Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP - The Inside View

You may have heard about Cadwalader's capital markets capabilities and tough culture (once upon a time), but what's it really like working at this Wall Street icon?

YOU don't become one of the juiciest worms in the Big Apple without a large appetite and plenty of wriggle. Yes, we're talking about Cadwalader. A fixture of the New York scene for nearly 225 years, the past couple of decades saw the firm establish itself as a national leader in capital markets and other transactional practices, in the process building itself a reputation for housing aggressively energetic deal-makers. But forget anything you may have heard on the grapevine about Cadwalader's intimidating culture: these days, it consciously tries to cultivate a much pleasanter associate experience. 

Is it succeeding? Well, many junior interviewees told us that as well as being attracted to Cadwalader's powerful practice areas, they were sold on the human aspect too encountered during positive summer experiences. “I knew I wanted to be in New York doing capital markets, and when I visited this firm everyone was really down to earth and easy to talk to. I summered here and had the best time. We all got really close and even ended up going on holiday together to Six Flags.” Another added that “here summers sit with attorneys, so you feel you're integrated and interacting truthfully with the whole firm.” Capital markets, corporate/M&A and litigation were big draws in New York, while DC sources were magnetized by Cadwalader's strong antitrust and white collar groups, among others here.

The Work

It came as no surprise that New York associates in the capital markets group were “really busy,” but we also heard that “you can always approach the staffing partner to find someone else to take something on if you're swamped.” This was a pro of working in an “associate heavy group,” but did it mean juniors were stuck with menial tasks and little responsibility? “Not at all. If it's a bigger deal, there might be a junior, a second-year, a mid-level and a partner, but on smaller deals it could just be you and the partner.” This meant taking on meatier tasks, as well as “much more client contact than expected, although it's sometimes with a junior member of the client's team.”

A DC associate in antitrust put it simply when we asked what sort of tasks were handed out to juniors: “I've always done everything. Our group staffs lightly, so I've never worked alongside another junior associate. I get to do the initial processing, client interviews, influx documents, discovery requests, prep for DoJ investigations, motions... it's pretty much the full gamut of the civil and criminal sides of antitrust work. And there's no downtime, so you immediately have to learn to manage your time.”

“I feel like a detective.”

Commercial, corporate and securities associates in New York reported feeling “really happy” with their trajectory so far. “During our first year there was a lot of research, but not very much doc review. After that I ended up writing a section of a brief, and running the entire document production.” Here clients are “pretty big” so client contact varied, but “on a smaller case you get to go to client meetings.” In straight corporate “every day is different. Today I came in and drafted a voting agreement. It's an ancillary document to a merger agreement for a deal we're working on. Sometimes we do in-depth research, and I feel like a detective.” In the second year, “responsibility doubles.” The team is known for advising on IPOs, securities and M&A matters, as well as for advising big-name companies on governance issues.

Elsewhere, “the white-collar group covers a wide area: there's DEA investigations, independent internal investigations, auditing, and investigating fraud, as well as other criminal antitrust matters.” Matters range in size, and again smaller cases mean more responsibility: “It was just me and a partner on a congressional investigation,  and the amount of client interaction exceeded my expectations.”

Hours & Compensation

“BigLaw means big hours,” one put it plainly, “but no one is creating work for you: when it's busy you can end up staying late for long periods, but when it's a bit quieter you get more free time. The firm respects your need to have a life outside work.” Some chose to get in earlier than most of their colleagues (meaning around 8am) to ensure they stuck to working during the week and kept weekends (mostly) free. Others preferred to stick around a bit later in the evenings.

“BigLaw means big hours.”

Cadwalader's hours requirement was scrapped in January 2014. “Some people were pretty suspicious about it at first,” a source reported, “but I haven't heard a single complaint about it in two years. Or praise.” Another agreed and added: “It hasn't changed much, people still use the old target as a guideline and they tend to stick to it or – more often – exceed it. The only difference is that you could fall short and potentially still get a bonus, which takes some stress away.” Some commented that “removing the requirement means those who are thus inclined can do more marketing and pro bono.” Since the 2014 move the firm has also introduced new guidelines for added clarity: if associates bill 1,600 plus 200 non-billables they will get 50% of the standard bonus, if they bill 1,800 plus 200 they will get the full bonus, and a total of 2,000 will bag them 120% of the base amount.

Pro Bono

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 17,104 
  • Average per US attorney: 45


Interviewees were mostly able to reel off the firm's various diversity initiatives, and acknowledged a vigorous effort is being made to improve on numbers and to demonstrate commitment. One even commented that they “were used to having only white friends at school, but looking around my colleagues there's more than just passing words given to the idea of diversity.” Still, another admitted that “like with all law firms, overall we're not as diverse as we should be.” One referred specifically to gender diversity in the higher ranks and lamented: “I can count our female partners in DC on one hand” (there are five women out of 22 partners in total).

“We're not as diverse as we should be.”

The firm does offer “mentorships and sponsorships targeted at helping women and other groups figure out the next steps needed to become partner,” as well as opening up positions exclusively for 1L candidates. Managing partner Pat Quinn explains that affinity groups have now become part of the firm's business strategy: “Each affinity group has developed a business plan and a set of tasks to help the firm, so they're no longer just support groups. The aim is to make sure diverse individuals have all the tools and skills to become future leaders.”

Training & Development

“There's no shortage of training,” associates agreed. It starts with “First Year Fundamentals,” Cadwalader's training week for new starters. “Everyone went up to New York, the training felt substantive, and we all got to know each other.” Subsequently, “there's a training on some topic or other at least every fortnight,” a source explained, adding: “I'm actually going to be teaching one soon! The firm tries to give associates a chance to get involved.” On a less formal level, one interviewee pointed out that “it's a free and collaborative environment, where everyone is happy to sit down and explain something to you – not just vertically, but among peers.”

“The best way to handle it is by not forcing the relationship.”


Most of our sources made a point of voicing that “the culture varies depending on the office,” and even, “depending on the team.” Unlike many firms that take great pains to operate homogeneously “as one,” Cadwalader's atmosphere is defined by supportive relationships and healthy group dynamics, associates said, rather than by a firmwide effort to subscribe to a particular one-firm ethos. At the same time, as mentioned earlier, there's been an extensive and radical re-branding of the firm's culture following years of Cadwalader's less than peachy “shark tank” reputation. Pat Quinn informs us that “we have identified a set of core values, which we're on the cusp of publishing internally. What makes Cadwalader Cadwalader? They're firmwide and not limited to lawyers, so everyone's singing from the same song sheet. They are values that already exist at the firm, we’ve just defined them.”

“My friends at other firms are jealous.”

As part of the cultural refurb, the hours requirement was scrapped and vacation became unlimited: “These things have made a big difference. Now when I talk about where I work my friends at other firms are jealous,” one shared. In spite of starting with the caveat that they were merely describing the atmosphere of their own office or group, our sources pointed to largely similar factors: “It's a relaxed atmosphere where everyone respects each other, there's a focus on quality rather than hours spent at the office, and they've done a really good job at improving morale.”


Sources in the Big Apple expressed their appreciation of the office in their own ways, from the practical “it's well painted,” to the more poetic: “The views are outstanding. Sometimes turning a corner becomes a breathtaking moment, when you're suddenly staring at the sunset over the Hudson, or at a beautiful sunny day over the harbor.” Once associates get their breath back, they can head to the “subsidized cafeteria, or to one of the many restaurants in the area.”

“A breathtaking moment.” 

In DC, the office is based in Chinatown, “meaning there are countless places you can take summers for lunch without ever having to repeat!” The building was described as “a small building, very pretty inside, clean and new.” All associates get their own office, and if that gets lonely "you can always meet up with colleagues and head to the food truck haven outside the National Portrait Gallery.” In Charlotte, which houses under 50 lawyers, juniors also get their own office.

Get Hired

“A genuinely nice person.”

Who gets into Cadwalader? “There's no personality test as part of the recruitment process,” one joked, “but they do put an emphasis on intellectual curiosity. They like people who are intelligent but also laid back.” A willingness to “chime in” and “learn from mistakes” was mentioned by sources, who added that “approachable and hard working” was an apt description for Cadwalader attorneys. A few also mentioned the “collaborative” feel of the firm, substantiating this by observing that “Pat [Quinn] makes a point of knowing the attorneys. That there's a genuinely nice person at the helm sets a tone for the rest of the firm.” One did have a word of warning though: “An inability to handle stress would be a bad quality. You would break down the machine.” Yoga, anyone?

Strategy & Future

On the question of Cadwalader's strategy going forward, managing partner Pat Quinn predicts: “We think about expansion as a means to an end, rather than a goal in itself. At the moment, our practices fit together in strategic ways, and we're focused on being world-class at what we do rather than being all things for all people. If we have an opportunity to expand because clients need more depth in a certain area, we'll grow in that area. If we sense that there are significant client demands in a certain geography, we might move there. But we're not trying to be a mega-firm.”

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Recent Work Highlights

  • Client Deutsche Bank with Cadwalader's support won 'CLO of the Year' at a capital markets industry conference in New York
  • DC lawyers supported Brussels-based team representing Irish airplane company Aer Lingus throughout its ten year battle to reject bids from rival Ryanair, until the latter finally agreed to sell its Aer Lingus shares to IAG
  • Represented Credit Suisse when the company was sole financial advisor to specialist pharmaceutical company AcelRx during the $65 million partial sale of one of its drugs to PDL BioPharma
  • Successfully represented Nestlé USA in an ongoing litigation concerning chocolate price-fixing


Interview with managing partner Pat Quinn

Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?  

Pat Quinn: The first thing I'd like to highlight is that we continue to improve our talent development. We are fortunate to attract high performers, and we invest in developing talent in flexible ways. We aim to turn young people into great counselors and talented lawyers, capable of building practices, understanding the clients' business and helping them capitalize on opportunities, and ultimately continuing to build on the success of our firm.

From a growth perspective, we had another great year of promoting partners from within. We had five home-grown partners and we promoted eight associates to special counsel. We've also grown laterally. We hired 11 lateral partners in 2015 and look to add more by the end of 2016.

We're excited to go deeper into our core practice areas and expand a little bit. For example, we brought a young partner into corporate and M&A, Richard Brand, who expands our offerings because he represents activist hedge funds; a new and permanent feature of the corporate landscape. It's very exciting work, hitting the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Another example is Anne Tompkins. She was the US attorney for North Carolina, making her our second former US attorney, after Ken Wainstein. This kind of government service experience shows our growing investment in the white collar area.

CA: What are the other hot practice areas right now? Are any shrinking?  

PQ: The current market has become more and more favorable for transactional lawyers. The deal volume is up in M&A and finance and that's been terrific for us. Another busy group of lawyers has been our world class antitrust department, and tax continues to be busy as well.

CA: Last year you mentioned “professional development plans” that associates would come up with and work on with their mentors. How is that going?  

PQ: It's going great. People engaged with it and were pleased with the idea that they would have a very tangible voice in their career development. It's really an opportunity for more focused mentorship, involving a senior partner and an associate sitting down and going over the associate's professional development plan.

CA: If an associate has the goal of making partner at the firm, what should they be doing as a first, second or third year to get themselves on that track? Any specific tips?  

PQ: I give everyone the same advice: from day one you should set a goal of making partner and act on that goal. Act like you want this to be your only job for the rest of your life. Be aggressive about learning as much as you can. We train associates in business development techniques, because great young lawyers who become partners nowadays have to build a practice, and if you don't know anything about business development it's tough. But if you have those skills at a young age it comes naturally.

CA: People mentioned you're someone who takes time to get to know all the attorneys at the firm. Is that something you make a point of doing? Why is it important?  

PQ: Yes it is something I make a point of doing. There's a broader point here: one of the things that distinguishes Cadwalader from its competitors is we're relatively modest in size. We're in growth mode, but we're at 500 lawyers which is a lot but it's not 3000. It's entirely practical for me to have a relationship with virtually everyone. The other partners do the same.

One of the things I love about Cadwalader is we're an interesting contradiction. From a client service and a professional standpoint we are very progressive and nimble, but in terms of how we interact at the firm, we're very old fashioned, whereby folks engage with each other and get to know each other. We're a throwback to old-style law partnerships. That acts as an important glue.

CA: Of your diversity initiatives, which do you think is the most effective?  

PQ: I'd say there's two in particular. We're really excited because for years we've had affinity networks, but now we've re-oriented them and focused them on the business of the firm. Each affinity group has developed a business plan and a set of tasks to help the firm, so they're no longer just support groups. The aim is to make sure diverse individuals have all the tools and skills to become future leaders. The groups have taken a direct role in recruiting efforts, reaching out to prospective young attorneys. We really think that once we are able to promote a diverse leadership, then the firm will be truly diverse.

The second is our Sponsorship Program. It's focused on senior associates and special counsel; women or other diverse individuals who are identified as strong performers. What people need at that stage is someone who is going to be a champion for them, looking out for opportunities for that person to shine, and then bringing attention to their successes. We know that historically there are a lot of very fine attorneys who may have labored in anonymity. This shines a spotlight on them.

CA: How is the culture of Cadwalader changing? Are you working towards a “one firm” culture based on a set of values, like some firms like to do?  

PQ: We have identified a set of core values, which we're on the cusp of publishing internally. What makes Cadwalader Cadwalader? They're firmwide and not limited to lawyers, so everyone's singing from the same song sheet. They are values that already exist at the firm, we’ve just defined them.

CA: What are your short term and long term vision for the future of the firm?  

PQ: We think about expansion as a means to an end, rather than a goal in itself. At the moment, our practices fit together in strategic ways, and we're focused on being world-class at what we do rather than being all things for all people. If we have an opportunity to expand because clients need more depth in a certain area, we'll grow in that area. If we sense that there are significant client demands in a certain geography, we might move there. But we're not trying to be a mega-firm.

CA: What was the firm like when you joined and how has it changed?  

PQ: I would say that the firm has become much more progressive. We are much more adept at identifying an opportunity and capitalizing on it. We're not stodgy in any way. That has changed over the years. When I started we were much more traditional and set in our ways. Thinking back to all the changes is fun and exciting, as well as liberating!

Cadwalader's pro bono work: Malala Yousafzai

On October 9th 2012, a member of the Taliban boarded Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai's school bus and shot her in the head, in retaliation for her public campaigning for girls' rights to schooling. She was transferred to a specialist hospital in Birmingham, England, where Cadwalader began doing pro bono work for her. Recently, Malala became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for her global advocacy of girls' education.

In the early days of Malala's recovery, Cadwalader helped set up The Malala Fund as donations began pouring in from across the world. Initially, this fell under secretary of state Hillary Clinton's not-for-profit Vital Voices, but in 2013 it detached into the New Venture Fund. Now, it distributes grants to groups supporting girls' education across the world, in places like Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria. “We established this organization, putting in place things like tax exemptions and organizational structures,” relates managing partner Pat Quinn. “We congratulate Malala and feel honored that our pro bono efforts, in any way, could have helped the fund get started.” The firm also did some limited IP work for her, though details on this are confidential.

Cadwalader is one of the oldest law firms in the United States, so its pro bono efforts span the course of several decades. In the 1900s, for example, the firm helped found Friends of the Law Library of Congress. More recently, the firm has worked with those affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks and donated to help rebuild the New York Downtown area, where the firm is located. “Our Center for Community Service houses all of our pro bono activity,” Quinn explains. “At the moment, one of our biggest pro bono projects is VS., which is a program to help combat human trafficking in the US and to encourage legislative reform.” 

More tips on getting hired

We caught up with hiring partner Paul Mourning for a few extra tips on getting into Cadwalader. First things first, in terms of what's new with recruitment Mourning is pleased to announce that “we have a summer program in our Houston office now. It's good news for us, it means that office is gaining traction and needs some junior help. Washington and Charlotte will likewise have programs of roughly the same size.”

The scope of the firm's recruitment has stayed much the same, with Cadwalader's teams attending “around 20 campuses and hiring from the top 10-15 law schools nationwide. On top of these we look at a couple of regional schools for individual offices, for example we interview in North Carolina for the Charlotte office, and look at local DC schools for the DC office.”

Mourning adds that “the upcoming New York class has six people from Columbia, but aside from that our summers come from a range of schools.” What's the first thing Cadwalader screens for when a candidate gets in touch? “We're always looking for a certain level of academic achievement,” says Mourning. “But these are just guidelines. We're mostly looking for initiative, self-motivation, effective oral communication, analytical thinking and judgment. In order to test this we try to have substantive conversations when we meet a candidate. Flexibility, the ability to multitask and being team-oriented are other obvious requirements. One that might sound obvious but surprisingly bears mentioning is an interest in our firm and its practices. Not everyone seems to grasp how important that is!”

On campus interviews last 20 minutes, and are with either a partner or an associate. The callback involves four 30-minute interviews one-on-one with a total of two partners and two associates. Questions aren't “prescribed,” Mourning shares. “We use the experiential interview technique. We ask about things that appear on their resume, to get a sense of what role they played in different situations.”

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP

One World Financial Center,
New York,
NY 10281

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 4
  • Number of international offices: 4
  • Worldwide revenue: $463,500,000
  • Partners (US): 83
  • Associates (US): 195
  • Other attorneys: 96
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,075/week
  • 2Ls: $3,075/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,075/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
  • Summers 2016: 47 (44 2Ls, 3 1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 36 offers, 30 acceptances

Main areas of work
The firm offers legal representation in antitrust, banking, business fraud, capital markets, corporate finance, corporate governance, energy, executive compensation, financial restructuring, healthcare, intellectual property, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, private wealth, real estate, regulation, securitisation, structured finance and tax.

Firm profile
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, established in 1792, is a leading legal advisor to many of the world’s top financial institutions and corporations, with offices in New York, London, Charlotte, Washington, Houston, Beijing, Hong Kong and Brussels. Our lawyers provide counsel on sophisticated and complex transactional, litigation, and regulatory matters to help our clients break new ground, achieve their business goals, and overcome challenges.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 36
• Number of 2nd year associates: 39
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Case by case

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Alabama, American, Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell NYC Job Fair, Duke, Emory NYC Job Fair, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Houston, University of Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Stanford, University of Texas, Vanderbilt, University of Virginia, Wash U and Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:

Cadwalader is a community of talented and driven individuals committed to innovation and premier client service. We seek candidates with a record of academic and personal achievement, who exhibit excellent communication skills and professionalism and who are analytical and creative thinkers.

Summer program components:
Under the supervision of experienced attorneys, summer associates have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to ongoing projects. You will work on diverse and challenging assignments in several of our areas, depending on your interests, participate in substantive and skills building sessions and take on pro bono work. Our goal is to expose you to the various aspects of the practice of law: meeting with clients; participating in strategy and negotiation sessions; conducting research; drafting memos, documents and pleadings; and attending closings, depositions and court appearances. Associate and partner mentors will work closely with you throughout the summer. In addition to getting feedback on individual projects by supervising lawyers, you will also participate in mid-summer and end-of-summer formal evaluations.