Crowell & Moring LLP - The Inside View

It's now 35 years since an A-Team of lawyers quit Jones Day to set up Crowell & Moring along "more collegial" lines...

IN that time, Crowell has swelled its ranks from 53 breakaway Jones Day attorneys in DC to today's 500, working from seven domestic and two international offices. Co-founder Took Crowell said at the time a main goal was "to create a democratic and more collegial atmosphere." This ethos still permeates the culture today.

The government contracts powerhouse has been top of the Chambers USA rankings in this category for over a decade, but these days boasts strong Chambers-ranked practices across the board in areas including antitrust, litigation, corporate/M&A, healthcare, bankruptcy/restructuring, intellectual property, energy, and transportation. Big-hitting clients include BAE Systems, DuPont, Santander and Amazon.

One current focus is strengthening Crowell's burgeoning litigation and regulation departments, and enhancing the overlapping expertise between these two areas. “We see them as a successful model for our firm,” managing partner Ellen Dwyer tells us. “When folks come to the firm for a litigation matter, they are not just getting litigators but people who are intimately familiar on the subject matter of regulatory areas and the issues which could arise. It is a unique combination.”  

The Work

New starters join two practice areas and typically specialize in one after three or four years. However, the system is adaptable and juniors who wish to specialize sooner can. Conversely, those reluctant to be pinned down after several years aren't uncommon and usually focus on areas which cross paths, like healthcare and litigation. Antitrust and litigation take the most juniors; other options include government contracts, corporate, insurance and environment.

Staffing partners allocate work according to business need and associates' availability. “We indicate whether we're looking for bigger projects, research or something one-off,” one interviewee explained. “It's helpful when you're starting out and don't know anyone,” another agreed. Once newbies are established, the work flows “more organically. At lunch, a partner I've previously impressed may ask me to help on another matter.” Juniors with spare time “can go knock on a partner's door and ask if there's anything to help with.”

“I was on a call with a partner and he told me to just chime in."

Government contracts work predominantly focuses on bid protests – challenges to the award of things like military contracts to private equipment and service providers. Associates here conduct a substantial amount of legal research, doc collection and reviews, and drafting. That said, juniors generally were pleased with how much responsibility they were given. “I take the first crack at drafting motions and briefs. They get revised a lot,” a litigator emphasized, “but I do get to attempt them.” Client contact isn't just limited to preparing emails: “I was on a call with a partner and he told me to just chime in. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I think I rose to the occasion.”

Litigation tasks include "lots of research and writing," both "internal memos and sometimes to the client," and helping prepare cross-examinations. Some sources reported starting out by “writing less consequential documents. Then someone says 'you haven't tried that yet, let's give you the exposure' and soon you're constructing first drafts of appellate briefs.”

Training & Development

New associates are treated to 'bootcamp' training sessions which cover “the usual nuts and bolts but also topics such as drafting complaints and persuasive writing.” While some found these a helpful introduction, others would have preferred to get stuck in straightaway: “Some of it, like time management, was fairly abstract. There's no substitute for having a go,” one novice felt. 

"There's no substitute for having a go.”

Feedback often comes from seniors, ad hoc, and inevitably some are more forthcoming than others. “I don't have to ask for it," several rookies told us. "They'll tell me when my work is great or not in line with what they want.” Others felt they had to take a more “proactive approach in seeking comments but they've always been happy to respond.”

In addition to providing mentors, Crowell launched a sponsorship program a couple of years ago to consciously nurture talent, especially women and minorities. Read all about this program in our Web Extras.


“It feels fairly diverse, considering it's a law firm,” juniors acknowledged. Crowell is “definitely striving for diversity.” Most partners are white males, but “it never feels like an old boys' club. We have strong women in leadership and a strong representation of a few races in the partnership.”

The firm's sponsorship initiative (read about it in our Bonus Features) was launched to encourage the retention and promotion of women and ethnic minorities. Associates were broadly positive about its impact so far: “It's a noble endeavor, but it's hard to force into a working structure. Having the conversation and making a concerted effort is definitely a step in the right direction.” Managing partner Ellen Dwyer reveals to us that "we're very pleased as already some of those actively sponsored have been promoted, which is a really important measure of success for us."

“We have strong women in leadership.”

Current initiatives include the Women Attorney's Network, a diversity speaker series and Crowell's very own Diversity Council. Insiders praised these: “Many diverse attorneys don't have that support network of people with a similar background to themselves. The groups effectively provide that.”


Crowellites told us repeatedly that the firm is a place where “we're pushing the upper limits of how successful we can be while still having fun. You're going to work hard for sure, but you'll enjoy the people you work with.” Attorneys put this down to the firm's foundation 35 years ago when those 53 attorneys broke away from Jones Day to create a more egalitarian and collegial firm. This “rebellious ethos now trickles down from the top.” 

“People don't take themselves too seriously. Around Christmas, a group of partners go round the office singing carols.” Such good cheer is also apparent during the firm's social events. One of DC's 'cheap booze Thursdays', for example, saw people try to identify partners from a bunch of their childhood holiday snaps. The San Fran office hosts a monthly pizza lunch and (separate) happy hour. Orange County attorneys are a fairly sporty bunch and even have their own basketball team, which one associate proudly described as “okay, for a team of lawyers...”

“'OMG, it's so much friendlier than my old office!'"

“New lateral hires always exclaim 'OMG it's so much friendlier than my old office!'” There is, however, a careful balance to maintain. “You have to know where to draw the line," one junior warned. "Out for coffee with my partner might not feel like we're at work, but back in the office I need to meet their standards.”

Hours & Compensation

Crowell sets a billing target of 1,900 hours to be bonus-eligible, including 50 hours of pro bono, with the additional benchmark of 2,400 hours 'all in.' Sources felt this was realistic, and that failure to meet it wouldn't be catastrophic. “They understand it can take a bit of time in your first year.” Others suggested the firm looks at the whole picture: “People have fallen short but were very aggressive in pro bono and personal development, and the firm understood. If you fall short in a lot of areas it's a different matter.” Compensation is discretionary after the first year.

“They understand it can take a bit of time in your first year.” 

Some permitted flexibility around office work hours is particularly welcome for those with young families. “I leave early, put the kids to bed, and continue any work afterward,” reported one young mom. However “I find it difficult to switch off,” another source admitted. “If I'm out at dinner and receive an email I feel I have to respond.”

Is over-working a problem at Crowell? Associates felt their first port of call would be to alert their practice group or staffing partner. “I know people have been taken off matters when they're stretched too thin. The firm doesn't want people to take on too much and produce something inadequate.”


All associates get their own office. New recruits are allowed to fancy-up their own space according to their taste. Don't expect anything too wacky, though: most tended to stick with framed diplomas, family photographs and their kids' artwork. “I've got one with a Jackson Pollock look to it,” one parent quipped about their child's paint-splatterings.

We heard of a few quirks here and there: San Fran partners apparently drape sports' team flags over their doors. In DC “it might just be urban legend but apparently someone has a stuffed shark in their room.”

"Apparently someone has a stuffed shark in their room.”

Of course, we can't write about Crowell and not mention the rubber ducks which have been a staple of firm life ever since an associate dropped one into the fountain of the DC office several years ago. More yellow plastic friends soon joined this lone bird and now they're everywhere. “Nearly everyone has one or two. Some people literally line them up around their desks – an army of ducks,” a second-year chortled.

Weekly firmwide practice area meetings are synced up by phone or video and there is a “decent amount” of cross-office staffing on a daily basis. DC is the biggest by far of Crowell's seven domestic offices; overseas branches are in London and Brussels. There are also affiliations with firms in the Middle East.

Pro Bono

“I was hoping you'd ask about pro bono,” one second-year exclaimed. “It was one of the reasons I picked Crowell. Instead of boat cruises on the Potomac, the firm sends its summer associates to visit disadvantaged parts of DC. I found that very telling.” Some associates had done 200 hours, way over the expected 50. "Most exceed the minimum requirement.” Attorneys receive “daily emails with opportunities, and it's incredibly easy to accept them.” They're encouraged to take on matters from the start. “I've had partners indicate that if I'm interested in a pro bono matter they'll happily move my work around so I can pursue it.” Projects can get juniors “out of our comfort zones and into the courtroom.” In DC, landlord-tenant disputes and assisting homeless shelters are common assignments, while California associates had worked with public law centers on “whatever you're passionate about, from immigration to bankruptcy.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 33,203
  • Average per US attorney: 72

Get Hired

Careful recruiting is one way Crowell maintains its culture. Consequently, at OCIs interviewers “primarily look for personality" (a stellar resume is a given, obviously). "There are tons of bright young people who could do the work, but the real question is 'if you were stuck in a conference room at 2am, would you want them there with you'?”

So how can you convey the right image? “Be open about yourself. Prepare to talk about your interests in addition to your experience, as you'll come off more rounded in the interview.” Commitment to a future with the firm is important too. Associates who'd applied from outside the region they're now in remembered being grilled on 'why here'? For more advice on getting hired, read our Web Extras.

Strategy & Future

“We're very focused at this time on deepening and broadening our expertise in certain industries,” managing partner Ellen Dwyer tells us. “Four areas we're doing that are: healthcare, where we have a significant depth of experience; energy, where we have a significant client base; government procurement; and cyber security."

"In many respects we've moved beyond the billable hour model." 

Innovation has been a watchword in recent years, not least in alternative ways to bill clients. Dwyer explains: "We've always been collaborating with clients, but especially over the last several years. Beginning in 2008 we have been able to respond to concerns and needs in particularly difficult economic circumstances. In many respects we've moved beyond the billable hour model so we're able to provide cost predictability and certainty. This has taken the form of many innovative pricing models in collaboration with the client. We have been working on Value Based Billing (VBB) arrangements for a while, and are a recognized leader in the area."

Lawyers also spent 2014 blowing out 35 candles on Crowell's big birthday cake. "2014 was particularly special to us as it was the firm's 35th anniversary," Dwyer highlights. "Crowell & Moring hosted gatherings of our firm community throughout the year and we've used these as an opportunity to reach out to our alumni. We also launched an alumni website." For our full interview with Ellen Dwyer, go to the Bonus Features.



Interview with Crowell & Moring managing partner Ellen Dwyer 

Chambers Associate: What have been the highlights from the past year? 

Ellen Dwyer: 2014 was particularly special to us as it was the firm's 35th anniversary. Most of our peers are in the hundreds. We spent the year really affirming our values and sense of community and commitment. Crowell & Moring hosted gatherings of our firm community throughout the year and we've used these as an opportunity to reach out to our alumni. We also launched  an alumni website. We're pleased that they're now clients of the firm; it's a nice way for them to stay connected.

There's a long list of really nice highlights and accolades we've received; for example, we were identified as one of the top ten summer associate programs by the National Law Journal. We work very hard on our summer associate program to make it productive and give new lawyers the opportunity to learn about the firm and our clients. Our government contracts practice is always premier and was named by Law360 as practice group of the year. The Financial Times awarded us a recognition of innovation in the 'innovative lawyers' category – this was an acknowledgment of our efforts to advance in the area of client pricing in the delivery and service of our matters in a way which is consistent with client expectations.

Internally, we also launched an innovation lab. We're good at finding unique, effective and efficient ways to enhance services so we're furthering that in a more formal way. The lab is an online portal that is available to all members of the firm as a way to propose suggestions for improvement in our operations and service delivery. Some of the innovative ideas may include ways to improve internal interaction and collaboration to enhance client services.

CA: You mentioned innovation in client pricing and enhancing client services. Do you think client needs are changing?

ED: Yes – I would say that's not new to 2014. We've always been collaborating with clients, but especially over the last several years. Beginning in 2008 we have been able to respond to concerns and needs in particularly difficult economic circumstances. In many respects we've moved beyond the billable hour model so we're able to provide cost predictability and certainty. This has taken the form of many innovative pricing models in collaboration with the client. We've been working on Value Based Billing (VBB) arrangements for a while, and are a recognized leader in the area.

One new frontier goes beyond pricing and focuses on the ways we deliver services to our clients. We have a legal project management (LMP) initiative which has been underway for a couple of years. The LMP tool is a vehicle to ensure we're continually communicating with clients about who we're working with so we can accurately budget and price for them. To be successful that requires active management of matters and on-going communication with the client. This requires us to scope matters out with the client at the beginning and then be vigilant about keeping in line with the budget and communicating with them as things progress to ensure we meet expectations.

CA: Given that our readers wouldn’t be joining your firm for another couple of years, what’s the general strategy going forwards? What do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years?

ED: I would say that we're very focused at this time on deepening and broadening our expertise in certain industries. Three areas we're doing that in are healthcare, where we have a significant depth of experience, in energy, where we have a significant client base, and in government procurement.

We believe that to continue to be successful we need to recommit ourselves to understanding our clients and the forces impacting their business. We're aligning our practices and opportunities to meet needs in these industries. This approach creates opportunities for all our practice areas.

CA: Last year you told us that the two areas you're pushing at the firm are litigation and regulation. Are these still the areas you're focusing on?

ED: Yes, very much so. We see them as a successful model for our firm. Clients come to us for our deep experience in a number of our different practice areas such as healthcare and antitrust not just regulation.

In terms of litigation and regulation we have both regulatory and litigation capabilities with true industry leaders in the partnership. When folks come to the firm for a litigation matter they're not just getting litigators but people who are intimately familiar on the subject matter of regulatory areas and the issues which could arise. It is a unique combination. 

CA: Are there any plans to open new offices? 

ED: We don't have any immediate plans. In the past this has been somewhat opportunistic but our real focus at the moment is continuing to build and deepen our talent in our offices.

CA: In the past we've understood there's been a good balance at the firm between its lighthearted culture and also the fact that you're conducting serious work. Is that balance still being maintained?

ED: I hope so. I would describe our culture as very collaborative across the firm, between lawyers and staff and also with clients – we play well in the sandbox. Our culture is a differentiator for us. Clients ask about it: are we able to partner with other law firms on matters? How do we handle the transition of work between law firms? We have a good sense of community and it's become an important and potent aspect in building relationships with clients.

CA: Do you see any challenges which could perhaps threaten or shift that balance?

ED: I don't really. On the culture side we take care with talent coming in and also with the internal messages we put out. Our leadership is vigilant in ensuring we stay true to values and our firm community embraces that.

CA: We've mentioned the introduction of the sponsorship program for the past couple of years. Could you update us on how it's going?

ED: The sponsorship effort continues and is something the senior leadership of the firm is actively involved in driving forward. We're very pleased as already some of those actively sponsored have been promoted, which is a really important measure of success for us. This is the second year we're doing a lot of hard work and trying to install across the firm the best practices which we see developing from sponsorship. Not many firms are doing this particular approach to talent development and diversity. There's a significant effort in the corporate environment but not so much in law. We're trying to reach more people and propel them forward by talking to lawyers about how to earn sponsorship. To push things forward we need to engage our sponsors and we are doing our best to make that happen.

CA: Last year you told us that having a sense of humility helps people thrive at the firm. Do you think that is still the case?

ED: I do, I think it's really essential. I actually continue to think being collaborative and able to team with others is somewhat unique. One thing that distinguishes us from others on a partner level is that our partners are as excited about building opportunities for others as for themselves. That's something which is really important for us. We spend a lot of time cross-selling and generating business opportunities for each other. We can only be successful if we have partners and leaders committed to each other’s success. That's really special and quite unique.

CA: Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession? Anything you wish you'd been told or knew before you started as an associate?

ED: That was centuries ago! I guess my only advice would be to gain some life experience before going to law school. I would urge that when you come out of college, find an opportunity to work in an industry of interest to you. You'll be more mature and thoughtful about your potential path in law.

Sponsorship and the problem of inherent bias

Most firms have mentors of some description, and Crowell is no different. But with diversity at partnership level an ongoing disappointment (as it is at all big law firms), Crowell thought it would do something about it.

Welcome: the sponsorship program. Unlike informal mentors, who are basically a shoulder to cry on, sponsors are senior people who consciously look out for their sponsees, become advocates for them, recommend them for high profile work and (all being well) champion them for promotion up the ranks. The idea is to counter 'inherent bias' which historically has seen white men ascend the greasy pole of career progression faster and more permanently than their female and diverse colleagues, not just in the legal profession but society generally.

Sponsorship isn't a new concept. Influential economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, for example, has written and spoken extensively about the challenges faced by women and minorities in the corporate world, and how to address them.

Crowell's chair emeritus, Kent Gardiner, read a piece by Hewlett about sponsorship as one solution in the Harvard Business Review a few years back. Despite recruiting equal numbers of men and women from law school and running both women's and diversity initiatives, Crowell had found that women and ethnic minorities were often stuck below the partnership, perplexingly not breaking into it in proportionate numbers. Intrigued, the firm launched a survey in conjunction with Hewlett's consulting business to understand its attorneys' attitudes towards career progression.

In response to this investigation, Crowell began educating attorneys firmwide to the problems of inherent bias and the concept of sponsorship. Partners were trained to have greater awareness about inherent bias and to actively seek out talent from both sexes and all ethnic backgrounds.

Crowell's sponsorship initiative is still in its early stages and may take several years to demonstrate clear results. Associates we interviewed were aware of the scheme, and understood the importance of seeking sponsors and cultivating relationships. However, a few were sceptical about how well sponsorship will work in practice. Only time will tell, and we look forward to reporting the results in the coming years. 

Get Hired

Managing partner Ellen Dwyer informs us that in order to maintain Crowell's famous culture “we take care with talent coming in. ” While academics are an important factor in the recruitment process it's a candidates personality which could make or break their application.

Advice for impressing the firm at OCIs is first and foremost not to be rude: “One candidate jokingly mocked an interviewer for making a mistake," one associate warned us. "That did not go down well.”  Aside from excellent academics, “personality is a big factor in making the decision at interviews. We can already tell whether someone's qualified from their resume.” If the firm doesn't conduct OCI's at your campus, the advice is to “find them at a law fair and be persistent: it pays off.”

At callbacks, associates recalled that interviewers were “very interested in hearing about previous work experience.” Dwyer reiterates this point, urging college graduates to “find an opportunity to work in an industry of interest to you” before attending law school. She reasons “you'll be in a much better position; you'll be more mature and thoughtful about your potential path in law. Get some real world experience and make an informed choice.”

Commitment to a future with the firm is important. As to what kind of person the firm is looking for, one second-year mused: “I think the firm looks to hire a wide range of individuals. However, it's important for them to be mature enough that they won't get lost in the culture. This is a law firm, so demands are going to be made on you and the firm looks to hire people who can handle that without being abrasive.”

Associates felt the environment at Crowell was more collaborative than competitive, with one remarking: “I've not come across any of the intense gunners you find in law school.” Having said that, associates were quick to point out that “we know we have to work hard. We aren't going to be handed things on a plate. It helps to remember that and stay humble.”

Crowell & Moring LLP

1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC,

  • Head Office: Washington DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $368,262,066
  • Partners (US): 186
  • Counsel/Sr. Counsel (US): 126
  • Associates (US): 138
  • Summer Salary 2015  
  • 1Ls: $3077/week
  • 2Ls: $3077/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2015: 17 firmwide
  • Offers/acceptances 2014: 15 offers, 14 acceptances

Firm profile

Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with more than 500 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The fi rm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Anchorage, Cheyenne, London, and Brussels.

Recruitment details

Number of 1st year associates: 18 

Number of 2nd year associates: 22

Associate salaries: 1st year: $ 160,000 

2nd year: Not lock step

Clerking policy: No

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2015:
We interview at the majority of the top 20 law schools and numerous diversity related and IP specific job fairs throughout the country.

Summer details

Summer associate profile:
The fi rm looks for highly qualified, entrepreneurial candidates with diverse backgrounds. We prefer candidate with law review, journal or moot court experience and/or strong relevant legal employment experience, including judicial clerkships; as well as demonstrated leadership capabilities.

Summer program components:
The diversity in our summer program refl ects the diversity of our firm at large. We want summer associates who take the practice of law and client service more seriously than they take themselves, who will contribute to the life of the firm, and who share our sense of responsibility to the community.
Most of our junior associates come from our Summer Associate Program. We want you to go back to law school knowing who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Work for summer associates includes mostly short-term projects that will allow you to experience as many practice areas and as many lawyers as possible.
Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars on such topics as The Law Firm as a Business and Negotiations Training. In addition, the fi rm offers summer associates the opportunities to participate in our Public Interest Fellowship program and sign up for Live Events which are real-world activities like court hearings, client meetings, depositions, presentations and negotiations that summer associates may attend in order to observe Crowell & Moring attorneys in action.