It's a crazy, busy time for hiring partners, but we managed to corner Karen Popp, the hiring partner of Sidley & Austin's Washington, D.C., office. Though Sidley is a 1,700-lawyer firm, the hiring is handled on an office-by-office basis. Its 250-lawyer D.C. office is famed for its appellate practice and is home to Carter Phillips, who's argued 66 Supreme Court cases so far.
Sidley's D.C. practice sounds very high-powered. Is it more elitist about hiring than the other offices in your firm?
I can't say that. We all look for the top students at the top schools.
What qualities do you look for in your new hires?
We pride ourselves on our collegial and collaborative environment. We look for lawyers who are not sharp-elbow types, who show maturity and good judgment. We give them a lot of responsibility early on.
And how do you figure all that out in a 20-minute interview?
We engage in substantive conversations. We ask them about their law review notes or their judicial clerkships. You can gauge a lot from how someone explains what they've worked on.
Who do you consider your competitors in the D.C. market?
Covington, Wilmer, O'Melveny & Myers, Latham, Gibson Dunn, Jones Day, and Williams & Connelly.
That's a pretty long list. So what distinguishes your firm?
We're both an international firm and a traditional D.C. firm. We're the first non-D.C. firm to open a branch office here, so we're viewed as an established D.C. firm.
I noticed that Sidley made the Yale Law Women and Working Mother magazine lists of the best places for women to work. Do those lists really make a difference in recruiting?
Yes. Young lawyers are concerned with work/life balance issues. This is a wonderful place for women. We also got the Catalyst award [for promoting women in the workplace] four years ago; we are the second law firm to receive the award, which has been given since early 1960s.
But isn't it taboo to bring up work/life balance before you get an offer?
Not only is it not taboo, but we bring it up ourselves! We have a number of female partners who are part-time. We also have a female partner who made [partner] while on maternity leave. There's such a sisterhood in this firm; there's no messing with us. Kudos to the executive committee for embracing measures to retain women!
Have you done part-time yourself?
No, but I am the epitome of diversity. I'm openly gay, and my wife is a Sidley lawyer who is part-time.
Diversity, work/life balance, and even part-time partners--this all sounds too progressive to be true. Aren't you afraid that some law students will flock to your firm for lifestyle reasons?
Not at all. We attract top students to do top legal work at Sidley. If they wish to also have work/life balance, that is fine with us!,
Isn't something missing in the job description?
We are still a business, and the practice of law is not a 9-to-5 job.
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.
Photo: Courtesy of Sidley & Austin