Foley & Lardner LLP - The Inside View

“Foley is the preeminent firm in the state” of Wisconsin, America's Dairyland. It's a big cheese further afield too...

“FOLEY is the best law firm in Wisconsin,” enthused 'cheeseheads' here. More objectively, it is the oldest and largest law firm in the famously cheese-producing state. Since 1842, when Asahel Finch Jr (former Michigan state representative) and William Pitt Lynde (future Mayor of Milwaukee) founded the firm, Foley has spread across the rest of the USA, and internationally to Brussels, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Chambers USA's rankings provide substance to associates' assertions that “Foley is the preeminent firm in the state,” giving it top marks in Wisconsin for its work in corporate/M&A, IP, litigation, labor & employment, environmental law, and real estate. Outside Wisconsin, the firm has Chambers-ranked practices in California, DC, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan, as well as nationwide for franchising, healthcare and sports law. Clients include Citi and Major League Baseball. Interviewees also praised Foley's pleasingly refined culture: “At other firms it's like 'I want to kill everyone I work with!' Not here. People are fantastic and incredibly smart.”

The Work

Junior associates are found in the IP (litigation and prosecution), litigation and business law departments. Business law is an umbrella practice that “houses people who include typical general corporate attorneys, transactional M&A, healthcare, and government & public policy, which encompasses regulatory work like automotive and food & drug compliance.” Foley has both practice groups and industry teams. Industry teams focus on a specific area of law but can pull in people from other practice groups. For example, healthcare has both a practice group and an industry team that uses people from both litigation and other business law facets. Litigation, however, is generalist, where associates try out different types of work before they specialize. Work is predominantly assigned by relationships. Summers have a centralized portal where they can choose projects. However, “day one as an associate is a grassroots campaign for work. It's challenging as there is no hand-holding.”

Office location plays a part in the type of work available. Litigation is strong in Wisconsin and Chicago, for example. Boston is viewed as a healthcare and IP base, with DC unsurprisingly making strides in both IP and government & public policy. Once staffed, private equity & venture capital business law associates had “done a lot of diligence work. You then draft ancillary documents for the closing of the deal. For startup formations and financing, you come up with option plans for the company's employees.” Foley has a “global reputation for traditional M&A work, specifically with large Midwestern manufacturing companies.” Government & public policy juniors had “helped the clients prep for disclosure when they had compliance issues. You conduct client interviews and employee interviews. There is a little bit of doc review. I've drafted training presentations and internal company plans.”

“Foley is great for young litigators.” 

Litigation insiders had “worked on large antitrust and ERISA class actions worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and also smaller cases. I've drafted briefs and taken six depositions. Fifty percent is devoted to the fun stuff and the other half is doc review and legal research memos. Foley is great for young litigators.”

IP lawyers stressed they were so busy they didn't have time to sit... literally: the standing desk craze has graced the department, with insiders joking that “it has increased productivity, but my feet hurt at first.” Patent prosecutors warned their daily chores involve “a lot of similar work.” A large part of their time is spent communicating with the US Patent Office and writing patents. But as a lawyer gets more experience, the range broadens to include writing opinions on the validity of patents, “engaging with license agreements, assessing IP portfolios and writing responses to foreign jurisdictional instructions.” IP litigators had started out doing support research work but had progressed to “drafting motions and depositions. If you demonstrate interest and aptitude they aren’t going to hold you back just because you're a second-year.”

Training & Development

“They do a very good job of educating you.” New starters have “a week's crash course on the firm,” dividing into practice groups to go over the basics. More substantive training comes later. “Every month, first-years have mandatory training for an hour at lunchtime.” Business law newbies had a three-day training in November 2015 in Chicago: “We were given a merger agreement in the summer and told to work on it. At the training we all went through the whole thing together. It's really helpful.”

"If you mess up, they know you're not a total idiot.” 

Biannual reviews happen at the six-month and one-year marks. “If you've worked for senior counsel or a partner for over 15 hours, they're automatically added to your list of reviewers, but they can opt out.” A consensus evaluator (the person who has supervised you the most) will gather together all of the individual reviews and write a final review. Associates meet with their consensus evaluator, practice group leader and mentor to discuss what was said (all juniors have an associate and partner mentor which some felt “was not utilized as much as the firm would like”).


New Yorkers reported: “I think New York skews to the women: there are days when I have no interaction with men.” Ethnically, “most BigLaw firms have work to do, but the chairs of the diversity committee go around to all the offices and roll out initiatives.” In its home state, juniors felt that “Foley's strength is not in its diversity. That's not a reflection on effort, but the type of people Wisconsin attracts.” Hiring partner Bob Scher reasons that they are trying to remedy this at the recruitment stage, particularly through “a diversity fellowship program for up to three summer associates who demonstrate a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion. Each fellowship recipient receives $20,000 to help defray the costs of law school.” Scher also details that “we recently created a Diversity & Inclusion Action Council, a new initiative made up of attorneys and staff in all practice groups to look at what we're doing and what we could be doing better. ” In the 2016 summer class, 36% are ethnically diverse and 9% identify as LGBT – pretty good stats.

“Most BigLaw firms have work to do."

There are affinity groups, the most visible being the Women's Network, although different offices have varying levels of activity. In DC, “there's a lot of effort to push it; we are still trying to get regular events. The group helped us advocate for higher bonuses like the men have.” While most groups host lunches and mentorship talks, the New York group recently ran an event where “a clothing label for professional women hosted an event and all the catering was provided by other female-run organizations. We all brought our clients along with us and had a great evening networking and shopping.”

Offices & Culture

In the 17 domestic offices and three international hubs in Brussels, Shanghai and Tokyo, every associate has their own office. HQ is in the tallest building in Wisconsin, with some offices directly overlooking Lake Michigan. Rumors of potential renovation works taking place in 2017 were rife among associates. This is probably in response to the New York and Chicago centers having undergone the same transformation. Manhattanites in particular found that “everything is glass. Most of us aren’t fans as you can see through everyone's offices!" Perhaps they were unaware that they do have the option to frost their glass if they want... "But the benefits are that you can walk off the elevator and see the New York skyline.”

"Work hard but don't get too big for your britches.”

Everyone concurred when asked about the culture: “I really enjoy the people I work with, without exception.” While most offices have individual quirks, sources insisted that “our national culture comes from the Midwest. We have a Midwestern vibe. Work hard but don't get too big for your britches.”

The average Foley associate has family commitments, so there isn't a big focus on socials. However, common occurrences are “odd Fridays, where we have beer and wine every other week,” and “cactus club,” where drinks and snacks are served in a New York partner's office (with a splendid collection of cacti, hence the name). In San Fran, drinks are served from a cool-looking SF cable car trolley. But, the crown goes to “associate skip day” in Milwaukee. All first-year Wisconsinites organize tickets for juniors to see a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game “where we get to take the day off, tailgate and drink."

Pro Bono

The first 100 hours of pro bono work can count toward billables, which can be extended with prior approval. As a participant in the Pro Bono Institute Challenge (a promotional program that aims to further pro bono in large firms with 50 or more lawyers), Foley devotes approximately 3 percent of total hours to pro bono. Most associates work on immigration cases. “I've worked a lot with domestic violence victims seeking immigration relief. I get to go to court when it concerns children, as they need to have appointed guardians. It's taught me how to talk to clients, so these skills help my billable work.”

"Important work but difficult to do.” 

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 42,144 
  • Average per US attorney: 49

Hours & Compensation

Big Apple interviewees told us that “in the past three years, I haven’t stayed in the office past 10pm.” Bonuses and billables, however, are slightly complicated. Foley operates under a tiered associate class system: tiers one and two, with the second tier housing six years. Officially the billable requirement is 1,850, which is the minimum needed to move up to the next class year. For bonus eligibility, you need to bill 1,950 (including pro bono) plus 150 'investment hours' (training, article-writing etc.). Bonuses are discretionary, but the assumption is that those billing 2,000 hours will receive at least 10% of base salary as a bonus, and those hitting 2,200 will get at least 20%.

"I haven’t stayed in the office past 10pm.”

The discretionary element prompted some interviewees to say that they'd like “more transparency on what type of bonus you'll get.”

Get Hired

The overall hiring goal at Foley is “to hire summer associates who will spend their entire career here. It doesn’t always happen. People leave law firms for all sorts of reasons, but this is our hope. A good indicator is that we made 15 new partners in 2015. That's a large number to make every year,” states Bob Scher. Casting their nets beyond the T14, he explains: "Our smaller locations recruit from a mix of national and regional schools, so it's a balance.” Grades and law school still play a part. But Scher insists that “we do look at grades and academics, but certainly well beyond that. If all we looked at was grades, then we wouldn't even need to visit schools. ”

So what do they look at? “There's no magic formula.” Like most firms they "look for people who will fit into the bigger picture. We look at leadership abilities, great communication and interpersonal skills.”  On top of that, insiders advised that candidates should research their interviewers, as the “biggest issue is catering your questions to the interviewer. Show you've put in the effort.” 

Strategy & Future

Insiders praised the firm for being “very open about our financial state and the state of the market, and the chairman will regularly send out video emails to update and discuss this with us.” So much so that sources said there's been “talk about expanding in the Southwest a little more.” CEO Jay Rothman tells us that while domestic US growth is always the first point of consideration, international expansion, as well as key practice area developments, are also considered. “For example, how many clients were worried about cybersecurity ten years ago? Today, I don’t think we have a client which isn’t cognizant of the risks posed by cybersecurity breaches. In an ever-changing world, we need to be continuously focused on building expertise to serve the evolving needs of our clients.” Sources also felt that the energy and healthcare industry groups had had a strong 2015 too, while others explained that corporate M&A had been “busier than it had in the past few years. No one's having trouble meeting their hours.”

Interview with hiring partner Bob Scher

Chambers Associate: Roughly how many associates do you take on each year?

Bob Scher: We are probably looking in the mid 60s for this summer. It's a few more than last summer. Usually, this number corresponds to how many full time associates join us each year. Our entering classes are largely made up of former summer associates. When here, associates tend to divide evenly between all three practice areas. The numbers vary from year to year. We set our hiring numbers before we start recruiting, based on the needs of each group. There isn't one group that dominates the others. We have 17 domestic offices and we have a summer program in most, if not all of them.

Our overall recruiting goal and hope is to hire summer associates who will spend their entire career here. It doesn’t always happen. People leave law firms for all sorts of reasons, but this is our hope. A good indicator is that we made 15 new partners in 2015. That's a large number to make every year. We don't think of it as recruiting a large starting class and then churning them out and bringing in new groups. We want our associates to stay, we want them to succeed, and we want them to make partner.

CA: What is the scope your recruiting drive? 

BS: I think we might go to more schools than your typical large 900 attorney national firm. We have offices most of the major markets, but also in regions like Madison and Jacksonville, so we go to all the top tier schools as well as more regional schools. Our smaller locations recruit from a mix of national and regional schools, so it's a balance. We do look at grades and academics, but certainly well beyond that. If all we looked at was grades, then we wouldn't even need to visit schools. Historically, we have found great candidates at all types of law schools. We have great relationships with a lot of schools and strong alumni networks.

CA: What does Foley do to encourage diversity?  

BS: First, it is really important to us. Diversity is one of Foley’s core values. We have a diversity and inclusion partner involved in all of our initiatives. We recently created a Diversity & Inclusion Action Council, a new initiative made up of attorneys and staff in all practice groups to look at what we're doing and what we could be doing better. We go to diversity job fairs and we run a diversity fellowship program for up to three summer associates who demonstrate a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion. Each fellowship recipient receives $20,000 to help defray the costs of law school. At the firm there are several affinity groups which are pretty active. There are also diversity ambassadors. Diverse summer associates not only receive a first year associate mentor, but additionally they are assigned a second mentor from an affinity group. We are doing a lot, it's whether we are doing enough. We hope so.

To give you some perspective, our summer associate class last summer was approximately one-third ethnically diverse, and those numbers carry over to our 2016 new associate class. Our entry level class is also 47% women and 9% LGBT. We are very proud of these numbers and of our ability to continue to attract diverse attorneys to our firm.

We think we are doing an excellent job of recruiting female attorneys and again we hope we are doing a good job of retaining them. But we want to do a better job. We want to help all our attorneys develop business and professional skills, but we want to make sure that our women get the same opportunities as men. So we've put together programs like the Professional Development Program for Women Attorneys and Women-to-Women Business Development Opportunities to make sure that this is happening.

CA: What are you looking for in a Foley interview?

BS: We look for people who will fit into the bigger picture. We look at leadership abilities, great communication and interpersonal skills. There’s no magic formula. Demonstrate great intellectual achievements and show you can be in a room and talk to a group of people. Don’t be intimidated by older, more experienced people. Our staffing model matches our partner to associate leverage of about 1:1, so we are looking for associates who are client ready and eager to hit the ground running.

CA: Can you briefly outline what's in store on your summer program?

BS: The first thing is true in all offices. We give our summers real work. If the work wasn’t assigned to a summer associate, it would be done by our junior associates. Our goal is to give a real life experience and an accurate view of what it is like to be a young associate at the firm. We do a very good job in matching up our summers' interests with the work we give them. Especially in our smaller offices, where we can get a real sense of what the summer is about and assign accordingly.

On the social side, we are careful to strike a balance. It's important to include a social element in the summer program, as you might not get to work with every attorney while at the firm and social settings are another great internal networking opportunity. But we don't want to take up every night of their time here. Many of our summers will be in new cities or have family and friends in that location. We get that. So we are careful not to burden them. We do have an all summer associate retreat in Chicago, which mixes substantive programming with team-building/get to know one another social activities. Throughout the summer, each office plans their own social events. In Milwaukee we have Summerfest, which is a great music festival that we go to. It about different cultural events in a balance, so that you can make the most of your time at Foley.

Interview with chairman and CEO, Jay Rothman

Chambers Associate: What have been some of the highlights from the past 12 months at Foley?

Jay Rothman: We've just finished a strong fiscal year, which was on top of a great year before that in 2014. We had the opportunity to serve a wide variety of clients and assisted them in achieving some significant milestones in their businesses. We are very pleased with our progress over the last several years and are confident that we are moving in the right direction. In terms of specific practice areas, our transactional practices had another really good year in 2015 and we are continuing to grow those practices strategically, particularly in the private equity and venture capital sectors. We are privileged to have trusted advisor relationships with our corporate clients around the country and around the globe. We have a great high-stakes litigation group, where we have strength in a number of areas, including securities enforcement, intellectual property, FCPA, pharma, False Claims Act and class action defense, to name just a few. As we look to the future, we see the technology space as a significant growth area for Foley. If you look at our IP practice alone, it houses 220 out of our 900 attorney total. But our tech practice goes far beyond the traditional IP and IP litigation sectors and includes much of our PE/VC practice, our tech licensing and outsourcing practice as well as our cybersecurity practice. We are focused on growing our firm, but we aren't planning growth for growth’s sake. Our strategy is premised on positioning the firm to serve our clients in ever more efficient and effective ways as the legal profession and client demands evolve over time. Right now we are firing on all cylinders, and we are working very hard to make sure we build on the momentum that we have created.

CA: After renovating both the New York and Chicago offices, are there any similar plans for Milwaukee?

JR: We are looking for ways to use our space more efficiently across the entire firm, so Milwaukee is just one example. Our lease in Milwaukee expires in the next couple of years and we are considering how we can use that space more efficiently, while at the same time encouraging even higher levels of collaboration among our lawyers and professional staff. As an example, with electronic file storage, we have much less need for internal filing space within our offices, which has opened up some additional space for us. As a result, we now have the opportunity to create more collaborative space in the interior portions of our floors, with soft seating, video screens and the like. Our clients are increasingly looking for multi-disciplinary solutions to the complex problems that they face. This requires more teamwork among our lawyers across various practice areas and we are working to make sure that our space configuration is conducive to that level of teamwork.

As we look at expansion on a larger scale, we focus on several different avenues, all of which are aimed at positioning the firm to serve our clients better. First, we want to continue to grow in the US and build on our critical mass in the East and West Coasts, as well as in the Midwest. We need to find great people to continue to build all of our offices and that is really job one for us. Second, our view relative to international expansion has not changed. We believe that in the long run we will need more of a global reach to serve our clients well. As such, we are looking for opportunities to establish a greater presence in Asia, Europe, the Americas and other key markets. As we grow, we are committed to maintaining our culture, which is not easy as the firm expands, but is essential in our judgment if we are to build an organization that is viable for the long term. Finally, we look at expansion of our practices to meet the evolving needs of our clients. For example, how many clients were worried about cybersecurity ten years ago? Today, I don’t think we have a client which isn’t cognizant of the risks posed by cybersecurity breaches. In an ever-changing world, we need to be continuously focused on building expertise to serve the evolving needs of our clients.

CA: The bonus system has just been changed at Foley. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

JR: Changes to the firm’s bonus system were based on input we received from the associates committee, who expressed an overall desire for the firm to provide a greater level of clarity around the firm’s associate bonus program. We understand that our people are our most valuable asset. To that end, we take pride in empowering our associates with a voice at the firm and this was just one recent example of our ability and desire as a firm to act responsively to an important issue.We implemented a new bonus structure that took effect as of November 1, 2015. We designed the new bonus program to provide guidelines with regard to bonus amounts; specifically, to clarify that certain hours thresholds will each equate to a certain minimum bonus amount. While we do not believe a purely hours-based bonus program is in the best interest of our clients nor a fair evaluation of the total contribution made by any individual associate, the minimums we’ve communicated do provide a great deal more clarity, which was the goal. Quality of work also contributes to bonus determinations, as well as things like mentoring, recruitment, business development and community involvement. We have provided the opportunity for qualitative factors to be taken into account, while at the same time responding to the associates request for more certainty.

CA: How do Foley's social events in different offices, contribute to the overall culture?

JR: One of great things about being in this profession is that you have flexibility in your work schedule. Obviously, clients demand performance and our top priority is to deliver top-notch legal services. At the same time though, we value taking time out of the work day or out of the office to get to know each other in a variety of both purely social events, but also more structured firm-sponsored events like initiatives around wellness, or activities that support our various pro bono efforts. Taking a break from the work part of the profession is important, and we encourage all of our attorneys do so.

CA: Finally, what are your words of wisdom for students trying to break into the profession?

JR: There are a lot of great firms out there, without question. Find a culture where you feel comfortable in and one that will give you opportunities for professional development. I had mentors here at Foley who cared about my progression. They took the time to teach me the practice of law, as you don't graduate law school with all of the skills needed to practice. My mentors helped me with things like client development: establishing a client relationship and maintaining it. My advice to law students is to find a place that allows you to grow professionally and gives you job satisfaction. You can chase a lot of things in life, but if you're not growing and you're not happy, it's not worth it. Additionally, the law is not easy. If you're not liking it, go do something else. Our view is that we want our people, if it's after being at Foley for 50 or five years, to say that being here was great for their career. We understand that people move, that's the nature of the beast. But if you're retiring or leaving, we want you to look back and think this was a good career move. If you're fresh out of law school and wanting your first job, go find a place like that. In my opinion, I believe we are that place.

Foley & Lardner LLP

777 East Wisconsin Avenue,
WI 53202-5306

  • Head Office: Milwaukee, WI
  • Number of domestic offices: 17
  • Number of international offices: 3
  • Worldwide revenue: $682,000,000
  • Partners (US): 411
  • Associates (US): 457
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $2,300-$3,100/week
  • 2Ls: $2,300-$3,100/week
  • Post 3Ls: $2,300-$3,100/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 64
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 54 offers, 46 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: 34
• Number of 2nd year associates: 51
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $140,000-$180,000 (varies by geographic market)
• 2nd year: varies by geographic market
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Florida State University, 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 Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Pennsylvania, 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