Of the second and third-years at the firm at the time of our calls a third were based in litigation, and a fifth each in labor & employment or business & finance (corporate). There are also juniors in IP, employee benefits, energy, antitrust and real estate. Add to this the fact that the firm has 16 domestic offices, and you begin to get an idea of the variety of experiences on offer.
The Philadelphia litigation practice has a large number of healthcare and pharma clients and “sees a lot of class actions.” In DC and New York cases are often related to the world of finance, but lawyers have also recently worked on matters related to sectors as varied as the environment and the arts. “I have never been assigned to just do doc review on a case,” a young litigator reported. “It's certainly part of what I do, but as you prove yourself, you also get involved with witness preparation and drafting motions. I have had contact with clients and even led a meeting at the US Attorney's Office.”
Corporate is divided into M&A, emerging business, securities, and finance and restructuring subgroups. Juniors join one of these from the start, except in New York where associates rotate through two groups in their first two years. The New York M&A practice focuses on the middle market and is noted for its media and entertainment work. “We work on large public transactions and private equity buyouts as well as small acquisitions and sales,” an associate reported. The latter allow juniors to “take a first cut at everything, which the partner then reviews.” On larger deals “due diligence is part of the job,” but there are also opportunities to draft documents, have contact with clients and participate in negotiations.
The 280-lawyer labor & employment practice attracts high-profile clients including Rolls-Royce, Toyota, Dell, Morgan Stanley, Comcast and American Airlines. Morgan Lewis acts almost solely for the defense on big class actions and smaller single-plaintiff cases. “There's never a dull day!” exclaimed one junior. “The human emotion involved means that you encounter many funny and ridiculous facts when reviewing documents. The cases are spicy and you have to deal with things like emotional outbursts during depositions.”
All but the smallest practices have an assignment coordinator. “The system works efficiently,” interviewees agreed. “If a partner needs help on a matter, the coordinator will look at everyone's workload, see who can take something on and reach out to them.” But one associate cautioned: “As a junior, it's your job to make sure the coordinator knows how busy you are, so you don't end up with too much on your plate.” After a while many juniors get their work through informal channels, but they can still return to the coordinator if they need work.
Training & Development
Juniors participate in a structured training program which is most intense during the first half-year after new associates arrive (though juniors participate as second-years and above too). There are “sessions every one or two weeks” which (for litigators) cover topics like writing, document production and drafting responses. Seminars are webcast, so juniors in all offices can participate. Extra training is provided at departmental retreats and during the three-day new associates induction in Philly.
A typical junior told us: “Most of the partners and seniors are really good at teaching and will explain things to me – even if we are on a client call!” Another added: “Sometimes you do have to seek out evaluations, but many individuals will redline my work so I can see what their writing preferences are. Others are happy to turn off their clocks and spend half an hour discussing general issues related to several cases with me.” Read our Web Extras on Morgan Lewis for more info.
Morgan Lewis's four largest offices are Philadelphia, DC, New York and San Francisco. Next come Houston, Chicago, LA and Palo Alto, which have 50 to 70 attorneys each. The offices in Princeton, Pittsburgh, Miami, Irvine, Boston, Dallas, Harrisburg and Wilmington are smaller still.
The Philadelphia office is at a prime downtown location at 17th and Market. The cafeteria, gym, conference rooms and public areas have recently been renovated, and the rest of the office “could use a little bit of an update too,” according to associates. In DC, Morgan Lewis occupies all 14 floors of a Pennsylvania Avenue building. The lobby area houses a branch of the Zenith Art Gallery, which is open to the public and recommended in the Lonely Planet guide. One junior commented: “Some pieces are better than others, but maybe I just don't appreciate modern art!”
We were struck by the high level of integration between offices. “Almost every big matter involves attorneys from different offices,” said one junior. “Right now I am working with people from Houston, LA, New York and DC.” Cross-office contact is encouraged from an early stage as first-years from all offices congregate in Philadelphia for their induction. “Management makes a strong effort to have people work together across offices.”
As Morgan Lewis grows, “management is definitely trying to maintain and encourage a uniform culture,” associates told us. “It starts from the top down – bad behavior is not tolerated. Partners expect high-quality work and they expect associates to succeed. Some are more challenging to work with than others, but most try to promote a relaxed and informal approach.” There are national firmwide departmental retreats and frequent firm-sponsored social events in each office. “An effort is made to get everyone together socially,” one associate said. “Networking and social events give me the opportunity to meet people in other departments. There is a business pay-off to that – it encourages cross-referrals – but it also makes people happier.”
Most associates described an “easygoing vibe” in their office. “When people get in the elevator they chat together and people say 'hi' and smile even if they haven't met before,” said one junior. “You can talk to partners at social functions and I know all about the kids and interests of the people I work with.”
“We're definitely kept apprised of the firm's growth plans and expansion,” associates said. Morgan Lewis hired 170 lateral lawyers in 2012 (including 45 partners), mostly overseas but in the USA too. “The firm is proud to be working in a range of new areas, especially internationally,” one associate said. “But that isn't something that's affecting our core culture.” As with any expanding firm, it remains to be seen whether Morgan Lewis can retain the close integration within and between practice groups and offices, but management is certainly putting in the effort.
Hours & Compensation
While there is no official hours target, all our interviewees said they had “unofficially heard that the target you should aim to meet is 2,000 hours.” Indeed, many said “it is considered to be the baseline to get a bonus,” although that requirement “ebbs and flows” each year and depends on how busy an associate's department has been. The way bonuses are structured differs by office, but generally speaking, “there is a standardized element based on hitting a threshold amount of hours and a discretionary element based on performance.” Total bonuses are “generous” and typically above the Cravath market rate. Starting salaries vary from $140,000 in Miami and $145,000 in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to $150,000 in Princeton and $160,000 elsewhere.
In 2012, most of our interviewees had billed over 2,000 hours. “I work in a busy practice group and they expect me to be fully engaged,” one junior said. “I pay attention to my hours, but I don't feel negative pressure if I don't hit the mark, as long as I am making myself available.” Most juniors work either on the weekends or in the evenings on a regular basis. “Generally the hours have been pretty intense,” one said. “Some weeks I work a comfortable 45 to 60 hours, and then I might have a month where I work back-to-back late nights until 10pm or 11pm.” But associates did feel colleagues respected their need to have a good work/life balance.
Juniors “get a lot of opportunities to do pro bono” and the firm “challenges” every attorney to do at least 20 hours. Pro bono is counted as billable. “If you're working on a major pro bono case and it goes to trial it's fine if you spend 200 hours on it, but you do have to get your billable work done too.” Many of our interviewees had worked on asylum cases, but there are a variety of options on offer from education to corporate work. “We get a monthly e-mail with a listing of cases we can work on,” a Philadelphia associate reported. “We work closely with many legal services organizations who feed us cases, including the Support Center for Child Advocates.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 75,711
- Average per US attorney: 58.3
“Diversity is something the firm cares about and which it is trying to improve,” associates agreed. “There are a lot of women!” one associate observed. This is especially true in Philadelphia where nearly 45% of all attorneys are female according to 2013 NALP statistics. Minority groups are “well represented,” although juniors noted the firm needs to work on its retention of ethnic minority associates.
A firmwide diversity committee works on various initiatives and every two years it organizes a diversity conference in Philadelphia. “It is open to everyone from a 'diverse' background, and all members of upper management attend.” Philadelphia associates also made note of the active women's group. “It provides mentoring and organizes regular events, like guest speaker lectures and panel discussions on topics like succeeding as a woman and work/life balance.”
During OCIs and callbacks recruiters use behavior-based interview techniques to assess five skills criteria: client service, communication skills, teamwork, analytical ability, plus industry and responsibility levels. Interviewers receive intensive training and questions are tailored to each student's resume. “Interviewers try to find out what a candidate is interested in and what their experiences have been,” one associate reported. Associates are judged on their past experiences, and how well they can talk about those experiences during the interview.
Morgan Lewis has revamped its summer program for 2013: only half of summers are doing a full ten weeks with the firm. A quarter are spending up to four weeks of the summer with a public service organization, as part of the long-standing Public Interest and Community Service (PICS) program. Another quarter will do an externship with a firm client, as part of a new program which was successfully piloted in 2012.
Strategy & Future
“The firm has a clear vision,” associates agreed. “It is getting a strong toe-hold in new markets and tying together its different practice groups into a cohesive package of services.” Morgan Lewis is also expanding what services it offers and where it offers them. Lateral hires overseas and in Chicago and Houston are evidence of this. One associate commented: “Being able to grow the firm as rapidly as we have says something about our market strength and about our business savvy. We are expanding in areas like energy which are resilient to the current economic woes.”
Firm chairman Fran Milone confirms that energy is a key area of expansion, along with IP, healthcare and white-collar litigation. The focus on these areas is reflected in recent lateral hires: in early 2013, IP partner Eric Namrow joined the DC office and environment partner Christopher Amandes came on board in Houston. “Lateral growth is not separate from everything else we are doing,” Milone affirms, and we would expect to see more hires in the areas mentioned above in the near future.