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Quinn Emanuel Says It's Not the Worst Sweatshop—Really

Vivia Chen

July 25, 2011

 Interview season is just weeks away, which means I'll be cornering as many hiring partners as possible to get you the inside scoop on getting hired.

Urquhart, Bill Color Today I'm visiting with William Urquhart (right), one of the founders of litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. But before we get to the nitty-gritty about hiring at this California-based firm, there are two things you must know: It's extremely profitable (it has sky-high profits per partner of $3.13 million, second only to Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz) and, as I reported recently, lawyers there take casual dress to the extreme. 

You made my day when you confirmed one of the great urban legends in the legal world—that your lawyers really wear flip flops and shorts to work! Tell me, does that mean law students can literally roll off the beach for their interview with Quinn?
We tell students that it's not necessary to show up in suits, but most do anyway.

Besides the laissez-faire dress code, is there anything else you'd like to set straight--any misconceptions about Quinn Emanuel?
People used to question whether the firm would survive if John Quinn [one of the firm's founders] got run over by a bus. That's gone now. But people still think we're a sweatshop. I don't think our young lawyers work any harder than Cravath or Paul, Weiss [associates].

Ah, but your associates can sweat more comfortably and save a bundle on expensive suits. For that privilege, I assume candidates need stellar credentials?
We won't hire people who are not in the top 10 percent of their class, unless it's Harvard or Yale. We're very grade conscious, even when we hire someone laterally.

Sounds very elitist. Do you only hire from the top law schools?
Far and away most hires come from Harvard—I think it represents at least 20 percent of our lawyers. We've also had success with University of Texas, NYU, Columbia, and University of Chicago. Also the top kids of the top 20 to 30 law schools.

What's a nonacademic trait that you look for?
Common sense. Some people don't have it; some have absolutely phenomenal credentials, but they approach problems from an academic perspective. If you have ten tasks to perform, the person with common sense will know how to prioritize them.

If you don't have common sense—assuming that people lacking it, know it—you shouldn't apply for a job at Quinn. Who else should stay away?
If they don't take their work seriously. We operate in a winner-take-all environment, and you have to really care about what you do.

Sounds intense. Do you find that some top students come to your firm because they think the partnership chances are better than those at a traditional big firm?
You'll be shocked at how little young people think about partnership. We sent out a survey to our incoming people, and [partnership concerns] ranked seventh. You have a better chance here [for partnership], but young people don't pay attention to things that they should. They should focus on how strong a firm is by looking at how many partners are between the ages of 35 to 45.

Anything else recruits are overlooking?
We've made a bunch of women partners in the last few years, and we didn't even make a big deal about it. I know we have a reputation of being a tough place to work for women; that's garbage. We've made women partners who were on maternity leave. Three of our most powerful litigators are women—Susan Estrich, Faith Gay, and Kathleen Sullivan (click here for "First Gay and Female on Marquee"), and six women chair or cochair practice groups.

I didn't know that. Somehow, though, I have a feeling recruits shouldn't go to Quinn for work/life balance.
(He laughs.) The reality is that women carry a disproportionate share of the home responsibility. I'm in awe of those who do both.

 Related posts: Hiring partner interviews at Baker BottsBoies, Schiller; Debevoise & Plimpton; Jones DayK&L Gates; Kramer LevinPaul, HastingsPepper HamiltonSidley & AustinSkadden; Susman Godfrey; and Vinson & Elkins.


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I'm so sick of this hiring attitude. My own firm has it. "Only top 10 percent" except from H&Y. He claims 20% of their law firm is from Harvard, but I bet most of the partners, and the partners bringing in the most business business, are from many other schools. Those same partners likely were not in the top 10%. This kind of thinking just gets old and does not make sense. I wish he had been pushed on this issue more.

Brilliant Vivia!

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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: VChen@alm.com

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