Foley & Lardner LLP - The Inside View

Wisconsiner Foley & Lardner – 175 years old in 2017 –exports its Midwestern atmosphere and “small town vibe” across the States.

FOLEY may have branched out from its Wisconsin origins long ago, but the Badger State is where it remains peerless. Here, the firm tops the Chambers USA rankings tables for meaty practice areas like banking, corporate/M&A, general litigation, real estate, and intellectual property. In these areas in Wisconsin there is no better law firm than Foley.

It wasn't just “the prestige and reputation” of Wisconsin’s largest and oldest firm that motivated our associate interviewees to get a foot in the door: “Even though we're in Wisconsin, we've also got a national reach.” Beyond America's Dairyland the firm has offices in no fewer than 17 different locations spread all over the country. Chambers USA ranks its work in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Washington, DC. Foley's sports law, franchising and healthcare teams gain nationwide recognition.  In 2017, Foley is celebrating its 175th birthday. Merger rumors involving Foley have swirled around the legal blogosphere for some time, and as we went to press the latest contender for a possible tie-up was New York boutique Friedman Kaplan.

The Work

Juniors are assigned to the IP, litigation or business law (transactional) departments upon arrival at Foley. Work is predominantly assigned through relationships with partners though some groups also make use of a coordinator to help delegate projects.

IP juniors are split between IP litigators, IP transactional and patent prosecutors. The latter are slotted into further subgroups of chemical, biotech & pharma, mechanical & electromechanical technology, or electronics.  IP litigators “prepare trial and oral argument outlines but there's also a substantial amount of doc review and coordination. Cases are all fact-intensive so you spend a lot of time in the documents, but I also undertake loads of research and writing.” Patent prosecutors are “assigned to a case that's on your docket until the patent is granted. Most of my work involves drafting applications, reviewing filings associated with the patent, and recommending strategy.” Another told of off-site visits “to meet engineers to come up with a strategy for patent approval.”

Business law is an umbrella practice housing subgroups such as tax, transactional & securities, finance & financial institutions, healthcare, real estate and private equity. Juniors are assigned to a subgroup though can reach out to other teams to take on work. Our sources had tackled everything from investment management funds to M&A, securitization, regulatory compliance and general commercial matters. “For the first year and a half I didn't get to draft any major project or transaction documents. More and more now I'm the only associate staffed on a matter, running weekly calls, reviewing documents and answering client questions directly instead of running them through a senior or partner,” one third-year told us. “For the larger M&A deals, I'm still doing the diligence and drafting of ancillary documents and escrow agreements but on other deals I'm drafting some of the primary deal documents.”

Unlike the other two departments, litigation is a generalist group where associates try out different types of work before they specialize. Labor & employment, business litigation, government enforcement & white collar crime, antitrust, appellate and privacy are all areas juniors can get stuck into. They had gained a wide range of experience, with one telling us: “On a couple of matters I just did the standard first-year doc review and research but I also got some pretty good opportunities to draft full motions.” Another outlined: “I was on a huge matter which really relied on the first-years for tasks above what's usually expected. We were writing expert and interrogatory reports, drafting complaints and were typically the second attorney in interviews. I also worked on the client management side, answering their questions.”

Training & Development

New starters are given a brief overview on the firm when they first start, before all being flown to one office. Once here they're broken into department groups to “dig a little deeper” into practice area processes, deal or case mechanics and any issues they're likely to run into. Beyond this, juniors can attend practice area or subgroup-specific training sessions fairly regularly, ranging from “something we could run into such as environmental or ethical issues” to “a drafting program where we drafted up financial documents and made a library that all associates could access as a starting point.” Litigators also have access to “professional trainers” to assist with mock depositions and other litigation skills.


Associates in offices around the US lauded Foley's Wisconsin roots as the reason behind its amicable environment and lack of aggressive colleagues. Milwaukee juniors told us: “It's pretty much Midwestern. It's not cut-throat and I don't feel my colleagues are trying to take work off me. People keep an eye out for each other.” A fellow Wisconsinite noted: “It feels like a team environment. You don't see a lot of politicking.” Although Foley's “a big law firm it's got a small town vibe. We're humble; we don't think we're the greatest lawyers in the world but everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”

Despite being over 600 miles away, “we have a typical Midwest atmosphere in the DC office,” one rookie here told us. “It's got a laid back attitude, we don't kill ourselves over our billables and people respect your family time.” One was quick to stress: “It doesn't mean that people are expecting less of you as the standards are high but the atmosphere feels laid back.”

“A good job of easing unnecessary pressures.”

Boston juniors agreed with their fellow East Coasters: “The people we work with are grounded and appreciate we have lives outside of work. People are realistic; as the long as the work is getting done it doesn't matter where you do it. It creates a calmer environment; stress is unavoidable in this job but they do a good job of easing unnecessary pressures.” Colleagues are “willing to help out. I had a weird question on a pro bono matter and called someone I'd never spoken to before. She spent ages helping me out despite it being the end of the day.”


The location of many of Foley's offices doesn't necessarily lend itself to shining diversity statistics, our sources explained. “Our offices in places like Milwaukee – which isn't the most racially diverse place – or Jacksonville, Orlando and Madison aren't that diverse but it is in places like Boston and DC.”

“I think we're a little behind across the board but Foley makes strides to improve it,” one Bostonian told us. “Our women's committee is really active. We have tons of events for clients and a very strong internal support network; our office managing partner invited all the women over to her house for a Christmas party.” The firm has a diversity 'action council' and supports affinity groups for women, LGBTQ, African-American, Asian Pacific-American and Hispanic-American attorneys. Offices also hold an annual diversity week: “They put on lunchtime presentations on topics like bullying or LGBT issues in the workplace,” one Milwaukee interviewee told us. Foley's summer associate class in 2017 is its most ethnically diverse ever – 37%.

Pro Bono

Several sources had used their pro bono practice to further the skills and type of matters they handle on a day-to-day basis. We spoke to associates who'd helped clients draft patent applications, assisted non-profits in applying for tax exemption status, or drafted corporate governance documents. Many were just as keen to get stuck into matters totally different to the day job, undertaking landlord/tenant, family and immigration matters or helping domestic violence victims obtain orders of protection and secure housing, for example.

The first 100 hours of pro bono work can count toward billables, which can be extended with prior approval. “I'll call it a soft cap as they almost always grant it,” one source told us and we heard of several attorneys racking up over 200 pro bono hours. “You just need to give them a justification explaining how it helps your career.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 46,656
  • Average per US attorney: 56

Hours & Compensation

In July 2016 it was announced the firm would raise is billable requirement from 1,850 to 1,900 hours; its bonus eligibility threshold remains at 1,950 hours. Alongside this announcement came news that the first-year salary for associates in Boston, Chicago, New York, California and DC would be matching the $180,000 Cravath-scale. First-years in other offices received a $20,000 raise. Great news for newbies, but not so much for the other years “as they didn't tell the rest of us what our salary would be.”  The firm eventually announced they would be raising salaries for second-years and up but the “drawn out process” had left our interviewees a little peeved. One source reasoned: “Management can at times move slowly with the decision-making process; I think they're a bit risk-averse, which does have its benefits in the legal market.”

As for the increase in billable targets, “I think at first a lot of us baulked at it but we've realized it's not a big deal. It's still completely doable.” An 8.30am to 6.30pm stint in the office was fairly common among interviewees, with many putting in an additional hour or so at home if needed.

Strategy & Future

Rumors of a merger with global firm Eversheds were quickly put to bed in 2016 when chairman Jay Rothman announced preliminary exploratory talks had come to nothing. Is the firm still on the merger hunt to expand its international presence? “We are still looking but we have not found the right combination partner for us at this point,” he tells us.

On the domestic front, Foley aims to continue to grow its presence across the US in the upper mid-market. Rothman tells us: “We've added a number of new lateral partners in some specific, strategic focus areas including private equity, energy, privacy & security, securities enforcement and wage and class action defense.”






Foley's offices

17 offices make up Foley's US network, plus there's three international hubs in Brussels, Shanghai and Tokyo. Milwaukee (firm HQ), Boston and Washington, DC house the most junior associates; at the time of our calls there were 15 second and third-years in the HQ and 11 apiece in the other two.  The remaining US offices accommodated between one and ten.

Milwaukee's about to undergo a major renovation. Associates described the current look as “a little outdated and the furniture's been around for a while.” One source admitted: “It could use an upgrade – sometimes you sit on a chair in a partner's office and it feels like it's going to collapse.” Eager to avoid crashing unceremoniously onto the carpet (okay, we're sure the chairs aren't that unstable), juniors were quick to suggest improvements and comment on potential plans for the overhaul. Possible options include creating universal sized offices and “playing around with glass walls.” One source praised: “They're great at letting us know what's going on and giving us an input on how it will end up.”

DC's sleek white and glass set-up is apparently so impressive that juniors keep inviting their friends over to view it: “They came by and exclaimed 'holy cow this is nice!'” Although the Boston office is “more reminiscent in style of law offices from 20 to 30 years ago,” it's still “absolutely gorgeous. It's really homey and decorated like a luxury inn.” Despite their differences, both offices house an associates' lounge area complete with pool and ping pong tables. “If you're going to spend a lot of hours at work, it's a nice place to do it.”

There seems to be a fair amount of cross office activity depending on departmental size and spread. Several juniors frequently found themselves working with their counterparts in other locations, particularly if they were in similar regions. “I'm working on a huge project for a major client due in a few weeks,” one transactional source told us. “Yesterday I reached out to people in other locations to add them to the team. People have different areas of expertise so it's nice to be able to tap into that.”

Hiring Tips from Foley's associates

Juniors reckoned “you don't need a particular personality to be here” but did note that “we tend to attract, and look for, grounded, down to earth people. We work long hours and it's a stressful practice so we try to find people who get along well and are able to work together for long periods of time.” It's helpful “to have self determination and an interest in working hard and being self-motivated but be aware that work is not the ultimate goal in life.” Foley often recruits from law schools close to its offices, but having a local connection is not the be all and end all.

We pressed associates who'd conducted interviews for incoming summer associates to spill the beans on how to impress them: “At the callback interview stage it's more of a personality interview,” one junior told us. “We're seeing if you won't shirk responsibility and will step up to the plate, whether you'll get along with people or we'll feel like we're suffering if we work with you.” Another added: “It's about finding the right people who will contribute practically to the co-worker side” of law firm life.

One told us that interviewees who stood out to them were “the ones who were well prepared and ready to have a conversation about their own background and history. It was easy to have a conversation with them about their 1L year or current summer position or get onto non-typical talking points.” If you can avoid “sounding scripted and I lose track of checking the questions I've jotted down, that makes a difference. If you can make me comfortable, you'll probably make a client comfortable.”  Another source agreed, telling us, “the best interviews end up turning into nice conversations.”

And if you're applying with a specific industry or group in mind, recruiters “want to know why that area? I'm looking for a demonstrated interest.”

Interview with Foley chairman and CEO Jay Rothman

Chambers Associate: Which practice areas have been particularly hot over the past year?

Jay Rothman: Our transactional practices have remained strong without question.  In particular, our mergers and acquisition and real estate practices have had a good year.  Overall, the firm has performed well.  We previously had some softness in our IP litigation group, but now that's busy as well so we're firing on all cylinders.  I'm very pleased with how the firm is performing.

CA: What have been the firm's highlights over the past year?

JR: We've added a number of new lateral partners in some specific strategic focus areas, including private equity, energy, privacy and cybersecurity, securities enforcement and wage and hour class action defense.  Over the course of the year, we've brought in about 25 new lateral partners and of counsels, which has really strengthened our organization.

We're continuing to refine our strategic focus, targeting the upper mid-market corporate area where we historically have been strong and where we have the ability to be counsellors and trusted advisers to our clients.  We've focused on some specific groups and practices in that area, such as our core corporate practice, high stakes litigation – whether that's class actions, securities enforcement, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, White Collar and the like– and technology.  Our technology group goes well beyond our IP practice, as we look at areas around technology transfers, licensing and the raising of equity and debt for technology companies.  We have a much more prominent technology practice than I think the market recognizes, and it is a priority to continue to invest in that group.  Healthcare also continues to be a real strength and a priority area for investment.

Internally, we've worked on our knowledge management tools, including an enterprise-wide search function so we can readily identify expertise and prior experience in any specific area.  We are able to quickly access information and use the expertise we've developed over a number of years to the benefit of our clients.  In addition, we're continuing to further advance diversity strategic planning; I'm pleased we have been recognized for our diversity efforts from a number of different entities, including the Yale Law Women's organization.

We have worked with our Associates Committee with an eye to improving communication, sharing information and seeking its input as we build our firm for future generations.  We've also invested in our associates by making salary adjustments as we track comparable adjustments by other firms on a nationwide basis.  It's important to make the investment in the people who are going to drive our future, and we are committed to do precisely that.  It was an easy decision for us to make; if you want to employ the best, you have to compensate them fairly. 

CA: When we spoke last year, you told us the firm was 'looking for opportunities to establish a greater presence in Asia, Europe, the Americas and other key markets' – is there anything happening on this front you can tell us about?

JR: We are still looking but we have not found the right combination partner for us at this point.  We will continue to look, and we are having ongoing conversations with a number of firms.  We'll see where those efforts take us.

CA: What are your initial thoughts on how the Trump administration will influence the legal market or the work Foley handles?

JR: I think it is still unclear exactly what the Administration may propose, but if there is some rationalization in the regulatory environment, we could see an impact on our practices.  We think that tax policy is likely to change, and, if that occurs, our tax practice will be busy because tax law changes generate a lot of questions from clients and often the need to restructure existing arrangements.  Any tax reform may also impact the business climate in a way that affects our practices.

We are watching very closely what is happening on the trade front too and what it will mean for US manufacturing.  We are one of the few firms that has as a focus advanced manufacturing, and our manufacturing clients are undoubtedly impacted by changes in trade policy.  We've been sharing thoughts with our clients about what we think may be coming down the line and what the Administration may consider, but only time will tell where this will all shake out.

Finally, there seems to be an appetite in Congress and the Administration to do something about healthcare.  We have been counseling clients for some time prior to the election; it was clear there would be changes regardless of who was elected but now they might be more significant than if Secretary Clinton had become president.  There will be a lot of work on the healthcare side, advising clients and helping them work through what could be fairly significant changes in that space.

CA: What do you think junior associates should really take advantage of during their first few years at Foley?

JR: First, we have an excellent, substantive training program; taking advantage of that is an important part of learning as much as you can as quickly as you can.

Second, we have a formal mentoring program, but we also have a lot of informal mentors in the firm who really help our newer lawyers.  We are not highly leveraged – we're about one to one – and that's intentional; the opportunities to work closely with partners are much more frequent with Foley than in a firm where you would see three or four associates to every partner.  It's an attribute that we are proud of, and it's great for professional development.

Third, we also offer training on the business development side; I think law students understand the importance of business development, but we put it into perspective as a long-term process.  We are clear with our associates when they join the firm that their first goal is to be the best lawyers they can be, to learn as much as they can, to learn about great client service and to have a singular focus on the client.  Over time, we work with them to develop the softer skills around client relationship management and business development so they are poised to grow successful careers for the long run.  But the goal in the first few years is to become a great lawyer.

The last opportunity that I think is worthy of note is the chance to do pro bono work and/or to give back in other ways through serving charitable organizations.  We have formal programs in place to match our associates with opportunities and organizations they're interested in, and we make introductions for them.  One of our core values is to give back to the communities in which we're privileged to practice, but this work also provides the opportunity to become more well-rounded and have different experiences; of course, an intangible benefit of giving back is feeling good about what you do.  It can be a great learning experience and one where you develop contacts that may help in one’s career in the future.



Foley & Lardner LLP

777 East Wisconsin Avenue,
WI 53202-5306

  • Head Office: Milwaukee, WI
  • Number of domestic offices: 17
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $671,000,000
  • Partners (US): 411
  • Associates (US): 457
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $2,700-$3,500/week
  • 2Ls: $2,700-$3,500/week
  • Post 3Ls: $2,700-$3,500/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 60
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 52 offers, 47 acceptances

Main areas of work
With more than 850 attorneys spread across 17 domestic offices and 3 foreign offices, Foley’s market-leading platform includes business law, government and public policy, international, intellectual property and litigation. Adding depth to our bench strength, we address and anticipate client needs across more than 60 core practice areas and 12 cross-disciplinary industry teams.

Firm profile
Foley provides award-winning business and legal insight to clients across the country and around the world. Creating legal strategies that help meet our clients’ needs today – and anticipate their challenges tomorrow – Foley is continually recognized by our clients and the legal industry for our exceptional client service, thought-leadership, value, and innovative technology.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 46
• Number of 2nd year associates: 35
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $140,000-$180,000 (varies by geographic market)
• 2nd year: $150,000-$195,000 (varies by geographic market)
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Florida StateUniversity, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Marquette University, New York University, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Miami, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Yale

Summer details

Summer associate profile:
Foley is looking for summer associates with an entrepreneurial spirit who bring diverse life and work experiences. Key attributes also include intellect, academic achievement, judgment and leadership abilities and excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Summer program components:
We aim to introduce our summer associates to life as a Foley associate. Making significant contributions from day one, our summer associates are immersed in real world, practical experiences. Work is assigned on a project basis, which allows summer associates to experience a variety of practice areas and choose projects that match their interests. Summer associates receive a dedicated mentor and our training programs highlight Foley’s culture, practice areas and strategic goals while developing and strengthening professional skills. To round out the experience, our summer associates participate in entertaining social events, including a firmwide retreat, where summer associates hear directly from firm leadership, participate in interactive workshops and training programs and build and strengthen relationships with our attorneys and other members of their class.