"Being around the brightest and best encourages you to do well. It's not about proving yourself, but about bettering yourself."

"Our capital markets practice continues to be one of the most prominent and high-profile in the country."

- Tom Reid, managing partner

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP


A 164-year old Manhattan institution, Davis Polk is perhaps best known for its high-achieving transactional departments.

REVENUE has increased steadily over the last couple of years, continuing in 2012 with a rise of 4.4%, according to Am Law's estimate. Managing partner Tom Reid says: "The major development of 2012 was the launch of an English law practice in London, which has got off to a great start."

Corporate work is at the core of the firm, which also has a strong litigation offering. Banking & finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, capital markets, tax, M&A and financial services regulation all gain top-tier rankings in Chambers USA. This is mirrored by the litigation group, with the general commercial, white-collar and antitrust practices also ranked at the top.

“Although we're in that group of prestigious old-liners, Davis Polk is the least like the stereotype of those New York firms,” associates insisted. “You come to the city expecting hyper-aggression, old tradition and shoes being thrown at you, but that's not what Davis Polk is about. People here are respectful and polite and it's far less top-down than at our counterparts.” Although still a traditional firm, interviewees stressed how “progressive and innovative” Davis Polk is.

"Yes, people are level-headed and calm," one associate added, "but we're still at the top of our game. Partners at Davis Polk win cases and deals by being the best and quietly asserting their dominance. You'll never hear them getting into a shouting match.”

The Work  

Over two-thirds of entry-level associates typically join DP's large and varied transactional departments, with the remaining third joining the litigation team. 

The New York office is dominated by its three mega corporate groups: capital markets, M&A and credit (which is essentially banking and finance). “Capital markets is by far the largest of the three firmwide,” interviewees confirmed, although in New York the three are pretty evenly balanced in size. Alongside are the financial institutions group (FIG), tax, and several smaller groups including investment management; real estate; executive compensation & employee benefits; and trusts & estates.

The litigation department is predominantly commercial litigation-based, and has an excellent white-collar practice, including regulatory and foreign corruption work. Litigators join the group as generalists and “remain generalists all the way through to partnership level,” associates said. A small California office in Menlo Park has an overriding corporate focus, although it also has tax, IP, employment and litigation practices. “The majority of what we do is capital markets, but you do get a broad corporate experience,” associates explained. 

Although New York litigators head straight to their group, the city's transactional associates have the opportunity to rotate around practices (apart from those in tax, and trusts & estates). Two six-month rotations are the norm, although “you can sometimes even do a third rotation,” interviewees explained. There's also the option to assign to a group immediately and even the possibility of joining a group you didn't rotate in: “Davis is very flexible and accommodating.” Interviewees loved the rotation system: “There's no pressure to specialize early, and you get such varied exposure.” One added: “Getting the chance to experience a mixture of small and large groups also allows you to meet people across the firm, and gain a broader appreciation of the law.”

Across most departments, work assignment for juniors is filtered through a formal assignment coordinator. Interviewees said: “The system is great. You never feel the pressure to go looking for work or worry about downtimes. It alleviates that stress.” Another said: “It also protects you from having to say no to a partner! The coordinators have so much experience and it really is a two-way conversation as to what you're doing and how much you can take on. It stops you from drowning.” For more detail on the work, read the Web Extras.

Training & Development  

Training begins with 'Lawyering 101', “a week-long induction to the firm.” Later there's 'Lawyering 301' in your third year – helping the transition into midlevel – and finally 'Lawyering 501', to help you become a senior associate. “101 is really just basic accounting and ethical issue courses – everything you need to know how not to be a terrible lawyer,” associates laughed. “You also get your CLEs done during the week, which is great.” Alongside, every group has practice specific training, “and you can attend any groups you want,” interviewees explained. Certain groups, such as capital markets, have compulsory sessions, “which are really helpful.” There are also extensive training materials online. Although associates were complimentary of the system, “nothing compares to learning by doing,” they agreed.

Reports of the quality of feedback varied greatly between interviewees. Some were very pleased with how much time the senior associates and partners took with them, while others admitted to “getting almost nothing until the formal appraisal – good or bad.” Davis Polk “does have a rep for being slightly passive-aggressive, and that's probably true,” an associate said. “If however you solicit the feedback yourself, it is always well received. The onus is on the individual.

Offices  

“I think we're known to have one of the best buildings in the city,” New York associates proudly proclaimed of the firm's flagship office. Sat above the Grand Central Station post office on Lexington Avenue, the NYC headquarters occupies floors eight through 30, “with the lawyers sat between floors 16 to 30.” The layout is “like a donut, so all lawyers get offices with large windows.” One said: “It feels sophisticated and spacious. It's all light wood and high ceilings. There's lots of gold plating and art on the wall, and our double lobby is very impressive.” The décor aims “to make the environment as comfortable and beautiful as possible, making those long nights easier.”

Associates were also full of praise for the “awesome cafeteria.” One said: “Even with all the options in New York, I still eat there most days.” Menlo Park associates disclosed that compared to New York, their “offices are larger, and of course we have that California weather.” A 22-attorney office in DC completes the domestic picture, while abroad Davis Polk has operations in London, Paris, Madrid, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo and São Paulo. Overseas rotations are possible for corporate and tax associates, and also a proportion of summer associates.

Fun fact: Davis Polk's offices worldwide are decorated in almost exactly the same way. “Your key card even works in London and Madrid.”

Culture  

“Davis Polk is respectful, polished and professional,” associates said. “You're never going to have someone screaming at you, or a partner sending you a horrible e-mail. Lawyers here feel valued and respected; it's really about as good as it gets in BigLaw,” interviewees agreed. They were attracted to the firm's professional and conservative ethos, but were quick to explain that the professionalism “is never uncomfortable. We wear business casual, call everyone by their first names and people genuinely have friends here. The professionalism ensures an excellent working environment, while the conservative element means we're working somewhere financially stable.”

Proudly highlighted on Davis Polk's website is its quest for excellence, a concept not lost on associates. “They take the idea of excellence extremely seriously here. The amount of revision and work that goes into everything is substantial,” interviewees said. “You need to understand that at Davis Polk, putting in 97% effort isn't good enough. You need to be on your A-game at 9am and at 2.30am. Your work product needs to be at the highest level.” Although interviewees admitted the expectation was daunting at first, “it's actually very inspiring in the long run. Being around the brightest and best encourages you to do well. It's not about proving yourself, but about bettering yourself.” All admitted this attitude attracts a certain type of person and Davis Polk recruits “come in with strong sense of self-motivation. People come here with the hope of raising the bar.”

Hours & Compensation  

“The only time I've heard someone talk about hours is when I billed over 300 hours in the month, and they were calling to see if I was OK,” an associate said. “At Davis Polk there really is no billing requirement,” associates assured us. “As long as you're accepting work and filling your plate, no one's going to discuss hours with you.” Another reflected: "Having a target would just be another source of stress and pressure. Sometimes the work just isn't there, so not having to obsess and worry through the downtime is great.” Others said: “No requirement also means people are more keen to help each other out. You never get senior associates holding onto work, or have to deal with competition from your colleagues,” and “the reality is Davis wants you to focus on high-quality work and use the slow times to broaden your knowledge base.”

“Everyone around here's so busy, people would easily surpass any average target,” one associate reminded us. “There are the 160-hour months, which is your average 40-hour week, and then there are the 300-hour months. There are going to be nights where you work into the wee hours of the morning and weekends that you have to devote to the firm. This is New York BigLaw.” In fact several interviewees had to reschedule our interviews as they were so busy. However, we were assured the staffing coordinators “really try and help you manage your time,” and “people at the firm are great at recognizing and appreciating when you put in that extra effort.”

Pro Bono  

“There is a ton of pro bono here,” associates said. “Even during this interview, I've received three e-mails about various opportunities; it's great,” one told us. Sharon Katz is the firm's full-time pro bono special counsel and it's “something that genuinely everyone does.” Projects on offer include asylum projects, veterans' assistance, domestic violence cases and “wills and estates type work.” During the presidential election associates could participate in the 'Election Protection Coalition', which aimed to ensure fair play at polling stations.

Although the majority of the pro bono on offer is litigation-oriented, “there's plenty for transactional associates to get involved in, such as neighborhood startups or supporting the arts through contract drafting.” Every associate we spoke with was undertaking pro bono, but admitted: “It's very encouraged, but never pushed. The onus is on you.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 45,360
  • Average per US attorney: 68

Diversity  

On an associate level in New York, “we're actually pretty diverse,” interviewees said. “There's obviously a concerted effort made by the firm to reach out and take people on from different backgrounds.” One said: “I would like to add that we're actually as diverse as the top 5% of law schools will allow – and diversity is still mainly at the junior associate level.”

As at most firms, there's still a relative lack of diversity at the leadership level, although “as the firm becomes more international, I do believe that diversity will filter upward,” an associate said. There are plenty of initiatives on offer: “We have several affinity groups, including black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBT and a women’s initiative. It's a really interesting way to meet people across the firm.” Davis Polk also participates “in several diversity events and special initiatives at schools.” Female associates assured us the women's group is “very active,” and “there are regular meetings and talks, like from the female general counsel of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

Get Hired  

"There is only a handful of firms that are in the same league” as Davis Polk in New York, interviewees agreed. “Most students have probably applied to your Cravaths, Sullivans et cetera, so it's then about the best personality fit. Grades and educational background are extremely important. If you're out of the top 14, you need to be close to the top of your class.” Although Davis Polk does recruit at 20-plus schools, several associates had attended the top schools out there. Hiring partner Warren Motley says: “It is fair to say that we are looking at people at a variety of schools that are at the top of their law school class.”

Although grades are key, associates explained: "They really aren't the be all and end all. The firm puts a huge effort into recruitment, and getting a callback interview doesn't guarantee a place.” Motley says: “I'm looking for people who are energetic, but also very good under pressure. Not only in terms of time, but also the pressure of dealing with very complex problems, where there is no certainty. You have to be able to make judgments and carry through. You also need to have the ability to work cooperatively and support your team in excellence.”

Associates added: “Davis Polk does want people who are collaborative and levelheaded. We want people who strive to achieve, but not to the exclusion of others. It's not about pushing people out of the way to get to the top, but supporting each other to get there.” Managing partner Tom Reid says: “If you have a more monastic approach, then this is probably not the place for you.” 

Associates thought that having a business background of some kind can be beneficial. “It's not a requirement,” they said, “but it's very relevant to the work we do.”

Strategy & Future  

Managing partner Tom Reid says: “We have won the usual series of awards that we tend to collect, but the major highlight for us in 2012 was that our capital markets practice continues to be one of the most prominent and high-profile in the country. The group has dealt with several headline-grabbing IPOs including the Santander Mexico IPO and Manchester United's IPO. Whatever activity there is in that field, we tend to get the lion's share of it. We weren’t originally involved in the Facebook IPO, but the underwriters have now turned to us for advice in the litigation that has followed. Our insolvency practice has also been incredibly busy and M&A has had a great year in terms of proving our global credentials. Litigation has also scored some stunning victories, including for the owners of the New York Mets. So business as usual around here."

"Looking to the future, although we will continue to invest, we're going to have everything you see that we have now for the foreseeable future. It's just a question of continuing to stay as busy as we are, and providing a platform for further growth. These are still tough times at the moment, and we're not complacent. We continue to work hard and improve our position in pretty much every market we are in.”


Key Facts

The Facts  

Largest US office: New York

US offices: 3

International offices: 7

First-year salary: $160,000 

Billable hours: no requirement

Summers 2013: 125 (all 2Ls)

Revenue 2012: $950 million (+4.4%)

Partners made in 2013: 2

Chambers USA Rankings

    Band 1
  • Antitrust
    ( New York )
  • Banking & Finance
    ( Nationwide )
  • Bankruptcy/Restructuring
    ( Nationwide, New York )
  • Capital Markets
    ( California, Nationwide )
  • Corporate/M&A
    ( New York )
  • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation
    ( New York )
  • Environment
    ( New York )
  • Financial Services Regulation
    ( Nationwide )
  • Litigation
    ( New York )
  • Tax
    ( Nationwide, New York )
  • Band 2
  • Investment Funds
    ( Nationwide )
  • Latin American Investment
    ( New York )
  • Media & Entertainment
    ( New York )
  • Securities
    ( Nationwide )
  • Band 3
  • Private Equity
    ( Nationwide )
  • Retail
    ( Nationwide )
  • Band 4
  • International Trade
    ( Nationwide )

For each practice area, only the firm’s best ranking (with location) is shown. Any lower rankings (in other locations) are not shown. To see full rankings

Diversity

Partners (%)Associates (%)
Women2240
White91.171.5
Black/African American0.83.8
Hispanic/Latin American2.43.6
Asian5.718.4
Mixed/Other02.7
LGBT0.85.1

Recent Work Highlights 

  • Acted for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan in the $15 billion accelerated share repurchase transaction for an Irish subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, the largest accelerated share repurchase transaction ever executed
  • Represented Comcast in the $3.6 billion sale of licenses to Verizon Wireless
  • Advised Sterling Equities Partners, New York Mets and affiliated parties in their claims as well as defending them against the trustee for the Madoff Estate
  • Representing Campbell Soup on its $1.55 billion acquisition of Bolthouse Farms
  • Advising Ameriprise Financial in the sale of Ameriprise Bank’s credit card and deposit businesses to Barclays Bank
  • Won a dismissal of a $20 million malpractice lawsuit against Paul Hastings LLP over a failed property investment deal for an office building in Manhattan
  • Acted for NBCUniversal on its acquisition of the 50% share of the MSNBC Digital Network joint venture