Baker McKenzie - The Inside View

Baker may have dropped the ampersand from its name, but nothing else has been edited out from this global firm's offering.

“YOU have to think anyway, so why not think big?” So quipped a certain new political figure. The new president's motivational saying might equally sum up Baker McKenzie. In the lists of the world's biggest firms, it always features near the top by both headcount and revenue. It houses over 13,000 employees in 77 offices dotted across the planet. Several associates we interviewed had “wanted to join a firm that emphasized their global operations,” and felt “Baker did that more than any other.”

Recently, this big firm's seen some big changes, dropping the '&' from its name as part of a worldwide re-branding exercise and appointing a new global chair, Paul Rawlinson. “The new management is doing a very good job dealing with issues as they come,” according to our associate interviewees. Top Chambers USA accolades for the firm's signature tax practice are the tip of an iceberg of rankings for numerous practice areas including corporate/M&A, litigation, employment, international trade, immigration, and outsourcing.

The Work

A sizable portion of juniors joins the tax or corporate & securities team, the rest heading into IP, international commercial, compensation & employment, banking & finance, or litigation & government enforcement. Projects are usually staffed by practice area rather than office, so juniors “can get work from the entire North American group” – many took advantage of this, but the majority focused on work from within their own base. The free market system can mean “there's not a lot of structure to allocation. It tends to be fairly informal,” with associates naturally slotting into work relationships with partners. “On the whole it's a good system,” according to our sources.

Baker's tax practice covers both transactional and litigation matters. The latter focuses on clients' relationship with the IRS, and the firm regularly defends corporations' stated positions in disputed tax returns and filings. There is some domestic work on offer, but lawyers typically “deal with clients with large global footprints: the firm's value is it's a one-stop shop for international issues.” Newcomers dive headfirst into brief and memo writing, background research and planning. Those we spoke to were frustrated that “some weeks I'll be twiddling my thumbs, others I'll bill 50 hours,” but felt “happy with the client contact side of things. Straight away it was more than I expected and my first thought when corresponding with them was 'oh, wow!'”

“I can get work from the entire North American group.”

Corporate encompasses M&A (frequently with a cross-border element), securities, capital markets and funds, as well as the firm's specialty of “global reorganization: not bankruptcy, but tax-oriented movement of money. Different offices do different things but by and large there's a big emphasis on reorganization.” International cases inevitably evolved as juniors slept, so each day they “woke to wade through a ton of emails!” Following this info-rich breakfast, an average day consisted of “drafting base agreements, attending to ancillary documents and running the diligence.” Varying responsibility levels meant some days were “happier” than others but sources acknowledged “it's necessary to learn the basics, you can't skip that experience.”

Newbies in compensation & employment revealed “on the global side we're doing much the same as juniors in corporate, helping with cross-border work and putting resources together.” The group has a hand in corporate transactions, as “if a union is involved in the acquisition we'll advise on that aspect.” Varied day-to-day tasks were “one reason why I've enjoyed what I've done so far,” said one junior, even if that included less desirable tasks like “a lot of not terribly complex document review.” Interviewees were disappointed to have had fairly little client contact, but noticed it increasing as they became more senior.

“I got to travel to Japan a couple of times.”

Litigation at Baker McKenzie is “mostly driven by big investigations”the firm handles commercial cases too but “compliance and criminal work are the bread and butter.” Associates tackled “a lot of document review and analysis, or preparing for interviews, depending on where the project was.” Though “some partners micromanage more than others,” juniors got “a surprising amount of responsibility straight away; even when the stakes are higher and I have less I'm never shut out.” The international nature of the work sometimes necessitated a spell abroad; one interviewee “got to travel to Japan a couple of times” for one case alone.

Offices & Culture

The firm's Chicago hub featured in Transformers: Age of Extinction, but don't let that put you off. It's just far enough to the edge of the city's main 'Loop' that attorneys “feel nicely separated from the hustle and bustle, but it's a bummer to commute.” Glass doors proved “divisive – they provide natural light but no privacy,” but overall it's “a good, modern space.” Baker McKenzie DC sits in a “trophy location looking over the White House, it's an awesome place to work,” while New Yorkers are right next to Bryant Park. Down in Texas, the Houston office is in the “iconic” Bank of America Center. Dallas is in the process of relocating to new digs.Summer associates have the option to spend a few weeks abroad in one of the firm's sister offices, and fully-fledged associates can also jet off overseas thanks to Baker's 'Associate Training Program.'

“The firm seems smaller than it actually is.”

Undaunted by the scale of the Baker McKenzie network, juniors told us they “talk with everyone all the time – the firm seems smaller than it actually is.” Most felt “there is an overarching culture, they've done a good job pushing for a one firm mentality,” but noted “each office does have its own flavor.” For instance, “Chicago is a bit stuffier than other places, perhaps as it's the HQ.” On the other hand, there's “a distinctive California vibe” in Palo Alto and San Francisco: “It's good they're trying to maintain that.” Wherever they were, juniors got the impression “management make an effort to be transparent” about future growth and strategy, “but it's a big firm, and that will always be a hurdle.”

Though it's “not firm policy that you have to hang out with your colleagues, everyone's amicable if not good friends,” associates told us. “Outside of work-related functions there's not always a ton of people socializing together.”  They were happy to get opportunities to let their hair down, even if Baker Mac lacks a “huge party culture.” Appropriately for a Chicago-born firm, pizza played a role in many social stories, from “associate pizza nights and happy hours” in Houstonto a DC “goodbye party for a colleague when we went bowling and for a pizza.” Sources told us that certain partners display “no sense of hierarchy at all – some still show up to associate pizza night!” Admitting that “I wouldn't interact with a partner in the same way I would a fellow junior,” one interviewee explained: “It's not like 'Mr' this and 'Ma'am' that, interaction with partners is usually much more low key and I feel comfortable cracking jokes with some of them.”

Training & Development

Newcomers immediately noticed “one thing Baker does best is putting on a lot of conferences,” which play a big role in associate training: “It's really nice in a place as big as Baker to see the faces of the people we're emailing.” Each office hosts “fairly regular” internal CLEs which “tend to be on practice group-specific topics.” Some interviewees felt “you need to get your hands wet to really learn to do something,” and thus appreciated on-the-go training that acts “more as constructive criticism than patting you on the back.”

“Feedback goes both ways.”

Asked if they got regular work feedback, one diplomatic junior suggested “that's not the strongest of our strengths,” but felt “very comfortable with my superiors, and if there were a problem, I'd know.” Monthly cross-office webinars and annual reviews help to fill in any gaps, while the firm also runs a mentoring system wherein juniors have quarterly check-ins with an assigned partner. Most sources were “happy overall, it seems people let you know if you've done something incorrectly or there's something to work on,” and were pleased to note “feedback goes both ways” so they could let partners know how helpful they'd been.


Associates felt Baker McKenzie is “fairly diverse for a large firm,” with the caveat “it is mostly white lawyers at the very top.” Juniors suggested “the international nature of the firm helps diversity,” as lawyers globe trot across different offices. Nonetheless, like at many peer firms, some felt there has been “a struggle for ethnic diversity.” Fortunately, there are corrective initiatives in place including a global diversity and inclusion committee; one source predicted “we'll see the fruits of their labors within the next few years.” Associates were much more positive about gender balance; a female interviewee “constantly saw people like me that I could identify with in leadership positions.” The firm recently appointed Anna Brown as its new North American director of diversity and inclusion, and in 2017 close to 40% of its US partner promotions were women.

“I constantly saw people like me that I could identify with in leadership positions.”

Hours & Pro Bono

Associates who clock up 2,000 hours are eligible for a bonus. “For most that's pretty achievable,” though multiple interviewees reportedthat “it varies by practice group. One bad month where you're significantly under-target can derail you.” Corporate associates in particular saw “no trouble hitting the 2,000. I've had bad months but no real problems and overall the hours have been good.” There was some grumbling about lack of information on bonus payouts, but associates commended the firm for “realizing how important it is we match market” and swiftly meeting the nationwide BigLaw rise to a $180,000 and up starting salary. “Everyone's pleased they didn't give us the run around.” The firm's 'unlimited' vacation policy also drew mixed feedback; several juniors saw it as “a way to discourage vacation” while others argued “it's totally fine, we don't get judged for taking breaks.”

“Though it can be emotionally difficult, the work is extremely rewarding.”

There's “never a shortage of opportunities” to do pro bono at Baker McKenzie, though sources' overall impression was that “people are happy for you to do it, but there's no huge expectation or requirement.” Many of those who'd got stuck in had handled immigration cases (some prompted by President Trump's executive orders), while other opportunities included work for disability organizations, youth homelessness charities and corporate pro bono.

Matters are coordinated by two pro bono partners “who are very committed and do a ton of great work,” juniors told us. “Though it can be emotionally difficult, the work is extremely rewarding. It's a very different challenge.” Associates can count 100 hours of pro bono toward their billable target. A few interviewees opined that “it would be nice for more to count toward the target, as it's the easiest way to make up hours when billable work is slow,” but realized “there needs to be a limit or people would start to avoid paying work!” Some dedicated their time to volunteering work with local organizations instead of legal pro bono.

Pro bono hours

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

Strategy & Future

So why did Baker McKenzie drop its '&'? Rick Hammett, the firm's North America managing partner, explains “we were known to many simply as Baker McKenzie already, so it made sense. We've continued to have the strongest global law brand in the world while strengthening our brand recognition in the US.” Alongside the branding shift, Paul Rawlinson became the firm's first British global chair in 2016. With the re-branding complete, Rick Hammett tells us to expect further growth from Baker McKenzie going forward: “There are no specific new offices in the pipeline at this point, but I definitely see us continuing to grow into new markets both in North America and globally. In particular, I see us growing in New York.”

“In particular, I see us growing in New York.”

Interview with North American managing partner Rick Hammett

Chambers Associate: What have been the most exciting things that Baker McKenzie has done over the past year?

Rick Hammett: The firm has continued to grow even through a period of soft market demand, both in terms of headcount and revenue. Our productivity has increased even as the market has slowed down, reflecting our focus on both clients and legal talent, and our innovative approach to both.

Most exciting from an external perspective is the change in our logo, and we've continued to have the strongest global law brand in the world while strengthening our brand recognition in the US. The new logo is bold and innovative, but maintains the simplicity of the previous one. We were known to many simply as Baker McKenzie already, so it made sense to drop the '&'. We're also doing a number of exciting things from an innovation standpoint: we've been working on some exciting technological innovations that impact how we use our sophisticated shared services centres in Belfast and Manila.

Baker McKenzie has always had a fabulous global platform that's very different to other international firms, as ours has developed organically over 65 years and we've been working in most markets for decades. What I personally focus on is connecting the North American offices to that global platform, and whether or not we're providing the services that the firm as a whole needs. Business has changed – where global practices were once the product of US firms expanding internationally, the market has now evolved and we've seen success adapting to that.

CA: Given how large the firm has already grown, do you see further expansion and new offices in future?

RH: I certainly do. There are no specific new offices in the pipeline at this point, but I definitely see us continuing to grow into new markets both in North America and globally. We're constantly assessing client need, and in fact I was on a call this morning talking through how we might evolve in future to meet that. We'll also have a focus on improving our presence in existing markets. In particular, I see us growing in New York – we've grown substantially there over the last few years, and we'll continue to focus on expansion there in transactional practices in particular.

CA: How will the new presidency affect the legal market? What practice areas do you see growth in as a result?

RH: Anybody who could accurately predict that would make a lot of money! In any case, there will be change and wherever there is change, you'll need lawyers. I see our cybersecurity practice continuing to grow, and we can advise on regulatory changes and immigration policies. The biggest unknown will be how markets react in the long-term, right now things are strong but we'll wait and see how the legislative agenda affects that.

CA: How did you manage associate salary increases across the firm's many offices?

RH: We're committed to competing at the highest level for talent, and our strategy wholly accommodates that. The firm is committed to meeting market for compensation. There's already a lot of pressure to provide alternative fee arrangements and the like, and salary increases represented not only an investment in talent but also something to factor into running our business.

CA: What makes Baker McKenzie unique among law firms?

RH: Clearly, the biggest factor is our global platform and the tremendous integration of offices and collaboration between partners that we have. The effort we put into developing those relationships both regionally and globally brings the firm together, so when you're on a phone call to a colleague they're not a stranger. Every partner class has a dinner together each year, and every practice group frequently gets together on a global level. That way, we know each other well enough to know who to put in the right place to best serve our clients. It's not just about the platform itself, but how relationships exist within it.

CA: If you could give one piece of advice to a student looking to go into the law, what would it be?

RH: The industry has changed so much. The number of students going to law school, the composition of classes, job opportunities... all have changed a lot in a very short period of time. We at Baker McKenzie offer a culture and environment within which almost everything you touch is global. The firm in no way ignores domestic issues and situations, but because our outlook is global, lawyers here feel like they're at the center of the universe and part of a tightly-knit matrix. We're not a typical BigLaw firm in how we operate – we're much more cohesive, and our different culture means that people rarely leave.

Looking at the industry as a whole, what you're going to see is a range of different opportunities, far more than once upon a time when you'd start at a firm as first year associate then simply move forward. What's going to happen as different providers of legal services grow is that some students will embrace traditional opportunities, others will find alternative routes into the profession – for instance, as companies develop their in-house departments. I'd advise a student to look at how the industry is changing, as I don't think it's merely cyclical but a fundamental paradigm shift.

Interview with hiring partner Scott Brandman

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.

Get Hired

“People we bring in will be academically qualified, the question is will they be a cultural fit – that's true of the interview process in general,” and true of many firms including Baker McKenzie. On the other hand, “what's different about Baker is that we're practice-group driven, we have certain specialties and are looking for people with interests that fall there,” and associates who've been involved in recruitment told us “I'll typically look for someone with a specific interest in a practice. When people come in just looking to get experience, that might not work out incredibly well for them.” One source did however suggest “it's not uncommon to not know where you want to go, and it's okay to be open.” In such cases it can be important to instead demonstrate commitment to the region you're applying in.

The firm's global reach means “international experience is helpful,” one associate going as far as to say “the most important thing to have is interest in international work and clients. It's hard to gain experience in that as a student without the benefit of a particular background, but we're looking for people passionate about it.” Other passion projects could prove more relevant than you'd expect– we heard one story about a candidate who'd “done bull riding, it was right at the bottom of the resume and that came up in interviews. It acted as a nice icebreaker!” Those less open to grabbing a bull by the horns can impress through more conventional means, be it writing for a journal or a clerkship.

When asked if there's anything they'd wished they'd known before joining the firm, one interviewee regretted “not really knowing that Baker's real strong arm is its global presence and interactions between its offices,” conveying the importance of communication skills to a wannabe Baker McKenzie attorney (a second language definitely can't hurt). Another suggested looking at the size of the office you're applying to as “that can be overlooked, and will come with pros and cons,” so have a think whether you'd feel more at home in the Chicago HQ or a smaller base elsewhere.

Baker McKenzie's overseas offices

The firm's international network is so vast, it's divided into four large regions: Asia Pacific, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia), Latin America and North America. Within the EMEA region alone, Baker McKenzie operates out of 26 different countries, and from cities that are not only global legal mainstays like London, Paris and Brussels, but more 'niche' locations including Prague (the Czech Republic), Doha (Qatar) and Casablanca (Morocco). Newest to the party is a Belfast offering, which opened in 2015. The Brussels office is the hub for the European and competition law group, focusing specifically on European Union policy. Other bases have different expertise: antitrust is a specialty of the four Germany offices, while the corporate team in Spain is a market leader.

In 1955 a Venezuelan lawyer pitched a joint venture with Baker McKenzie, establishing the firm's first international office. Since then, six more countries in Latin America have become home to Baker Mac offices. Four of these (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) form the Pacific Alliance, which collectively represents the eighth largest economy in the world and there's a strong likelihood that the region will hold significant economic clout in the near future. Baker McKenzie is the only firm to have offices in all four of the Pacific Alliance nations.

Establishing a strong presence in the mushrooming Asia-Pacific market has been a priority for many BigLaw firms, and Baker Mac is no exception. It boasts offices in 11 different countries in Asia alone, from the typical Beijing and Singapore outposts favored by many peers to offerings out of Jakarta (Indonesia), Yangon (Myanmar) and both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Baker McKenzie has a bigger operation in Thailand than any other firm full stop, and has worked on such massive projects in the Asia-Pacific region as the US$14 billion project financing of Taiwan's high-speed rail system. Chris Freeland, formerly the firm's Australia managing partner, is now in charge of the region as a whole.

Baker McKenzie's 'Associate Training Program' allows its attorneys to get a flavor for life in another jurisdiction, through a visit which could last as long as two years. Juniors we interviewed suggested this opportunity provides “the full immersion view” of international law work, and “it's a chance to enhance camaraderie on a firm-wide level,” consequently “there seems to be an atmosphere of everyone getting along together well” no matter where they happen to work.

Baker McKenzie

300 East Randolph Street,
IL 60601

  • Head Office: N/A
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 70
  • Worldwide revenue: $2.64 billion
  • Partners (US): 344
  • Associates (US): 342
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week for all US offices, except $2,786/week in Miami
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week for all US offices, except $2,786/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 2017: 51
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 36 offers, 32 acceptances

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: 34
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 in Dallas, Chicago, Houston, New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco/Palo Alto. $145,000 in Miami.
• Clerking policy: Case by case

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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.