Finance-flavored work, a free-market system and a generous bonus package sealed the Cahill deal for these “self-made” associates.
WHEN you turn 100 in the United Kingdom, you get a letter from the Queen, but that level of attention may be a bit much for Cahill. It hits triple figures this year and is very much keeping its cool in the face of its centennial celebrations, according to executive committee member Jonathan Schaffzin: “We tend not to do things in an over-the-top way, so there won’t be anything extraordinarily dramatic!” he laughs, before humbly adding that there will nonetheless be an event with "our former partners and some of our alumni to celebrate.”
The New York-founded firm has good reason to be a bit more dramatic about its billion-dollar transactional work. Financial institutions like J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank are familiar names to Cahill, prompting one associate to state that “if you’re doing finance and you’re doing it at Cahill, everyone knows the quality of work you’re doing.” Our sister guide Chambers USA certainly does: it bestows tip-top national rankings on Cahill for its capital markets and banking & finance expertise. Associates with a fondness for finance told us that “it made sense to come here” to hone their practice. It’s not all about corporate at Cahill though: litigation is another main area for the firm; its prestigious First Amendment practice is something of a crown jewel and picks up a top ranking in New York, but the firm’s work in insurance dispute resolution and commercial litigation also receives nods from Chambers USA.
“I wanted a firm that would empower me to set the tone of my career.”
The firm’s midsizer status suited juniors who wanted to keep clear of “mega firms with classes of 100.” In comparison, Cahill’s classes are closer to the 40 mark. Throw a free-market work assignment system into the mix and it was a done deal for these plucky go-getters: “I wanted a firm that would empower me to set the tone of my career.”
Strategy & Future
Executive committee member Jonathan Schaffzin tells us: “We don’t take a ‘build it and they will come’ approach; our client relationships are built over a lot of years. We try to maintain those relationships and let our practices develop with them.” Schaffzin adds that “we continue to be strongly positioned for financial institution clients, with a particularly strong focus on capital markets, lending, securities litigation, and regulatory work. In the capital markets and lending areas, we’re in the primary segment of the market that we focus on, which is leveraged finance.” Click the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read the full interview with Schaffzin.
Cahill’s corporate associates had a particularly strong sense of the firm’s prestige: “It has a good pedigree.” Others acknowledged that “corporate is where a lot of the strong reputation comes from but people really respect our litigation work as well!” An active alumni network bolstered our sources' confidence even further: “We’ve seen the successful careers people have after leaving. Cahill sets me up with excellent training that is well known in the industry and is useful if I want to do anything related to finance.” Those looking to stay described a “clear eight-year timeline” to partnership and a tendency to promote from within: “My mentor casually throws in that the firm hopes I’m still there in 20 years. Cahill really wants to build its partnership from the bottom – we don't do a lot of bringing in lateral partners.” Those partner mentors are assigned to summers, and the firm tries to ensure associates are paired with the same person on their return as first-years. While reviews of mentors were generally positive, one improvement point was connected to the amount of formal training available: “It could occur more frequently than it does and there could be more CLEs, although we do have access to an online professional learning platform.” This year has seen an increase in training that focuses on career development and inclusion, as well as more more detailed litigation training.
After indicating their preferences at the end of summer, juniors are sorted into either corporate or litigation. In both groups, “you have freedom to have a generalist practice for several years. You aren’t shepherded into a subgroup.” Freedom also reigns in the firm’s work allocation system: “It’s as free-market as it could possibly be. Sounds scary, right?” But the Cahill crop “didn’t have a problem cold-calling partners and associates asking for work.” Those who landed a proactive partner mentor “already had projects lined up when I arrived.” Instead of worrying about picking up work, our sources were initially more concerned with “spreading yourself too thin. The natural inclination is to say yes to everything.” Learning to turn down work was an “internal struggle” for those fresh out of law school, but in reality “it’s respected that you’re able to do so.”
“You’re like the quarterback making sure all the documents are moving forward.”
Cahill’s corporate group is known for handling the likes of credit agreements, high-yield bond deals, leveraged financings and broader bank financing matters. Associates we spoke to had worked on all of the above, as well as mezzanine finance issues, IPOs, syndicated loans, and, more infrequently, M&A deals. The majority of work is done on the lender side for the likes of big banks and financial institutions, but there is a small company side too. A few sources referred to a “highly competitive and fast-paced” process whereby teams at the firm represent several banks bidding on the same loan. “It’s very exciting to sit in on the initiation between banks and companies. It sometimes goes over my head, but being exposed to the language helps me learn.” Juniors “step up when a deal is closing. You’re like the quarterback making sure all the documents are moving forward.” They were also tasked with overseeing a lot of correspondence: “From the minute you come in you’re the face of Cahill, so you send a lot of the emails. I probably spent 30 minutes writing my first one thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m gonna hit ‘send’ to 100 people.’” Drafting opportunities also came around later in the form of indentures for bond deals, management rates letters, and purchase agreements.
Corporate clients: Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Securities and Merrill Lynch. Recently acted for the latter in over $26 billion of capital markets transactions, including an $800 million senior notes offering due by cement product manufacturer James Hardie Finance.
The firm’s corporate strengths flavor the work over in litigation. “Most of my work revolves around banks and investigations, both internal and those that are FCPA-driven,"reported one associate. The white-collar teams tend to be smaller: “I work a lot with the partner and senior associate. I’m on all the calls and I’ve taken the first stab at drafting the final report.” Investigations might require some traveling: “People have gone as far as South America and Europe.” Elsewhere, associates described working on antitrust and securities litigation. “At the beginning you do a lot of doc review, but they do a good job of keeping that strictly a first-year task. As soon as the new first-years came in they took me off.” There’s a lot to look forward to, as this junior revealed while describing their experience working on an appeal in the Second Circuit: “I was prepping the partner for argument, along with a fifth-year. Some of my ideas were incorporated into the argument strategy.” Beyond bank work and investigations, “the other 20% of matters form an array of general litigation,” like malpractice and employment cases. Under this smaller umbrella you’ll also find the firm’s prestigious First Amendment practice, which handles (often high-profile) libel and defamation cases. Here, associates struck a note of caution, as in reality only “a few per class are able to work on those cases.”
In the fast-paced world of white collar litigation, junior associates get to utilize the skills of investigative reporters, and can find themselves chasing money trails and detecting patterns in financial records. We caught up with a few white collar litigators at Cahill to find out more about becoming a lawyer in their practice. Read on >>
Litigation clients: Credit Suisse, Time Warner Cable and S&P Global. Recently defended New York Governor Andrew Cuomo against a federal lawsuit that claimed a new law surrounding the public disclosure of donors to certain nonprofits breached First Amendment protections.
Hours & Compensation
Cahill’s response to market salary increases over the summer of 2018 left associates feeling pretty pleased: “They raised it pretty quickly, and the partners told us that the firm's committed to paying market and above.” The firm's a big spender when it comes to bonuses too. Officially, associates undergo end-of-year reviews before finding out if they’re getting a bonus, but what's the unofficial line? “On the junior level everybody gets it. I know people who billed a ton and others who didn’t bill that much, and everyone got both.” Both, you say? Correct – along with the standard market bonus, Cahill dishes out an appetizing special second bonus: “It shows they appreciate the work we do.” Associates figured “once you get to be a little more senior, they’re more likely to withhold the special bonus if you’re not billing enough.” While the firm insists there isn’t a billing requirement, juniors naturally discuss it among themselves and have decided for themselves that “you want to hit 2,000! However, I heard someone say that if you’re hitting 2,400 then you’re probably too busy.” As a rough guide, every month the firm publishes what the highest and lowest billers are putting in (anonymously, we might add), along with the average calculated from everyone, “so you can see where you land in your class.”
“It shows they appreciate the work we do.”
Official office hours are 9:30am to 5:30pm, but in reality “there’s not a facetime requirement. I’m actually at home right now!” relayed one especially thrilled junior. A new tech stipend has given associates further flexibility to work remotely, and sources were quick to remind us that “this is New York BigLaw, so everyone works a lot.” Both corporate and litigation associates had their share of weekend work and stretches of 12-hour days.
Thanks to the free-market system, “if you’re a jerk, that gets around. If you call up offering me work but I know you treat people terribly, I’m not gonna say yes!” declared one insider. Reputation goes both ways of course: “If you do well, everyone is open to working with you. It’s a meritocracy.” Juniors stressed again and again that Cahill is not a hand-holding firm: “You have to be a self-made person. If there are bumps in the road, it’s up to you to figure out how to resolve them.” Not in a cold way, they hastened to add: “No one has a ‘you’re wasting my time’ air about them. That kind of self-importance isn’t pervasive here.” But it’ll go a long way with colleagues “if you do everything you can to figure something out before bothering the person above.”
“Everyone's laid-back, enjoying a few drinks and catching some fluke.”
No hand-holding and no overly ostentatious frills: associates said Cahill “doesn’t get caught up in bells and whistles,” which they liked – except perhaps when it came to their New York digs: “The office is a little dated, but we’ll be getting an upgrade in the next year or two when the lease is up!” The firm is moving a few blocks away to 32 Old Slip. Things do get a bit fancier at the annual Cahill prom – a black-tie formal that's typically held at the Natural History Museum. Competing for event-of-the-year is the more unorthodox summer fishing trip on the Long Island Sound. “It sounds lame, but it was so much fun!” To associates’ dismay only summers get to go, but from memory they said the outing encapsulated “what Cahill is all about – everyone's laid-back, enjoying a few drinks and catching some fluke.”
Diversity & Inclusion
A few sources noted “particularly low numbers of women” in their class upon starting at the firm, but acknowledged that Cahill has since “been making an effort to remedy that; seeing the summers this June it looks 50/50 now, and they've recently hired a few female partners who've lateraled over.” Women partners in particular were praised for being “very involved in mentoring female associates” and having a “predominantly open-door policy.” The women's group was deemed “very active – it hosts meetings several times a year,” but the other affinity groups (among them groups for Asian and Pacific Islander, African-American and LGBT associates) also hold events “once a quarter or so.”
All pro bono hours count as billable, but “the general philosophy is that people should use their judgment; you're free to do as much as you want, but if it accounts for 90% of your work you should re-think that...” A senior associate recently transitioned to the newly created position of pro bono counsel, so incoming juniors can expect to pick up work from them, but there are also “a couple of partners you can reach out to” and “associate-run programs” to participate in that “tend to do immigration cases and emancipation clinics for youths.” The two “primary” organizations that Cahill works with are The Door and Sanctuary for Families, but “we basically do everything – if you want to do something they'll be a way to do it!”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 14,576
- Average per US attorney: 47
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Cahill partners conduct OCIs as well as interviews at job fairs. “Every resume we receive is reviewed thoughtfully,” says chair of the hiring committee Sheila Ramesh. “A hallmark of our process is the amount of time and energy we put into this – after all, this is all about identifying the best possible future for everyone involved.”
Transparency is key as far as Cahill is concerned. “It is such a fast process, and we focus on being as transparent as possible,” says Ramesh. “We are really looking for students to do the same so that the dialogue moves as quickly as the process.” Associates confirmed the firm wants “someone that can explain something on their resume – if you had a really bad class first semester but you’re willing to explain that upfront, that shows that you’ve taken it upon yourself to improve.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Grades are important to Cahill, but having a go-getter personality is much more important.” – a third-year junior associate
“We are always looking to see excitement around our work and our culture.” – chair of hiring committee Sheila Ramesh
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Candidates meet with two partners and two associates at the callback stage, with each interview lasting approximately 30 minutes. “We really work hard to create interview schedules that will allow each candidate to learn as much as possible about the firm,” Ramesh says. The panel could include junior associates, who say they look for “people who are entrepreneurial and seem to want to take control of career.” Associates say candidates should “enquire about the firm’s culture and try and figure out if it’s something you like.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Don’t feel the need to do a ton of research about the people you’re interviewing with, but have an understanding of the firm and ask questions specific to the firm.” – a third-year junior associate
“Take your time, be thoughtful, and really work to determine where you think you will truly thrive as a new professional.” – chair of hiring committee Sheila Ramesh
Summer associates can sample work across Cahill’s practice groups, “and they will have the support of their mentors every step of the way to do so.” Associates said that this was their experience not only as summer, but that they’d also witnessed the dedication to mentoring summers after returning full time: “There have been a couple of times when partners have called me and said, ‘My mentee is interested in securities, I know you’re on this case, is there anything they can help out with?’” The majority of summers return to the firm: “They select their practice area of interest, and we honor that.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Because of the free market system you really have to show that you can put yourself out there both personally and in terms of work.” – a third-year junior associate
“Carpe diem! There is so much to get involved in, and there are so many people who are so excited to share what they know and teach you how to be successful. Don’t hesitate to try new things, meet new people, and ask questions.” – chair of hiring committee Sheila Ramesh
“Cahill is a New York based firm, so showing that you actually want to be in New York is important!” – a third-year junior associate
Chambers Associate interview with Jonathan Schaffzin, executive committee member at Cahill
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
Jonathan Schaffzin: We continue to be strongly positioned for financial institution clients, with a particularly strong focus on capital markets, lending, securities litigation, and regulatory work. In the capital markets and lending areas, we’re in the primary segment of the market that we focus on, which is leveraged finance. We have market shares on the arranger bank side in excess of 30% of the deals, so we have a very strong position. White-collar work also continues to be a core strength.
CA: Associates commented that the firm is putting efforts into growing its white-collar practice – could you tell us a bit about that?
JS: It’s interesting, challenging, and complex work, and our financial institution clients provide a constant, steady stream of issues to deal with. We are somewhat unique in that we have these very strong and deep relationships with financial institutions, and a good understanding of the complex financial products that they deal in.
We have a really broad and deep bench of lawyers who focus on those practice areas, and some of them have worked in the government, like our last major hire, Nola Heller. She was very senior as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for the Southern District of New York – she was there for over a decade and had over 2,000 cases tried. Then a few years ago we added some talent down in DC – we made Sean Tonolli a partner, who was an AUSA for the District of Virginia and the District of Columbia. With these folks we’ve got a group that has a lot of understanding of complex products and a lot of government experience, so we’ve really been successful in growing that business. We’ve also been building up capabilities in London because many of the issues financial institutions face have a cross-border element. Having a strong footprint across the markets is an essential part of working with that client base.
CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
JS: Because of the corporate practice, we tend to be more sensitive to markets than other firms, so we can see significant growth or volatility based on that. How the year develops can be very much a function of what the regulatory markets look like. We’re seeing a growth in non-traditional lenders in capital markets. A lot of our former clients who worked at banking institutions have moved into those areas, so that presents a lot of opportunities to grow with them. We also want to deepen our corporate practice in London, and one goal on the litigation and regulatory side is to expand the number of clients we’re doing critical work for in London.
We really let our practice grow where our clients are taking us. We don’t take a ‘build it and they will come’ approach; our client relationships are built over a lot of years. We try to maintain those relationships and let our practices develop with them. When we see a greater need we go with it, like on the white-collar side as we just discussed. The corporate side in London has seen an increase in activity as well, so we’ve added personnel there, but we try to be responsive to our clients’ needs and our strong spots, and not just chase work for the sake of it. We’re very profitability-oriented, so we think the best way to do that is to keep focused on our core relationships and invest in younger partners. We let them develop relationships with those clients so that they grow with them, and then clients have a strong, intertwined relationship at both senior and junior levels.
CA: Cahill celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019 – how will the firm be marking the occasion?
JS: We tend not to do things in an over-the-top way, so there won’t be anything extraordinarily dramatic! We’re planning an event with all of our former partners and some of our alumni to celebrate. We’ve got retired partners in their 70s as well as current partners in their 30s, so we’re going to be bridging the people who’ve been at the firm since the 1940s all the way through to today. It’ll be a good chance for everyone to catch up.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?
JS: I think first and foremost the biggest changes are in technology and the speed at which we all have to work. Secondly, it’s become a much more competitive environment. I’m not sure that it requires the same number of lawyers to accomplish tasks now as it did when I started out, because of the technology and the expected speed of execution. It’s a lot more challenging as a result, and the fact that things can be done much more efficiently means firms are competing for a lot of the same business.
With that in mind, it’s extremely important – now more than ever – that firms have a very strong brand in a high-value area to be successful. I don’t necessarily think the mode of trying to be everything to everybody is the most profitable strategy, but it’s not without its merits. We see ourselves as effectively competitive in the markets we’re in. We stay focused on the ones we’re good at and I think that’s the right strategy – some of the most successful firms in New York have that strategy, whether they have an M&A focus or a private equity focus. Again, having said that I don’t think that’s the only winning strategy, but to be at the top financially I think you have to have a really strong brand, particularly in an area that clients are willing to pay for.
Clients exercise a lot more market power to try to constrain their costs, and if a firm doesn’t have that ‘value add’ with a strong brand, it isn’t going to be coming out with the highest rates. Having the differentiator of a practice focus is important for maintaining strong margins with clients. They don’t want to pay for routine work or work their in-house team can do themselves at a premium. If you’re in an area of critical performance, like high stakes financing activity where a banking client takes significant risks, then folks are willing to pay premiums for that.
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
JS: At its core, law students are given an opportunity to use their brains in a way you don’t in every job. I also think that if law students make good choices, they have opportunities to shape their careers in a more entrepreneurial way than in some other professions because of the breadth of training you can get as a lawyer. You’ve heard about our free-market system: our associates have the ability to shape their career in our firm. They’ll have a lot of extraordinary opportunities outside the firm too, like starting up their own businesses or working with clients. It’s a really great launchpad for their careers both in and outside of the legal profession because they have to use their brains every day and get to know how to provide service at the highest level.
I think it always boils down to each individual. Whether they’re choosing a profession or a firm, they have to pick a culture and an environment that they will thrive in personally. People find themselves unhappy if they make the wrong choice. I do think practice areas are sometimes less important than culture and environment, because if you’re in a situation where you have opportunities to engage with intellectual, respectful people and to succeed in your own direction, that’s fulfilling. It might not matter whether you’re doing tax or employment law. The most important thing is making a good choice for what kind of environment you want to work in. I think there’s pretty good diversity of choice in the legal profession for students, but they should be ever critical. It’s not without its stresses and hard work, but if you want to have a fulfilling career this is a great way to launch.
CA: What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?
JS: I can only pick one? I think it’s likely that latter point, which is that you have to be among people and within a culture that’s respectful, challenging and interesting in order to be successful. I also think that it’s very important to remember that everything we do is also about relationships, whether that’s relationships externally with clients, or internally when it comes to giving people respect, mentoring, and support. The relationship part is critical to the long-term success of individuals as well as to the business itself. To do the business side well, it’s critical to have a lot of appreciation, understanding and respect for people.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
JS: Make a choice that’s personally right for you as well as professionally right for you. Don’t sacrifice notions of what you value most for those that, as a student, you may think the world objectively values. The talented and highly educated students that firms like ours target will inevitably be successful, so it’s critical for them to find the right firm for them not just on paper, but personally too.
Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
80 Pine Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $360,500,000
- Partners (US): 68
- Associates (US): 183
- Main recruitment contact: Donna Manion, Director of Legal Recruiting (dmanion @cahill.com)
- Hiring partner: Sheila C. Ramesh
- Diversity officers: Stuart Downing and Susanna M. Suh
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 44
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 2Ls: 30
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: NY: 30
- Summer salary 2019: 2Ls: $3,654/week
- Split summers offered? Yes, with government or public agencies.
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Antitrust, bankruptcy and restructuring, communications, corporate, corporate finance, corporate governance and investigations, crisis advisory, executive compensation and employee benefits, environmental, insurance, intellectual property, litigation, media, pro bono, real estate, tax and trusts and estates.
Cahill has thrived for nearly a century by focusing on the most significant opportunities and complex legal challenges facing leading financial institutions and global businesses. Cahill is a firm where you can shape your own legal career. We believe that lawyers who practice in diverse areas are happier and more productive. We do not require immediate specialization and do not have formal departments or rotation policies. While among the most profitable New York-based law firms, our size is conducive to regular interaction between partners and associates. Opportunities abound for interesting work and unparalleled on-the-job training.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
Albany, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, New York University, Northwestern, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and University of Virginia (with job fairs and write-ins from a dozen more).
Recruitment outside OCIs:
As a complement to our campus interview process, we review all additional direct submissions. We encourage candidates interested in our firm to contact us with inquiries about our Summer Program and associate opportunities.
Summer associate profile:
The firm seeks academically strong candidates who display good judgment, self-confidence and enthusiasm for the practice of law.
Summer program components:
Summer associates at Cahill gain first-hand experience of what it would be like to be an associate at Cahill. With substantive assignments and opportunities to gain valuable public interest work experience and attend client meetings, negotiations, court appearances and networking events, Cahill’s summer associates develop a true understanding of the firm’s practice. Formal and informal training, personal mentoring and comprehensive evaluations are components of the firm’s summer program.
Recruitment website: www.cahill.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: First Amendment Litigation (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Representation (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 2)