Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP - The Inside View

“We’re all international dorks!” – associates at this East Coast-gone-global outfit slip seamlessly into international matters, almost instantly… 

“We’re all international law dorks!” one Cleary junior told us. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is one East Coast-born firm that you can accurately describe as ‘global’. Where many others use the term quite loosely, Cleary’s credentials make it crystal-clear that this is no exaggerated marketing ploy. As one of the first US firms to open a European office, Cleary has since continued to compete in the international field, consistently handling multibillion-dollar matters year on year. Today its overseas bases far outnumber its domestic offices fifteen to two (New York and DC).

“I’ve only been on one transaction where there wasn’t an international component.” 

The firm's international credentials are further exemplified by its Chambers rankings. On top of ten premier rankings in ChambersUSA(among over 20 further US-wide rankings), the firm is also ranked globally for banking and finance, capital markets, antitrust, corporate investigations and M&A, dispute resolution, investment funds, restructuring, and tax – and breathe! 

The Work 

Of the associates on our list, around three-quarters were located in theNew York office, with the rest in DC. Work assignment was similar in its format in both US offices and across both litigation and corporate practices: when associates first arrive “work is assigned by the committee monitoring availability and exposure.” As one insider put it, “there’s a layer of protection – we have central staffing, and partners are not supposed to approach associates directly.” To ensure juniors are not overworked, they can input their availability for the week, including whether “we have long or short term capacity. The goal is to equitably distribute work,” and the assignment system is “another thing that takes off pressure. Here, the work will find you…” 

"You’re talking to economists, clients, and other people in the industry to learn the ins and outs of the practice.”

Within thelitigation practice “there are a lot of smaller groups including bankruptcy, civil arbitration, and investigations, and if you don’t know what to specialize in you can move around and explore different areas.” Juniors can also work on antitrust litigation which included merger clearances, dealing with national and state authorities, litigation relating to mergers, and other litigation primarily revolving around representing defendants. We were told that “50% is traditional legal work – drafting, memorandums, research, and then the other 50% is really economics-heavy where you’re talking to economists, clients, and other people in the industry to learn the ins and outs of the practice.” Cleary’s client base is made up of small and large private equity firms,as well as several Fortune 500 companies. Unsurprisingly, the work is “overwhelmingly” international, with attorneys dealing with matters for foreign sovereigns, governments, and other overseas entities, particularly in South America. Juniors regularly work with colleagues in offices overseas, with one associate commenting: “I’ve only been on one transaction where there wasn’t an international component.” Thankfully, even working overseas “it’s still Cleary! So you can ping each other and pick up the phone,” making everything a little less daunting. 

Litigation clients: HSBC, Citibank, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas and BNYM. Represented Medytox, winning in a trade secret misappropriation action in the US International Trade Commission in DC. 

Associates within corporategenerally start in a pool, but can specify which group they’d like to work in. Across the practice juniors work on: debt finance with a range of private equity to investment grade borrowers, typically on the side of borrowers; sanctions, government contracting with the DoD, and FCC work; and M&A, where they can work with debt finance on mergers, but also work on sell-side transactions and acquisitions, or on coordinating with international entities on reporting for the FCC. As with litigation, international work has “been really common – you’re constantly working with different jurisdictions.” The practice also covers foreign investment matters, and has an “incredibly strong” CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] group, supported by associates with government backgrounds. “From the get-go they gave me a long leash,” one M&A junior noted, and across the board “they let you do what you have proven able to handle.”  

Corporate clients: Representing Anchorage Capital Group in a merger agreement where Amazon will acquire MGM for $8.45 billion.  

Pro Bono 

Across the board associates at Cleary were overwhelmingly positive about the opportunities and support for pro bono: “In the recruitment process one of the first things they asked was what pro bono work I was into – that meant a lot to me.” The firm has a system for bringing forward and vetting projects, which meant “the firm is receptive with associates coming in with an issue or finding something related to an interest.” The firm encourages attorneys to do at least 50 hours of pro bono, but all hours are counted as billable so “if I wanted to do 200, no one would tell me I can’t.” Cleary also has attorneys in the New York office who are full-time pro bono attorneys: “There’s one for corporate, and one for litigation and asylum work, and they are solely responsible for pro bono. They hold office hours and send out emails.” On the DC side, there is a coordinator who works with the DC Bar on providing a wide range of issues for attorneys to work on.

“It’s an opportunity to take the reins on matters earlier than you usually would.”  

The firm provides legal advice to small businesses and nonprofits such as Good Call NYC and the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project; small businesses like Women Entrepreneurs NYC and Start Small Think Big; and criminal justice reform issues with the Bronx Defenders, and the Legal Action Center. Associates we spoke with took part in a range of matters including writing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on gun control, working with the DC Bar startup clinic, and advising on compliance obligations. Juniors noted that pro bono matters are great for getting one-on-one time with clients, and that “it’s an opportunity to take the reins on matters earlier than you usually would.”  

Pro bono hours 

  • Total across all US offices: 41,542
  • Average per US attorney: 70.53 

Career Development 

There are also a range of formal systems in place to support career development at Cleary: “We have good formal mentorship, training, and everyone has an attorney development manager who is checking in frequently throughout the year.” According to our sources, the mentor program is very strong, and partners will often take associates out to lunch or for a coffee. While juniors do have a formal partner and associate mentor, associates often gravitate toward certain partners, and found “the informal system is very impressive.” Sources also said that feedback is “the most valuable thing” as a young associate, and found that “everyone from partners to staff positions, and even your colleagues, are really happy to sit down and talk through approaches – it’s invaluable to pick everyone’s brain and have them pick yours.” 

"I’m always floored because each person writes a page or two, so people are genuinely interested in your growth!”

Associates were also positive about the formal review process where juniors get feedback from everyone they’ve worked with on a matter. “You get insight from everyone – I’m always floored because each person writes a page or two, so people are genuinely interested in your growth!” There are also “a million trainings all the time, especially for the first year or two” whichfill in any gaps in juniors’ knowledge or skills, as well as more specific trainings for each position – “for example I’m moving to mid-level, so I had a training on delegating and managing more junior associates.”  

When it comes to partnership, most agreed “they do like to promote and grow their talent themselves.” One junior felt “the path is clear – year eight or year nine you’re either going to make it or you’re not.” That said,nothing is guaranteed, and some reckoned that “the model depends on people leaving.” There is a career adviser associates can go to regarding exit opportunities, and associates are known to have a wide range of options following Cleary, such as positions in government and in-house positions at a range of places, including several emerging companies.  


“No one’s here to ruin your life,” one junior proclaimed. “It’s not welcoming for shark-type personalities.” The juniors we spoke with were positive about the firm’s culture, explaining that “it ties back to you getting feedback from everyone… we all feel like we’re here because we bring something valuable to the table. We encourage each other and are respectful of constraints; if you need an extra hand because a matter has expanded, we’re always willing to try and make that happen.” 

“Right now, the big push is to incentivize associates to come in."

At the time of research, Cleary folks were expected to go into the office three days a week, and as if seeing your colleagues in person wasn’t exciting enough, we also heard reports of a wine and cheese evening every Thursday. Some teams have a monthly dinner, while others flagged “a lot” of happy hours. Recently, associates even had a mentor/mentee escape room event. “Right now, the big push is to incentivize associates to come in. There’s even a policy where, if you’re at the office after 6pm you can get an Uber anywhere!” We were told that is also related to safety measures. The firm has also been working on integrating and connecting associates with the help of a “cushy” budget: “If you’re going out to lunch with four or more associates the firm will pay for it at around $40 a head! They really do put an emphasis on community here.” 

Diversity & Inclusion 

This community approach extended to the firm’s D&I culture where “there are tons of affinity groups which are always having events – I can’t imagine the firm being more encouraging.” In terms of recruitment, associates did feel “it is a focus,” though insiders noted that diversity in the more senior leadership positions are “not an overnight fix.” While some reported that “there have been issues with diverse colleagues where they don’t feel the firm is doing its best,” we were also told that there have been a number of awareness trainings and that “they are trying to make it a dialogue. There needs to be something done to figure out why there is that drop off, and it’s not uniquely a Cleary problem, but I think there could be more accountability to make sure they are accounted for higher up.”  

Hours & Compensation  

Billable hours: no requirement 

“How much you have worked isn’t a good measure of how good the work is,” one associate preluded. “We don’t have a requirement, but we do have a 1,950 to 2,150 target,” which can include pro bono, D&I events, business development, and recruitment activities. Regardless of hours, sources enthused that “the money and the bonuses are great. They’re quick to match the market – it hits the news, then we get a memo!”  

“There’s a lot of discretion in being able to plan around your time.” 

Associates typically don’t work more than 60–70 hours a week, but “there’s ebb and flow.” When deals are “running full steam” juniors can find themselves working nights and weekends but “no one is expecting you to reply within five minutes at eleven unless there’s a deal.” In general though, associates “don’t feel pressure to remain online, on weekends, or after hours. As much as possible I think colleagues try to leave that extra time up to me. I’ve felt there’s a lot of discretion in being able to plan around your time.” 

Strategy and Future 

Juniors largely felt that the firm “discloses to us as much as I can imagine! We get the total collections, amount billed, last quarter, and bi-annual read-outs on strategy from the partners on expansion by practice and specialties.” One junior commented that M&A and antitrust are earmarked for growth, as well as the client base in California – “it’s good to know the firm is solvent, and has a clear line of sight!” 

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

“We visit a wide range of schools across the country in search of academically strong and intellectually curious candidates who are enthusiastic about practicing law,” hiring partner Abena Mainoo tells us. A large percentage of the firm’s summer associate hiring is done through on-campus programs, but the firm “also participates in resume collection programs, and even accepts direct applications online.”

Mainoo explains that the “the number of students we meet on campus varies from year to year and is generally related to the size of the law school class and our summer program size.” On-campus interviews are typically held by senior lawyers from the firm but Cleary also “sometimes hosts hospitality suites on campus that are staffed with a variety of associates and summer associates who are alums of the law schools we visit as well as new associates who will be joining the firm.”

Interviews follow a standard format: “Candidates can expect to be asked about their interests as well as academic and work experiences.” Mainoo adds that “knowing information about firm practices and/or clients is key.”


Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

Successful candidates can expect to meet up to four to five attorneys during their callback interview, though Mainoo points out that “Each candidate’s schedule is tailored to their interests, so candidates can select who they would like to meet with, whether it be people from a particular practice area, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.” Mainoo outlines five skills the firm is looking to identify in candidates including: “leadership ability, client service orientation, grit, effective communication, and intellectual ability.”

Top tips for this stage:

"Enjoy the process! This is an awesome chance to meet with a large number of lawyers to expand your network.” - hiring partner Abena Mainoo

Summer Program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

Summer associates are free to sample work from multiple practice areas, including Cleary’s pool of pro bono projects. “Since there are no formal rotations, summer associates may explore different practices without being required to move between prescribed groups.” Mainoo expands: “We have a strong focus on intensive training programs throughout the summer. In addition to twice-weekly summer lunches hosted by the different practice groups, summer associates will attend a corporate training seminar that provides an understanding of transactional practice areas, and a litigation trainingthat provides a foundation in key advocacy skills, discovery skills, and substantive areas of law that are central to the practice.”

And finally…

Summer associates have the opportunity to spend four weeks in one of Cleary’s overseas offices, “a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the worldwide Cleary culture and global reach of our firm.”

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

One Liberty Plaza,
New York,
NY 10006

  • Head Offices: New York, NY, and Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 4
  • Number of international offices: 12
  • Partners (US): 91
  • Associates (US): 390
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contacts: Donna Harris (US) (
  • Hiring partners: Abena Mainoo (NY) and Daniel Culley (DC)
  • Diversity officers: Paul Shim (NY), and Bruce Hoffman (DC)
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 57
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 11, 2Ls: 97, SEO: 4
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: NY: 83, DC: 25
  • Summer salary 2022: 1Ls/2Ls: $4,135/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes 

Main areas of work
Antitrust, banking and financial institutions, bankruptcy and restructuring, capital markets, corporate governance, cybersecurity and privacy, derivatives, economic sanctions and foreign investments, energy, environmental, executive compensation and employee benefits, financial technology, global crisis management, intellectual property, investment funds, international arbitration, international trade and investment, leveraged and acquisition finance, litigation and arbitration, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, private clients, private equity, private funds, pro bono, project finance and infrastructure, public international law, real estate, securities and M&A litigation, sovereign governments and international institutions, structured finance, tax, white-collar defense and investigations.

Firm profile
Cleary Gottlieb is a pioneer in globalizing the legal profession. Since 1946, its lawyers and staff have worked across practices, industries, jurisdictions and continents to provide clients with simple, actionable approaches to their most complex legal and business challenges. The firm has 16 offices in major financial centers around the world. However, it operates as a single, integrated global partnership, not a US firm with a network of overseas locations. The firm is fluent in the many languages of local and global business, and Cleary’s consistent success in multiple jurisdictions earned Cleary Chambers and Partners’ inaugural “International Law Firm of the Year” award. The firm employs approximately 1,100 lawyers from more than 50 countries and diverse backgrounds who are admitted to practice in numerous jurisdictions. Cleary was among the first international law firms to hire and promote non-US lawyers as equal partners around the world.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022:
Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, McGill, Michigan, New York Law, NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Osgoode, Penn, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Stanford, Texas, Toronto, Tulane, Wake Forest, Washington University, Washington and Lee, William and Mary, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC Gould, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale

Summer associate profile:
The firm seeks candidates who are confident in their abilities and creative in their thinking. It looks for academically strong candidates of all races and nationalities who are enthusiastic about practicing law. The firm place a premium on openness, diversity, individuality and collegiality and look for candidates who do so as well.

Summer program components:
Summer program components: The summer program is designed to provide summer associates with real world preparation to jump-start a successful legal career. The firm offers summer associates the flexibility to enjoy assignments in many practice areas or to focus on a particular discipline. The summer program consists of formal and informal training, partner and associate mentoring, optional overseas office rotations, pro bono work, comprehensive evaluations and social/networking events.

Social media
Recruitment website:
LinkedIn: cleary-gottlieb-steen-&-hamilton-llp
Twitter: @ClearyGottlieb
Facebook: Cleary-Gottlieb-Steen-Hamilton

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Products (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Derivatives (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)