Irell & Manella LLP - The Inside View

La La Land's very own IP virtuoso...

THIS Californian star began to shine just before the Roaring Twenties and the Golden Age of Cinema propelled American culture worldwide. Indeed, Irell's first clients were the Garbos and Bogarts of that world, as well as their studio employers. And, though the latter still fill the firm's rolodexes – with the likes of Warner Bros. and MGM on the books – in recent years the tech companies and start-ups of Silicon Valley have become its bread and butter.

A big reason for this is the firm's IP practice, the “single biggest” at Irell, and “probably the best in the West,” headed up by the “legendary, bow tie-clad supremo” Morgan Chu. Moreover, though it might not factor into prospective clients' decision making, the firm shares key attributes with those tech pioneers. There is an entrepreneurial and academic culture that sees clever recruits given a lot of autonomy early on. On top of this is a healthy respect for attorneys' work/life balance: “What struck me about Irell is that I could have my life and I could have my work,” one junior told us. And as for that work, Chambers USA fully recognizes Irell's caliber, awarding it top rankings for its IP practice, while giving similarly high nods to its litigation and media & entertainment teams. Bankruptcy, tax, and life sciences also come in for praise.

The Work

Most newcomers are drafted into litigation, which “accounts for probably about 75% of what we do here.” That includes the firm's world-beating IP lawyers who, as across the practices, “mostly work with large technology firms.” That said, aside from working within the broad categories of 'litigation' and 'corporate', attorneys are given the freedom to cultivate their own niche – “you don't actually ever have to define or decide clearly which specific field you want to work in, and the assignment system really enables that.”

Hey, I'd love to join your team.”

Some sources labeled that assignment system 'holistic', which is a very Californian way of saying 'informal'. “You can walk up to a partner and say, 'hey, I'd love to join your team'. Or you can speak with the work coordinators and let them know that not only do you need work, or want work, but what kind of work you want to do.” Really what it comes down to is the fact that “if you are a member of a team, regardless of seniority, you will be handed work. And if you get it done, you will get more of it.”

Junior lawyers in all departments said they had daily tasks that ranged from the menial to the high-level. In IP, lawyers had done “standard research, drafted opening briefings, drafted motions and responded to them.” One had even “worked on a brief for the Supreme Court.” Over in corporate – where the team's work is split “about two-thirds M&A to one-third finance” – it's a question of “the more you ask for, the more you get. I'm still doing some due diligence but I'm also taking a hand in running the main transactional documents.” One litigation source had “provided research, drafted outlines and done witness preparation support.”


Interviewees were quick to point out the defining feature of Irell's culture – “to put it simply, it's 'autonomy'. That's the prevailing work culture. I haven't yet experienced a situation where a superior ever suggested that they are in charge of or have control of my time and space.” Perhaps this trust in attorneys' ability – “if you can handle it and do a good job, you're going to get the work” – stems from the “intellectual vibe” that permeates the firm. Recruiters tend to target the top schools and the top students at those schools: “The idea is that people want to be around people who are smart.” However, less conventional candidates needn't be deterred: “There are people here from a mélange of backgrounds: there's some from academics, some from business, some from government, there's even a few from the military.”

If you can handle it and do a good job, you're going to get the work.”

As for socializing among this mixed bunch, sources spoke of “holiday parties, weekly happy hours and annual summer retreats” to local resorts that involved activities like yoga, golf and horse riding. There was also talk of weekly firm breakfasts that “do a good job of bringing everyone together regularly.” But mostly, interviewees agreed that “the vibe is more live and let live” and to that end, “people tend to have lives outside of work, that's not because people don't get along or aren't friendly – the vast majority are. Just that, especially in a place as big as LA, people have a lot of other stuff going on.”

Training & Development

New recruits are given a week-long orientation in how to use the basic systems at the firm, which many found helpful due to the myriad of support staff in each department. Other than that, there's pretty frequent formal practice-specific training, plus occasional sessions like “deposition and legal writing workshops.” It would be remiss of us not to mention the three-day retreat at a Palm Springs hotel for Irell newbies. But this retreat isn't all pool parties and palm trees – back in the office, lawyers have to prepare a deposition in front of partners, using hired actors to play the part of witnesses.

When they join, juniors are assigned to a mentoring pod with three to five junior people, a mid-level associate, and a partner or counsel. In theory they are supposed to meet monthly, but sources admitted that this was an area the firm could do more in – “I think mentorship and monitoring could use some improvement. It wasn't really an issue in the past because there were only two or three associates in a group. But now that we're quite a bit bigger, you can see occasions when juniors get a bit lost.”


One place associates won't get lost is on the firm's switchboard. With only two offices – HQ in Century City and a smaller outpost in Newport Beach – Irell might seem like a small operation, especially since “given modern technology, it's really just one office with two zip codes.” However, as previously stated, it's a Golden State supremo, and its Avenue of the Stars home reflects that status. Everyone has access to the firm's gym and personal trainer and new starters are given “big bright offices” replete with “massive desks” on their first day. There is no cafeteria but, as one helpful source reminded us, “this is Century City, every building has a cafe, there's a mall across the street with some pretty good restaurants, and once a week there's a local farmer's market.”

Given modern technology, it's really just one office with two zip codes.”

Newport Beach, despite containing a third of the firm's lawyers, has very few juniors. It's mostly made up of “partners who want to live the more casual life that the OC affords.” Because of their absence “you have to be a bit more strategic about getting work from them. If there's a partner there that you want to work with, make sure you regularly check in via email or over the phone.”

Hours & Compensation

Most associates agreed that “I almost never stay really late. Obviously we're still working for BigLaw and once a month I will probably stay in the office until midnight, but generally I come home around dinner time.” This was attributed to the fact that “you can tell that partner's work is important to them but you can tell that their families are more important.”

A 2,000 hours billings target was described as “eminently achievable” by associates, especially since they can count “an unlimited amount of pro bono toward the total.” However, the intensity of those billables varied between practices, with one corporate source opining: “It's different here to litigation, they're more calendar-driven. I've had two or three months in a row when I'm really slammed. Then I'm only in the office four days a week and leave at five for a month.” When it comes to vacation, “we get an unlimited number of days and, as long as you're billing enough, I've never had a problem taking time off.”

Pro Bono

As mentioned above, “the firm treats pro bono and billable work as the same for juniors.” This is in part because “it gives us an excellent opportunity to get up on our feet in court.” Interviewees had worked with a number of worthy organizations in the LA area including Public Counsel, the Inner City Law Center and Bet Tzedek, all of which offer free legal advice to people from low-income communities.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys : 18,086
  • Average per attorney: 147


Diversity isn't a huge issue here, associates told us, which they attributed more to the fact that “you're not viewed as a diverse or female candidate – you're a person and that's why you're on the team.” A women's network curates events such as talks by inspirational women. Sources were also quick to point to the work of Irell's diversity committee and the firm's new diversity scholarship as evidence of Irell's credentials.

"You're a person and that's why you're on the team.”

Get Hired

We have nodded to Irell's proclivity for academically-gifted candidates before – the firm only really considers those with top grades. That said, recruiters are also looking for people with a passion: “Whether it be polo or paleontology, partners here like when you have worldly or intellectual interests.” As if to prove this exact point, another source recalled that “during the interview I had a conversation with one of the partners. But it wasn't anything to do with recruitment or law, just topics of general interest. You know, abstracts of philosophy, that kind of thing.”

Strategy & Future

At the beginning of 2015, Irell was rocked when partners John Hueston and Brian Hennigan took over 30 of Irell's lawyers to form their own firm. For many associates this was a shock – “you feel like you're one big team and then that happens.” However, most agreed that “despite a reduced headcount, in terms of incoming work there's been no difference.” And many were positive about the defection's impact: “If anything I feel like the firm's more cohesive now. Before Hueston-Hennigan, the groups were more insulated.” In an interview with managing partner Andrei Iancu, he told us: “From the very beginning we are thinking - can these individuals be our future partners?”


Interview – Andrei Iancu – managing partner, Irell

Chambers Associate: What are your highlights of 2016?

Andrei Iancu: We continued to do top-end legal work. For instance, our transactions group has flourished this year and we've had some incredible deals such as the Wanda Group's $3.5 billion acquisition of Legendary Entertainment, a deal heralded as China's largest cross-border cultural acquisition to date.. We represented Miramax in its acquisition, as well as private equity company Genstar Capital in some major deals.  Our litigation successes continued unabated across practice areas, including a securities trial win for Public Storage, a victory in a copyright case for CBS, and an appellate reversal in a constitutional law case for Gerawan Farming – results all recognized as Top Verdicts of 2016 by a California legal publication. We also won a trademark trial for Sketchers before the U.S. International Trade Commission, a result named one of the top trademark rulings of 2016.  Earlier this year our practice in the fairly new field of patent post-grant proceedings grew dramatically. In 2015, we added the former chief judge of the patent trials and appeals board – we have expanded that practice and it's been very successful.

We have continued to grow our media and entertainment practice. We are now, I believe, at the very top end of the market and the practice now spans both transactions and litigation. In 2015, we added Bobby Schwarz and Victor Jih, both top-tier litigators. In combination with our existing stars, that group along with our IP practice is booming right now.

CA: Are there any practices that are particularly hot right now or that the firm is looking to expand in?

AI: We are at least physically based in LA and so media and entertainment is very prominent here. Likewise, Irell & Manella has been firmly entrenched in the media and entertainment space since we were founded. Having said that, the couple of folks I've just mentioned were recent additions. We've had Steve Marenberg – one of the top entertainment litigators in town – for many years.

And we're particularly hot in IP litigation and incredibly busy in that space. We are also doing a lot of work in private equity and looking to expand there.

CA: What have been the lasting effects of the Hueston-Hennigan breakaway? Has it affected strategy or recruitment in any way?

AI: No, not particularly. I don't think it has had a particularly meaningful impact in the long term. In fact, we were #1 on The American Lawyer's 2016 A-List, which recognizes firms that excel in four areas: diversity, pro bono commitment, associates satisfaction and financial health. We haven't changed our approach to hiring in any way.

CA: How would you explain the Newport Beach office's role in the business? Are there any plans to expand it?

AI: Newport Beach has always been an important part of our firm with a robust practice. We do not have plans to grow for the sake of growth. Our main focus as a law firm is to always look for the best lawyers, so we can deliver the highest quality legal services to our clients. We don't have quotas, minimums or maximums. It's not like we sit around and say 'in the next 15 months we have to add so many lawyers'. We are always on the lookout for the very best lawyers who fit our culture. As far as Newport Beach goes, the same philosophy applies. It's a small office but an important office.

CA: What effect do you think a Trump presidency will have on the world of BigLaw?

AI: The first obvious disclaimer is, who really knows? But I'll say this: usually change, any change, from one government to another will bring additional work for law firms. Regulations change, various laws change. There should be an increase, at least temporarily, in law firm work.

If I had to read the tea leaves, there may be change in healthcare regulations, tax, trade, and many other issues.. There may be changes in the treatment of IP, at least on the international stage, and enforcement. So at least in the near term, for the next couple of years, I predict there will be an increase in legal services in general.

CA: Where would you like to see the firm in five years' time?

AI: Again we may be unique in this regard, but we do not have any size targets or specific growth targets per se. What I would say is, on a conceptual level, we do want to deepen our strength in certain areas. I've already mentioned a couple, such as private equity. We are already one of the top IP litigation firms, and I expect that to continue. I would also like the opportunity to add certain areas of practice that have synergies with what we already do, but there's no specific target or goal.

CA: What can Irell offer young lawyers?

AI: I think we are unique for young lawyers in that we offer them the opportunity to get deep and meaningful experience and become true top-end lawyers. We are a firm that wants to attract, retain and develop the best lawyers out there. We are a firm that when we look for folks, from the very beginning we are thinking – can these individuals be our future partners? We recruit with the intent to retain. The folks who come here will get responsibility much earlier and it will be more enhanced than at most other firms.

We work hard to give these opportunities to our young lawyers and focus on training them to be the very best in the field; so that, by the time they are senior associates or partners, they are many steps ahead of their peers at other firms.

Interview with Irell hiring partner Ellisen Turner

Chambers Associate: Has the scope of your recruitment drive changed at all over the past few years?

Ellisen Turner: I wouldn't say that anything has changed in the type of people we recruit – we tend to recruit those who are creative and passionate about the law, people who are entrepreneurial and maybe those who've worked before they've gone to law school. In terms of schools, there has been some adjustment but usually we target the same schools as most of our peer firms. There's been a problem in the US legal market with fewer people going to law school. At the California bar exam this year, there was the lowest number of participants in a decade. That decrease has fallen hardest on underrepresented communities – people of color and women. This is mostly due to the huge financial commitment involved. Also, they look at firms and don't see a lot of diversity. Because of that, some of the top schools aren't as diverse as they once were. So now we're looking at schools that might be considered less prestigious by some, but offer full scholarships to get the top diverse students. We have expanded the schools we're looking at, and we were the number one firm in improving diversity last year.

CA: What other things does the firm do to encourage diversity?

ET: We do focus a lot of our school recruiting efforts on diversity programs. We have our diversity scholarship that we started a few years ago, although we’ve come to realize that the pipeline into law school is itself broken to some extent. We offer direct scholarships to try and fix that.

We have an active diversity committee that is devoted to recruiting and retaining attorneys of diverse backgrounds. This committee proposes and implements initiatives and programs designed to help increase diversity at Irell and works to foster an inclusive environment by celebrating diversity, eliminating implicit biases, and offering support for the unique challenges faced by attorneys of different backgrounds.

Irell has always been committed to building a diverse and inclusive firm. That focus permeates our culture and has resulted in a population of attorneys from a variety of backgrounds and one of the highest percentages of minority partners for law firms in the United States. 

CA: A lot of associates mentioned that you recruit those with intellectual interests outside the law. Is that a prerequisite?

ET: It definitely does come up in our recruiting. We try to find ways to see whether someone is passionate about the things they are doing. Over time, we've found that people who end up doing really well here are often folks who have passions outside the law, such as someone who may have had a successful career as a musician or writer, small business owner, or as a college athlete. If you are good at something interesting, that passion and work ethic tends to carry to the other facets of your life.

CA: What kind of questions do you ask during OCIs and can you think of any particularly memorable answers?

ET: There are no specific questions for OCI. There are some questions we commonly use, like tell me about a time in your life when you were faced with a serious challenge, and what did you do to overcome it? The answers you get for that are amazing and can say a lot about people’s characters.

CA: What are you looking for in a candidate? And do you think there is a particular type of person that really thrives at Irell?

ET: It is the creative, entrepreneurial type. People who are intellectually interested in what we do - that’s what gets you in the door. Being very entrepreneurial and creative is what allows us to do the work we do in a firm of our size. Our clients don't come to us with cookie-cutter cases—their matters are complex and the issues are usually new. The folks who are able to serve those types of clients are those that when they see a problem, they don’t see it in a task-oriented way. They take a more holistic approach to practising law. You want to learn as much about that client and their problem before you say, hey this is what we want to do. That’s what makes associates stand out. They’re not just answering a one-off legal question, they take ownership of the issue.  We  are, from day one, relying on everyone at the firm to come up with creative ideas and thoughts.

CA: Any plans to expand or change the summer program?

ET: Not to expand or change. Our approach all along has been to hire as many good people as we can, instead of hiring a specific number. That might mean in one particular summer we have an eight-strong class and the next there are 28 people. Our focus has always been on hiring the most talented attorneys in the nation, so we can continue doing the highest quality legal work for our clients. We have a few things that we attempt to do broadly, but they’re more guidelines than rules. We're always looking to increase our diversity, for instance.

CA: What does Irell offer young lawyers that is unique?

ET: When you take our size and talk about the quality of the work we do and the types of clients we have, that’s unique. It's truly the best of both worlds. Usually you have to go to a huge international firm to get that kind of work, the bigger, more complex matters. And then you may or may not get it. At Irell, you're able to take on really interesting, substantive, top-end work early in your career, and yet still be in a small firm environment with a cohesive and collegial culture. We don’t have a dozen people to staff one matter and we don’t have people hanging out in the back room doing nothing or just grunt work. We are able to give our associates early responsibility that is real. That means new associates are going to court, taking depositions, and liaising with clients. Although on one hand it’s very altruistic, we also want to see them develop as lawyers for selfish reasons. We like to see associates develop all the skills needed to close deals and take cases to trial within a few years here because that makes us a better firm overall.  What we know is that our associates are going to be better lawyers because of this place. People know that they’re going to get the best training when they come here. People I started with at Irell later started their own firms, even as associates –they were ready by the time they were a fifth year based on their Irell experience.

CA: Any advice for our readers about making a decision on a firm?

ET: I’d say a few things. Be introspective about it; think about what you want. For your own satisfaction, think about what you see yourself doing. In five years, where do you want to be? In ten years, where do you want to be? Is this firm likely to put me there? Can they train me as a lawyer, regardless of practice area? If you don’t know the answer, do some more digging. You want to know if this place is going to give you what you need to achieve those longer term goals.

Irell & Manella LLP

1800 Avenue of the Stars,
Los Angeles,
CA 90067-4276

  • Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Partners (US): 45
  • Associates (US): 55
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,462/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes – first half of the summer only with a six week minimum
  • Summers 2017: 12
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 19 offers, 11 acceptances. Some offers are outstanding to students who have accepted judicial clerkships.

Main areas of work
Antitrust, appellate, art, bankruptcy reorganization and creditors’ rights, class action defense, cyber liability and privacy, debt finance, entertainment litigation, insurance, IP litigation, IP transactions, litigation, media and entertainment transactions, mergers and acquisitions, patent, copyright and trademark, private equity and venture capital, professional liability defense, public offerings and private placements, real estate, securities law and corporate governance, securities litigation and tax.

Firm profile
Irell & Manella is a full service law firm with offices in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, California. Our unique practice and culture offers opportunities for talented law graduates to excel early in their careers. The quality of our work and the flexibility of our organization attract associates with the highest qualifications.
Irell’s preeminent reputation brings clients to us from around the country and abroad and allows us to concentrate our physical presence in a single metropolitan area ensuring firm cohesion and a minimum of bureaucracy.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 9
• Number of 2nd year associates:8
• 1st year associate salary: $180,000
• 2nd year associate salary: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Law Schools: Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, Yale.
Job Fairs & Interview Programs: Lavender Law, Loyola University Chicago Patent Law Interview Program, Los Angeles On Tour Interview Program (Otip), Penn Regional Interview Program.
Resume collections: Cornell, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard, Loyola (Los Angeles), Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Southwestern, Texas and Vanderbilt.

Summer details

Summer associate profile:
We recruit the top candidates from the top schools. Consideration is given to participation in law school activities, undergraduate record, previous work experience, references and other factors. We look for individuals who are motivated, creative, show leadership, have a strong work ethic and are serious about being a lawyer.

Summer program components:
Our summer program is designed to allow summer associates to explore the various areas of our practice. Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in a mock wrongful death trial that is tried to a jury and presided over by a judge. Each summer associate is assigned a mentor and a work coordinator. Feedback is provided on each project by the assigning attorney and each summer associate has a mid-summer review to deliver additional feedback about his or her progress.