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Steptoe & Johnson
by Joann Chang
The firm known as Steptoe & Johnson that rests comfortably in Dupont Circle is actually a spin-off of the original firm that began in West Virginia in 1913. Founding partner Colonel Louis Johnson began the Washington D.C. branch of the firm when he took up the position of Assistant Secretary of War under FDR. A split in the 1980s resulted in the newer Steptoe & Johnson that has five offices and is based out of D.C., while the old, and now unaffiliated, Steptoe remains a strong presence in West Virginia.
The 350-lawyer firm is best known for its telecommunications and lobbying efforts, but has received attention for its recent high-profile cases. Steptoe has represented telecommunication giants in several mergers and joint venture agreements such as the MCI-Worldcom, AT&T-MediaOne, and Bell Atlantic-GTE deals. Steptoe's connections with policymakers come as no surprise when considering the history of the firm's establishment in D.C. The firm lists a former General Counsel to the National Security Agency, former Attorney General to the State of Montana, and a former General Counsel to the Senate Banking Committee among its partners in the government relations group. Recently, Steptoe has been making news for representing the former general counsel of Tyco International, Mark A. Belnick, and for heading the case of 17 former American POWs against Iraq for the torture they endured during the first Gulf War.
It appears that the diplomatic environment has rubbed off on the doorsteps of Steptoe's 1330 Connecticut Avenue address. Hours are described as reasonable and fellow colleagues are found to be gracious and approachable. The official billable hours requirement of 1,950 is easily met at this firm of hard workers. The firm's polite and enjoyable culture seems to spoil its new associates and to disprove the skepticism of its lateral hires, many of whom doubted the co-existence of lawyers and pleasure. Social events sanctioned by the firm include paid lunches for taking out new associates, sailing in the Chesapeake Bay with summer associates, and hanging out in the firm's box at the MCI Center.
The firm prides itself on its down-to-earth and friendly attorneys and goes to great lengths to keep its offices happy. Steptoe & Johnson looks for graduates from top law schools and officially recruits nineteen of them each year, but will not hire blindly based on credentials. If you would like to be a part of this idyllic firm culture, be prepared to show proof of your "excellent personal qualities" in addition to your top academic credentials. Additionally, though the firm boasts an almost one-to-one partner-associate ratio, achieving actual partnership is just as hard as any other medium firm. Associates are typically up for partnership after their eighth year and the firm does its best to provide accurate reviews of candidates after their sixth and seventh years.
Although the starting associates salaries are not strikingly generous, associates at Steptoe find that they are well-compensated for their agreeable work environment. The law firm describes its salary offerings as competitive with Washington standards and with such amiable colleagues, so who can complain? Steptoe also springs for extras such as paying for travel expenses for summer associates, moving expenses for new attorneys, and living expenses for associates awaiting the bar exam. And with the bonus system applying after 2,100 hours, associates also appreciate the option to work longer for more compensation.
In addition to providing excellent legal work and maintaining friendly offices, Steptoe & Johnson boasts one of the most active pro bono programs in the nation. The firm has a full-time pro bono coordinator and was one of the first law firms to have this Public Service Counsel position. The firm has instituted many new initiatives including a Public Service Associate Rotation Program, in which volunteer associates work at the Legal Aid Society of Washington D.C., and a Summer Public Service Program, in which summer associates spend a portion of their summers at public interest organizations in Washington D.C. Associates can also include up to 100 hours of pro bono work in their billable hours requirement.
Steptoe & Johnson currently has several openings in Washington D.C. and Phoenix including opportunities for experienced litigation and intellectual property associates. More information regarding attorney positions at Steptoe & Johnson can be found in the LawCrossing job database.
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