The cornerstone of professional development at Simpson Thacher is our assignment system.
It is designed to accomplish four imperatives:
- Expose associates to the broadest array of topics
- Ensure that associates develop the widest range of critical skills
- Foster a true spirit of teamwork
- Mitigate the possibility that any associate ends up in a personally or professionally untenable position
New associates choose to be a part of one of seven departments: Corporate and Litigation (our two largest), Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits, Exempt Organizations, Personal Planning, Real Estate or Tax. Associates make this selection based on their interest and career development goals. The Firm does not assign associates to a particular practice based on workload or potential demand. Whenever possible, we aim to help associates explore the many avenues available to them at the Firm to help develop their skills and advance their professional development.
Our Assigning Partners in each department are central to the assigning system. They are responsible for ensuring that every associate receives a workload of significant breadth and opportunity for skill development. Assigning Partners check in regularly to ensure that workloads are fair and an associate’s time is not unduly monopolized. It’s a critical role played by dedicated people.
“It’s a surprisingly
thoughtful process, as the partners take the time to think about why they are
giving you something, plus centralized staffing takes the pressure off juniors!”
The assigning systems work well, in part, because of frequent opportunities for feedback. Each department uses open channels of communication with associates to make certain that assignments run smoothly. In short, you are not on our own – instead, you are part of a group with a staffing partner whose job is to make sure your workload and experience are properly managed.
The hallmark of our New York Corporate Department is our rotation system. By working in multiple areas, we believe associates develop a deep understanding of the extensive work we do and the importance of teamwork across practices.
The Corporate Department is divided into the following subgroups: Banking and Credit (which includes Project Finance and Restructuring and Bankruptcy); Capital Markets; Mergers and Acquisitions; and Private Funds. In addition to these subgroups, the Firm also offers associates an opportunity to rotate into additional practices. We use “preferred rotations” to ensure a broad experience: Associates are asked their preferences among the sub-groups. While not termed a “choice,” in practice the preference is always strongly factored into final selection.
Professional development and individual preference are the key drivers in the Litigation Department’s assigning process. Our practice is remarkably varied. These aren’t formal subgroups, though, and there are no required rotations. We believe everyone is best served by broad experience, therefore the Litigation Department strives to assign a range of matters to all associates while allowing them in due course to bore into one or two practice areas as they become more senior.
New litigators are typically given several assignments, each in a different area—a securities matter, an antitrust matter and an international arbitration would be a good example of initial assignments. Associates also are encouraged to take on a pro bono matter of their choice. The cross-disciplinary nature of our department ensures regular exposure to many practice areas, as well as opportunities to work with lawyers elsewhere in the Firm.
Our Litigation Department includes subpractices in Competition, Government and Internal Investigations, Insurance and Reinsurance, Intellectual Property, International Arbitration and Securities Litigation.
Full Suite of Firm Practices
The assignment system within our five specialty departments—Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits, Exempt Organizations, Personal Planning, Real Estate and Tax—reflects the Firm’s commitment to training lawyers in a broad and deep set of professional skills. Since these departments are smaller than Corporate and Litigation, we use a less formal assignment system while accommodating individual preferences when assigning work.
Each of these departments has developed its own way of leveraging the opportunity that flows from a smaller scale. For example:
- Tax associates are informally paired with a partner for up to a year, although such pairings are more loosely organized than a formal mentoring program. Associates don’t work exclusively with the partner, but the partner is available to answer questions and provide continuity.
- Real Estate and Personal Planning are close-knit groups in which junior associates work side-by-side with senior associates and partners from the outset. Group lunches in Real Estate allow everyone to communicate regularly and discuss topical issues.
- New Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits lawyers typically “shadow” a mid-level or senior associate for their first month at the Firm. The group also has lunch seminars at least every two weeks to review skills and practice particulars.
In each department, these are idiosyncratic systems that work incredibly well. These departments illustrate the attributes of Simpson Thacher’s exquisitely balanced culture and associates get the twin benefits of intimacy and scale.