Fenwick & West LLP - The Inside View

This tech-savvy West Coast firm encourages associates to make their own connections.

IF Fenwick & West told us that something as bizarre as computerized unicorns would be the next big thing, we'd sit up and take notice. After all, this is the firm with an uncanny ability to predict the future: back in 1972, four attorneys who realized the revolutionary potential of technology in the business world decided to up sticks from New York and head west to launch their own tech law firm in Palo Alto. This was at a time when Silicon Valley as we know it today didn't exist. Unicorns, by the way, as well as being mythical horse-like creatures, are the venture capitalists' nickname for startups worth over a billion dollars. 

Today, Fenwick & West is seen as a pioneer in tech circles. Its lawyers, for example, invented the shrink wrap license agreement, which binds users to T&Cs just by opening a product. The firm has advised some of the biggest names in technology since its earliest days. Just two highlights: incorporating Apple, no less, in 1976 and representing WhatsApp from startup to its $22 billion sale to Facebook in more recent times. And while Fenwick is best known for its corporate work in the tech and life sciences sectors, it also has sizable litigation and IP practices. All these areas win rankings in Chambers USA, as do smaller departments like employee benefits and tax.

The Work

Fenwick's free market system means associates “can build the kind of practice and handle the kind of cases we want to.” Most sources felt the system “works really well; getting enough work is not an issue.” One junior noted: “There can be a tendency to get siloed into a subpractice," but it's possible to avoid being pigeonholed "as long as you're proactive.” At the time of our calls, most juniors were split fairly evenly between the firm's corporate and litigation groups. A couple head into IP to work on patent, trademark or tech transaction licensing.

“The chance to step up and shine.” 

The litigation practice is split into several subgroups, which include patent, employment, securities, IP and commercial. The final is “a catch-all group and covers things like trademark, copyright, privacy, class actions and general commercial cases.” Although areas are clearly demarcated, “it doesn't limit what work juniors might do,” one source stressed. “The groups are fluid; you can use the free market system to move between them.”

Doc review is generally the preserve of staff attorneys. Instead sources were free to get stuck in on drafting anything from pleadings to appellate briefs or even taking depositions: “Seven months in, I'd already taken three,” one source recalled. “I feel free to ask if I can take a deposition or argue a motion. Even if the answer is no, it's not considered a dumb thing to have asked.” Another emphasized:“One of the toughest things about being a junior is being stuck in your box. Fenwick doesn't do that. It asks you to take control of your career and look for responsibility.”

Corporate is divided into several areas, including startups (handling venture financing for private companies), M&A, securities, employee benefits & executive compensation and private equity. “People move fluidly between these. You don't really belong to one unless you self-select to be there.” Our sources had dabbled in each of these areas and by their third year could “take the lead associate role on the majority of transactions. I'm negotiating the term sheet, drafting and negotiating agreements, managing due diligence and coordinating the closing. Fenwick has a lean and mean approach to staffing. It gives us the chance to step up and shine by tackling more substantive things but it does make for more stress.”

Training & Development

Juniors are allocated a 'confidential adviser' from among the junior associate ranks. The advisers are expected to “be available at any time for questions or to help if you run into something difficult. They walk you through the process of certain tasks and sit in on your first client call.” After the first year, juniors are assigned a partner mentor who “gives you advice on longer career building at Fenwick,” but the free market system means there is plenty of room to find informal mentors too.

“Advice on longer career building.” 

New starters kick their first week off at the firm with training at the Fenwick University, which prepares juniors for the skills and tasks they need at this stage in their career. Regular lunchtime sessions on professional development and legal updates are all uploaded to the firm's virtual Fenwick Learning site.


Mountain View and San Francisco absorb most new starters but a couple swoop into Seattle. Interaction between the hubs is “seamless; cases are not staffed on an office basis. Most of the largest matters consist of attorneys or paralegals from all three bases.”

“Developed relationships with partners in both offices." 

Mountain View may be the firm's largest office by far – it houses around 220 attorneys compared to San Francisco's 85 while Seattle has half that – but we were told that popular demand to be in the San Fran hub has led to an unusual setup: “More people wanted to work here than there was office space for. A couple of years ago someone decided to find a 'roommate'; there'd be one office in Mountain View and one in San Fran and they would alternate days at each base.” The trend caught on and now “lots of juniors voluntarily office share” between locations. While San Francisco is in the process of acquiring more office space, interviewees highlighted the benefits of the current make-do method. “It's been good for my practice; I have developed relationships with partners in both offices.”


“Because people flow between our offices so frequently there is not much of a cultural division,” one junior explained. Another went so far as to say: “It's not fair to call them two offices; it's one office in two buildings.” Sourced reckoned Fenwick attorneys “feel free to be themselves – this is not a formal working environment.” One explained: “Dealing with peer firms, I've seen grown men and women just sort of hush when their partners are talking or look to them to see if they're laughing at a joke. We don't behave that way. When something funny happens people just laugh.” 

Interviewees credited “living in the Bay Area” with this straightforward attitude. “It rubs off; there are not a lot of rules – like our free market system. If you have self-motivation you can run with things.” Navigating the system requires “some backbone. You have to have some sort of agency to direct your career. If you're not given a road map to solve a problem, you have to be comfortable asking for help.” That's not to say that people are completely left to forge on alone. “We're for the firm; that means if there is a task no one wants to do we don't have a situation where everyone waits to see who the partner will assign it to. Someone will volunteer because they know someone else handled a bunch of really boring tasks last time. However tough it is, or however many days you're working late, someone has your back.”

"When something funny happens people just laugh.”

Fenwick sponsors events for associate morale and applies the terms pretty loosely. “If more than a few people go for lunch on a Friday, a partner may tell us to put it under their name for associate morale. It's basically a hanging out together budget, I really like it.” Free lunch is just the tip of the iceberg as associates can also say 'Aloha' to a holiday in one of the firm's three Hawaiian condos. Priority is granted to those who've gone the longest without staying and partners aren't eligible to participate. Fenwick also pays for an airfare for two so “it really feels like a free holiday! It's one of my favorite perks.”

Hours & Compensation

Those jetting off to Hawaii generally don't need to worry about being disturbed by those back in the office “unless you say you're available to work.” We're told that for the most part someone volunteers “to be point person for your responsibilities. Instead of constant interruptions you're only bothered if no one else can handle something.”

“Bonuses aren't the be-all and end-all.” 

Thanks to the ability to easily move between offices and the firm being “so tech-friendly, face time is not a huge thing. As long as you're responsive, people don't care if you're sitting in your office or elsewhere.” Indeed, we even heard of several associates who predominantly work from home: “The firm's flexible at allowing people to figure out the life they want at Fenwick. That's nice to see and I think it will only get better.” But don't let that fool you into thinking associates are switching off at 6pm every day: plenty reported working late into the evening either in the office or at home.

First-years aim for a billable target of 1,800 hours. Come the second year they can opt to stay on this reduced level or shoot for 1,950. Hitting targets affords juniors their end-of-year windfall but “bonuses aren't the be-all and end-all here. People would be more concerned than impressed if you were billing 2,500 hours and the bonuses reflect that.” There is also the option to set lower targets and the firm is “super accommodating” for those who want to work a reduced schedule. One source praised Fenwick for “doing a good job at keeping people on partnership track. I know of several women who have made partner while working on a reduced schedule!”

In June 2016, the firm announced a pay rise for its associates in the US and China, following the Cravath scale.


One junior reckoned the firm's flexible working policy aided diversity: “It precludes the expectation that lawyers always have to work long hours, constantly be in the office and break their neck to support their team. It has meant Fenwick has brought in and retained more people” such as working mothers.

“Retained more people.” 

Sources felt the firm's “commitment to diversity is very clear.” Fenwick attorneys recently marched in the San Francisco Pride parade and various affinity groups host social and speaker events throughout the year. Several juniors believed Fenwick “does a really good job, especially when it comes to women,” although others were quick to point out “most of the partnership is still white and male.” Racial diversity is “more along the lines of our peer firms in California but it's not reflective of the population as a whole.”

Pro Bono

Up to 100 pro bono hours are automatically credited toward an attorney's annual billable hour target. “After that they approve as many hours as you would like, as long as you request it.” None of our sources had encountered any trouble getting additional hours signed off and we heard of associates crediting double the initial 100 allowance. “Pro bono is definitely supported.”

All aboard the Justice Bus

Associates can go off traveling in the local Justice Bus, which transports attorneys to impoverished areas to provide legal advice. But they don't need to go far to get a pro bono fix: once a month the Mountain View office hosts Lawyers in the Library, where attorneys give virtual legal advice by video conference. Other projects we heard of included cases concerning violence against women, immigration, prisoners' rights, and assisting nonprofits with corporate affairs. The firm also does a virtual healthcare clinic in conjunction with Facebook.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 17,580 
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed


Get Hired

The firm's tech focus sees a large number of associates hailing from California law schools which specialize in tech law. Though by no means a requirement, there are also plenty of attorneys with science backgrounds, particularly among those who practice patent litigation: “People who go to law school and say they're never touching math or science again would not do well here. We're a bit of a nerd firm; people here often discuss cool new gadgets.”

Recruiting committee cochair Bill Hughes tells us: “We're looking for people who seem like they have entrepreneurial spirit and a self-starter mentality," as the firm is keen to recruit "people who will operate independently." Visit our website to read more from Hughes and fellow cochair Carolyn Chang.

Strategy & Future

“We'll continue focusing on being a full-service firm for tech and life sciences clients,” interviewees told us. “The strategy of focusing on tech really paid off during the last tech boom and Fenwick has every intention of continuing with that.”

"Constantly moving and evolving."

Managing partner Kathryn Fritz echoed this sentiment: "Our focus is going to continue to be servicing the core need of tech and life sciences clients. The good thing about our particular focus is that our client base is the reverse of static; the technology and life sciences industries are constantly moving and evolving." Go online to read our full interview with Fritz.

Interview with managing partner Kathryn Fritz

Chambers Associate: What have been your hottest practice areas this year?

Kathryn Fritz: All of practices areas were very active last year; the whole firm is focused on technology and life sciences companies so when those industries are busy – and they've been particularly busy in the last few years – our entire firm is active. If I had to single out one area, corporate has been the most lively practice because of the deal work we've seen this past year.

CA: Do you expect that level of activity to continue?

KF: We recognized that last year our people were very busy so we hired in 40 lateral associates. Hopefully at an individual level people will be less busy than they have been but at a firm level it looks set to continue.

CA: Are there any particular markets the firm is looking to expand into?

KF: We don't move into geographies just because it seems like a good thing. Fenwick expands in a very deliberate way and we don't do it very often. Outside of California we have offices in Shanghai and Seattle and both of those locations were a combination of having the right talent and an ability to connect with the core focus of the firm. We're constantly keeping an eye out for opportunities but it needs to be the right combination of talent and opportunity in our core business. Many of our tech clients are in places where we don't have offices but it's a question of whether it makes sense to have a physical presence there.

CA: What can you tell us about the firm's strategy going forward over the next few years?

KF: Our focus is going to continue to be servicing the core need of tech and life sciences clients. The good thing about our particular focus is that our client base is the reverse of static; the technology and life sciences industries are constantly moving and evolving. Fenwick was founded by five, mid-level, ex-Wall Street associates who realized something might be about to happen in Silicon Valley. As the firm has grown we have very much tried to engage with and be responsive to what clients are doing and where they're going. It provides a tremendous amount of opportunity for lawyers who want to think creatively and take charge of their careers.

Clients are constantly doing new things, moving into new or adjacent areas, embarking on projects that are maybe completely different to what tech companies have done in the past and that involve new kinds of concerns. That requires new and different ways of problem solving. We've always been an entrepreneurial firm; our free market assignment has, like everything, its challenges and opportunities, but for lawyers who want to have more say in what their professional life will look like, I think we offer a much broader range of possibilities than most law firms. 

CA: Associates told us about the unusual arrangement where two attorneys alternate between shared offices in Mountain View and San Francisco. Do you think that set up has been successful?

KF: From the management point of view it has been very successful. We try to build our technology around making geography seamless: I work in San Francisco and happened to be on the phone with a colleague in that office who asked if he could pop up and speak to me. I said he'd have to jump on a plane as I was in Seattle! Our four digit dialing system means you'd never know someone was elsewhere. It's a small thing but we try to make interaction between our locations as seamless as possible.

Shared offices work really well for some attorneys; everybody needs to experiment because some people find it dislocating. We don't design and impose any particular the sharing arrangement for attorneys; if someone approaches us with a request to share, we ask them to work out who they will share with so they can work together to make it happen and solve any problems they see arising.

CA: An associate felt that the firm's flexible working arrangements helped contribute to the retention of staff, particularly mothers returning to work. What are your thoughts on this?

KF: We try to make it flexible for everybody, not just women. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make things frictionless because we recognize that, while aspiring to be an open environment where we chat about everything, some conversations can be really uncomfortable. We've introduced an automatic, percentage on-ramp for anyone coming off parental leave. For example, if someone is returning after maternity leave they can automatically have a period of time where they step up to hundred percent of whatever their schedule is going to be, so they have time to figure out the logistics of their working situation.

Talent is really important. We spend a lot of time thinking about our hiring and ensuring we're bringing in people who will be happy, excited to be here and do well. People have different aspirations or they sometimes relocate, but losing attorneys when there is something we could do to help prevent it is not a good thing.

CA: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

KF: First, it's really important to think about the long game. I think sometimes people leave school and enter their first job thinking they won't be there very long. If you think that way you sell yourself short and it makes a big difference to your quality of life. You need to think about where you're going to be in a longer time frame, the people you'll work with and how they'll work together. When looking at firms it is critical to try and read those clues and see how people interact with each other, whether they like working together. Ask yourself if this is a place you would feel comfortable working in? Is it too casual or too formal for you? Consider all of those things.

Second, if you've got a question for a firm and you're nervous to ask it, you need to figure out how to ask it; if the question is important to you, you need to have an answer to it before making a decision.

Hiring tips from co-hiring partners Bill Hughes and Carolyn Chang

Chambers Associate: Fenwick attends OCIs across the US but you're predominantly based on the West Coast. Where do you find most of your new recruits come from?

Carolyn Chang: We've made great inroads nationally. We have core feeder schools we know really well on the West Coast, including several in our own backyard in the Silicon Valley, , but we have a lot of incoming associates and summer associates from schools like Harvard and the New York and Chicago schools. We're getting our name out there, especially on the East Coast among those interested in coming to work in Silicon Valley.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

CC: Our hiring committee is drawn from partners and associates and hiring decisions are made by a democratic vote by the committee. We take great pains to make sure that our committee members are a diverse representation of our firm. We take a look at the demographic of the schools we visit and make sure we're targeting and interviewing at those with a good diversity mix. We also attend diversity fairs.

Bill Hughes: There are so few opportunities to improve diversity; if we just waited for each OCI to increase diversity we'd be competing with lots of people for a very small numbers of qualified candidates, including those who are diverse. So we also try to augment our summer class by including a handful of 1Ls from under-represented minority groups in the program. This process kicks off in early December each year.

CA: Who conducts OCI and callback interviews?

CC: We send a mix of partners and associates to OCIs; we like one person to be a litigator and the other to be a corporate or transactional attorney. If we just sent partners we would only gain a partner perspective on the candidates and if we don't have representation of our practice groups it doesn't give students an opportunity to get to know us. Once students come here for callback interviews, we try as a rule of thumb, to meet with five or six people; at least two will be partners and the rest will comprise a range of associates.

CA: What questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?

CC: We're really gravitating toward behavioural questions and how people will act in certain situations. We also ask questions which test whether people are analytical, can get along with others and are problem solvers. Our interviewers are not given specific questions to ask; we do a general training at the start of recruiting season to teach them the best way to get information rather than just asking 'are you smart?' The idea is to have a wide range of attorneys asking questions and since different people think different things are important, we take into account all the different information when making a decision.

BH: Having a wide variety of attorneys conducting interviews with their own criteria and ideas on who is Fenwick material helps us to maintain the culture we've created here. We're very collegial and have a collaborative environment and we want to keep it that way.

CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?

BH: We're looking for people who seem like they have entrepreneurial spirit, a self starter mentality and intellectual curiosity while at the same time don't take themselves too seriously. We need people who will operate independently, be interested in their assignments, exercise and continue to develop good judgement and help us leverage the practice so we can serve the needs of our clients.

CC: I've found the interviews I've enjoyed most are the ones where the candidates are passionate about what they're doing. In this job we're solving clients' problems and we need to treat them as though they're our problems and we're invested in them. No matter what you're handling you need to connect with clients and become invested in them. 

BH: That's a very good point. When looking at new attorneys we recognize we're making a big investment in a small number of people. There are always going to be those who end up leaving the firm to go in-house or pursue start up opportunities in Silicon Valley. We look for those who are interested in developing their career with us and are interested in the work; it's easy to lose sight of that if we were just looking for people who have the top grades and the greatest resumes. Sometimes those high achievers don't make a big impression on us because they don't demonstrate a sufficient return on investment.

CA: As a tech-focused firm, do you take on a large proportion of associates with science or tech related backgrounds?

BH: The backgrounds of our associates cover a wide range. Specific groups such as patent prosecution nearly always take on candidates with a higher degree in an area such as electrical engineering or a hard science because they're able to understand the science behind the patents a bit better. It can also be helpful in patent litigation but it is not essential; the head of our patent litigation group is an English major. So you don't need to have a tech background but there is a high proportion with tech backgrounds in the patent group. On the corporate and litigation side the majors are all over the map.

CA: Are there any kind of work experience or extra curricular activities which particularly impress you?

BH: Generally we think that people who have been paralegals at big firms have demonstrated a propensity to do well. We tend to find those who have experience in consulting, either in business or legal areas have a good client-service mentality, are problem solvers and are quick studies.

CC: It's very similar from my perspective. We've seen that those who have backgrounds in professional services or something analogous to what we do have a better sense of what the job is about. That being said there is no requirement for people to have work experience; all of these things are factors which are weighed when we look at a person as a whole.

BH: Taking a 10,000 foot view of things, we're confronted a lot of times with a decision over an applicant who has gone straight from college to law school against someone with work experience. Someone who has prior work experience, particularly at a tech firm is very attractive but at the same time we understand that someone who is 'K through JD' [Kindergarten straight through to JD] could have a lot of talent and we wouldn't want to discount them because they don't have the right work experience. We actively debate in the hiring committee meetings whether the thumb is on the scale too much in either direction but we find it's a very fluid decision whether we go with one or the other all other factors being equal.

CA: How can someone really stand out as a summer associate?

CC: People really stand out – and it's not something we expect as they're just becoming good attorneys – for two reasons. Firstly they fit into our social dynamic, get along with people and avoid forming cliques. Secondly, for summer associates a lot of their time can feel task oriented; they're asked to do xyz and they do it well, which is what we expect. The ones who stand out take it to the next level by thinking about the context of their project and mould what they produce to that effect; these summers show they get what they're doing and really enjoy it.

Fenwick & West LLP

Silicon Valley Center,
801 California Street,
Mountain View,
CA 94041
Website www.fenwick.com

  • Head Office: Mountain View, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 1
  • Worldwide revenue: $363,590,000
  • Partners (US): 114
  • Associates (US): 226
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,076.92/week
  • 2Ls: $3,076.92/week
  • Post 3Ls: An entry-level associate salary is $3,076.92/week and $160,000/ year
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes, on a case by case basis
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 34
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 20 offers, 18 acceptances

Main areas of work
Corporate, intellectual property, litigation and tax.

Firm profile
Fenwick & West provides comprehensive legal services to ground-breaking technology and life sciences companies – at every stage of their lifecycle – and the investors that partner with them. We craft innovative, cost-effective and practical solutions on issues ranging from venture capital, public offerings, joint ventures, M&A and strategic relationships, to intellectual property, litigation and dispute resolution, taxation, antitrust, executive compensation and employment law. For more than four decades, Fenwick has helped some of the world’s most recognized companies become and remain market leaders.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 18
• Number of 2nd year associates: 22
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Stanford; UC Berkeley; UC Hastings; UCLA; Santa Clara; UC Davis; Harvard; NYU; Columbia; University of Washington; Seattle University; Northwestern University; University of Chicago

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
At Fenwick, we both respect the individual and value collaboration. We seek out individuals with diverse backgrounds and personal experiences because we believe that the ability to bring diverse perspectives to serve our clients makes us highly-creative problem solvers and a stronger team. We look for passionate people with an entrepreneurial spirit, a self-starter mentality and intellectual curiosity. Ideal candidates will exercise and continue to develop good judgment, and take deep interest in their work and their clients. While for some practice areas, a higher degree in an area such as electrical engineering or a hard science is important, we seek individuals with a variety of backgrounds.

Summer program components:
Fenwick’s ten-week summer associate program provides substantive, real-world legal work assignments. Summer associates will be able to take on a wide range of projects across our corporate, intellectual property and litigation groups, allowing for a personalized summer experience. We treat our summer associates like first-year associates, challenging them with interesting and varied work assignments. We pair each participant with a mentor and provide training and development programs throughout the summer that help students develop as an attorney. To enhance relationship building, the firm plans team building activities and social events throughout the summer. Fenwick also offers a split summer opportunity for 2L students where fellows spend the first seven weeks of the summer working as a Fenwick summer associate and the following three weeks at a Bay Area public interest organization.