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Want a Job at Susman Godfrey? Be Brilliant and Theatrical

Vivia Chen

February 14, 2011

S susman Litigation powerhouse Susman Godfrey has always been idiosyncratic. In December, the 90-lawyer Houston-based firm announced some eye-popping bonus figures ($45,000 to $100,000-plus) that put a lot of New York establishment firms to shame. The firm also has its own way of anointing new partners: It outfits them with a pair of genuine Texas boots.

Those mega bonuses and fancy cowboy boots sure sound sweet. But what do you have to do to earn those trinkets? Here's what Stephen Susman has to say about the hiring process:

Besides the big money, how do you convince people to come to Susman Godfrey?  
The experience and the shorter time to partnership. It now takes six years [to make partner]. We have 60 partners and 30 associates. When someone makes partner here, they become real partners. Boies Schiller has nonequity partners, and I think that's the case with Quinn Emanuel, too. [Editor's note: Quinn does have nonequity partners.]

So Boies and Quinn Emanuel are your prime competitors? 
And Bartlit Beck and Kasowitz Benson.

And what makes your shop different?
Boies Schiller and Quinn are more traditional. I know that their second- and third- year associates are not given the same [responsibility] as ours. They work in big teams. . . . We split work with associates. I think we have the finest associates in the world.

Where do you find these bright associates? Do you have a summer program?
We've reduced our summer program. For the last few years, we had six [summer associates] . . . before that, we usually had 12. There's debate whether we should have a summer program at all. Personally, I'd eliminate it, but I only get one vote; every lawyer, [including] every associate, gets a vote on employment matters.

How democratic. How does the voting work?
To get a job offer, you have to get a majority of vote of the lawyers in the firm. You interview with ten to 12 people, then we vote.

That sounds exhausting. Anything else? 
All our job offers are contingent on the candidate getting a federal clerkship. Ninety-seven percent of our lawyers have done federal clerkships.

Wow. Why the insistence on clerkships?
We can call judges and ask them what they think of Joe Blow; we get candid references. We find it's more likely that someone will succeed at the firm if they've worked well [during their clerkship] and made an older lawyer happy.

What's your vetting process?
If I spend one hour with someone, I can figure out whether we should hire them. If it's a choice between intellectual ability and personality, we'd choose intellectual ability.

Are there people with amazing resumes who bombed as trial lawyers?
We've had eight Supreme Court clerks; we had two of them who left. Some are too academic and look at problems in 25 different ways. . . The two that are no longer with us left because of reasons other than personality or intellect. People do have other issues with fitting in.

So who's the ideal fit?
Someone who's clerked at the Supreme Court, is brilliant, and has theatrical presence. There's a theatrical aspect to trial work. We've also had phenomenal female lawyers who have great personality, are smart, and are pleasant to look at.

Aren't you afraid some might find that last comment a bit sexist?
You can ask anyone who has ever worked with me or at SG about whether we are [sexist], and I'm sure they will say no. I do think that any firm that tries jury cases needs a group of lawyers who have courtroom--i.e., theatrical--presence. A person's appearance, male or female, contributes to their presence.

 Related posts: Hiring partner interviews with Baker Botts, Boies Schiller, Jones Day; K&L Gates; Paul Hastings; Sidley & Austin; Skadden Arps, Vinson & Elkins.

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"We've also had phenomenal female lawyers who have great personality, are smart, and are pleasant to look at." Pleasant to look at.. hmmm..

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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