By Liz Schéré
Walking into the offices of WilmerHale a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but feel slightly nervous, like a pre-teen attending her first “grown-up” party. This may sound foolish coming from an LLM student at Fletcher. You would think that the “proverbial veil” on the legal profession would have been lifted by now. However, as I sat in that conference room on the 26th floor, and listened to our gracious hosts talk in-depth about the firm’s values, challenges, and work-atmosphere, I realized what impressed me: that business-savvy, always thinking-ahead mentality.
WilmerHale is short for Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. The firm enjoys a long list of impressive clients and work. Just to give you an idea of the magnitude, the firm successfully argued in the seminal case Roper v. Simmons that the Eight Amendment forbids the death penalty for persons under the age of eighteen in the United States Supreme Court. On a more superficial and esthetic note, the firm has a first-rate view of Boston Harbor and the Custom House Tower. If you are afraid of heights, it might not be a good idea to look down.
On our visit, John introduced us to Amy Auth, Director of Training, and Susan W. Murely, co-managing partner of the firm. Amy talked to us about the firm’s values, hierarchy, and personnel-training challenges. She highlighted the importance of communication, teamwork, and writing, (something us lawyers will be perfecting until the day we die or quit). In an office where there are enough people to fit a large-scale cruise ship, group projects and constant communication are part of the daily routine. “Instead of wasting time waiting for an e-mail response that might not be exactly what you’re looking for, pick up the phone!” Amy said to us excitedly, as if she were talking to her trainees. Amy is also a big supporter of the casual office walk-by: “If your supervisor or the partner’s office door is open, I would suggest just walking by a couple of times until they see you, then pop in and ask your question.” Amy’s message was clear: stop looking at your screens for the answer and go ask an actually breathing, living, human being. You might waste less time and create a rapport. Shocking, right? Amy also stressed the importance of teamwork. At WilmerHale, associates and partners are subject to evaluations, and teamwork is a big component. If you want to manage a project one day, you have to show that you’re capable of working productively and constructively with others. In other words, “teamwork”, “cooperation”, and “communication”, are not just values for the football field, they are indispensable as well in the office.
Susan W. Murely, Tufts Grad, and honorary Fletcherite (Murely almost applied before deciding on Law School), gave us a riveting talk about the “business challenges” facing the firm. Murely explained that, as a result of the 2008 crash, law firms have had to change their strategies. Firms are no longer simply legal services- they must also think like a business. This is where my awe came in. Susan talked about the different legal fields WilmerHale specializes in and how they go about getting a “bigger piece of the pie”, based on those strengths. However, with new challenges and times, comes adaptation and change. From what Susan told us, it appears that WilmerHale has been able to rethink their business strategy while sustaining their values. The firm understands that they need to be thinking two, even three steps ahead. John joked that “back in his day” attorneys didn’t need to bother with accounting or learning how to read balance sheets, etc. and that he “got out just in time.” Many of us LLMs pride ourselves (or maybe this is just me) that we are terrible at anything that consists of counting and numbers. However, after hearing Susan talk about what clients expect from their lawyers today (Budgets?! What does that even mean?), my ill-placed pride sunk faster than the stock market in ’08. Susan gave us a thorough, thought-provoking, image of what the “business” of law looks like today and for all of us who enjoy a challenge, there’s something thrilling about creating and finding different ways of getting a “bigger piece of the pie.”
In sum, meeting with Amy and Susan was nothing short of fascinating. So much so, that we all put our phones away, not just out of politeness, but because we really had something to learn from them. They were open to questions, gave us illustrative anecdotes about life at the firm, and most importantly, seemed to be very pleased with the work they do and communicating that passion to us. Sure, the part about accounting was a bit daunting but if we were able to get through law school alive and still partly sane (partly being the key word), there’s not much that can really stop us.
 Hale and Door (founded in Boston in 1918) merged with Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, a Washington-based law firm, in 2004. If you thought Spanish individuals and Christians had long names, just take a look at American law firms.
 WilmerHale, The Supreme Court Rules that the Constitution Forbids Death Penalty for Juveniles, Publication & News, March 1, 2005. Available at: https://www.wilmerhale.com/pages/publicationsandnewsdetail.aspx?NewsPubId=101106
 Prof. John Burgess, our Executive Director/Shipmaster, was partner at WilmerHale.
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