew along with Boston: Ropes was representing banks, utilities, and railroads at the turn of the century. Despite its blue-blooded background, the firm set early examples of progressive hiring practices with an eye toward diversity. Abram Berkowitz became the firm's first Jewish partner in 1930, and rose to serve on the firm's management committee. Mary Lennon and Blanche Quaid became the firm's first female associates in 1942.
No. 1 in Boston
The firm has become such a part of Boston's financial and legal community that it currently represents 11 of the 16 Fortune 500 companies located in Massachusetts. In addition to being the preeminent firm in Boston, Ropes & Gray has a strong national reputation as well. Under the leadership of partner R. Bradford Malt, the firm has built up a strong leveraged buyout practice, in addition to an impressive financial services and mutual fund practice. The firm's LBO practice includes a number of blue-chip clients, including the Butler Capital Corporation—a $1.4 billion, New York-based fund that the firm has represented in more than 40 leveraged buyouts.
Other clients on the firm's leveraged buyout roster include the VC arms of Boston-based consulting firms Bain and Monitor, New York-based Suez Equity Investments, and New York-based Saunders Karp & Margue. The firm recently worked on the more than $1 billion LBO of Domino's Pizza. Within the financial services and mutual fund industries, Ropes represents Fleet Financial Group and Putnam Funds. According to The American Lawyer, Ropes & Gray ranks No. 1 when it comes to total net assets of all funds for which the firm acts as counsel. (The firm itself also actually manages money—Ropes has an estimated $3 billion in assets under management.) Ropes is also among the top firms in structuring IPOs, representing underwriters like Goldman Sachs; partner Keith F. Higgins was ranked as the No. 2 lawyer in the country in acting as counsel for IPOs by IPO Journal.
In addition to its strong corporate practice, the firm is well regarded for its trust and estates, health care practice, taxation, and litigation practices, all considered among the best in the country. Ropes is also a leader when it comes to representing the academic world, counting Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other leading universities among its clients. The firm recently represented Stanford in litigation concerning intellectual property rights for a DNA mapping chip. The firm's DC office has special expertise in white collar criminal matters, antitrust, appellate litigation, and intellectual property and environmental law.
"They lent me to the DA's office for six months, where I got to do 15 trials, and paid my salary," reports one litigation associate when asked about Ropes & Gray's training. "That was incredible." Others share the enthusiasm about R&G's training. "Training is absolutely outstanding," says one corporate associate. "It's one of the greatest assets of the firm. Says another insider: "The level of training is incredible." Ropes offers a formal firm-wide training program for all first- and second-year associates, covering practice skills as well as substantive legal topics. This initial training also includes a "very good writing workshop." In the firm's strong corporate department, "they have recently started two monthly lunches on corporate topics, which are very helpful." Says another corporate contact: "In my particular area of focus, a partner presents an hour-and-a-half session over lunch once a week for approximately 15 to 20 weeks each year, covering topics that commonly come up in practice but were not covered in law school." The learning doesn't stop at midlevel associates, either. "Formal training is particularly good for junior to midlevel associates," says one associate. "For more senior lawyers there are very interesting and lively lunch meetings on various topics of interest that are generally attended by senior partners on down."
"Associates emphasize that the attitude of senior associates and partners to training is the key to the firm's success in this area. "The formal training is very good," says one associate, "but the informal training is invaluable. Most partners appear committed to ensuring that younger lawyers receive informal training."
No face time
Ropes associates also enjoy the firm's attitude toward workload and billable hours. The firm does not have a minimum billable hours requirement and "unlike many other firms, there is no requirement of face time," says one associate. Says one corporate insider: "There are no psycho partners stalking the hallway to give you work at 5 p.m. on Friday just to break your spirit. If you are done with your work, it is expected that you will go home." The firm also is supportive of working outside of the office. "Obviously younger attorneys do things which might require more time at the office," says one associate. "But as you get more senior and can work on laptops and modems (which the firm provides) you can at least get home or go out to dinner at a decent hour - even if you have to sit down and do some work later in the evening."
Associates also appreciate the firm's attitude toward work/life balance. "One particularly positive aspect of the firm's culture is that they will help attorneys who are having problems," says one associate. "I was told to take off as much time as I needed to deal with some family problems, and took off three weeks with pay without any expectation that I would count it against my vacation time."
High marks for women
Associates agree that "R&G has a fabulous environment for women." "The Women's Forum at Ropes & Gray provides a support network for women at the firm and sponsors a variety of events," says one woman associate. "It is a very good program." The firm's "generous" maternity leave program provides associates with 13 weeks paid leave and 13 weeks unpaid leave. "I think that the firm is doing an increasingly better job with respect to sensitivity to women's issues," reports one associate. "There are special women forums and an increasing number of women partners in all practices. Entering classes of associates also tend to be about 50/50 in terms of females to males." Says one senior female associate in the firm's corporate department: "As a woman, I believe I have always been given the same work experiences as male associates. I have also been pleased with maternity leave benefits and part-time work opportunities." Ropes & Gray has instituted an innovative program called “Impact” to provide a flexible framework for building a career at the firm—including alternative (reduced) time offsite work possibilities, ways to manage the traditional work day to accommodate childcare and other responsibilities, and alternative pace to partnership.
Top pay in Beantown
R&G is diligent about making sure that it is tops in Boston when it comes to pay. "Ropes prides itself on paying the most of any Boston firm," reports one associate, "and encourages associates to keep them abreast of associate pay increases at other firms so that they can maintain their edge." Says another: "Whenever someone hears that a Boston firm is getting paid higher than we are, the firm increases its pay."
In Boston, Ropes provides a "free evening meal served Monday through Friday" for all lawyers and staff from 7 to 9 p.m. in the firm's cafeteria. According to some associates, the cafeteria "provides excellent food, in both quality and selection." Associates also appreciate "excellent general benefits," such as 200K life insurance, excellent health insurance at minimal cost, and free dental insurance. Insiders at the firm's headquarters also laud the firm's "fantastic" emergency day-care facilities, which associates can utilize up to 22 days in a year. In addition to this, R&G also boasts an on-site fitness center and subsidizes membership dues. R&G's most potentially lucrative perks involve interests in client hedge funds and other private equity investments that are not included in salary and bonuses.
Although retention rates are notably cyclical, insiders at R&G believe that the attrition rate at their firm is "remarkably low for a firm of this size." Says one associate: "In the past year, turnover has been very low. Another agrees that "there is a very low turnover rate. Most attorneys seem very happy and want to stay." A contributing factor to Ropes & Gray’s retention success has been its flexibility in allowing associates to relocate from one of the firm’s offices to another, through its “Global Opportunities” program.
Ropes & Gray associates generally rave about their partners. Says one: "I am always thanked for my work. Partners take the time to explain new concepts, and to answer questions." "My experience with partners has been phenomenal," says a corporate attorney. "I am still surprised at how good this area is at the firm." Says another insider: "I have been treated as an equal by every attorney I have worked with, and the partners are very good about respecting my abilities while simultaneously training me and increasing my understanding of the practice of law." Associates' input is "consistently sought and heeded," insiders say. Reports one contact: "I have never felt like just a billing unit. The partners seem to enjoy working with you."