Few firms offer as much freedom to shape your practice. Even fewer pay such big bonuses.
“WHAT attracted me to Cahill? That's easy: the partners who interviewed me, their personalities. They were old school New York lawyers – outspoken and brutally honest, not über formal or deferential.” In New York BigLaw it certainly pays to have a bit of moxie, but at Cahill a get-up-and-go attitude will really reap dividends. At the center of the firm's culture is its much-vaunted free market assignment that “offers the average associate the chance to cultivate their own practice” – but more about that later.
Another big draw is Cahill's First Amendment practice headed up by the “legendary Floyd Abrams.” One source was quick to urge caution – “the name you always hear is Floyd's but associates said, 'you know you probably won't get to work with him'. But I actually have, and it was great!” His practice is under the umbrella of the bigger litigation department, which takes roughly half of all incoming associates. The other half enter through the corporate corridor. These are, however, general terms: “We don't have specific departments that you specialize in. Free market means you can realize what you're good at, even though for the first few years you are a complete generalist.”
Chambers USA recognizes Cahill's versatility, awarding top tier nationwide rosettes for its banking & finance and capital markets work while also recognizing its first rate New York insurance and media litigation practices. Other ranked practices are telecoms in DC and environment in NY.
Now, about that assignment system. Purely and simply: “It's as free market as they come.” From your first day partners approach associates and vice versa: “It's something that makes the experience completely distinctive from other firms. You don't get an email or phone call saying 'you're working on this'. You get a call saying the firm is getting involved in this matter, do you want in?”
That said, all markets need oversight, and our interviewees felt the system could be improved even further to avoid uneven workloads or senior associates forming the same teams. Management listened and responded; Jonathan Schaffzin, a member of the firm's executive committee, tells us: “There won't be any differences in the free market system but there will be more focus and attention on the younger associates to make sure they are getting the right mixture of experience. It'll still be free market but with more attentive monitoring.”
Litigation juniors mostly work on matters “involving large financial clients, usually banks.” But within that “there's a range – some antitrust and a lot of general commercial litigation.” As they gain experience, tasks vary to include “a lot of motion practice, a lot of brief writing and sometimes you can even be involved in strategy.” Some litigators can choose to take a year out to do a judicial clerkship. The firm supports you and writes a recommendation when needed. When you get back “your responsibility levels increase and you're treated as a more senior associate.”
Over in corporate “the bread and butter is credit agreements and leveraged finance,” though they also “do a little bit of M&A and equity work.” Teams felt smaller than litigation, where “they'll often have several first-years on one case,” while in corporate “if you have two first years on a deal, that's an anomaly.” As a result, responsibility increases incrementally: “When you start you're doing due diligence, then it evolves to drafting ancillary documents, and eventually you're the first one to hold the pen to credit agreements and major transactional documents. As a third-year you get to do almost everything, including communicating directly with clients.”
Part of the reason that the free market system is able to flourish at Cahill is because of its size. It's effectively a one shop firm, give or take a few lawyers in DC and London. As a result, sources said it felt smaller than its closest city rivals and “it's definitely a place where you make your reputation, it's small enough that people know what you're about pretty quickly.” Once they do “you see the difference in the type of work you are given.”
“One of the biggest reasons that I love my job is the people who work here."
Outside of that work, sources agreed that they were more likely to hang out with their peers informally than at organized dos. This interviewee's response was pretty typical: “One of the biggest reasons that I love my job is the people who work here. I hang out with people from work separately from work because the people they bring in are of such high quality.” For those looking for a bit of function to their functions, “a lot of the social life is centered around the summer – that's when they'll often put a card down at a huge bar and say go have fun.” Cahill summers can also enjoy “going to the Mets as a guest of the firm or catching dinner and a show on Broadway.” That's not to say the firm doesn't let its collective hair down in the winter months. Recently, there were separate litigation and corporate parties at Cipriani's with dinner and dancing and a raffle where they gave away stuff like “Beyoncé tickets and gift certificates to really fancy restaurants.”
Hours & Compensation
Another thing Cahill is known for is its unflinching attitude to hours – “obviously New York BigLaw means New York big hours but there's a bit more expected of associates here.” A quiet day could see an associate arriving for 9.30 or 10am, and strolling out at 5.30pm, “though you'll probably go home and log in to the system later that evening.” But a busy one can take home-time right up to midnight: “You just know there are some days that you can't make evening plans.”
Cahill's juniors are some of the best remunerated in the city.
In return for that extra mile, Cahill's juniors are some of the best remunerated in the city. On top of their market-rate salaries (which in June 2016 rose to $180,000 for first-year associates) in the past the firm has doled out bonuses twice a year. However, sources we spoke to hadn't seen their mid-year bonuses in 2016. When quizzed on this, Jonathan Schaffzin replies: “This year we decided to look at the work for the whole year and decide from that.”
But don't be despondent, those bonuses still don't hinge on any kind of hours target – “we don't have an official billables number. What was thrown around among associates is that people were trying to hit 2,100, but if you get 1,800, or 1,900 you'll be fine.” Technically junior associates get four working weeks of vacation a year. “Partners do make sure you take it all” but “because of the way we do things, we can't really take short vacations.” Taking time off can be tricky: “That's the negative side of the free market: getting work on your plate is easy but when you need to get it off it can be really hard.”
Another way to get those hours up is by taking advantage of the firm's very active pro bono commitments, which the powers-that-be count the same as billable work. It's also a good way to get on your feet as “you'll often be the one in court arguing on a case.” If you are interested in pro bono then it's good to make it clear during the summer when a lot of the opportunities become available. The firm works a lot with The Door – a youth charity based in New York. They run things like an emancipation clinic and SIJS [Special Immigrant Juvenile Status], a family law clinic working to secure young immigrants green cards. Cahill lawyers are also heavily involved with Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit dedicated to aiding victims of domestic violence and their children.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 11,989
- Average per US attorney: 37
Training & Development
To prepare juniors for the hard work that will come their way, first-years start their time at Cahill with a week-long training program aptly referred to as “boot camp.” Sources described it as “pretty standard stuff, but helpful. Because it's so early on you're still trying to get your head around everything else. I would say the informal on-the-job training we receive frequently is definitely more useful.”
"At 3pm every day they set out some trail mix, fruit and granola bars..."
There are supposed to be formal reviews every January delivered by specially assigned “liaison partners.” However, this system of mentorship has been found wanting – the liaison partners are each assigned around four associates, who may not all work with them. As mentioned previously, management is in the process of reforming the mentoring program to make it more comprehensive. As a result, reviews are more informal procedures: “If you ask any of the partners you work with, they will give you substantive feedback on a regular basis.”
Cahill occupies floors 14-21 and 26 of a fairly standard downtown office block. But there was widespread belief that people were a bit harsh about Cahill HQ – “lawyers generally complain about the office space. But it's not that bad: all the desks and stuff are new. I mean some of the lower floors look kind of beat up but there are little kitchens on each floor with vending machines and at 3pm every day they set out some trail mix, fruit and granola bars, which is nice,” a source explained. “Though they used to give out cookies...” Aside from cookie grumbles, the biggest complaint was that “it's either freezing or 100 degrees,” which we hope was an exaggeration.
When it came to diversity at the firm there was a belief that “Cahill could do a lot better” but most agreed, “I would never for one minute think that candidates are not hired purely on credentials and merit.” That said, there is definitely an understanding on the partners' part that they need to improve. As Jonathan Schaffzin puts it, “we are proud of the strides we are taking. It's a priority of management to have the lawyers of the firm be reflective of what we see in the world at large, and that's not just lip-service.” Cahill has various affinity groups, including for African Americans, LGBTQ, and parents.
Jonathan Schaffzin, Executive Committee Member, Cahill
Chambers Associate: What have been your highlights from the past year?
Jonathan Schaffzin: I'd say over the past year we've seen strong returns on the investments we've made in our litigation and investigations practices, as well as on the financing side. While we really are highly focused on developing people internally, where we've felt there's a need to strengthen our practices from outside, we've done that. Fortunately, we have realized great success from only a small handful of lateral hires on the litigation side in recent years. I'd say our greatest growth from these efforts has been in our securities litigation and governmental investigations practices in New York, London and D.C. As a result of the demand for these services, we recently promoted three talented litigators to partner from within our lawyer ranks.
In parallel, our continued focus on the financing side has resulted in growth in our capital markets and lending practice. Now, we have over a 30% market share representing banks on the leverage loan and high-yield debt side, which is really a remarkable market share to have, and we are also in the top 10 in market share for equity financings. All of these are improvements that were difficult to achieve in an increasingly competitive market.
We also had a strong year in M&A with some really special transactions. For example, we represented Coca-Cola in a combination deal with European bottlers to create the largest Coke bottler in the world, which is based in the UK with shares traded on two stock exchanges. The deal was named The American Lawyer’s M&A deal of the year for Europe in 2016.
CA: Have you altered your strategy in a particular way in terms of going after work? Obviously your investigations stuff seems to grow and grow – is this growth organic or part of a longer-term effort?
JS: There's been no material change in terms of strategy. We have long standing relationships with a large number of sophisticated financial institutions that have the need for the level of services we provide and the commercial perspective for which Cahill is known. We continue to focus on responding to the needs of our clients and providing the level of service they need to prosper.
As our practice has expanded, we have made a few lateral litigation partner hires in London, Washington D.C. and New York. We have a deep bench of former prosecutors and seasoned trial lawyers who specialize in securities and in white collar and regulatory areas and we've really seen some terrific organic growth there.
CA: Possibly as a result of the above, there seems to be an increased effort to hire laterally into the department. Is this just because of the volume of the work?
JS: Increased demand, new regulatory issues and the increasingly global nature of our clients’ businesses and our practice have all factored into the few lateral partner hires we have made. For example, we are handling dozens of matters in Europe and Asia, which has required a deeper bench. However, our primary driver when we look outside is to complement our existing practice and to best respond to the needs of our clients.
CA: Associates mentioned that you were thinking of reforming or at least formalizing aspects of your much-vaunted free-market assignment system. Is this the case, and if so, could you take me through it?
JS: I would characterize what we're doing differently. Associate development and retention is extremely important to us. Over 80% of our partners were associates here, and the free-market system is terrific in terms of allowing associates to do the work they want to do instead of pigeonholing them into assignments they aren't comfortable handling.
We are highly focused on improving retention. One of the ways we aim to do this is through a more rigorous mentoring system to emphasize the importance of active guidance from those more experienced. There won't be any change to the free-market system because it works so well, but there will be more focus and attention on the junior associates to make sure they are getting the support and guidance their development needs. We want to ask junior associates questions like, “Have you thought about the opportunities to work with [this or that] lawyer?” and “Are you getting enough drafting experience, etc.?”
This is just more attentive mentoring. It's a focus on a dialogue with junior associates in particular to ensure they are making good use of the opportunities we make available. That's probably what is getting reflected back to you. More focus on development, mentoring and a better review process.
CA: Interviewees were very happy with their salaries and general remuneration but some mentioned that they hadn't received summer bonuses this year. What was the reasoning behind that?
JS: There's really no change in our approach or willingness to compensate our associates at above market-levels when it's merited. We've been paying mid-year bonuses for a few years and last year it resulted in a higher-than-market take home. This year we decided to look at the work for the whole year and decide from that perspective. Although our timing was different this year, the result was the same -- associate compensation was again well above market as it’s been for several years now, and we expect that will continue if our associates continue to work as hard as they have been.
CA: What would you say to someone who is interested in Cahill about what distinguishes the firm from its rivals?
JS: One major benefit to our focus on organic rather than lateral growth is that we have a strong and consistent firm culture. I think that there are few firms that have as well defined a culture as Cahill. We're not bureaucratic, hierarchical or top-down driven in terms of the progress and development of the firm. We look at ourselves as developers of bright, intelligent, outgoing lawyers and enabling them to pursue work at the highest level given their capabilities and interests. We don't have prescribed types of work or responsibilities. We maintain a largely informal culture that is focused on delivering the highest standard of work and flexibility.
Our lawyers have opportunities for developing their own relationships with clients and to pursue their interests and voice concerns. I think you would be hard-pressed to find another firm of our size and calibre where over 80% of the partners were associates at the firm. That makes us really very different in terms of the experience people have here – and this is a consistent theme we hear from our alumni. We operate from a very stable and self-aware position, knowing that professional development is animportant component to our prosperity.
And one of the things that I really wanted to mention is diversity. We've really put a huge focus on improving diversity at the firm. And the early numbers on next year's new class show it's the most diverse we've ever had. It's a long term game but we believe we are really making strides in all areas of diversity. We're proud of the strides we're taking but I think we're going to have to make even more of an effort. It's a priority of management to have the lawyers of the firm be reflective of what we see in the world at large and that's not just lip-service.
Brian Markley, hiring partner, Cahill
Chambers Associate: Roughly how many associates do you take on each year?
Brian Markley: Last year's summer class was in the high 30s. On top of that we've made some lateral hires, especially of corporate associates.
CA: There's been a focus on improving diversity recently. How has this manifested itself?
BM: I think we've been successful. Our last summer class was made up of 1/3 diverse students. It's part of a concerted effort we're making of reaching out to organizations like The Black Allied Law Students Associations (BALSAs) on campuses, speaking at events and panels, and generally demonstrating to students that Cahill is committed to meaningfully improving diversity. Through all this we've been able to affect the change in the ranks of our summer classes.
CA: Has there been any change in the recruitment process in the past year? Maybe in terms of questions asked in OCIs or campuses visited?
BM: I don't think there's been any significant change in those areas. This is my second year as head of recruitment and I think we have transitioned really smoothly and continued to use the excellent techniques and efforts that Doug Horowitz implemented. We look for a particular set of attributes and that hasn't changed.
CA: What does the ideal Cahill candidate look like?
BM: Somebody who is very independent-minded, somebody who wants to have some control over her or his career and someone that will not be shy about seeking out specific work. There's no set program for how much or what kind of responsibility you pursue in your career. If you want to do work that is more senior, if you put in the effort, here you will get that opportunity.
CA: Has there been any change in Cahill's summer program in the past year?
BM: It hasn't changed in any material respect. We always make a real effort to ensure our summer associates are getting really substantive work and the most thorough experience on genuine assignments. In terms of the successful calendar events, we've kept really steady on that front. Our summers are universally happy every year.
CA: What can students do now to increase their chances of being noticed during the recruitment process?
BM: We have events that we do for 1Ls during the year – speaking events and receptions to keep in touch with us and we keep in touch with them.
CA: A lot of interviewees mentioned that the firm's famous free-market system was a big draw for them but that also in practice it wasn't as simple as it sounded. Have there been any discussions about maybe formalizing it a bit? Is it something that you advertise heavily during recruitment?
BM: We always try and keep open lines of communication with associates – we have an associate liaison committee whose job it is to talk about the Cahill experience and what changes, if any, associates would like to see. But we're not doing away with the free-market system. We're also talking to associates about ways to ensure there are a wide range of matters open to them. But we're definitely keeping the free-market system.
CA: Corporate associates have mentioned that there's been an increased drive to recruit to the litigation department. Is this part of an organic growth or a concerted effort to plug gaps?
BM: We don't typically do a lot of lateral hiring but recently we've been trying to keep up with demand. I think Jonathan (Schaffzin) is probably in the better position to talk about that, but really we're hiring in both areas. It's targeted so I don't want to give the impression that that's the only way we're expanding.
CA: What's being done to improve retention among junior associates?
BM: There's always an ebb and flow and we're always focused on ensuring we have open lines of communication. I think the associates here are satisfied by and large with the opportunities they are getting. They came here to get those opportunities and work in a free-market system on high-profile matters and that's happening. The feedback I’m receiving is that the associates here are really enjoying their experience.
CA: And what about bonuses?
BM: Again, Jonathan is probably the best person to ask. I think Cahill has always paid at or above the market rate for salaries and bonuses and I'd expect that to continue.
CA: Do you have any advice for students who are about to embark on the first stages of their legal careers?
BM: My advice is to try and find opportunities where you can work on matters that really interest you. Keep an open mind and strive to engage in the work and work on matters that stimulate you. Cahill is one of the places where you can most easily do that.
More on Hours
Sources reported differing views as to how seriously informal billing targets were taken, with most agreeing that “the work is there so it's pretty hard not to get at least 1,800. Though I think if I were on pace to bill under 1,900, I definitely would not feel comfortable saying no to someone.” By way of a subtle hint, the firm circulates monthly lists with associates' hours listed anonymously so they can “get a sense of where the high is, the low is, and the average.”
Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
80 Pine Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $382,600,000
- Partners (US): 66
- Associates (US): 187
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: $3,500/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Yes, with government or public agencies
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 33
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 38 offers, 37 acceptances
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 trust and estates.
Cahill has thrived for nearly a century by focusing on the most significant opportunities and the biggest legal challenges facing the top banking firms and global companies. 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.
• Number of 1st year associates: 34
• Number of 2nd year associates: 4930
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Albany, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell University, Duke University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Harvard, Howard, New York University, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and University of Virginia (with job fairs and write-ins from a dozen more).
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, 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.