“You're gonna get opportunities here that you never would at a bigger firm.” 

"There are very few attorneys that stand out as superstars, because most people are exceptional.”

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP


Mighty minnow MTO regularly outswims far bigger fish to catch the best hires and land the juiciest assignments...

MTO's lawyers generally are some of the sharpest in the land (in the nicest possible sense). Even by BigLaw standards it's highly selective about who it plucks from the sea of applicants each student-fishing season. MTO boasts, for example, a high number of PhDs and former clerks among its ranks (in fact 70% of attorneys once clerked for federal judges, and 17 individuals for Supreme Court Justices). Moreover, two of MTO's lawyers were hooked by President Obama in 2013 to fill seats on the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – not bad for a sub-200 attorney outfit with only two offices (both of which are a fishing rod or two's distance from the ocean).

Known for its litigation prowess, MTO achieves top rankings in several litigation and media & entertainment practices in Chambers USA. Its client list is like a who's who of Hollywood, including Warner Bros., Universal and Capitol Records. There are also rankings for the corporate/M&A, labor & employment and tax groups in California. Managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones says: “We've never been a firm only focused on litigation. There is a lot of cross-pollination between departments.” Some of MTO's biggest recent work highlights were again representing longtime client Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway in various investments. Read more about Buffett's close pal and MTO founder Charlie Munger in our Web Extras.

Associates Say

The Work 

Most junior associates by far in LA, and all in San Fran, join the litigation group; a handful in LA join the corporate team. "So you're either in general corporate or general litigation, and within each are partners that have expertise and you can align yourself with them to develop your own interests," an associate explained. Specializing in one or two areas is tricky for junior associates, as it's "all hands on deck." Interviewees in the smallish corporate group said: "There is scope with the different work available to fill up your plate with things you like." However, "you don’t really have the ability to say no to the megadeals. If after a couple of years you want to specialize, it can be difficult. This is something you should think about as an applicant. We have areas of expertise, of course, but it can be difficult to do exclusively one type of work." A litigator added phlegmatically: “The system suits a certain character. Remember, it can be more difficult to become a specialist here, but on the other hand you can be an expert in several areas.”

Munger's approximate 1:1 partner-associate ratio also contributes to this generalist work environment, as there simply aren't phalanxes of associates available to split up and take on the different types of work that come through the door. A litigation junior explained: "The original Munger model is that you come in as generalists, although you're starting to see increasing amounts of people finding their niche in the firm, developing skills and specialist knowledge that's unique to particular areas." Another said: "I think the way the system works is good, especially for junior attorneys. It gives them the opportunity to come in and test the waters and figure out what they like." This "alleviates pressure" compared to the alternative model at some firms of joining a specific subgroup from day one: "For a junior attorney, that's specializing without really knowing anything! That's why I like the generalist model." That said, we heard that patent and employment lawyers at Munger do tend to specialize a bit earlier than most.

There's a free-market system for getting work. Litigators receive their first assignments from a coordinator and are, to a certain extent, monitored during their first months. Corporate associates liked their informal system: “We're small enough that's it's never a faceless conglomerate. There are only about eight partners, and it's always going to be you and a partner on a typical deal. To have work formally directed would be stifling.” However, "at least in corporate, the same partners tend to come back to you, and it's unclear what work is going around. I think there could be more transparency." Litigators reported the importance of e-mail and informal meetings to sourcing work: "A lot of people just e-mail the partners to express an interest. We aren't leveraged – you don't have to answer to a senior associate who's a layer between you and the partners." At firm lunches, "you'll often sit next to a partner and sometimes you end up having conversations with just about everyone. Generally you can approach people quite easily." For more on work and responsibility levels, read our Web Extras online.

Training & Development 

“There's the initial three-day orientation, but otherwise there's no formal training program,” associates pointed out. “It's the Munger way. You need to hit the ground running, which can be scary, especially if you're fresh out of law school. The legend at Munger is that most come here after clerkships, so know lots of stuff. But lots of people do come straight out of law school too, so opportunities for more training would definitely be beneficial." Despite the lack of formal training, the firm does arrange a well-structured program of informal events such as a new associate retreat, lunches for new attorneys ('Lunch and Learns'), lectures and sessions on topics like witness interviewing and drafting.

If associates are interested in external training, Munger will likely fund it, “but it's really about learning on the job.” Partner and cochair of the Recruitment Committee Sean Eskovitz says: “We hold numerous in-house training events and bring in outside experts, such as NITA for deposition training. In addition, our associates consistently work closely with senior lawyers. Given our 1:1 partner-associate ratio, there is a natural mentorship structure in place.”

Offices 

The LA office is downtown in Bunker Hill, in the Wells Fargo Center. “We're quite high up in the building and have beautiful views overlooking the Hollywood Hills.” The corporate team is "kinda clustered on two floors, but everyone else is mixed together throughout the floors." Appearance-wise, “it's less modern-looking and more mahogany, as it's a slightly older office.” All associates have their own office and “consistent with the Munger democratic ethos, there are no corner offices.”

San Franciscans are on the 27th and 28th floors of a 40-story building, “with beautiful Bay views.” Interviewees were particularly pleased with the newly created snacks area: “There's some great chocolate on offer. We also get bagels on Friday, which is awesome.” People in both offices felt "united" with each other. An LA junior said of San Fran colleagues: "They are very present. We have firm lunches in which they're always present on the TV monitor. And firmwide meetings are truly firmwide – during hiring decisions, diversity discussions, everything... San Francisco is on the monitor. We travel a lot too." Another said: "San Francisco is growing. It used to be quite small but the perception is it's getting much larger. I think they are trying to make the unity of the firm relatively seamless."

Culture 

“From its very inception, Munger has prided itself on equality,” interviewees told us of the firm's "democratic" ethos. “There are lots of examples – the 1:1 partner-associate ratio, for starters. Naturally you're aware of the partners, but there are no corner offices, you work with them daily and associates' opinions really matter.” Unusually, for example, the entire firm – associates and partners alike – votes on all those hired full-time. “Everyone evaluates each candidate, particularly the summers. It's so important to find the right fit.”

Part of that 'fit' is finding the best of the best. “We look for and have some of the best lawyers in the country,” one claimed. “There are very few attorneys that stand out as superstars here, because most people are exceptional.” Several agreed the vibe of the firm was almost academic: “There are certainly a lot of people walking around with PhDs and who are generally brilliant. But the nerdy enthusiasms are for things that are interesting, not for those who are impressed with themselves." Also, as "there are so many former clerks here, it's pretty run of the mill!"  

Hours & Compensation 

Munger officially has no billable requirement, “but everyone tries to telepathically determine what partners actually want,” interviewees admitted. We're told the firm favors "quality over quantity, but then hours are always discussed in reviews and taken into account for bonuses.” Most thought that “the window of 1,900 to 2,100 is about fine. We get a monthly update of everyone's hours, so you know what other people are doing.” Some felt the need for a concrete figure to aim for: “It would be really nice to have a less amorphous number,” they said. “The firm could still clarify its expectations without a formal number – an example of how much those promoted to partner have billed over the years, for instance.” The firm's official word is that there is no target; it's simply merit-based. Some were happy with this: “There's a lot of nonsense around billing targets at certain firms and it discourages efficient time. If you're smart, looking for work and filling your time with pro bono, you'll be fine.”

Hours-wise, “we probably aren't at the level of our New York counterparts, but this is still BigLaw. Weekend work is common. There will be 14 to 15-hour days; however, Munger does give great flexibility.” One junior recalled: “You walk the halls of the office at 7pm, and you'll hardly see anyone. Lots of people have rules for being home for dinner with their families and it's totally fine.” Another added: “No-one's monitoring where you are, and it's so easy to log on from home.” Associates also assured us that they genuinely take their vacations.

Pro Bono 

“MTO is absolutely committed to pro bono and the opportunities here are really amazing,” associates agreed. “The firm really supports pro bono and is sincere about it." The stats back this up – lawyers racked up a whopping 61.5 hours each on average last year. All pro bono hours count toward billable totals. “Everyone does something. A lot of partners do a significant amount. You have to make sure you're giving back to the community.” There are both corporate and litigation projects to take on, including licensing and developing agreements for startups, working with NGOs, supporting foster children, and asylum cases. “We also work with KIND [Kids in Need of Defense], representing children in immigration cases.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all offices: 11,064 
  • Average per attorney: 61.5

Diversity 

Munger consistently scores highly in various diversity tables, and associates agreed: “Although it's a challenge for all firms, Munger is placing a priority on diversity.” Munger supports a 1L diversity program and other projects, and there is a firm diversity committee. “The partnership is still heavily laden with white males, but there are a couple of young, diverse partners who are very involved.” Women are also doing well in the partnership, and interviewees said: “Munger makes real efforts to support women." Of the four partners made in 2013, three were female and in 2014 this rose to 100%, as two out of two promoted to partner were female. There's a day-care center on-site and “generous parental leave” policies.

Get Hired 

Unsurprisingly, Munger “looks for the trifecta: where you went to school, top grades and demonstration of leadership.” Sean Eskovitz says: “We look for demonstration of academic excellence, a strong work ethic and leadership potential. We hire nationally, but focus primarily on the top national schools. We have several lawyers from the top California law schools, including Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and USC. We genuinely look at candidates from other schools as well. If applicants have excelled in competitive environments and demonstrated other extraordinary qualities, we are always very interested in a application.”

Alongside academics, MTO looks for strong analytical ability and presentation skills, as well as for candidates who “really enjoy the law and are excited about ideas,” Eskovitz continues. “Most of our people thrived in law school and love intellectual pursuits,” associates agreed. “That doesn't mean we're strange and antisocial though! Munger also wants to see that 'sparkling' personality.” For more about getting hired, see our website.

Strategy & Future 

“In terms of trial work, we've had a blockbuster year,” says managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones. “We represented Transocean in federal court in New Orleans over the oil spill, JC Penney in the case involving Martha Stewart Living, Philip Morris in a class action case in San Diego, and in a federal court case in Minnesota on behalf of Wells Fargo. One of our lawyers argued in the Supreme Court, in a case for Abbott Laboratories." On the transactional side, "we handled the Berkshire Hathaway acquisition of Heinz, which was obviously a gigantic food deal." Other big news includes partner Jeff Bleich returning to the firm in 2013 after his stint as US Ambassador to Australia. 

International expansion is one area of growth. "Although we handle several multijurisdictional cases, we want to expand our capabilities. Jeff's experience in Australia will be of great help. We also hope to grow our presence in Silicon Valley.”


Key Facts

Largest US office: Los Angeles

US offices:

International offices: 0

First-year salary: $160,000 

Billable hours: no requirement

Summers 2014: 30 (25 2Ls, 1 3L)

Revenue 2013: $247.4 million (+16%)

Partners made in 2014:

Chambers USA Rankings

    Band 1
  • Litigation
    ( California )
  • Media & Entertainment
    ( California )
  • Band 2
  • Antitrust
    ( California )
  • Corporate/M&A
    ( Southern California )
  • Energy & Natural Resources
    ( California )
  • Labor & Employment
    ( California )
  • Tax
    ( California )
  • Band 3
  • Securities
    ( Nationwide )
  • Band 4
  • Real Estate
    ( California )

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 (%)
Women2342
White8074
Black/African American13
Hispanic/Latin American53
Asian1515
Mixed/Other06
LGBT53

Recent Work Highlights

  • Defending Google in a patent infringement suit filed by Unwired Planet alleging the infringement of ten patents
  • Representing Bank of America in the $10.5 billion suit filed by AIG
  • Acting for Capitol Records in a suit brought by the estate of Ricky Nelson
  • Representing the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA to form a YouTube art channel
  • Advised Berkshire Hathaway in its $500 million acquisition of mail-order toy and novelty vendor Oriental Trading Co.