Jones Day - The Inside View

Jones Day may have the size and stature to set itself apart from most of its BigLaw rivals, but associates felt “the extent to which it tries to cultivate a collaborative environment” truly sets it apart.

WHAT is it about Cleveland-founded firm Jones Day that makes it such a sought-after career destination for law students? “I was most impressed by how global it really is,” one insider recalled. “A lot of firms say they're global and, sure, they might have some offices outside the US, but they still operate independently. Everything here feels interconnected.” There's no denying that 'global' is a label JD has very much earned. Throughout its 122-year history, the Ohio maestro has dedicated significant resources to building up its presence worldwide. The result? 42 offices, 2,400-plus attorneys, and a reputation as one of the biggest and best legal names on the planet. The most recent office opening was in Detroit. Read our Bonus Features for info on Detroit's bankruptcy and Jones Day's role in helping the city's recovery.

“Prestige” is another of Jones Day's many alluring factors, our interviewees thought. Nothing epitomizes this more than the fact that the firm notches up over 80 Chambers rankings in the US alone, and is top of the nationwide tables for labor & employment, bankruptcy/restructuring, antitrust and retail.

The Work

Unlike at most other firms, juniors at Jones Day don't start off in a specific practice group. Instead, they're assigned to the New Lawyers Group for around 12 months. During this time, associates are welcome to try out as many different areas as they like before deciding on which group to join afterward. The business and tort litigation group (or BATL) is the most popular post-NLG destination, though a sizable portion opt to join one of the many corporate groups on offer, which include M&A, capital markets and private equity. Labor and employment, real estate, antitrust, energy and IP are among the other departments available.

Respondents heaped plenty of praise on the NLG, regardless of whether or not they'd arrived with a clear idea of the group they wanted to join. “I came in knowing what I wanted to do,” divulged one, “so I used the time to build up relationships with people in the group I was hoping to join.” By slight contrast, another said they “had some curiosity to sample smaller areas like bankruptcy and tax, so it was great to have the chance to do that.”

"Earning the trust of partners and senior associates."

In the NLG, juniors do technically have the support of a work coordinator, but “there isn't a ton of direction; you might rely on the coordinator to begin with, but then assignments come more organically through the people you work with. Still, it's nice to have those training wheels at the start.” This relatively hands-off approach sets rookies up well for the free market system they experience in their designated practice group. “The free market system works well for the most part; the only time it becomes a disadvantage is when the firm is slow, as you have to do a little more hustling.”

On the whole, responsibility levels tend to differ depending on a few factors. First off, the size of the matter being worked on plays an important role: the small cases and deals enable associates to work closely with partners and take a prominent role in proceedings, from drafting documents to interacting directly with clients; on the large undertakings, menial tasks such as conducting doc review and researching discrete topics are par for the course. Thankfully, JD's hefty pile of work means that both types of matters are easy enough to come by, making for “a very diverse experience.” Some also felt that there's a meritocratic element to it all: “There's definitely a process of you earning the trust of partners and senior associates, and then receiving more responsibility in return – even with things like interacting with clients.”

Training & Development

Juniors receive a regular helping of training while they're sat in the NLG. The schedule begins with a week-long orientation in newbies' respective offices, before moving on to the New Lawyer Academy, another week-long program that sees all new starters from around the world brought to DC. The latter is “more of a cultural indoctrination, rather than being substantive training; it's designed for you to drink the Kool-Aid of the Jones Day culture.” Substantive training is, however, provided to people in groups on things like specific practice area mechanics. Not that our sources didn't appreciate the benefits of the academy: “It's a fantastic opportunity to meet your colleagues from elsewhere, and makes you feel more connected to the firm as a whole.” Following this, there are occasional sessions put on “to teach you about the various practice groups.”

"Drink the Kool-Aid of the Jones Day culture.” 

Associate training dwindles somewhat after the first year, and mainly revolves around CLE sessions and programs set up in connection with external bodies (like the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Training). Apparently, JD is “going to try and improve the training after hearing our feedback.”

Culture and Offices

'One firm worldwide'. You'll see this slogan feature heavily on Jones Day's promotional materials, its website – even its attorneys' email signatures. But associates insisted that this is more than pure marketing speak: it's a genuine reflection of how the firm goes about its business. “There's so much synergy across the entire firm,” observed one. “With a five-digit extension, I can phone any Jones Day attorney anywhere in the world, and the idea is that our practice groups span all the offices, so we never really think of ourselves in geographical terms.” As a result, cross-office work is part and parcel of the experience: all the associates we interviewed had collaborated with lawyers in many of the other offices, both domestically and internationally.

“So much synergy across the entire firm.”

Hiring partner Sharyl Reisman is keen to underscore the perks of this collaborative ethos. “The obvious advantage is that you have a Rolodex of the best 2,400-plus lawyers in the world,” she says. “But whether it's a partner or associate calling a colleague, you'll always get the same answer on the other end, and that is 'how can I help?' It's a unique way to practice, and a unique resource to have at your fingertips.”

JD's firmwide motto also applies to the vibe that pervades all the offices. “The whole point is that we try to maintain the same culture everywhere, and I've found that to be true. Everyone has the same level of willingness when it comes to teamwork, but also an awareness that your life outside of work is important; no one expects an instant response if they've emailed you at 11pm, unless the client genuinely needs it ASAP.” That second point was reaffirmed by another respondent, who told us: “People are very considerate of your time. When someone calls me to give me work, 90% of the time they ask if I can take it on, rather than telling me to – it's almost always a genuine choice. And if I do get pushed into doing something, it's because I have the background that would make it impractical for someone else to do it.”

Hours & Compensation

Something that distinguishes Jones Day from many other BigLaw firms is its “black box compensation” system: just like partners, associates receive an individualized, merit-based salary. What do associates think about this way of doing things? “It has certain positives, but also certain drawbacks,” sources agreed. “There's more flexibility to pay you what you're valued at; you have a unique place within the firm, whereas with a lockstep system you can become more valuable than what you're being paid. But the level of opaqueness is perhaps taken a bit too far. We're told it's tied to our contributions to the firm, but how do we change this? How do we know how well we measure up? It's hard to know who to even ask about it.” The firm responds that management is available to answer such queries.

“No squabbles about who's getting your time.”

Ultimately, JD's compensation package reflects the collaborative culture it strives to sustain. “Partners here do point out how it alleviates all stress and competition. It's great not having to compete against your colleagues, and it does have a big say in the way we work – there are no squabbles about who's getting your time.”

Although compensation isn't directly tied to the amount of time billed, juniors are still meant to aim for around 2,000 hours. “It's a lot of work, but it's no greater a target than what people are doing anyway,” an insider commented. “I didn't hit it one year and no one said a word about it – I even got blank stares from a partner when I mentioned that I hadn't hit it!”

Pro Bono

Juniors are given “one-to-one billable credit” for the hours they devote toward pro bono, making it another “great avenue for gaining experience – particularly in your first year.” Indeed, our sources told us they'd benefited hugely from the “breadth of opportunities” JD has to offer. “Some of the attorneys here bring in their own cases, so one way of getting put on pro bono work is by receiving a call from someone asking if you have time to help out. But the firm is also involved in a lot of pro bono projects, and that's where a lot of the assignments come from.”

“Breadth of opportunities.”

As an example, many of the offices participate in local legal clinics that aim to “assist low-income individuals with various issues, from bankruptcy problems to landlord disputes.” Associates are encouraged to get involved in the running of them.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 124,479
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed


Many of those we spoke to labeled Jones Day “a diverse firm,” and our statistics show that it does in fact outperform the BigLaw average with its percentages of female and non-white partners (23.6% and 9.4%, respectively). That said, interviewees noted that some offices are lagging behind others on the diversity front, and that “it's something we're continuing to work on.”

“Full backing from our leadership.”

Recent efforts support the claim that it remains a work in progress. A junior in DC revealed that “we've just rolled out a new, very generous policy for maternity and paternity leave,” while 2014 saw the Cleveland office establish a group “focusing on the recruitment, retention and integration of women. It's a great initiative that has received full backing from our leadership.” On top of all this, Sharyl Reisman informs us that the firm has appointed Yvette McGee Brown – “the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio”  – as its new partner-in-charge of diversity, inclusion and advancement.

Get Hired

Just like any prestigious law firm, Jones Day is after the crème de la crème of law school talent. But this doesn't mean you need to be at the likes of Harvard, Yale or NYU to get noticed. “We're very good about recognizing top students from lower-ranked schools,” one interviewee remarked. “We have plenty of associates and even partners here who fall into that category.” However, bear in mind that “while we may reach out to more schools, you still have to be at the very top – and I mean the very top – of your class.”

"You still have to be at the very top."

First-rate academics are all well and good, but “they only get you through the initial door; what really gets you a place here is personality fit. If you come in with an individualistic perception then you can still be successful in law, but not at Jones Day. It's important that people understand we're all about teamwork.”

Strategy & Future

According to Sharyl Reisman, Jones Day's approach to growth “is smart, focused and deliberate; we never add personnel just for the sake of getting bigger.” As such, any opportunities for future growth – be it geographical or practice area-wise – must “make sense for our clients” and be achievable “without sacrificing our principles and values.”

“Smart, focused and deliberate.”

This isn't to say that 2014 wasn't a busy year for JD, though. Among a spate of significant lateral hires and noteworthy matters, the firm's continued involvement in the landmark Detroit bankruptcy case was a particular highlight. “We're one of the few firms that could have offered that representation,” Reisman says. “It has required supreme expertise in many areas beyond bankruptcy; our attorneys have had to be really strategic and creative."

Recent Work Highlights 

  • Acting for Verizon on its leasing of over 11,300 wireless towers to American Tower for around $5 billion
  • Advising Exelis on the global defense company's $4.75 billion sale to telecom equipment giant Harris
  • Successfully defended US Steel in a case brought against it by a buyer and reseller of coking coal, which revolved around events that occurred at the start of the most recent recession
  • Advising RadioShack on its sale of thousands of domestic stores to General Wireless following its much-publicized bankruptcy filing

Hiring partner Sharyl Reisman talks strategy and recruitment

Chambers Associate: What's the typical scope of your recruitment drive?

Sharyl Reisman: Our direction is the same as it has been in previous years: it's proven to be a very successful formula for us. We continue to visit a diverse set of schools, from what people would think of as the highly recognized, top-tier schools, to many of the country's other well known, and lesser-known institutions. We certainly wouldn't want to miss out on any opportunities to hire the best and brightest students.

Overall, we've been very happy with the folks we've hired from these various schools. The standout students are the ones we see that will fit in well here. Superior academic achievement, and strong writing and speaking skills, are really just the beginning of what we look for in a candidate. The people who impress us are the ones who, in the short period of time we see them, can effectively convey why they would fit in well with our culture. We're not a 'me' culture; we're a ‘we’ culture that is truly collaborative, among both our attorneys and the clients we serve. We're also looking for people who see, create and capitalize on opportunity, and have the potential to develop into leaders, both within the profession and their communities.

CA: Why do you place such an importance on visiting lower-ranked schools? Is it simply a case of giving candidates from these schools a fair chance?

SR: It is about that, but it's also down to the fact that our client base is rather diverse in terms of culture, geography and background. As such, we want our lawyers to connect with and reflect that.

CA: What sorts of questions do you tend to ask during interviews?

SR: We don't have a set list of questions because we find that different questions elicit strengths differently, though all our interviewers recognize what we're aiming to get a sense of. It's really just about trying to identify people's strengths, and making a connection whether it's an outside activity or academic-based achievement.

CA: Besides OCIs, how else can students secure a place at the firm?

SR: In addition to accepting write-ins, informal meetings outside the OCIs are important to us. We send lawyers to meet students at campus activities such as moot court, mock interviews, panel discussions, and job fairs. Participation is key. The more people get to know this firm and understand our unique principles and values, the more everyone benefits. It's important to see why we're so different. 

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in its recruiting efforts?

SR: One way we address this is by recruiting from law schools all over the country; we're not limited to any small set of schools, so we give ourselves the greatest chance of casting the widest net possible in every sense. Another notable measure has been the Manager Partner’s recent appointment of Yvette McGee Brown – the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of Ohio – as our new partner-in-charge of diversity, inclusion and advancement. Jones Day has a commitment to foster an environment where everyone can succeed through talent and hard work. As Yvette herself says, ‘diversity is in our DNA.’

CA: What have been the firm's biggest highlights over the past year or so?

SR: In 2014, we continued our representation of the City of Detroit in its unprecedented and historic emergence from bankruptcy. The restructuring plan was recently confirmed, which took the better part of the year for our lawyers who had been working on it. This has been a monumental and challenging representation and we're one of the few firms, if not the only firm, that could have offered that representation. It required supreme expertise in many areas beyond bankruptcy including from our Litigation, Banking & Finance, Employee Benefits, Labor & Employment and Real Estate lawyers; our attorneys have had to be really strategic and creative.

We also had a couple of fairly large matters on the transactional side, which included assisting Procter & Gamble with several large transactions, and representing Reynolds American in its $27 billion acquisition of Lorillard. Our growth is always carefully directed and focused, so we don't hire just to get bigger. Our California offices made four big hires over the past year – they were former prosecutors – which have enhanced our litigation and trials teams. We hired a number of regulatory and political law attorneys, too.

We also continue to strengthen and grow our issues & appeals practice. We hired an unprecedented seven former US Supreme Court clerks this past year, on top of the six we hired in each of the prior two years. In terms of representations, our issues & appeals lawyers have argued several cases before the US Supreme Court this past year. That is pretty unique.

CA: Are there any upcoming developments to watch out for, such as geographical or practice area expansion?

SR: One area we are looking to strengthen is cyber security. Generally speaking, our approach to growth is smart, focused and deliberate; we never add personnel just for the sake of getting bigger. With this steady and focused approach, we look for opportunities that make sense for our clients and can be achieved without sacrificing our principles and values. In July 2015, Jones Day will open an office in Detroit, Michigan. Having recently completed its successful representation of the City of Detroit in its landmark Chapter 9 reorganization and building on years of significant representations on behalf of Detroit-area clients, Jones Day is in a unique position to utilize its global presence for the benefit of its Metro Detroit clients. The Firm's Detroit Office will be a full service operation and, like all Jones Day offices, connected to more than 2,400 lawyers in 19 countries serving clients as one firm worldwide.

CA: What is the firm's long-term vision?

SR: It will largely be more of the same, and that means growth but not just for the sake of being present and getting bigger; preserving our culture and being in the best position to serve our clients remain key to any future growth plans.

CA: Associates talked a lot about Jones Day's collaborative feel. What do you think juniors get out of this in terms of their professional development?

SR: I think the benefits are the same for them as they are for our more senior attorneys. The obvious advantage is that you have a Rolodex of the best 2,400-plus lawyers in the world. Whether it's a partner or associate calling a colleague, you'll always get the same answer on the other end, and that is 'how can I help?' It's a unique way to practice, and a unique resource to have at your fingertips.

CA: What would you say makes Jones Day stand out among its competitors?

SR: It isn't just that we're a large law firm; we're a global law firm with unique principles and values that enable us to provide superior client service with seamless cross-discipline teams, and we have a long-term outlook in terms of both the firm's future and associate development.

The Detroit bankruptcy

Over the past few decades Detroit has experienced a remarkable slump. Back in 1950 the city was a booming industrial powerhouse with nearly two million inhabitants, but its population dwindled with its fortunes and today that figure stands at just 700,000. Industrial decline, high crime rates and urban decay have exacerbated the mass exodus.

All this culminated in Detroit filing for chapter nine bankruptcy in July 2013, the largest municipal bankruptcy case in US history. Here we take a look at the causes of Detroit's decline and Jones Day's herculean efforts to bring it back from the brink.

A city breaks down 

Many theories surround Detroit's decline. Undoubtedly, there's a clear correlation between the growth of the automotive industry and the city's prosperity over the years. In the first half of the 20th century, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all pitched up in Detroit, giving rise to the moniker 'Motor City'. They each opened huge factories and created thousands of jobs. Soon, though, much of the industry migrated to other cities, states and countries. Despite a series of attempts to jump start the auto industry in the 1980s and 90s, Detroit went the way of Chrysler and General Motors and filed for bankruptcy.

While the decline of the auto industry is a key contributor to the downfall of Detroit, there have been other factors too. In 1967, Detroit witnessed five days of riots which killed 43 people and injured another 467. Although this wasn't enough to tarnish the city's fortunes permanently, the riots forced many small business to close or desert the city in search of safer areas.

Detroit's reputation as a hotspot for crime and violence was cemented in the 1970s and 80s when street gangs thriving on the local drug trade started to tighten their grip on the city itself. Soon after, Detroit was branded the most dangerous city in America. By the early 90s crime rates had reached nearly 3,000 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Crime has slowly started to drop since then but in 2013 Detroit still reported as many murders as New York, a city with more than 11 times as many people.

Driving out of the ditch 

Even before news of the bankruptcy broke in 2013, it was clear that something had gone very wrong in Motor City. With debts weighing in at $18.5 billion, Detroit needed the best bankruptcy brains out there – so they gave Jones Day a call. Attorneys at the firm were parachuted in as lead counsel to the administrators in connection with Detroit's Chapter 9 case and its restructuring efforts. The firm's course of action is largely divisible into three main strands. First, it has helped with the development and implementation of restructuring proposals, Second, it has participated in negotiations with key stakeholder constituencies in the hope of reaching an agreed restructuring. Third, the firm has handled all aspects of the chapter nine case including trials.

Moving through this labyrinth of legal wrangles, Jones Day has performed a wealth and breadth of legal services including litigation in multiple courts, corporate transactions, capital raising transactions, labor negotiations, and pension and healthcare benefits restructuring. Detroit's long-term future still looks uncertain. Plans have been rolled out to partially pay creditors and pensions and slowly get the city going again but many commentators remain sceptical. The city's motto, 'We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From The Ashes', coined in 1805, adds a cruel irony to proceedings. Still, with the help of Jones Day, maybe one day Detroit will spread its wings and sore above the plains of the Midwest once again.

Jones Day

51 Louisiana Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, DC,

  • Head Office: Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 16
  • Number of international offices: 25
  • Partners (US): 657 
  • Associates (US): 821
  • Summer Salary 2015  
  • 1Ls / 2Ls / Post 3Ls: Miami: $11,250/ month; Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh: $12,083/month; Atlanta: $12,500/month; Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Irvine, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Washington: $13,333/month
  • 1Ls hired? Varies by office
  • Split summers offered? Varies by office
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
  • Summers 2015: 141 
  • Offers/acceptances 2014: 139 offers, 120 acceptances

Main areas of work

Jones Day’s practices cover the spectrum of transactional, litigation, regulatory, and tax matters. Core practice areas: corporate/M&A, litigation/trial practice, government regulation, real estate, energy, health care, banking/finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, labor and employment, antitrust, tax, and intellectual property.

Firm profile

The firm is based on a set of core principles - the most critical of which is a relentless focus on client service that transcends individual interests. They are a global legal institution based on a set of principles to which a large number of men and women can commit – principles that have a social purpose and permanence, that transcend individual interests. This is one important aspect of what makes Jones Day the client service organization that it is. They are truly One Firm Worldwide.

Recruitment details

Number of 1st year associates: 101

Number of 2nd year associates: 130

Associate salaries: 1st year: $135,000-160,000 ($160k in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Irvine, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Washington; $150k in Atlanta; $145k in Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh; $135k in Miami)

2nd year: Increase is merit based, not lock step

Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2015:
American, Benjamin N. Cardozo, Boston College, Boston University, Case Western, Chicago, Cleveland-Marshall, Columbia, Cornell, Dickinson, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Georgia, Georgia State, Harvard, Houston, Howard, Illinois, Michigan, New York University, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, San Diego, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UC-Berkeley, UCHastings, UC-Irvine, UCLA, U Miami, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wisconsin, Yale.

Summer details

Summer associate profile:
Jones Day lawyers share certain fundamental principles: exemplary integrity, a selfless dedication to the firm and its clients, and a sense of responsibility and initiative that leads one to take ownership of assignments and to complete them at the highest level of quality legal service. Summer associates candidates are evaluated on their fit with this culture.

Summer program components:
Summer associates do real client work in their choice of practice areas. Mentors are assigned to provide one-on-one guidance. Each summer associate will have a formal, midsummer review. Jones Day’s dynamic culture and its global, multidisciplinary practice areas, provide the perfect training ground for summer associates and new lawyers.