Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP - The Inside View

This Wall Street firm's delicious array of practice areas has a distinctly transactional flavor.

FRIED Frank is Manhattan-born and bred. Not to be confused with a meal at a diner, the 'Fried' is pronounced 'freed'. But the firm offers its own mouthwatering menu of opportunities to associates. Some of the world's largest financial institutions are on the client roster. One repeat customer is Goldman Sachs, which it advised on a whopping 167 M&A deals in 2016 alone. 

While most of Fried Frank's 450 strong US team is housed in New York, just under 100 attorneys are in DC. There's also a sprinkling of offices in global financial centers Frankfurt, London and Paris. The firm was also in Asia but closed its offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2015. While chairman David Greenwald assures us that Asia is not permanently off the menu, “our focus is on building our core practices – asset management, M&A, private equity, real estate, capital markets, finance, tax and litigation. We are also focused on aligning our European practices with our practices in the US.” Associates were drawn here in part by “the firm's great reputation for M&A, but it covers all areas of corporate law which is why it's very popular.”

Other specialist areas include litigation and finance, which along with corporate/ M&A receive rankings from our sister publication Chambers USA. But the highest accolade goes to the New York-centered real estate practice, which acts on some of the city's biggest developments. “The real estate group is super-competitive to get into, but that's because we're known for it,” insiders emphasized.

The Work

At the time of our calls, 37 of 71 junior associates were part of the corporate group in New York. Real estate in the Big Apple claimed eight junior lawyers, while litigation housed seven. The rest were in executive compensation, tax and bankruptcy. Twelve of the 71 were in DC: most in corporate, a handful in litigation, and one in each of tax, antitrust, real estate and executive compensation & employee benefits. Each department assigns work slightly differently. Staffing in corporate is controlled by an assigning partner, who mediates between partners and newbies. For the first eight months or so, new associates used to rotate around the department, but now they are placed in a specific group for three to six months. If they want to move then, they can. “It's pretty flexible and most end up where they want to be.”

Corporate houses seven subgroups: asset management; capital markets & corporate governance; corporate real estate; finance; M&A & private equity; environmental; and IP transactional. The majority of our sources had sampled asset management. “Generally it's a lot of fund formation and maintenance. It involves negotiating with investors, drafting purchase agreements, due diligence memos, SEC filings and opinion letters.” All enthused that “they expose you to substantive work very early on, and you can see deals from start to finish.” Corporate real estaters described a focus in “four major types of transactions: acquisitions, leasing, refinancing and development. There is also a sub-sub-group which does land use work.” Insiders had been “prepping and reviewing ancillary documents, researching title issues and distilling leases.” Others described their role as “the keeper of the documents.” As Tolkienesque as that sounds, they explained that “it means that you have to keep everything organized. It's not the most glamorous role, but it gives you ground-up experience.”

A practice group manager in New York and various partners firmwide handle the staffing of litigation associates – DC included. “There's a big white-collar practice, there’s also real estate litigation, commercial litigation, and bankruptcy.” Tasks include drafting parts of briefs, the usual doc review and some client interaction. However, a few insiders who had either come from previous careers or clerked found it took a while to adjust to the department dynamic. “It's good that we have a hierarchy to look over work, but sometimes it feels like the firm underestimates our ability.”

Pro Bono

A pro bono counsel circulates opportunities to associates, who must do at least 20 hours a year to be bonus eligible. However in reality “you can count anything up to 300 hours, which is extremely generous.” Associates were keen to relay the various partnership programs with organizations like HerJustice and Sanctuary for Families. “There's tons of opportunities to get involved with things like domestic violence.” But the most common cases were immigration matters. New attorneys generally had “conducted client interviews for U visa applications [visas that give victims of crimes temporary legal status] for abused women.” Others had “written appellate briefs, led the discovery process and drafted affidavits.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 32,984
  • Average per US attorney: 74

Training & Development

There's a Fried Frank Academy for summers and Fried Frank University for first-years, who all schlep over to the Big Apple for tutelage. Speaking of the latter, associates described it as “a one week program where they dump all this info on you. It's a little overwhelming – it caused a lot of knowledge leakage and I'm not too sure what went in.” Insiders were grateful for monthly refreshers that included CLEs on topics like “document drafting and depositions.”

Newbies prepare for formal reviews by listing supervisors they've worked with for more than 30 hours and then “write a blurb about what you did.” This is a fairly comprehensive personal statement. Two partners then go over the conglomerated feedback. “They add a bit more color to what's been said about you.” You can upward review partners: “They say it's anonymous, but that being said, people are hesitant to say too much.”

Hours & Compensation

The 2,000 hours billing target is very achievable, partly because 125 hours can be from “qualified non-billables, which are things like recruiting for the firm.” Additionally, up to 300 hours of pro bono can count toward the total. Associates generally worked from 9.30am to 7.30pm, but we heard of different schedules depending on what group people were in. “M&A is cyclical, so some days I can leave at 6pm and others I'm working until 12am and on weekends too.” Yet insiders stressed that “if you've stayed here until 3am, then they tell you to go home the next day. Plus we're paid well.”

“If you've stayed here until 3am, then they tell you to go home the next day.”

How well? Interviewees gave us the elevator pitch: “We were worried that they weren't going to raise the salary lockstep with other BigLaw firms, but they did. It went up to $190,000 for second-years.” Bonuses are tiered. “Over 2,200 hours is 15% above the base rate. You get a 'super bonus' over the 2,450 mark, but at that point it's not really worth it for the hours you have to work to reach that.”

Culture & Diversity

Surprisingly, “it's not what I had in mind for Manhattan BigLaw,” insisted insiders. “I thought it'd be cut-throat because all lawyers are competitive, but not here and not with each other at least. No one's crazy.” There's a healthy mix of monthly cocktail and happy hours and associate pizza lunches to keep things ticking along. But it's the summer that sees most gatherings, like open-air Shakespeare in Central Park. Both offices also have a sporty side: “There's a yoga instructor once a week and we have 'Fit Club' where the firm pays for groups of four of us to have a personal trainer.” A few felt that “some partners are very much still in the old guard and don't really account for change. Some expect your work to be perfect first time when they haven't explained how to do it right.”

No one's crazy.”

But what does that say about diversity? “Is the partnership diverse? No. But that's a problem throughout the industry. It's also harder to recruit diverse lateral partners because if they've made partner at a firm, they're less likely to leave.”  This year insiders were happier with the increased numbers of females in leadership: “There's a lot of women here so they're trying to make it better. One woman has just made partner working part time, which is encouraging as it says you can raise a family as well.” There is the usual range of affinity groups, though the most visible was said to be the women's forum. “They run sessions with partners where we talk about work/life balance and things like that.” However, “there are very few African American or Hispanic partners. While we have a culture of inclusivity, this area is lacking.” The stats bear this out at partner level (0% African American, 1% Hispanic and 2% Asian partners), although at associate level the figures are better than average: 6% African American, 4% Hispanic and 10% Asian associates.


The waterfront New York office was a hit with associates. The dark wood interiors give it a “traditional law firm feel, but it's really beautiful. The views are gorgeous.” First-years usually have to share an office and liked the company. New Yorkers raved about their new associate lounge “which has free snacks and drinks only for associates. There's also a ping-pong table, foosball, a TV and extra coffee machines that make amazing cappuccinos.”

“It's easy to take for granted how great the office is.”

A stone's throw away from the White House, DCassociates said that “sometimes it's easy to take for granted how great the office is.”  They were adamant that “no one shares an office – ever!” Not even first-years. Unlike the NY mothership, the DC hub is drenched in “natural light with glass everywhere. If you're working in a law firm, it's nice to be in beautiful surroundings.” DC pips Manhattan to the post on the artwork front as sources gushed that “there's Lichtensteins everywhere.” Even though New York is the main hub, DC-ers were sure that “there's a lot of workflow between offices – we never feel like a dinky satellite.”

Strategy & Get Hired

With a history at Fried Frank and a 20-year career at Goldman Sachs, David Greenwald returned as chairman in late 2014, and his presence is most definitely felt by juniors. The firm runs regular “town-hall meetings,” where Greenwald has an open forum to go over the firm's strategy. “It's about an hour and a half and he goes over the firm's financials and what each department is doing.” Insiders said that he encourages questions and “does a really good job of listening to suggestions.” Recent discussions have included “a clearer explanation of the bonus structure, plus where the firm as a whole is going.”

David Greenwald tells us that “in September 2017, we have 54 new associates joining us, which is the largest incoming class we have had since 2008.” Considering the big focus both now and in the future in transactional work, associates advised that people should come with “corporate experience, because all law school prepares you for is litigation.” Greenwald adds: “We continue to invest in associates as the future of the firm, and we are committed to creating opportunities for them to work on cutting-edge matters and build strong relationships with clients.”

Interview with chairman David Greenwald

Chambers Associate: What have been some of the highlights at Fried Frank over the last 12 months?

David Greenwald: The last 12 months have been particularly encouraging, as we produced the best financial results in our Firm’s history. We are continuing to position Fried Frank as the go-to firm for our clients’ most challenging and complex matters. But that's not all we're focused on; we are looking for the right opportunities to grow our headcount in areas such as real estate, litigation and M&A. Firmwide in the last fiscal year, we added five lateral partners, elected ten new partners, elevated eight associates to special counsel and hired 25 lateral associates. In September 2017, we have 54 new associates joining us, which is the largest incoming class we have had since 2008.

We believe our most important asset is our people, which is why we devote a great deal of effort cultivating them through our professional development programs and the Fried Frank University. At the University, the initial phase, in the autumn, helps to transition recent law school graduates from academia into practice. The second phase, held in the spring, involves a series of workshops on accounting and writing techniques. There is a program for third-year associates to facilitate the move from junior to mid-level, focusing on topics such as negotiation, client management and business development. The curriculum for senior associates has a particular focus on helping them become effective client managers.

We provided counsel on a large number of significant matters in 2016. For example, we represented a group of Related companies in connection with the ground lease and development of 35 Hudson Yards, a 1.35 million square foot tower in Manhattan. In the M&A sphere, we acted as counsel to Aleris, a global leader in aluminum rolled products, in its sale to Zhongwang USA for $2.3 billion. In capital markets we represented the At Home Group in its IPO and advised the underwriters for Athene Holding’s secondary IPO, the second largest US IPO in 2016. In litigation we represented Aerie pharmaceuticals, in the successful dismissal of a class action securities fraud claim. It has been a busy year.

CA: Where do you see the firm heading in the future?

DG: We will continue to be driven by our commitment to provide our clients with excellent service.  Our focus is on building our core practices – asset management, M&A, private equity, real estate, capital markets, finance, tax and litigation. We are also focused on aligning our European practices with our practices in the US. Additionally, we continue to invest in associates as the future of the Firm, and we are committed to creating opportunities for them to work on cutting-edge matters and build strong relationships with clients.

CA: What are Fried Frank's efforts to promote diversity and an inclusive culture?

DG: We remain focused on recruiting, retaining, developing and promoting a talented and diverse workforce. We educate our attorneys and business staff about implicit bias and the risks of stereotyping. We involve associates in the recruitment process to ensure that we attract a more diversified pool of candidates. Our affinity groups are very active and highly engaged and we encourage more people to join. I am very involved in these initiatives and work hard to ensure we have an open dialogue in the Firm, which I believe is very important. We have a dedicated diversity committee that is committed to driving progress and on which associates serve. We have a long history of working with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Specifically, we offer the Fried Frank Civil Rights Fellowship, which gives entry-level associates the opportunity to work with us for two years before going to work as staff attorneys for two years at LDF or MALDEF.

We devote a significant amount of time to soliciting feedback from our associate committees and we are committed to acting on their suggestions. We have also taken a number of steps to improve the work/life balance. For example, we offer various benefits packages including a comprehensive flex-time policy and most recently adjusted our adoption benefits package. We also recently introduced a more relaxed dress code and our New York office has an associates-only lounge.

From a cultural standpoint, we are a 'small' big firm. We have big clients, big transactions and big matters, yet we are small enough for us all to know each other well. We encourage communication, because we are committed to running a transparent organization and as such provide regular email updates to everyone at the Firm. Additionally, we have semi-annual associate town halls. Most recently, we opened new communal areas in the New York office, which are spaces designed to provide a break from the working day or to hold team meetings.

CA: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

DG: I’m not sure these are necessarily words of wisdom, but I can tell you about our approach to hiring. We are looking for people who are intellectually curious, who are not just good at working in teams but who also want to work in teams. We want people who pay close attention to detail, but with the self-confidence and demonstrated ability to solve problems. That can be shown in the work that they have done, in sports or in their personal lives. We encourage people to talk to us about those issues and tell us about the different challenges that they have faced, and how they have dealt with them.

More on getting hired

Our sources advised going the extra mile at law school and tailoring your extra-curriculas or electives to show a demonstrated panache for all things finance. “Take bankruptcy or a security transactions class, finance centered courses are great. Transactional experience is helpful here,” suggested insiders.  Chairman David Greenwald tells us that it's more than just a proven academic record however. It's clear that Fried Frank are keen on hiring new collaborators to work with their existing legal muscle. Greenwald says that “we are looking for people who are intellectually curious, who are not just good at working in teams but who also want to work in teams. We want people who pay close attention to detail, but with the self-confidence and demonstrated ability to solve problems. That can be shown in the work that they have done, in sports or in their personal lives. We encourage people to talk to us about those issues and tell us about the different challenges that they have faced, and how they have dealt with them.”

Fried Frank's summer program

Fried Frank's ten-week summer program is run out of both the New York and DC offices and summers are free to try work in any practice area they choose without going through a formal rotation. This is so they can get a flavour of what different departments have to offer. “When I was in corporate you get a chance to figure out what you want to do, because in law school you don't have that transactional exposure. I came in not knowing the difference between asset management and asset finance.”

The assignment system also mimics the full-time associate experience. While there is someone to make sure you're not swamped, “assignment just happens organically and I really enjoyed working on something and watching it snowball.” The program is packed with plenty of fun-filled gatherings: sources in DC recalled “taking the summers to lunches and throwing a big send off party at the new observatory in the World Trade Center. We hired out the whole observatory, just for us!” Over in the Big Apple, past summers had been to “see open-air Shakespeare in Central Park.”

Aside from the truckload of social events, there are training sessions put on to get summers acquainted with FF's assortment of practice groups. This is all part and parcel of the Fried Frank Academy and the trainings are run by practice group heads. Sessions have included discussing current trends in the market, negotiation and deposition training.



Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP

One New York Plaza,
New York,
NY 10004

  • Head Office: New York, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 3 
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,500/week
  • 2Ls: $3,500/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,500/week
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 68
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 67 offers, 61 acceptances

Main areas of work
Antitrust and competition; bankruptcy and restructuring; corporate (asset management, capital markets, corporate governance, derivatives, environmental, finance, mergers and acquisitions, private acquisitions and private equity); energy and energy enforcement; executive compensation and employee benefits; financial services; intellectual property and technology; international arbitration; international trade and investment; litigation (antitrust litigation, commercial litigation, government contracts, healthcare fraud and compliance, securities and shareholder litigation, securities enforcement and regulation, white collar criminal defense and securities enforcement); pro bono; real estate (corporate; acquisitions, dispositions and related financings; restructuring and financing; leasing; land use, construction and development); tax; trusts and estates; white collar criminal defense.

Firm profile
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP is a leading international law firm with offices in New York; Washington, DC; London; and Paris. Our lawyers regularly advise the world’s leading corporations and financial institutions on their most critical legal needs and business opportunities.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 60
• Number of 2nd year associates: 52
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Boston University, Brooklyn, SUNY Buffalo, Cardozo, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke University, Fordham, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Harvard, Hofstra University, Howard University, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, New York Law, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers – Newark, St John’s University, University of Virginia, Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
In hiring summer and full time associates, we look for energetic, motivated candidates who demonstrate a high level of intellectual ability and creativity, as well as a strong interest in working in a collegial setting.

Summer program components:
During the program, summer associates receive meaningful work assignments in a variety of practice areas, as well as attend court, client meetings, drafting and negotiation sessions and closings. They are also given significant opportunities to work on a range of pro bono matters. Each summer associate is matched with one partner mentor and two associate mentors, who review and provide feedback on assignments and guide them through the program. Working closely and socializing with partners, counsel and associates, our summer associates leave the program with a clear understanding of what Fried Frank can offer them as a place to begin their legal careers.