Few associates in top-end finance appear so “comfortable and relaxed.” Perhaps it’s down to the way Cahill “fosters independence.” Or perhaps it’s the two bonuses a year that keep spirits high...
CAHILL means business: an enticing reputation for corporate work and a formidable litigation practice lure intrepid associates into this century-old Wall Street fortress. Chambers USA recognizes Cahill's mastery, awarding it top gongs for banking & finance, capital markets, insurance disputes, and media & entertainment litigation. Insiders told us one or more of these practice strengths attracted them here, litigators saying the First Amendment practice, headed by superstar Floyd Abrams, is a particular magnet. A word of warning, though: "Some people are drawn to Cahill and think they'll be First Amendment lawyers. It sets Cahill apart but it's never something you're doing full-time." Roughly half of junior associates work in the corporate group, and half in litigation (of which Abrams' team is a part).
With just two US offices (NY and DC), Cahill felt “smaller” to sources “compared to other firms of similar caliber. When you're narrowing down your job search it acts as a promise of face-to-face interaction and meaty tasks.” Such hands-on responsibility comes at a price, and Cahill expects its associates to work harder than most. But in return they get a bigger pay packet: for the past few years they've received a welcome midyear windfall in addition to the end-of-year bonus (jump to the Hours section for more info).
Cahill's free-market system for getting work appealed to many interviewees when they applied, and didn't disappoint now they're here. Associates approach partners, and vice versa. “The way they sell it is pretty much the way it plays out, but initially work might not be as free-flowing as you expected. You might agree to take something on, and then something else comes along. As you learn to navigate the system, though, you can achieve real control over how much and when you work. Rigid assignment systems at other firms sound horrible!”
“Rigid assignment systems at other firms sound horrible!”
Juniors in the corporate group had worked on “credit agreements and debt capital markets, a lot of leverage finance and some equity work.” Sources concurred: “When you start you're doing 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.” Corporate associates felt that “deals being leanly staffed helps juniors get substantive experience: midlevel and senior associates nurture you and guide you, and soon enough you're able to take some of the drafting off their plate and do it yourself.”
Litigators informed us that “a lot of the group's work is financial services litigation, representing banks and other financial services companies. Investigations are definitely on the up.” Associates found “there's a big difference between large and small cases in terms of tasks. As a junior on a large case like an FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] or SEC investigation, there can be a lot of doc review. Some people choose to take on one big case for a year or two, with smaller cases on top to get more experience.” As they gain experience, tasks vary to include “preparing witnesses for depositions, and being involved in strategy.” Overall, insiders felt fulfilled, describing the work as “not run of the mill” and enthusing that “it's the stuff that appears in newspapers, which is pretty cool.”
Some litigators can choose to “take a year out to do a judicial clerkship. The firm supports you and writes you a recommendation when needed. When you get back you're given a lot of responsibility.”
“Some people spend a whole month billing pro bono and no-one minds.”
Responsibility can also be sought via Cahill's “very active” stream of pro bono. “Opportunities are mostly for litigators, which doesn't mean a corporate associate can't take them on,” we heard, and indeed most interviewees were able to reel off past or current experiences of pro bono. “We have a partnership with Sanctuary for Families, who gave me the opportunity to go to family court and take a testimony from a client.” Another spoke of links with the Legal Aid Society, “involved in criminal appeals.” There's no minimum hours requirement nor a cap on pro bono, and one reckoned “it accounts for about 10% of my billables. Some people spend a whole month billing pro bono and no-one minds.” Opportunities also come in the form of “non-legal stuff" (which doesn't count as pro bono hours, though) like "tutoring kids through Sanctuary for Families, and going into schools to get students interested in law. It's made easy for us to do this kind of thing.”
Pro bono hours
Overwhelmingly, sources described Cahill's culture as “comfortable and relaxed. Not in that California jeans-and-flip-flops way, only in the sense that the firm values and fosters independence so it doesn't need to impose many rules.” This relative lack of strictures extends to exonerating associates from “being in the office late at night when you could be working from home,” and from a “strict dress code.”
Most felt the free-market system had something to do with this as “it affords you freedom and allows you to work for people you like. When there's camaraderie and people get on, the atmosphere benefits hugely.” Generally, interviewees felt that senior lawyers were “accepting of juniors' insights and always prepared to explain something.” One shared: “Unlike the last firm I worked at, here when a first-year is ready to do a 'second-year' task, nothing's stopping them.”
“The firm values and fosters independence so it doesn't need to impose many rules.”
Some sources socialize with peers outside the office “every week, multiple times. They're my friends.” Associates can also gather at “monthly happy hours, cupcake breaks, a fishing trip the firm organizes every year, and our extravagant Christmas shindig at the Ritz, inclusive of a videoed skit where associates make fun of partners.” Cahill summers can enjoy “watching a Mets game from the firm's party deck, going to Broadway for dinner and a show, and several cocktail events.”
The “slightly old and scrappy” offices were seen affectionately by associates as “another symbol of a culture that values personality. There's no beautiful marble floor or incredible art collection. We get our work done, we do it well, and that speaks for itself.” That's all very well, but how scuzzy are we actually talking? “They're probably on the lower end of fanciness,” said one, still skirting around the subject, “but they're comfortable.” Another was similarly diplomatic: “They're understated.” Ultimately though, there were no real complaints; in fact, we heard about different coffee machines (“they tried them all”), a whole new floor “with a glass conference room,” and “generous tech stipends for your office. You get your own office a year and a half in, at the latest.” The weirdest office accessory among associates? “A dartboard.”
“There's no beautiful marble floor or incredible art collection.”
The Cahill mothership is located “in the financial district, which is better than Midtown because it's far less busy,” sources agreed. “I heard traffic in Midtown is horrendous,” one mused. Associates enjoyed “being next to the water and sitting outside on the seaport for lunch,” as well as appreciating that “there's a bunch of subways nearby.”
Hours & Compensation
While a comparative study of the best machine-made cappuccinos and a picturesque seafront lunch may be wonderful ways to take a break, make no mistake: Cahill associates' working days are serious business. “No one would say this job is easy in that respect,” one admitted, “but the hardest part isn't the hours themselves, just how unpredictable they can be.” A quiet day could see an associate arriving for 9.30 or 10am, and strolling out at 5.30pm, “to probably log in later that evening for a bit.” But a busy one can take home-time right up to midnight. Working “many weekends” was considered a given. “Working from home is definitely an option, and it needs to be because you're always on call. At any given time you might get an email that requires a couple of hours of work.” So while interviewees did complain that “it's hard to take control of your schedule, and you can't just say to your friends, 'See you on Wednesday at 8',” they also conceded that “this is where the free-market system comes in to help you if you've learned to say no. You can choose when to give yourself a break.”
“No one would say this job is easy.”
There's no billable hours requirement, but sources reckoned “you're expected to do 1,800, most people aim for 2,000, and you usually end up with 2,200.” We've previously reported on Cahill's rep for giving its lawyers super-sized bonuses. One of the exec committee bosses, Jonathan Schaffzin, is quick to assert that this isn't just free money: “We expect our associates to work harder than their peers at other firms, and we're committed to taking account of that. We paid a midyear bonus in 2015 which I don't think other firms did. We do review it annually, but I've no reason to believe we won't continue this practice.”
Training & Development
To prepare juniors for the hard work ahead, their time at Cahill begins with a week-long training program aptly referred to as “boot camp. It's helpful, but it's hard to contextualize so early on. The informal training we receive on the job is more useful.”
Where other firms might refer to “mentors,” Cahill has adopted the term “liaison partners.” Each associate is paired up with one upon arrival, though after that the scheme is a bit hit and miss: “Your liaison partner is theoretically the person you'd reach out to if you're stressed or have any questions," we heard, "but most of us don't know that partner very well at all. It's more likely you'll have picked up an informal mentor from the people you frequently work with.” Liaison partners also deliver annual reviews to their assigned associates, and insiders shared their hopes that “the firm is working on making formal reviews more frequent.” We checked with hiring partner Brian Markley, who clarifies that “we’ve incorporated reviews from a greater number of reviewers and expect to provide more feedback on assignments at regular intervals throughout the year.”
While respondents were divided on whether their law schools “did a good job at diversity” or not, they all agreed that “Cahill could do better. It's clearly on the partnership's radar. There are committees designed to help and quarterly newsletters, but looking around it's not very diverse.” Sources seemed to think that “we do better in terms of gender than race.” Jonathan Schaffzin echoes this candidly: “We're still striving to improve and increase diversity at the firm. It's a challenge but it's one that's a high priority.” As of spring 2016, 20% of partners are female, and 93% of partners are white.
On the subject of law schools represented by the associate cohort, our interviewees were more approving. “We all come from a pretty wide variety of schools, and it's particularly evident in the younger classes.” Individual qualities perceived as valuable included “being highly self-motivated and comfortable taking control of your own career, since there's not much hand-holding here.” Some also reflected that “people tend to be outgoing and sociable but no-one is going to fault you if you're not. There's a lot of individuality, which makes for a varied and interesting environment.” Insiders were also keen to dish out tips they picked up along the way. One opined: “Don't be intimidated by the free-market system; it doesn't create a cut-throat environment, it just demands maturity and initiative. Think about whether you're prepared to work very hard, and if you are then make sure you look after yourself physically.”
“Don't be intimidated by the free-market system.”
Strategy & Future
Corporate juniors and midlevels felt confident that if they aspired to partnership it would be “achievable. It's up to you if you want to pursue it, though it's not like you become partner and suddenly work nine to five.” Litigators, meanwhile, vented their concern regarding “the recent lateral hires born out of the firm's expansion in the field of investigations. The corporate department seems to be grown more organically, with most partners being people who summered with the firm, while litigation seems to be growing laterally recently. If I was an eighth-year, it would make me mad.” We quizzed exec committee member Jonathan Schaffzin, who was adamant this is not the case: “We are a firm with a strong emphasis on promotion from within and that philosophy hasn't changed. We've had some great development opportunities in the regulatory area that have required bringing in the necessary expertise with a few lateral hires. But overall we've done very little, and we promote litigation associates to partner on a basis commensurate with our corporate associates.”
Speaking of Cahill's future strategy in general, Schaffzin states: “We will continue to focus on growing our litigation and regulatory investigations practices. Our clients include a number of sophisticated financial institutions that face continued complexity in terms of government regulation.” He adds that “on the corporate side we will continue to provide the highest-quality service to clients” and that “an important facet of our strategy is associate development and retention. We have become more transparent in recent years and our internal review process has become more robust.”
Interview with executive committee member Jonathan Schaffzin
Chambers Associate: Have there been any highlights at the firm over the past year that you'd like our readers to know about?
Jonathan Schaffzin: It's been a really successful 12 months. We continue to grow our regulatory and investigations and litigation practice areas and have had some great success. Earlier in the year we represented McGraw Hill settling its litigation with the US government, as well as other cases relating to the financial crisis. Despite matters such as these getting resolved, we have successfully re-engaged everyone on the litigation side in other new and interesting projects. We've been as busy as we've ever been on the litigation side. The corporate practice continues to be extremely successful as well. We've had some of our best months in IPO and equity work, and we're still at the top of the league tables for representing clients in debt financing transactions.
CA: Has your strategy for the future changed in any way?
JS: We will continue to focus on growing our litigation and regulatory investigations practices. Our clients include a number of sophisticated financial institutions that face continued complexity in terms of government regulation. We don't see that diminishing in the near to medium-term future, and we consider our relationships with our financial institution clients to be deep. Pierre Gentin – who was a global head of litigation and regulatory investigations for Credit Suisse – joined us recently to complement that work, and our strategy is to continue to develop that litigation team.
On the corporate side we will continue to provide the highest quality service to clients so we can maintain our terrifically strong franchise with financial institutions and financing transactions. We are representing the financing sources for Dell in its $67 billion purchase of EMC, to give an example of a recent work highlight. And we continue to seek ways to diversify our corporate practice.
An important facet of our strategy is associate development and retention. We have become more transparent in recent years and our internal review process has become more robust. We pay above market bonuses when our associates are clearly working harder than their peers. Young associates are so important to the future of the firm, the most important thing we can do strategically is to facilitate and encourage their development.
CA: Associates were very happy about their bonuses, but they worried that the extra remuneration could be taken away at any point. Are there any plans to change the bonus system?
JS: We expect our associates to work harder than their peers at other firms, and we're committed to taking account of that. We paid a mid-year bonus in 2015 which I don't think other firms did. We do review it annually, and I believe we will continue this practice whenever the circumstances merit it.
CA: Are you concerned about diversity at the firm?
JS: We have committed a lot of focus to diversity in the past couple of years. We think we have a very welcoming and open environment that is friendly to everybody, and we're still striving to improve and increase diversity at the firm. I've seen more initiatives recently than in the past. A number of these initiatives have had a positive impact on diversity at Cahill and we are working to continue to build upon that success. It's a challenge but it's one that's a high priority at the firm.
CA: Have you been promoting more laterally than internally in litigation? Are you worried that associates in that department might think they don't have a good chance of going all the way with the firm?
JS: We are a firm with a strong emphasis on promotion from within and that philosophy hasn't changed. We've had some great development opportunities in the regulatory area that have required bringing in the necessary expertise with a few lateral hires. But overall we've done very little, and we promote litigation associates to partner on a basis commensurate with our corporate associates. Since we typically haven’t done meaningful lateral hiring, the concern would be understandable,However, our philosophy has not changed and we see some terrific partner candidates in our associate ranks.
Landmark Cahill cases
During Cahill's 95 years of existence, the firm's partners have made frequent appearances before the United States Supreme Court. In 1943, John T. Cahill argued before the Court about issues concerning chain broadcasting regulations in National Broadcasting Co. v United States, one of the most significant cases ever decided concerning the influence of the Federal Communications Commission.
A year later, Cahill appeared before the Court again in United States v The South-Eastern Underwriter Association, an antitrust case which determined that insurance is an interstate commerce that falls under the US Commerce Clause and the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1953, Cahill represented 98 newspapers, as amicus curiae (literally 'friend of the court') in Times-Picayune– one of the Supreme Court's most important antitrust rulings. It held that the publisher was not in violation of the Sherman Act for requiring its advertisers to purchase advertisements in both the morning and evening editions.
In the 1970s current partner Floyd Abrams came to prominence. In 1971 he successfully defended The New York Times in the landmark New York Times Co. v United States case, in which the Supreme Court refused to allow the Nixon Administration to stop the publication of thousands of pages of Vietnam War-related government documents.
Since then, Abrams and Cahill have been prominent defenders of the media and First Amendment rights, and he receives a top ranking from Chambers USA for his stellar work in this field. Most recently, he prevailed in his argument on behalf of Senator Mitch McConnell, defending the rights of corporations and unions to speak publicly about politics and elections in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission.
Cahill has also represented the Brooklyn Museum in its defense against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani concerning its right to determine what art to display, and represented many journalists in response to government efforts to get them to disclose the identities of their confidential sources (United States v Sterling, and Miller v United States).
Corporate law is where Cahill made its name and the firm has been involved in some massive transactions over the years. In 1988, for example, it represented Drexel Burnham Lambert as underwriter in Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts's $24.6 billion takeover of RJR Nabisco. For more than 17 years this was the largest LBO in history, and remains one of the ten biggest buyouts in US history.
During the 'LBO boom' of 2006 to 2007, Cahill advised the underwriters in eight of the ten largest such transactions to date. This included the buyout of TXU for $47 billion, Equity Office Properties for $23 billion (plus the assumption of $16 billion debt) and HCA for $31.6 billion.
Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
80 Pine Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $364,500,000
- Partners (US): 72
- Associates (US): 209
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: $3,077/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 2016: 38
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 35 offers, 34 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: 49
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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, selfconfidence 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.