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

Associates were pleasantly surprised by "the people and the vibe" at this longstanding Wall Street fixture.

FRIED Frank's name may read like the latest hipster diner chain, but its highly focused signature menu – no waffle – serves some of the world's biggest financial institutions and corporations. Top table for real estate work – top tier in Chambers USA in New York – the firm also wins rave reviews for its other main offerings of corporate/M&A, finance and litigation. After gnawing its way through sour-tasting times during the recession, Fried Frank today has around 450 lawyers overall, most based in New York. It also houses almost 100 lawyers in DC, and has branches abroad in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Paris and Shanghai.

“I originally looked at Fried Frank because it's 'the' firm for real estate," one source revealed. "I got a place on the summer program and tried real estate but didn't like it. By then I wanted to stay for the people and the vibe, so I chose another group.” Reputation was certainly a drawing point for wannabe Wall Streeters, and to discover whether Fried Frank's culture suited them some juniors had done internships, some had summered twice, and others had asked their law school contacts about what this 1890s-founded firm is like. Our pool of interviewees came from various law schools, most of which weren't in the current top ten lists, indicating that Fried Frank's recruitment scope is refreshingly broad for a top New York firm.

The Work

At the time of our calls, 32 of 69 junior associates were part of the corporate group in New York. Real estate in the Big Apple claimed 11 junior lawyers, while litigation housed eight. The rest were in tax and bankruptcy. Fourteen of the 69 were in DC: most in corporate, a handful in litigation, and one in each of tax, antitrust, and executive compensation & employee benefits.

“The work assignment system is formal but the caveat is that it varies by group and by office,” one explained. Staffing within the corporate department is controlled by an assigning partner, who mediates between partners and newbies. For the first six months or so (it can be flexible) new corporate associates rotate around the department. At the end, they rank their preferred subgroups and “most people get the one they want.” Interviewees specified that within the framework of the formal system “there are plenty of opportunities to get work in other ways, like by talking to someone and expressing interest in a deal.”

“They let you get your hands dirty by staffing leanly.”

The so-called “corporate umbrella” finds seven subgroups huddled underneath it: asset management; capital markets & corporate governance; corporate real estate; finance; M&A & private equity; environmental; and IP transactional. Corporate real estate sources explained the group's job is “to assist the real estate group on the corporate fractions of their projects.” For juniors, this involved “lots of drafting of ancillary documents. We get feedback and then redraft.” Those working in asset management “started with a lot of diligence but by the second and third year that falls by the wayside at a gratifying speed.” Diligence was replaced by “so much drafting early on. They let you get your hands dirty by staffing leanly.” Third-years spoke of “attending client pitches and kickoff meetings,” being “the most senior on a deal,” and enjoying “direct access to clients of huge caliber.” One added: “We're on the cutting edge of so many deals, which means staying up late for something worthwhile.”

M&A & private equity sources explained that “working on a public merger on the buy side is very different to the sell side, but we get to experience both.” Tasks depended on the type of deal, but “typically here junior associates do due diligence and run the data room. If there's someone more junior than you doing that, you get to draft memos and other small documents such as purchase agreements.” A source who had worked at another firm commented that “drafting is challenging and a lot of responsibility. At the other firm I was asked to do corporate support, but here associates play a big role and that helps you get through the day.”

“We're on the cutting edge of so many deals, which means staying up late for something worthwhile.”

A practice group manager in New York handles the staffing of all litigation associates – DC included. While a period of rotation –"floating," some juniors called it – still exists for litigators, “you never actually have to specialize if you don't want to," although you can specialize if you do want to. If you prefer, "you can be considered a generalist forever and they're always encouraging you to try different areas with different partners.” Junior litigators had gained experience of “drafting motions, second chair depositions, and some exciting pro bono work.” Sources enthused that “pro bono gives you the ability to do things you wouldn't do for regular clients,” and one had worked on “an appeal for which I wrote all the briefs and even did an oral argument myself. It truly exceeded my expectations.” Interviewees felt “involved in the strategy of a case.”

Pro Bono

“The firm supports you in wanting to branch out.” 

Associates described the firm as “aggressive in getting associates to take on pro bono.” A pro bono counsel circulates opportunities to associates, who must do at least 20 hours a year, “but usually it's between 150 and 300 hours, which count toward your billable target.” Several felt rewarded by their work concerning “U visas, specifically for domestic violence victims seeking resident status. It's part of the Violence Against Women Act.” Some corporate associates who retained an interest in litigation were able to take on contentious pro bono cases, “which helps with writing and adversarial skills. The firm supports you in wanting to branch out.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 30,482 
  • Average per US attorney: 74


Training & Development

Support also comes in the form of “excellent” training, which includes a “Fried Frank Academy for summers and Fried Frank University for new associates.” The former takes place over “a day or two spent learning the essentials,” while the latter is “much more intensive.” Following 'graduation', new corporate recruits enjoyed “weekly breakfast meetings with presentations from each corporate group.” Other training includes “frequent lunches with presentations about developments in clients' sectors, a very beneficial accounting course, management skills training for midlevels, and a final stint at the FF University for seniors, who need to run entire matters alone.”

To make sure associates are prepared for and not caught out by their appraisals, a “summary of the review points is sent to us 24 hours before.” While the formal reviews were described as “generally painless” and “a chance for associates themselves to voice any concerns,” most agreed that “they're not as valuable as the informal feedback you can solicit and receive from partners and peers.” Some even ventured that “the partners find the formal reviews a bureaucratic task and are working on improving them.”

Hours & Compensation

“There are periods when you're home for dinner every night and periods where you never make it out in time.”

Everyone agreed: “2,000 hours is very achievable, especially given 125 can be devoted to non-billables such as recruitment. And of course, 300 can be pro bono, and people even petition for more.” One admitted though that “you do have to work pretty long hours to achieve it.” We heard of different schedules depending on what group people were in. Generally speaking, “there's never a shortage of work, but there are periods when you're home for dinner every night and periods where you never make it out in time. Everyone's remotely accessible via a monitor and phone the firm provides, so you can choose to work from home when you need to.” Overall, interviewees felt they did have time for a private life away from work, one sharing: “I asked the partner for a night off for my wife's birthday, and he said he'd cover me as long as I did the same for him a few weeks later!”

Culture & Diversity

Understanding Fried Frank's culture means first of all acknowledging the implications of its location: “At the end of the day, we're in New York at a Wall Street firm.” For some, this simply meant “it's not a closed-door culture as such, but people's doors are closed because they're busy.” For others, it also engendered a “bro-ey atmosphere.” At the same time, however, sources were keen to consider FF's “great idiosyncrasies,” embodied by “everyone's personal uniqueness.” Several in New York acknowledged that “the firm takes steps to be inclusive and welcome very different types of people. They also organize pizza parties, cocktail nights and beach retreats to get us all together.” One went as far as saying: “If you insist on practicing BigLaw, do it here.” In DC sources were proud of “the open communication between partners and associates.” One DC dweller recalled “having a big pro bono court date and ten people showing up to help me prepare for it.”

“At the end of the day we're in New York at a Wall Street firm.”

Associates reckoned that their peers' “unique backgrounds and varied interests” contributed to the firm's overall diversity, but how does Fried Frank actually fare when it comes to minorities? “They do try. There are affinity groups, they take on diverse 1L interns, and they implemented a policy to support transgender lawyers,” one junior highlighted. Having said this, most agreed that they do “what all the other firms do.” While acknowledging its concrete efforts, another pointed out that “there's an attitude of 'well we're not the only firm who is struggling with this,' instead of asking themselves 'what can we do differently?'” Associates were particularly concerned with retention of diverse lawyers, pointing to the relative shortfall of female and black partners.


The New York office's location “on the water” was deemed as convenient as it is culturally significant. “It's the southernmost skyscraper in Manhattan and really easy to get to.” The interiors are “modern if a bit somber. There's dark wood everywhere,” we heard, “but other than that it's pleasant. There's a cafeteria which serves delicious sushi on a Thursday, and a free Starbucks machine on every floor. It grinds the beans there and then!” The New York office recently opened an associate lounge – check out the Chambers Associate Twitter feed to see photos.

“It grinds the beans there and then!”

In DC we didn't hear of anyone bumping into Barack or Michelle on their way to the corner shop, even though the office is “just across from the White House.” The dark wood is replaced by “glass walls and doors which let a lot of light in.” Sources felt that being in DC is a perk: “Corporate associates work on a lot of the same deals as the guys in New York, but we get to be in DC.” Sometimes, however, they felt like “an afterthought, having to remind NY colleagues our meeting will have to be a conference call, not lunch, because I'm not in New York.” This speaks partly to how organically the two offices work together (in corporate, at least, “litigation is more separate”), but “sometimes DC associates miss out on face time with partners.”

Get Hired

“It can detract a lot if you don't seem approachable.” 

“You have to do more than look good on paper,” said a source who had been involved in the callback process. “It can detract a lot if you don't seem approachable.” From their albeit biased perspective, DC sources felt that “there's a lot more emphasis here on finding people who are positive, enthusiastic and hard-working, demonstrating a willingness to assist others and be a team player.”

Tips for summers included: “Get experience in as many groups as possible, and you'll get a good idea of what the firm's like. The summer program isn't a disingenuous experience: by the end you know what you're getting into and there won't be surprises later.” A more general piece of advice was seconded by several sources: “When you arrive as a junior your time is your main commodity and is therefore not your own. You can't control your schedule. If you can fly by the seat of your pants and be adaptable and spontaneous they'll support you, and help you become a leader.”

“You can't control your schedule.”

Strategy & Future 

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. “He's pretty open about the strategy and keeps us in the loop with quarterly meetings.” During a “town hall” meeting twice yearly, Greenwald meets with the firm's younger members. We heard, for example, that “the associate committee recently discussed with him why the route to become partner isn't clearer to us.”

Greenwald confirms: “I met with them. We discussed the process and what to expect.” He also emphasizes that “associates are the future of the firm, and we'll always listen to what they have to say. In this sense our strategy is tied to our culture.” So what's in the pipeline, strategically? “A year ago we set out to increase, at the highest level, our bench in M&A, private equity, real estate, capital markets and finance. We've made huge progress and we believe the growth of those practices will lead to the growth of other areas. Another focus area is our London office, where we have a lot of important clients. We decided to focus our efforts on the US and Europe and downsize our presence in Asia.”


Fried Frank's summer program

Fried Frank's ten-week summer program, which is run out of both the New York and DC offices, is essentially split into two: the first half sees summers spend time in one of corporate or litigation –“whichever one you prefer”– before moving on to the remaining department. Within both, “you rotate around the various groups so that you get to try out an array of work.” The work itself is substantive and “isn't just made up – some of your hours may actually be billed to the client. You won't have to stay up late for a closing or anything like that, but it gives you a good feel for associate life.”

The assignment system also mimics the full-time associate experience: “There's someone who keep tabs on your availability, but eventually partners and associates will just contact you directly.”

The program is packed with plenty of fun-filled gatherings: sources in DC recalled “a casino night” and “a huge gathering at a partner's country house,” complete with “a hike and a BBQ.” Over in the Big Apple, past summers had been to baseball games and an all-associate get-together at Bowlmor Lanes –“one of the newest, hippest bowling places around.”

What's more, because recruitment events count as part of associates' 'qualified nonbillable' hours (as we mentioned in the Inside View), juniors already at the firm “get really involved in the summer program. I'd be hard pressed to remember a time when I was a summer that I didn't have a great lunch with some of the existing associates.”

Aside from the truckload of social events, there are training sessions put on to get summers acquainted with FF's assortment of practice groups. “We had a dozen or so lunchtime sessions and each one focused on a different area, from international arbitration and commercial litigation to capital markets.”

More on the firm's corporate, litigation and real estate teams

Corporate, litigation and real estate are Fried Frank's three most prominent departments. Read on for a more in-depth look at each of them.

Corporate: “I work directly with partners all the time now.”

The firm's corporate group operates in a number of sectors, but over recent years it experienced a notable uptick in activity in the real estate, aerospace, technology and healthcare markets. It recently acted for health insurer Humana in its $37 billion sale to Aetna, the largest ever deal in the health insurance industry.

Though they appreciated the variety of subject matters that comes with starting out as generalists, some of our corporate-based sources felt their responsibility levels changed for the better once they'd been assigned to a specific group. “I worked less with partners directly in the beginning, maybe because they weren't certain that I was going to remain in their group in the future,” recalled one. “But being in the group I'm in now, I've found that the partners are heavily involved and I get to work with them a lot more.”

Another also preferred the work once they'd been designated to a particular group, mainly because “some areas allow for greater involvement than others. When I was doing finance work, there were a lot of administrative tasks – I felt like I was pushing paper half the time – whereas in other groups like asset management you get to actually read and draft documents. On top of that, I work directly with partners all the time now.”

A third interviewee disagreed with both, however, revealing that they were heavily involved in the work right from the get-go: “In my first week I was in constant, direct contact with a client,” they said. “Fried Frank definitely lets you take off at your own pace; if you're ready to hit the ground running, then they trust you to do that.”

Litigation: “A really broad range” of work. 

The litigation teams in New York and DC both draw in business from several big-name clients. The crew in the Big Apple has recently represented the likes of Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan, while over in the capital attorneys have taken on cases on behalf of EDF, Total and Beechcraft.

Among other major mandates, the white-collar crime contingent in DC has represented Wells Fargo in the bank's high-profile dispute with the US Department of Justice. More recently the firm represented Deutsche Bank, accused of aiding and abetting Dole CEO David Murdock's breaches of duty against the company's shareholders.

Thanks in part to the department's generalist setup, juniors in litigation are typically exposed to “a really broad range” of work. “At the start I was involved in IP cases, but since then I've gone on to do real estate litigation, securities litigation, white-collar crime, insurance and even some labor cases,” one insider disclosed.

Associates' daily tasks range from the mundane, run-of-the-mill undertakings (namely doc review) to more substantive duties like prepping witnesses for interviews, drafting briefs and discovery motions, conducting background research, and, in some cases, even being “the first port of call for clients.”

Real estate: “I was directly emailing clients on the first day.” 

The high-flying real estate department scores Fried Frank its sole top-tier ranking in Chambers USA. A look at its client base hints at why it's so highly renowned: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and J.P. Morgan are just three of the big names to feature on the list. The team is used to handling transactions with millions (and even billions) of dollars attached to them, such as when it recently advised longstanding client Brookfield Properties in connection with the development of Manhattan West, a proposed $20 billion development expected to include five acres of office space, hotels, and homes in the Hudson Yards District.

A source in the department admitted that their level of involvement in deals was ramped up sooner than expected. “In the first few weeks I was carrying out some basic tasks, but it wasn't long before I was drafting loan agreements and marking up documents.” Client contact also comes thick and fast: “As a matter of fact, I was directly e-mailing clients on the first day,” a second-year told us. Ultimately, “your level of involvement primarily depends on the deal and the partner spearheading it.” 

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: 5
  • Summer Salary 2016 
  • 1Ls: $3100/week
  • 2Ls: $3100/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3100/week
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 72
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 47 offers, 44 acceptances (2 pending due to clerking)

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; Paris; Frankfurt; Hong Kong; and Shanghai. 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: 43
• Number of 2nd year associates: 30
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Boston College, 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.