Juniors pick a practice area before joining. Most go into a litigation/controversy pool, where they reported that "you're able to sample different areas and find out what interests you" before specializing in a specific area by the end of their third year. Other options include corporate, securities (contentious or noncontentious), regulatory & government affairs, IP, tax, financial institutions, and labor & employment. Work is handed out by practice group managers, who "make sure work is allocated evenly and that people get exposure to the different areas they'd like to explore. It's a really nice relationship that means you don't have to feel overwhelmed."
One litigation associate "really enjoyed having the opportunity to try a number of practice groups. I've worked with a really wide range, from internal investigations on banks to criminal to IP to more general business litigation." Rookie litigators "start out doing a lot of discovery work and managing contract attorneys, but after a year or so you get more opportunities to do brief writings, summary judgments, motions to dismiss, or witness prep. You get enough responsibility to stay challenged, but they don't put you in positions where they expect you to do things you haven't had the training or experience to do a great job at. The work is really well calibrated to each associate's skill level." Juniors were also full of praise for the firm's use of support staff. One found that "there's very little mechanical churning of documents. Even what I've done that qualifies as document review has been higher level document review, because the first level is done by our business services team in Ohio."
Across teams, juniors found that "there's an emphasis on teamwork in everything we do. We have a policy where at least two partners are needed to make important policy decisions, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing: the way we work is pretty seamless." They had high levels of contact with clients on cases that ranged from "litigation for some of the biggest names in the country to working on transactional matters on smaller case teams for regional companies."
Training & Development
Associates felt that "one of the nicest aspects of the firm is that they emphasize training to the extent they do. It's a way of filling in gaps in knowledge that you might not fill organically during your first year, which makes for a pretty well-rounded experience." After three days of initial training, associates attend regular practice group training, including lectures, discussions and workshops. First-years from across the firm, including the international offices, also get together for a new associate retreat in Boston or Washington, DC. As well as providing general training on areas including legal writing skills, "they build in plenty of time to network with other associates, which is one of the most valuable parts of it. There's usually a dinner for everyone, and people also get together informally and go out to bars."
WilmerHale's smorgasbord of training opportunities is representative of a firm culture where "there's a real emphasis on older lawyers wanting to pass on their knowledge to junior lawyers. The firm tries to put you in front of people who have a lot of experience and wisdom to share." Juniors were particularly keen on the firm's mock trial program "with a very senior partner acting as the judge, and a panel of partners observing you. Afterwards the 'judge' spent several hours giving us very concrete feedback on how we'd done, and it was enormously helpful."
WilmerHale was created in a merger a decade ago between illustrious firms Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, DC and Boston-based Hale & Dorr; since then the firm has expanded to add offices in New York and Palo Alto, as well as small outposts in Waltham, Denver and Dayton. Today, co-managing partner Susan Murley is adamant that "because most of us joined post-merger, there's very little focus on the legacy firm. If there are differences between offices, it stems from the heart of where different work is generated." Accordingly, the firm's biggest office in Washington, DC, which has a government and regulatory focus.
Still, associates also noticed that "some people believe this is a DC-based firm and the fact the DC office is larger is a negative if you're going to Boston but that's not true – Boston really has its own identity going back to before the merger. It's a little more collegial, there are more events and there's a real sense of friendship in the office, because so many people started as summers and worked their way up." Boston juniors boasted that "everyone's always blown away by our view over Boston Harbor and our cafeteria is fantastic: tons of healthy choices and they use ingredients from local farms." Not to be outdone, the New York juniors are housed in "a state-of-the-art, brand new office in the World Trade Center" and, in true urban hipster style, were particularly excited by the "real ceramic cups" to drink their coffee from, while associates at the smaller, tech-focused Palo Alto office boasted of a more casual atmosphere.
Associates told us that "we're not slick lawyers with a lot of bluster and show; folks here are a little bit academic, maybe even brainy." This makes for an environment where "people are extremely professional, thoughtful, and really concerned about doing the job right," as demonstrated by the firm's emphasis on training and its "supportive" culture.
Juniors also emphasized that WilmerHale "has really made a commitment to allow people to have a decent work/life balance." This means that "people tend to keep their heads down during the week, and there aren't tons of socials as a lot of people have families or meet their social needs outside the firm. But that's not to say it's in any way cold: there's plenty of room for making friends here." Boston associates frequent the Chowder and Marching Society (CAMS) on Fridays, although they explained that "there's no chowder or marching in the streets, it's just wine and beers" – the misnomer's origins are lost in the mists of time, but it looks like a reference to the social club frequented by the fairy godfather in 1940s comic strip Barnaby. Not to be outdone, DC also hosts monthly happy hours, as well as special events including a biannual DC regulatory party in the office cafeteria. Excited juniors reported that "one time, we had the mascot from the Washington National Team show up. They try to do little things like that to keep our morale up."
Hours & Compensation
Associates aim to bill 2,000 hours, but find that "the firm doesn't put a lot of emphasis on hitting the target because there's an ethos of quality over quantity, although you do want to be hitting hours by the third year." They also stressed that "although we're definitely not a lifestyle firm, people here are really respectful of time spent with family. They willingly volunteer to cover for each other in busy times, and people will jump in and help out if you're overwhelmed."
Bonuses are "based on a combination of merit and standard scale," with a full bonus awarded at 2,000, and a smaller sum at 1,900, along with a discretionary amount based on performance. Associates were tight-lipped about how much they netted, but as one opined, "philosophically I believe in the lockstep model, but it wasn't the compensation system that made me come here."
Juniors found that "there's a real commitment to community service here, which means the firm actively encourages us to do pro bono." WilmerHale even puts its money where its mouth is by putting no upper limit on pro bono hours. One busy junior reported that "I do so much pro bono that if I don't have any going on I'm somewhat worried. You're doing good, and you get more responsibility too. I've got to write a brief and argue it in court, and the partner I'm working with gives me really great criticism."
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all offices: 162,420
- Average per US attorney: 153
Associates enthused that "this is a great firm to be a woman. Our co-managing partner Susan Murley really encourages women's development, and there's a big turnout for the women's leadership events, where female senior partners have been very open in talking about the struggles they've faced and how they've overcome them." Our sources were also "encouraged to participate directly in diversity events, and if you have an idea that you want to run with they'll help you make it a reality."
WilmerHale recruits from 35 top schools nationally through the standard OCI process, where the associate consensus was that they hunt down candidates that are somewhere between "very smart" and "very, very smart." In case you're still in any doubt, hiring partner Chris Davies clarifies that "we're a relatively cerebral place. Clients hire us to solve sophisticated and difficult problems that require vigorous and imaginative advocacy, which we do through thoughtfulness and consideration. It's important for people to consider the degree they want to be at a place which is serious and determined, but still creative. We're looking for stellar academic records, even at the top schools. The quality of the writing sample is a threshold criterion in our hiring decisions, and is sometimes even a determining factor." He also tells us that at the firm's interviews, candidates are "likely to be asked detailed questions about items on their resume. Their capacity to speak to these topics thoughtfully, compellingly and with some imaginative insight is very important."
Associates added that WilmerHale is also keen on people who are "able to work well in teams, and that's valued more than people who shine individually." This means that the interview process is "much more conversational than at other firms. They want people who are friendly and able to go off and get things done."
Strategy & Future
Co-managing partner Susan Murley's catchy promise for the next few years at WilmerHale is "evolution, not revolution." The firm recently opened a new office in Denver, which she tells us "offers opportunities for growth in our energy and natural resources practice. We're also looking at further developing our practices in healthcare and education, and our practices outside the US, including building on our strong reputation in IP litigation in Europe."
Murley also informs us that a firm saying is: “Our focus is on great work, hard work, teamwork, and a place where everyone counts and they know it.” She elaborates that "it's hard work to be a lawyer at a big firm, but there's very much a sense we do it as a team, whether it's working across offices on small matters, or as part of very large teams on matters like our work for JPMorgan or Apple in its global patent infringement battle with Samsung, which spanned almost every office in the firm, in and out of the US."