Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP - The Inside View

With an historic past, newly-renovated offices and international reach, this mid-sized law firm has a lot to recommend it.

WHEN asked to define the typical Hughes Hubbard attorney, one source took a moment to search for the perfect analogy, before replying: “We're really just a bunch of golden retrievers – very goofy, but nice, helpful people... I would feel comfortable talking to absolutely anyone at the firm.” But don't worry, no one's going to ask you to play fetch: HH (as it's affectionately known) places great emphasis on associates finding their own way. The firm – founded in 1888 – is a New York institution whose founding father – Charles Evans Hughes – served as the 36th Governor of New York, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, United States Secretary of State, and was once a Republican presidential candidate.

But it is perhaps the firm that bears his name that remains his most lasting legacy. That's not to say that HH is an institution stuck in the past. Its recently-renovated HQ can be found among the shiny towers of downtown Manhattan, and its lawyers – spread between six US offices as well as outposts in Tokyo and Paris – constitute a modern, mostly litigation-focused international practice. Chambers USA recognizes its prowess, giving the firm a couple of nationwide rankings for its international arbitration and international trade work.

The Work

New York takes the vast majority of incoming associates, while a handful go to DC, with Miami taking at least one a year. Litigation is the main destination for newly-minted attorneys, with that department representing “about 75% of the headcount in New York and even more than that in DC.” A scattering of juniors can also be found in corporate, tax and IP. Summer associates “are able to give their departmental preference,” but really “they want you to get as rounded an experience as possible and encourage you to take work from everyone.”

“They want you to get as rounded an experience as possible and encourage you to take work from everyone.”

After accepting their offers to come back, incomers are earmarked for a practice. However, it is one of HH's core principles that most lawyers don't specialize until they are mid-level, an approach lauded by many but criticized by some sources who opined: “There are a lot of associates who have left the firm because they found the process of not specializing made it difficult for them to develop expertise.”

A large proportion of the firm's contentious work concerns product liability, most often for large pharmaceutical companies. Elsewhere, the white-collar investigations and international arbitration teams are “big and growing.” Lean staffing is a fact of life and it means “juniors get a lot of responsibility” purely because “there are so few attorneys.” These 'few' still “do things like doc review,” but also “get the opportunity to do a lot of really substantive stuff like write briefs, and do depositions and expert reports.” One litigious interlocutor even reported how “one partner let me do an oral argument all on my own.”

The much smaller corporate department is more relaxed than its contentious counterpart: “I think the hierarchy is less pronounced, the entire department is about 30 attorneys, so it's fairly informal – a lot of my projects in the first year were just me and a partner!” In New York – where there are M&A, structured finance, securities and funds teams – juniors are expected to spend their first three years as generalists. But in DC “it's mostly just aviation finance and compliance,” so if you make up part of the small corporate contingent, you'll be specializing early on. Again, thanks to low numbers, associates are given a lot of autonomy: “By the middle of the first year I was pretty much running a lot of the smaller deals,” one reported.


Associates agreed that HH “has a reputation for being more traditional,” in large part because “it's been around for more than 100 years and has that prestige.” On top of that, “almost all of our partners are homegrown and we have this institutional longevity with clients – there's a sense of continuity in that regard too.”

Again the word that came up most when talking about the firm's social scene was 'traditional'. But it's a fair comment – the New York office's holiday party has been held at the same Downtown steakhouse for over 50 years. Other than the requisite quarterly happy hours and Christmas events, sources admitted that HH wasn't the most social of places. But this was put down to the fact that “a lot of people have families and would prefer to go home.” And it'd be remiss of us not to mention the informal lunches that take place every second Thursday of the month in both offices – “they're always well attended and there's a 'no work talk' rule that is strictly enforced.”

Training & Development

All incoming associates attend a formal week-long training in New York called The Hughes Institute. You won't be required to don lab coat and fire up the bunsen burner; the program is purely dedicated to your role as an HH attorney: “How things work in the office, who the librarians are, everything you need to know about the firm, really.” There is legal stuff but it's mostly litigation-based. As a result, corporate associates attend their own trainings spread out over their first few months. And the Institute isn't the end of substantive legal training for juniors – there is a “grueling but gratifying” three-day mock trial for litigation first-years. Their corporate counterparts are offered a comprehensive range of lunchtime trainings to whet their appetite.

Despite the excellent formalized training, interviewees believed that the most valuable learning happened on the job. To this end, the firm's “world class” mentorship scheme comes to the fore. When someone joins, “they get a junior associate mentor, a senior associate mentor and sometimes a partner mentor as well.” Mentors are incentivized to take their mentees out to catch up over coffee or some food – “it's great to have a network of people with a bit more experience to draw on for advice.” Recently the firm also launched its 'business development program': “They pair up a partner with three or four associates. You'll have meeting every few weeks to talk about contacts and marketing yourself within the firm.”

Hours & Compensation

Eschewing New York convention, HH deploys a tiered system for bonuses. Associates must hit 1,950 hours to be eligible for a first-year bonus, which is half of market – “you can bill 1,750 and if you have 400 substantive non-billable hours it can bump you up to eligible.” After that 2,100 billable hours gets you market, 2,300 gets you market and a half and 2,500 gets you double market. Most agreed with one source who declared: “I'm in no way resentful of the tiered system. If I was really killing myself and I knew I was getting the same bonus as someone who'd billed 2,000, I'd be pissed.” Bonuses are paid out at the end of February after attorneys' annual reviews, then “they'll retroactively increase your pay for January.”

Due to a general ebb and flow of work, sources reported great fluctuation in the number of hours they usually worked. Nonetheless, most agreed that hours at HH weren't as tough as they'd anticipated, and that, unlike other firms, there really is no culture of face time – “I'll be home by seven most nights. A lot of people here have come from more intense firms where they expect associates to stay at their desks until everyone's gone home – it's not like that here.” Others spoke of busy weeks but expressed relief that weekends were still sacred: “A very light week is 40 hours but partners understand that weekends are still by and large our own.”


The firm's Big Apple HQ has recently undergone extensive renovation and sources happily reported that “everything's nice and glass and new.” On the second point, a new found lack of privacy came in for some criticism: “The offices all have glass walls – but I don't know anyone who's been happy about that.” Though the fact that every attorney now had their own space was widely praised. In greener news, the office's cafeteria has been “vastly upgraded” according to interviewees who were effusive about its new salad bar – “it's really great!”

DC is a lot smaller, meaning “after a few weeks you've pretty much met everyone” and “it feels pretty tight-knit and homely.” Compared to its flashy open-plan older sibling, as one discerning source put it, “the décor is pretty outdated – the offices are all painted eggshell/cream and the desks are all dark brown, cherry wood.”

Pro Bono

Pro bono work is not just encouraged, it's required: “Every associate has to do at least 20 hours a year.” After they've racked up 50, attorneys can count up to 200 pro bono hours toward their bonus target, a sign that “HH really takes its commitments seriously.” The firm has long-standing relationships with a number of worthwhile organizations including Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, “that helps artists or groups out with everything from becoming a non-profit to actual litigation;” Her Justice, “who we help with immigration cases;” and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), “who provide free legal service for low-income New Yorkers.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys:over 50,000
  • Average per US attorney:140


HH has always been a BigLaw leader in diversity: it was the first Wall Street firm to hire a female associate and the first to appoint a black female partner. Its current chair is Candace Beinecke – the first woman to head a major law firm in New York City. That said, sources felt that “though we're not doing worse than any other big NYC firm... the eye has been taken off the prize somewhat.” The stats are pretty good for BigLaw, though: almost half of associates are female and over 30% are ethnically diverse.

There are a number of affinity groups “but they could be more active, there's lunch or dinner once in a while but down in DC I hear they regularly organize events.” We asked a DC source to corroborate: “The diversity committee meets up once a quarter to talk about goings-on. We've hosted a few panel discussions with legal professionals and academics about how to make the legal field more diverse.”

Get Hired

Juniors agreed that “HH doesn't look for any particular type – there's all kinds of people here. What's important is that a person is likable or coachable.” Potential recruits are interviewed initially by two partners – one from corporate and one from litigation. Then those who are chosen for a callback are invited to something called 'Super Saturday' – “you have breakfast and/or lunch with the other candidates and some partners and associates. I think it's to see if certain relationships and chemistry works out.” So it's worth brushing up on those table manners if you want to impress...


Partners and management are candid about how the business is performing. There is an annual state-of-the-firm address in the spring – “the executive committee does a presentation, they go through the top clients and future projects and discuss projected revenue.” After a recent slowdown on the litigation front, “they were very open and have ended up moving some associates to the Paris office,” which was less affected.


Interview with hiring partner George Tsougarakis

Chambers Associate: Has the scope of your recruitment drive changed at all in recent years?

George Tsougarakis: In terms of the number of schools we visit, we changed it a few years ago. Casting a wide net wasn't the best tactic so we restricted it a little and focused on soliciting resumes from outstanding people and getting recommendations from colleagues and clients. As well as looking at former paralegals, I think we broadened our reach in other ways, especially with the referral system. We've also started to focus more on recruiting clerks.

CA: What do you do to promote diversity in recruitment?

GT: The numbers are really what help us. I think we are able to speak frankly about diversity as our numbers are historically very excellent. We are not afraid to talk about diversity and about mentors. We know how important it is to attract members and keep them here. It's not just history – when I was an associate, it was largely a majority-dominated firm. Sure, we had the first African American female partner in New York, but that doesn't make you diverse, having one person who is no longer there. That is something, even though my older colleagues are very receptive, we have to keep working on it constantly. History's one thing, but putting it into practice gets results.

CA: Is there a specific type of person that you look for, who you think will succeed at HH?

GT: I don't think there's anything unique about our criteria – the kind of person who will do well at HH will do well at other places. What attracts people here is the sense of community – you are valued for what else you bring to the table. You are valued for other attributes. I think everybody in all firms look for the same things. What we like to see is something extra – there's no one thing that that extra could be. People realise that they're not one of 100 – they are one of 20. If you treat people like individuals, they should act like them, they should have credentials. It goes beyond just ability. I think a lot of firms, because of the numbers, stop at the ability to do well in a law school exam. You spoke to our people, and I'm sure all that comes through.

CA: Are there any plans to expand the summer program e.g. to take summer associates in smaller offices?

GT: Every office manages its own program. But I think our numbers have been pretty consistent between 13 and 18 people, and I think that's our sweet spot for now. We are active in the clerk market so we are able to track people as third year students or in clerkships, if we have specific needs. So we don't really have plans to get bigger.

CA: What does the firm offer young lawyers that is unique?

GT: I think the important thing is two-fold. One is the ability to explore various different practices under the corporate or litigation umbrella. We don't pigeonhole associates, we allow them to do different things in corporate or litigation. It's the ability to sort of figure out what you like about being a lawyer. Law school gives you specific training but you can also find out you don't want to do something. But within those subjects it's hard to get a firm idea where you actually want to end up. At Hughes Hubbard you have the ability to experience all these different practice areas. As a young associate you can do many different things. You know you're one of, at most, 20 people in your class – everyone knows who you are and you rise and fall on your merits. You get one-on-one face time, the teams are fairly lean, and you can work with senior people directly.

CA: Do you have any advice for our readers?

GT: I think what I tell people is cast a wide net. The big issue I have with the on-campus process now is that it's so condensed. Now it's over by September 15th, because it fits better for the academic. I tell students to take their time – go back and visit the firms. Talk to people, talk to other lawyers at other firms, to friends, friends of friends and your professors. There's a whole host of resources available to law students to help them make a decision. If diversity is your issue, ask to speak to diverse attorneys. If you're hoping to start a family, talk to lawyers with kids.

Take your time. Identify what's important to you. Firms should be more than happy to do it, we're certainly more than happy to do it. I never begrudge a person taking time – it's a big decision, take your time, put in a plan.


Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP

One Battery Park Plaza,
New York,
NY 10004-1482

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 6
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $394,000,000
  • Partners (US): $2,145,000
  • Per Lawyer (US): $1,185,000
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,450
  • 2Ls: $3,450
  • Post 3Ls: $3,450
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
  • Summers 2017: 22
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 21 offers, 21 acceptances

Main areas of work
With offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Miami, Jersey City, Kansas City, Tokyo and Paris, Hughes Hubbard offers expertise in a wide-range of practice areas. Our team of more than 350 experienced practitioners works in over 30 specialized practices, from mergers and acquisitions, public offerings, corporate reorganization, real estate and cross-border transactions to general commercial litigation, securities litigation, international trade, anti-corruption and internal investigations, international arbitration and dispute resolution, product liability, antitrust, intellectual property, labor, employee benefits and tax, as well as niche practices such as art law and a credit card practice.

Firm profile
The firm has outstanding diversity scores and consistently receives high marks for its pro bono activities. The American Lawyer has consistently recognized Hughes Hubbard on its A-List of the nation’s most elite law firms.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 30
• Number of 2nd year associates: 26
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Brooklyn Law School, Columbia University Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke University School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, George Washington University Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, New York University School of Law, Stanford Law School, University of Chicago Law School, University of Michigan Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Virginia School of Law, Yale Law School

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Hughes Hubbard recognizes that a successful recruiting effort is essential to the long-term success of the firm. We are committed to rendering services of the highest professional quality and, to that end, seek lawyers of exceptional ability, integrity and industry. We actively recruit candidates whose academic performance, energy, personality and character suggest that they possess the ability and desire to meet the challenges presented by a demanding practice and are prepared to develop rapidly and assume responsibility early.

Summer program components:
Summer associates work on real problems, not “make-work,” and those problems often involve far more than library research. In recent years, for example, summer associates have assisted at depositions, court proceedings and closings. Summer associates participate in a wide variety of client meetings, witness interviews, negotiation sessions and fact-gathering projects and, on some occasions, they have traveled to other offices.