Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP - The Inside View

NYC powerhouse Davis Polk-a dots its expertise across a range of corporate and financial matters, keeping associates engaged with “cutting edge work.”

Someone once sang that ‘three is a magic number,’ and while we can’t pretend to know much about what that means at Chambers Associate, Davis Polk clearly knows a trick or two. With just three offices across the US in New York, Menlo Park, and DC, DP is something of a corporate legend, particularly for a firm that has kept a comparatively smaller footprint to other players in the market. Our colleagues over at Chambers USA can attest to this, as DP leads the way across the US in capital markets matters, as well as corporate/M&A, derivatives and bankruptcy/restructuring to name a few.

“...Davis Polk positions themselves as having a good culture, but it’s even better once you’re here.”

But as they say, good things come in small packages, and the firm culture at Davis Polk was a huge draw for most of the associates we spoke to. One junior admitted reservations at first, which were soon quashed: “you go through law school, and you hear all these horror stories about what BigLaw is like. But then you show up here, and everyone’s pretty friendly. Davis Polk positions themselves as having a good culture, but it’s even better once you’re here.”

Outside of the US, the firm does have additional outposts in in São Paulo, London, Madrid, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo and a brand-new Brussels office, focused on EU antitrust law. Most associates on our list worked in the New York office, but we also spoke to a few associates working in Menlo Park, and there were a handful based in DC too.

Strategy & Future

Associates felt well-informed about the strategy and future of the firm, as they “have bi-annual town halls where the managing partner tells us a bit more about the firm’s strategy and direction and takes some questions.” During these meetings, one source told us that “they give good substance and I’ve enjoyed hearing about the strategy,” as upper management “speak to us about the strategy and where we’re going.” A junior told us that “the firm is hoping to grow in size a little bit,” having “just signed the lease to stay in this building.” So, it looks like there may be some expansion on the horizon for Davis Polk, adding to the growth created by the 2023 opening of the firm’s office in Brussels.

The Work

Just over a quarter of the juniors on our list were litigators, whilst the rest were split between a few transactional groups like securities distribution, finance/sponsor finance, and mergers and acquisitions. Work across all groups is assigned by work coordinators, who are responsible for allocating work to associates, and juniors can express their preferences with these coordinators. Our sources generally felt that this system works well.One insider noted that “it makes things very equitable. So, it’s not one person being funneled all the work,” whilst another stated that “one of the reasons I liked Davis Polk was the centralized team.”

“As a junior on these teams, you kind of hold the pen on these big deal documents.”

Associates in securities distribution, the firm’s capital markets group told us that they’ve been exposed to “such a variety of work,” having the opportunity to work on things likeIPOs, private offerings, tenders, warrant exchanges.Another insider mentioned us that “as a junior on these teams, you kind of hold the pen on these big deal documents, and then also leading the charge on diligence,” whilst another was happy to say that “a lot of responsibility is put on the shoulder of the first year to coordinate everything and keep track of everything.” Juniors also appreciated the fast pace of the work within the group, which means that they are “exposed to a lot and you’re learning a lot as you go, rather than working on a transaction for many months at a time.” One newbie told us that their favorite matter to work on was an IPO, as these involve “much more novel problems that require more creative thinking.”

Capital markets clients: Mastercard Incorporate, Bumble Inc., Privia Health Group, Inc. Advised Navax Ltd. On the $1.13B direct listing of its ordinary shares on the Nasdaq in the United States and the registration of those shares under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Litigationassociates are generalists for their first three years at Davis Polk, and sources were pleased to tell us that this means “you can work on anything – civil, white-collar, antitrust, any of those different types of practice groups.” With this comes a broad range of clients too – including “large multinational companies, large telecommunication companies, banks, tech companies,and some individual representations.” Typical tasks included a fair bit of document review when they joined the team. Though, some felt that their responsibilities grew quite quickly. As one source put it, this was mainly as “you’re very much part of the team on these matters, you join all the meetings, have a fair amount of client contact, go to meetings wherever things pop up, doing a little bit of research, drafting the first draft of a motion or a letter, or just sitting in on a client interview or drafting an outline for discussions with a client.”

Litigation clients: Con Edison, Novo Nordisk A/S, Tencent Music Entertainment Group. Served as lead counsel to Pfizer in bringing a trade-secret and breach-of-contract action against two former executives.

“You can go and work on something smaller or turn around and work on something absolutely gigantic.”

Juniors working in the finance/sponsor finance group at Davis Polk told us that the work of the group “is not gated based on seniority or how much experience you have.” So, “everyone gets to see a lot of the new stuff coming in and gets to work on the more cutting-edge stuff.” Work involves working on both the borrower and lender side of deals, with clients including big banks, direct lenders, companies and sponsors. Our sources raved about the variety of matters they could work on, one highlighted that “you can go and work on something smaller, or turn around and work on something absolutely gigantic, which is an insane feeling.” Sources usually began with “really basic junior stuff like signature pages,” but also included “drafting very early drafts, adding comments as they come in, KYC checks, and closing checklists, as well as a lot of the correspondence.” One insider noted they were impressed by how much responsibility they were able to get so soon: “when I first joined, I was surprised that I was allowed to talk on phone calls or send emails, I thought that as a first year associate, I would be supposed to be seen and not heard.”

Finance clients: JPMorgan, UBS, Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. Advised 11 of the largest US banks in making $30B in uninsured deposits into First Republic Bank.

Pro Bono

“Pro bono is generally very supported at the firm,” noted one newbie.Across the board, sources detailed a range of different projects they had worked on, including immigration and criminal cases. One insider explained that they had “helped to draft the brief for our appeal of a criminal conviction in New York State Court,” as well as “going to jails and working with people there.” While there is no limit to the amount of pro bono associates can undertake at the firm, some did acknowledge that it might be easier to fit these matters into a junior’s schedule, as they are likely to have “a little more time to join them.” The firm also has “counsels who are specialists in particular fields who oversee associates working on pro bono,” which meant that “someone with experience is working with you and you’re not left alone to do it.”

Pro bono hours:

  • For all US attorneys: 51,200
  • Average per US attorney: 52

Career Development

Adding to this supportive environment is the firm’s commitment to career development. One junior told us that DP are “very committed to its associates and building you up from the bottom.” Another felt that the focus of the firm was “bringing in the best associates as first years and helping them to advance to being juniors, good mid-levels, good seniors, and maybe good partners eventually.” Sources also felt that there were good opportunities for development through the firm’s “coffee and conversation” session, as well as the added chance to schedule time with the firm’s professional development career coach. Associates in litigation noted that, though they don’t get assigned a partner mentor until a year in, they found this quite helpful “because at that point you’ll have a better sense of what you like and don’t like, and where your career might go.”


“There’s never someone I pass in the hall and don’t say hello to.”

Culture was a big draw for many juniors at DP. One source told us that “it’s held true after being here that the people really are the best part.” We heard that the culture at the firm had even exceeded the expectations of one associate as “they position themselves as having a good culture, but it’s even better once you’re here.” A few sources did admit that it is “not a firm where people generally socialize outside of work,” and is “definitely less socially driven than some of the other firms.” Though, associates did say that they felt “well supported by the more senior associates and the partners,” and that “everyone’s very respectful and very polite which I think can go a long way in some stressful situations.” This was echoed by juniors in the Menlo Park office, one commented that there’s “never someone I pass in the hall and don’t say hello to.”

Davis Polk is recognized as an Excellent Performer for quality of life in our 2024 survey.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

A handful of sources suggested that the firm “could probably use some recruitment” to improve diversity. However, these things do sometimes take a while to come into effect, but the firm does have a 2L DEI Fellowship and offers DEI-related mentoring when associates join.  Though, they also spoke highly of the affinity groups at the firm. One newbie highlighted that the firm is “always doing events and everybody’s invited to them, there’s some really interesting programs.” Associates thought these events were well publicized across the firm and, crucially, we heard that “there’s partner participation, and partners and counsel-level people will attend our social lunches and things.” On top of this, the firm has a dedicated inclusion coordinator, and that “there’s definitely an effort to be more inclusive” across the firm.

Hours and Compensation

Billable hours: no requirement

The lack of target led to some uncertainty among associates about the allocation of bonuses, though others saw the bright side of it: “I’m much more concerned with focusing when I need to focus and I can relax being able to actually take a breath,” and “when I’m not busy I’m not worried about not being busy!” Like any BigLaw firm, associates had heavy workloads despite the lack of a target, as “you’re going to do a lot of hours, even without the requirement, that’s certain,” and as one associate reminded us, “it’s not like you can coast and not do anything.” Though, associates generally seemed positive about their working hours, usually clocking off around 5.30pm, then being around to check emails during the evening, unless something urgent comes up. One newbie mentioned that, “90% of the time I’m logged off by 11pm, like do-not-disturb-is-on-my-phone-logged-off.”

Get Hired  

Recruitment on and off campus  

In addition to its typical OCI schedule, Davis Polk begins accepting applications for the summer associate program in mid-May. Students should refer to their website to apply directly to the firm. Davis Polk also participates in multiple early interview programs and resume collections offered by numerous law schools.  

Top tips: “The interviewers I had were all very different, but the one piece of advice I'd give regardless is to be prepared because there's plenty of information about the firm out there. Nobody would expect you to have substantive knowledge about a particular practice but do your homework so you can ask those second-layer questions.”  

“If you're applying to a smaller office, do your research in advance about the specializations in that location and have a reason why you want to work there in particular.”  

Interviews with the Firm consist of meeting with four attorneys, typically 2 partners and 2 counsel or associates. If there's a practice area you've taken a fancy to or an affinity network you are interested in, the firm can match you up with relevant interviewers. Questions tend to focus on candidates' resumes, and interviewers will drill down on your academic accomplishments and work experience. In this environment, be aware that you are being assessed at all times. That doesn't mean you should panic about becoming the model lawyer; just remember to treat everyone as you'd want to be treated and stay professional throughout your time at the firm.  To excel, make it clear that you're enthusiastic about becoming involved in Davis Polk's practice, that you'll fit in as part of the team, and have something to bring to the table.  

Top tips:   

I'm looking for someone who I can trust to do the work, who seems intellectual and has a record for challenging themselves, and is personable and easy to talk to.”  

Summer program  

Each summer, two to three junior associates (typically from corporate and litigation) take a break from their work and are asked to be the firm’s full-time summer coordinators (devoting their full time and attention to the program). Their job is to link summer associates with work that will interest them, so make the most of this opportunity to find something that you'd like to sample. It's a very 'choose your own adventure'-style program, as there are no formal practice group rotations or set work assignments, so the Davis Polk world is your oyster.  

There are also more than 20 training sessions that give summers an overview of Davis Polk's practice areas. Some summers jet off to an overseas office for four weeks; it's also possible to split your time between New York and one of the firm's other US offices in Northern California or Washington DC.  

Notable summer events: pizza making classes, Broadway shows, fitness classes, wine tastings, sporting events, sunset sailing and cooking classes.  

Top tips:  

“Be open to trying different things; it's quite difficult in law school to really know what you want to do because there's such a range of subjects.”  

“I had a friend who really wanted to see a deposition, so they asked the coordinator and they made sure he got to see one. People who ask get the most out of the program.”  

And finally...  

It's never too early to get started. 1L law firm events are a great opportunity to get to know Davis Polk before the rush of recruitment really kicks off. 


Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

450 Lexington Avenue,
New York,
Website www.davispolk.com

Main areas of work
Antitrust & Competition, Capital Markets, Civil Litigation, Data Privacy & Cybersecurity, Derivatives & Structured Products, Environmental, ESG, Executive Compensation, Finance, Financial Institutions, Investment Management, IP, Tech & Commercial Transactions, IP Litigation, Liability Management & Special Opportunities, Mergers & Acquisitions, Private Equity, Public Company Advisory, Real Estate, Restructuring, Sponsor Finance, Tax, Trusts & Estates, and White Collar Defense & Investigations.

Firm profile
Davis Polk is one of the world’s preeminent law firms, advising industry-leading companies and financial institutions on their most challenging legal and business matters. The firm’s top-flight capabilities are grounded in a distinguished history of 170 years, and its global, forward-looking orientation is supported by offices strategically located in the world’s key financial centers and political capitals. More than 1,000 lawyers collaborate seamlessly across practice groups and geographies to provide clients with exceptional service, sophisticated advice and creative, practical solutions.

Summer associate profile:

We seek to hire applicants from a variety of backgrounds with outstanding academic and non-academic achievements, leadership skills and creativity, and with a demonstrated willingness to take initiative. We strive to find exceptional lawyers who share our commitment to excellence.

Summer program components:
Our summer program is designed to allow students the opportunity to experience work as a junior associate. Summer associates are encouraged to work on matters in any practice area of interest. There are no required rotations. Work assignments are made through selected associates who take leave from their regular practices to assist each summer associate in shaping their summer work experience. In addition to working with our attorneys on the firm’s current billable and pro bono matters, summer associates have the opportunity to attend practice area overviews and participate in multi-day interactive training sessions and workshops. The program also includes a wide range of cultural, social and mentoring activities to assist summer associates in getting to know their peers and our attorneys.

Social Media:
Recruitment website: davispolk.com/careers
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/davis-polk-&-wardwell-llp

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Technology (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Convertible Debt (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Products (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Derivatives (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 2)
    • Hedge Funds (Band 3)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 3)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 2)
    • SPACs (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)

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