Baker & McKenzie - The Inside View

Global legal brands don't get much bigger than Baker & McKenzie.

ASSOCIATES at Chicago-born globetrotter Baker & McKenzie reported that “not only do we get the chance to regularly work with colleagues around the world, but the firm has also invested extensively in programs that allow us to move between offices.” The firm's sheer size and rapid expansion have created a hugely diverse organization: “We're not aiming for all of our offices to be uniform,” confirms North America managing partner Rick Hammett. “We hold separate events for new associates, mid-levels, seniors and partners. It means that our lawyers can discuss the challenges and opportunities they face with colleagues who are up against the same situations.”

Though Baker & McKenzie continues to broaden its reach – now boasting over 4,200 attorneys in 77 offices across the globe – the past few years have focused far more on integrating existing operations. One of the nation's leading tax outfits, Baker's eight US offices work in conjunction with their colleagues overseas to assist multinational corporations based at home and abroad. Chambers USA highly ranks a range of domestic and international practices including tax, climate change, litigation, immigration, international trade and arbitration, outsourcing, and cross-border M&A. “Though we're known as a Chicago firm, every office has its own market to cover and expertise to add," associates told us. "We're always working across offices to help clients whose interests take them here, there and everywhere, so Baker feels much more like a global entity than a Chicago firm with regional satellites.”

Training & Development

“Partners and associates take a real interest in training you.”

Though practice groups hold orientation meet-ups to get rookies up to speed, the vast majority of their substantive legal training comes on the job. Monthly cross-office webinars and annual reviews help to fill in any gaps along the way. As of 2015, each new associate is assigned a formal mentor as well as a small budget which “allows you to meet once or twice a month over lunch.” But it's the informal mentoring that had our insiders really licking their lips. “Partners and associates take a real interest in training you,” gushed one. “Some like to check in regularly, whereas others prefer to brief you and then talk over assignments when you're done. People have different styles, but whatever the method, when something big comes in Baker does a good job of limiting those face-drop moments.” 

The Work 

As the firm's biggest department, it's no surprise that a sizable portion of juniors join the tax team. Here they take on a mix of both planning and controversy matters. Planning helps large corporations – usually those with parent companies in the USA and a number of international subsidiaries – to restructure their financial framework in such a way that minimizes clients' tax obligations. Such necessities often arise out of mergers, which for large clients “can entail subsidiaries in up to 60 different jurisdictions.” Controversy focuses more on clients' relationship with the IRS, and the firm regularly defends corporations' stated positions in disputed tax returns and filings. Insiders in both groups typically begin with “very discrete research issues,” but “as you progress you learn to see more of global picture, and think more about how corporations should approach their tax obligations. Once you've started developing that more contextual oversight, you'll notice your client involvement opportunities begin to grow.”

“It's not uncommon to spend your morning on a conference call with clients in three different continents.”

Elsewhere, rookies are split between the corporate & securities, IP, litigation, international commercial, compensation & employment, or banking & finance/major projects practices. Corporate greenhorns are encouraged to work as generalists, though opportunities arise “predominantly on cross-border M&A transactions and internal reorganizations.” The latter of the two involves dealing with the logistics of moving money, shares and employees to assist the tax planning team's cost-cutting wizardry. “Reorganization work is probably the front runner for Baker's corporate department,” but it's an area the drew a few grumbles for being “a fairly dull money spinner.” That said, it does provide ample opportunity for international involvement: rookies had kept busy with “a lot of document drafting to set up foreign companies,” and “it's not uncommon to spend your morning on a conference call with clients in three different continents.”

Most of our corporate callers had started off as part of an assignment pool, whereas those in tax and disputes had been taken in by a partner whose practice met their interests. Juniors are still free to scout out work from elsewhere. “It's the type of place where everyone does their best to accommodate your preferences,” the majority agreed. “The goal is for everyone to be happy, so if you can communicate which clients or transactions you're interested in then people will try and make it happen.”


"Negotiating timezones to fit in calls is just a fact of life.” 

Associates who clock up 2,000 hours are eligible for a bonus. Most overshoot that mark, though “extenuating circumstances are always taken into account. If the work's not there then you certainly won't be ushered out the back door.” There's a bit of an East/West divide when it comes to facetime expectations. In New York, “you're expected to be here at least ten hours per day,” and those in DC sighed: “If it's a bad week then you're not leaving. Working from home isn't really an option.” California sources felt “no expectation to be sat in your seat at 8pm,” and Chicago is similarly “a little more chilled than New York,” with most shooting home before 7pm and putting in an hour or two remotely in the evening. Those interested in joining Baker & McKenzie should be aware that “whichever office you end up in you'll inevitably pull some strange hours at some point. We're a global firm, so negotiating time zones to fit in calls is just a fact of life.”

Over the course of our research, Baker's 'unlimited vacation' policy (which sounds great on the face of it) was a recurring gripe. One insider moaned: “You can take it when you're free, or so they say, but there's always work to be done! I wish there was a more formal policy.”

Pro Bono

Associates felt that pro bono is very much viewed as additional to paying matters, so volunteers should be aware that “you have to manage it around your existing commitments. No room will be made in your schedule at the expense of billed time.” Nevertheless, most of our sources had war stories to share.

"You have to manage it around your existing commitments."

Palo Alto interviewees liked the fact that “much of what we do relates to local municipal law. Representing nonprofit organizations in land use disputes can be extremely rewarding, as you feel like a force for good in your community.” In Chicago, several sources had worked on U visa cases for victims of domestic violence, whereas those in DC had capitalized on the firm's strong ties with the Public International Law & Policy Group. This peace negotiation nonprofit proved particularly popular, as “it sometimes stages mock arbitrations in the office for associates to have a crack at.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: undisclosed
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Offices & Culture

Baker's Chicago hub, which featured in the movie Transformers 4, looms over the Millennium Park and offers associates “waterside views of Lake Michigan” from their desks. As if that wasn't enough, there's also a reflecting pond on its 50th floor lobby, supposedly to wow clients with its Zen-like charm. “Sometimes it's hard to see the water as it's so smooth,” revealed one source. “Several people have even stepped into it, thinking it was a marble floor!” The Windy City heart is big on tax and corporate & securities, but offers a full breadth of other services too. “San Francisco and New York are similarly wide-ranging,” one insider explained, “but in smaller offices like Miami or Dallas the choice is a bit more limited.”

"For us to prosper it's important to put faces to names.”

Fortunately associates get plenty of opportunities to compare notes, because as one noted: “Baker goes out of its way to bring together its attorneys. We do a lot of cross-office work, and the firm recognizes that for us to prosper it's important to put faces to names.” Beyond annual practice area gatherings, associates have access to a number of social meet-ups based on their position in the hierarchy. “We hold separate events for new associates, mid-levels, seniors, and partners,” North America MP Rick Hammett explains. “It means that our lawyers can discuss the challenges they face with colleagues who are up against the same difficulties.” As one Chicago insider corroborated: “Knowing that you can pick up your phone and seek advice from colleagues nationwide has been a big perk.”

Further afield, summer associates have the option to spend a few weeks abroad in one of the firm's sister offices, and fully-fledged associates can even jet off for between three months and two years thanks to Baker's 'Associate Training Program.' “There are always one or two ATPs visiting at any one time,” according to one New Yorker. “We've had Polish, Mexican and Australian colleagues pass through the office, which is a great way to build up your global contact list.” 

Get Hired

"Applicants must be able to convince us that they're team players."

As a behemoth of the BigLaw global league, Baker & McKenzie prizes candidates who are willing to embrace international opportunities. Grades are a given, and those wishing to impress at interview “must be able to convince us that they're team players,” says hiring partner Scott Brandman. “You're just as likely to collaborate with a team the next floor up as you are with another US office, or even an office on another continent. We invest time and resources into promoting a global culture that makes Baker an enjoyable place to work, and we want people who will fit into that.” Those boasting foreign language skills, previous international work experience, or notable team-based achievements should take note.


"There are always colleagues of different nationalities passing through."

With so many offices across the globe “Baker is inherently diverse,” and rookies relished the fact that “there are always colleagues of different nationalities passing through.” When it comes to recruitment, insiders had noticed “a big effort to address the gender gap,” with those in the Windy City particularly reassured by the presence of “a lot of young female partners,” and a 50:50 female/male split at associate level. Ethnic minority hiring is “not where is should be,” and respondents highlighted a “fairly inactive” affinity group network as an area in need of improvement. That being said, New Yorkers were encouraged by the establishment of diversity round table events for 1Ls, which “are full of useful panels and discussions to help to address the industry's shortcomings.”

Strategy & Compensation

Baker Mac's expansive international network incorporates a Swiss Verein structure, which keeps offices financially independent. In last year's Inside View, associates had noted a shift toward economic unity, with offices increasingly sharing work instead of hoarding it. This year there were further developments, the most notable being the implementation of a universal North American bonus structure. “Before every office had a different compensation policy,” recounted one DC caller, “so if you made your hours then you were more-or-less guaranteed a certain bonus amount. Now first years can earn more depending on the number of hours they've billed and their profitability, among other considerations.” One New Yorker grumbled that "the firm could have communicated the particularities of the change a little better.”

"Expansion in New York and the Bay Area."

The truth is that the move forms part of Baker's overarching strategy to grow its North American offering. “First and foremost we're a global law firm,” Rick Hammett explains, “and we'll continue to look at investing in emerging markets to better serve our clients. To better serve our global platform our focus at the moment is to dramatically increase our North American presence. We see real opportunity in pushing expansion in New York and the Bay Area.” A New Yorker added: “Our Chicago office is definitely more established than New York, and we'd like to compete with other New York firms for elite work and clients to put those standings on a level setting.”

Baker's movers and shakers: travel opportunities at Baker & McKenzie

Year-on-year Baker Mac reins in the plaudits for providing its worldly associates with a wealth of overseas opportunities. We spoke to hiring partner Scott Brandman to find out how itchy-footed hopefuls can get in on the action.

Chambers Associate: Have there been any changes to Baker's recruitment process in the past year?

Scott Brandman: When it comes to numbers, we've slightly increased the size of our summer associate program. We'll be welcoming more 2L summers into the firm than we did last year, but the increase has also been partly driven by a resurrection in 1L hiring.

CA: Has the summer programme undergone any alterations?

SB: A big focus for us in all upcoming classes will be to have summer associates work increasingly across offices, particularly within North America. Our partners and associates work with colleagues across the world on a daily basis, and to provide a truly representative impression of life here, we'd like that to be better reflected in our summer program.

We run a North American summer associate training program, where all starters from our Toronto and US offices come together in Chicago to meet one another and undergo a few training sessions. Traditionally, we've organised this to fall in the second or third week of the summer program. Now, we're moving it forward to the first week, to ensure that our Firm's culture of global collaboration is instilled in our attorneys from the start.

CA: Are there any opportunities for summers to meet up with colleagues further afield?

SB: Students can apply for our international clerkship program once they've received a summer associate offer. The clerkship program allows summers to split their summer between a domestic host office and an international one. Those who are interested need to let us know in advance, but there are always a few that jet off every year.

The program is a particularly good bet for 2L summers who also spent their 1L summer with us. Heading abroad on your second summer here is advantageous because the junior will already have spent a decent amount of time in one of our offices. 2Ls who haven't spent their previous summer with us could find such a program difficult, as they won't have much time to get settled in either office.

CA: That's a good tip considering 1L hiring is on the rise. What exactly is driving the resurrection of 1L recruitment?

SB: 1L hiring is market driven: Baker and many other firms moved away from it quite a few years ago. Our success rate in hiring is already extremely high, but we feel that we can offer associates so much more if they spend both summers with us. Programs like the international clerkship provide an opportunity to experience the truly global nature of our Firm..

CA: How about further down the line? Any other travel opportunities you'd like to flag up?

SB: The Associate Training Program (ATP) provides all of our lawyers with the opportunity to spend anywhere between three months and two years in one of our offices outside North America. Inbound and outbound, the exchanges are constantly ongoing. Everyone recognizes the benefit that comes with having a candid understanding of another market. In fact, many of our most successful partners have partaken in the program.

ATP is an internationally-focused program, but we also move associates between domestic offices if certain projects or personal situations warrant it. We collaborate across our offices every day, so whether someone is based in San Francisco or New York does not make a significant difference in how we deliver service to our clients.

Baker & McKenzie

300 East Randolph Street,
IL 60601

  • Head Office: N/A
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 70
  • Worldwide revenue: $2.43 billion
  • Partners (US): 321
  • Associates (US): 318
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3076/week for all US offices, except $2500/week in Miami
  • 2Ls: $3076/week for all US offices, except $2500/week in Miami
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case 
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes, through our International Clerkship Program
  • Summers 2016: 42 (includes Toronto office)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 37 offers, 33 acceptances (includes Toronto office)

Main areas of work
Antitrust and competition, banking and finance, dispute resolution, employment, environment and climate change, intellectual property, IT/communications, energy, mining and infrastructure, mergers and acquisitions, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, private equity, real estate, securities, tax, trade and commerce.

Firm profile
For more than 60 years, Baker & McKenzie has provided sophisticated advice and legal services to many of the world’s most dynamic and successful organizations. Baker & McKenzie serves more than half of the world’s largest public companies as well as a broad spectrum of regional and local organizations. With more than 4,400 locally qualified, internationally experienced lawyers in 47 countries, the firm has the fluency to deliver a broad scope of quality legal services — consistently, with confidence and sensitivity for cultural, social and legal practice differences. Baker & McKenzie professionals share common values of integrity, personal responsibility and tenacity in an enthusiastic client-service culture. The firm is still guided by the entrepreneurial spirit and demanding standards of its founders and works to forge close personal relationships among its professionals in order to foster the responsiveness and accountability clients rightfully expect. The firm has a diverse and welcoming culture. Its lawyers and other professionals are citizens of more than 60 countries and are admitted to practice in nearly 250 jurisdictions. They have offices in 77 locations worldwide, including in 26 of the world’s 30 largest economies. Baker & McKenzie also invests in communities where its people live and work and is a pioneer in teaming with its clients on corporate social responsibility efforts worldwide.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 32
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 in most offices
• Clerking policy: Case by case

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Baker & McKenzie is committed to recruiting the highest caliber of talent for their Summer Associate Program. Particularly, they take great strides in recruiting at more than 30 distinctive law schools.

Summer details
Summer program components:
The Summer Associate Program is designed to introduce law students to the practice of law at Baker & McKenzie. Every effort is made to expose summer associates to all aspects of the firm’s practice by receiving substantive legal work, professional training and networking opportunities. In addition, international clerkship opportunities are available for summer associates to gain meaningful work experience, aligned with their practice focus and intercultural experience, through a secondment in another office outside of North America.