Debevoise & Plimpton LLP - The Inside View

Any concerns about cutthroat BigLaw culture were null and Debe-void at this big, friendly New York giant.

As the old adage goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. By this measure, junior associates at New York-born Debevoise & Plimpton were far from silent. “I was drawn to what I understood the firm culture to be – collegial, respectful, and not cutthroat,” one interviewee reflected. Those looking for a “positive work environment” in which lawyers prioritized “delivering for clients and being committed to doing good work” found their expectations firmly met upon joining Debevoise. Everyone we spoke to echoed a similar sentiment: “There is a culture of being polite – it’s not tolerated for someone to yell.” At the same time, juniors didn’t downplay the caliber of people they came across at the firm: “I liked the sense that they took what they did seriously. They seemed very sharp, but also down to earth.”

But of course, no firm makes it into the top ranks of the global legal scene on love and fresh air alone. Juniors across the firm’s practices were drawn to Debevoise’s “big name” in their respective areas. Its much-honed expertise spans both its home state of New York as well as across the nation. Chambers USA ranks Debevoise among the best in the country for corporate crime & investigations, insurance, IP, international arbitration, private equity fund formation, and securities regulation, while also giving impressive kudos to its banking & finance, FCPA and tax practices (among many others – see the full list on chambers.com). All of this is done out of just two US offices: HQ in New York and a second base in DC. The firm has eight further offices overseas.

Strategy & Future



Debevoise is one of the few firms that actually opened an office during the pandemic, setting up a Luxembourg base in June 2020 which focuses on private equity, fund formation and regulatory work. With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, juniors felt the firm had handled the situation “remarkably well.” Interviewees highlighted that “our managing partner does a full firm update every two weeks and he has been very transparent.” One source also noted that the firm was “fully supporting its cafeteria staff” as well. “That goes back to why I chose Debevoise – they’ve been very thoughtful.”

The Work



At the time of research, almost all junior associates were based in New York, with around five juniors based in DC. They were split evenly between the corporate and litigation groups, with a very small handful focusing their practice on tax and employee benefits work. Corporate joiners start firm life in a rotation program which enables them to try two different subgroups over the space of two years, while litigators tend to start out as generalists before deciding on a more specific area toward the end of their second year. During these initial two years, a central staffing coordinator assigns work to juniors, and this becomes “less formalized” from third year onwards. Sources were happy with this arrangement and noted “if you say you want to get experience in a certain area, they definitely make a real effort.”

“You’re the main person when it comes to diligence… As a junior it becomes your baby!”

Over the course of their two-year corporate rotation, sources spend time in subgroups including M&A, private equity, finance, and banking. M&A is one of the larger subgroups and as such, the matters sources came across varied widely. Some mentioned doing “both public and private mergers and acquisitions,” while others worked on private equity matters. Juniors praised the diversity of their experiences, highlighting that they got to see “both buy-side and sell-side work.” Day to day, sources explained “you’re the main person when it comes to diligence – reviewing all the documents, creating summary charts, writing the diligence reports… As a junior it becomes your baby!” Further down the deal line, sources added “you might help out drafting certain provisions in the main agreement,” as well as “any ancillary documents or side agreements.”

M&A clients: Amazon, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota. Recently advised Interxion, a European data center company, on its $8.4 billion merger with REIT Digital Realty.

Debevoise’s banking group has more of a regulatory focus, “working with banks for their variety of needs.” This includes sanctions work, AML (anti-money laundering) work, and charter applications. Juniors had also been involved in “helping clients update their compliance policies” as well as “negotiating with regulators to come to an understanding.” In such a regulated space there are “lots of rules regarding what you can and can’t do” as a bank, which meant juniors found they were regularly doing a lot of research and drafting of memos. Due to the nature of this area, sources understood that responsibility “comes in little steps,” but noted they still found ownership on their projects: “You’re the one doing the research.”

Banking clients: Goldman Sachs, Société Générale, Morgan Stanley. Recently assisted Fifth Third Bank in converting from a state to a national bank.

“We represent corporations or executives of corporations in investigations by regulatory bodies.”

After spending time as generalists dabbling in a variety of litigation subgroups, one of the more popular branches for interviewees was white-collar defense. The DC office is smaller than its New York counterpart, but with its proximity to many government bodies, sources reckoned “there are definitely some white-collar heavy-hitters there.” Our interviewees split the practice into three broad categories: regulatory defense, internal investigations, and criminal defense. Regulatory defense work makes up “the lion’s share of what we do – we represent corporations or executives of corporations in investigations by regulatory bodies like the FCC” (that’s the Federal Communications Commission). With internal investigations, the team acts as “independent fact-finders.” As one interviewee elaborated, “If a problem pops up for a company, we fully investigate it and make a report, occasionally with recommendations for further action.” Criminal defense work came up less often, but occasionally the team is enlisted to defend individuals in criminal matters. Along with “some variation of document review,” juniors were also involved in “preparing witnesses for interviews, and preparing interview outlines or memoranda.”

Other junior litigators went down the more civil and commercial route. On this side, juniors came across contract disputes, financial services disputes, securities litigation, healthcare matters, and shareholder disputes, among other areas. Beyond doc review and discovery, sources reported “drafting initial complaints” (and any subsequent amendments), as well as “drafting motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgments.”

Litigation clients: Capital One, GlaxoSmithKline, Twitter, PayPal. Recently advised Shell regarding a criminal prosecution of the oil company and four of its former employees in Italy.

Pro Bono



“I cannot stress how awesome my pro bono experience has been,” one interviewee enthused. Many shared this sentiment and highlighted how attorneys at Debevoise are given “full credit for all the pro bono work you’ve done.” Several of our interviewees had actually clocked hundreds of hours toward their pro bono matters. Juniors felt the firm values pro bono to the point where “in your reviews, if you’re not doing pro bono it is definitely a red flag!” Fortunately though, with a devoted pro bono coordinator on hand, no one had trouble jumping on matters – “for both litigation and corporate!” So far, the juniors we spoke to had gotten stuck into immigration petitions, criminal defense trials, amicus briefs, and helping nonprofits with contracts. Sources also noted that the firm has ties with the Center for Reproductive Rights, Federal Defenders New York and Start Small Think Big, among other organizations.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 75,811
  • Average per US attorney: 121

Debevoise joins the elite group of firms billing over 100 pro bono hours per attorney>

Culture, Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 2,000 soft target

The firm doesn’t have an official billing requirement, but informally most associates aimed to hit 2,000 hours. “We are crazy busy,” one junior told us. “I would be shocked if many people were coming in under 2,000.” Not that it matters when considering bonuses. The firm’s much-praised lockstep compensation system means “everyone earns the same based on class year” – and that extends to both salaries and bonuses. The reviews were all positive from our interviewees: “It’s nice because you’re not freaking out if you’re ten hours short or whatever.”

“More often than not I schedule my private life around my work life.”

However, make no mistake – just because there is no official hours target, it doesn’t mean the hours at Debevoise aren’t in line with its BigLaw counterparts. One source estimated that their “weekly average is about 55 hours a week,” which, if our math is correct, is around ten hours a day with a handful more thrown in on the weekend for good measure. Another shared that “more often than not I schedule my private life around my work life,” though they went on to add that the firm is “generally pretty respectful of boundaries,” echoing their peers.

The lockstep compensation system also had a noticeable effect on the firm culture. With the lack of competition for hours, juniors noticed “the focus is just on getting the work done and being polite and supportive of each other.” Of course, the firm still holds its lawyers to high standards, but juniors explained that Debevoise recognizes the simple truth that there’s “no need to be rude about it.” To this extent, sources felt “it’s not a place where you’ll get far if you are unpleasant to work with.” This was relevant across all levels of seniority: one associate reiterated that “Debevoise partners are nice, while still being the strongest advocates for clients.”

Debevoise made the US top 25 for associate satisfaction in 2021>

Career Development



“Partners are invested in having good people at the firm and good people on their matters,” juniors reflected. This manifested itself in a significant number of opportunities for professional development, including skill workshops and other training programs. Sources also highlighted the implementation of a new midlevel training program which the firm is “trying to make a priority.” More informally, juniors noted that “most people I work with are really great teachers, which makes it a great place to learn.” The level of feedback given at Debevoise also got a lot of praise – sources noted “the firm is investing a lot in improving the way that senior and midlevel associates both receive and solicit informal feedback in addition to the formal feedback channels.”

“It’s a very well-respected name that people leverage effectively.”

Going forward with their careers, interviewees were rightly confident that the Debevoise name would hold a lot of sway if they were to move on. “It’s a very well-respected name that people leverage effectively,” observed one, while another felt that thanks to the firm’s culture, “nobody leaves Debevoise with the reputation of being an asshole!”

Opinions on the achievability of making partner differed between sources, but most agreed that “the firm isn’t naïve to the fact that many people don’t want to spend their whole career in BigLaw.” In this vein, they said the firm “offers resources that allow you to explore your options (such as a career counselor) if you want to move away at any point.”

Diversity & Inclusion



Across the board, interviewees were in agreement on the topic of gender diversity. “The firm does very well with women,” one told us. “We have a healthy number of female partners, including in leadership positions.” We also heard that “a number of women made partner while on maternity leave – it’s very encouraging that they didn’t have to put their personal life on hold to be considered for promotions!”

Views were a bit less rosy when the conversation turned to racial diversity, though juniors assured us “the firm is conscious about it.” One noted that Debevoise has “developed programming intended to even out the balance. We’re seeing more diversity within the class years closer to mine.” Others hoped this would “lead to partnership being more diverse in a few years.” Along with the typical affinity groups and a D&I committee, Debevoise also has a director of global diversity and inclusion, Leslie Richards-Yellen, who’s based in New York. Juniors also flagged multiple diversity workshops, trainings and seminars, as well as the introduction of an annual Attorneys of Color retreat.

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Debevoise & Plimpton conducts OCIs at over 25 law schools, and resume collections at others. The firm is also open to write-in applications. OCIs are usually conducted by partners and alumni of the particular school, although there are exceptions. There are also hospitality suites at most schools, hosted by more junior attorneys.

At this point, the firm is looking for “students who understand this business and have a strong work ethic.” In particular, director of legal recruiting Sandra Herbst says the firm looks for “people who are great problem solvers – our clients come to us with their toughest matters. In order to excel here you have to want to tackle those tough matters and get your hands dirty.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Students should do their homework on us – things like knowing how to say the name of the firm, knowing the practice areas the firm has, the offices, and knowing details on the firm.” – hiring partner Nicole Levin Mesard.

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

Callbacks are usually either a morning or afternoon session. The candidate will do three interviews, typically with partners or counsel. At this stage, the questions will be “more in-depth.” Herbst explains “we want to see if they can demonstrate the ability to be a team player, if they’ll be able to work on the toughest matters, and whether they have the stamina to get through it. Some candidates come in and dazzle, but then towards the end of the interview process they’re tired and it shows. Being a lawyer at a big law firm is a marathon, not a sprint.” The morning sessions are followed by lunch, while the afternoon sessions are followed by coffee – these are with more junior members of the firm to give candidates “different perspectives on the firm.”

Summer program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

During Debevoise’s summer program, summers get the chance to work on real matters with associates, counsel and partners. “We want them to meet our different lawyers, get to know them, and let the lawyers get to know the summers.” There are no formal rotations, and summers can work in one or as many areas as they like. Plus, summers also have the opportunity to work on at least one pro bono assignment. Summers also get feedback at mid-summer and end-of-summer reviews.

Top tips for this stage:

“Take it seriously. We want to see that they are committed to being here and are going to work hard. We want summer associates to really understand what it means to be a Debevoise lawyer.” – hiring partner Nicole Levin Mesard.

 

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

919 Third Avenue,
New York,
NY 10022
Website www.debevoise.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 7
  • Worldwide revenue: About $1,05 billion
  • Partners (US): 109
  • Associates (US): 408
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Sandra Herbst
  • Hiring partner: Nicole Mesard
  • Diversity officer: Marc Grainger 
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 84
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 119(excluding SEOs and returnees)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021split by office: NY: 116, DC: 3
  • Summer salary 2021: 2Ls: $3,700/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes

Main areas of work
Corporate includes mergers and acquisitions, private equity, funds/investment management, insurance, banking, leveraged finance, business restructuring and workouts, asset management, capital markets, corporate governance, structured and project finance, aviation finance, healthcare and life sciences, intellectual property, technology, media & telecommunications, real estate, energy and environmental law. Litigation includes white collar and regulatory defense, international dispute resolution, intellectual property, general commercial litigation, cybersecurity and data privacy, insurance, securities, antitrust, employment, bankruptcy and products liability. Tax includes domestic and global tax counsel and employee benefits.

Firm profile
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP is a premier law firm with market-leading practices, a global perspective and strong New York roots. Clients look to the firm to bring a distinctively high degree of quality, intensity and creativity to resolve legal challenges selectively and cost efficiently. Deep partner commitment, industry experience and a strategic approach enable the firm to bring clear commercial judgment to every matter. Debevoise draws on the strength of its culture and structure to deliver the best of the firm to every client through true collaboration.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
Brooklyn College, Cardozo, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University, New York Law School, New York University, Rutgers University, St. John’s University, Stanford University, Tulane University, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Yale University

Recruitment outside OCIs: We conduct resume collections at many schools where we cannot offer on-campus interviews.

Summer associate profile: Debevoise searches for dynamic, analytically strong and professionally curious individuals with an interest in and enthusiasm for challenging deals and legal matters. In addition, the firm is interested in individuals from an array of different backgrounds, in line with our focus on building a diverse community of lawyers.

Summer program components: Debevoise’s summer program is structured to provide participants with the flexibility to explore as many practice areas as they wish. In order to accommodate the individual’s evolving interests, the firm has chosen not to impose an assignment system that “rotates” participants through different areas of the firm. There are opportunities throughout the summer for formal evaluations, while informal feedback is given on a continuous basis. Social events are held for summer associates, which provide them with the chance to connect with other lawyers, of all levels, at the firm.

Social media
Recruitment website: www.debevoise.com
Linkedin: debevoise
Twitter: @Debevoise

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
    • Healthcare (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • FCPA (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 3)