Mayer Brown LLP - The Inside View

Associates at this Windy City institution were blown away by the “really interesting group of individuals” and "broad spectrum" of work on offer...

IN 2013 and 2014 Mayer Brown had big success, posting a double-digit rise in profits per partner, as well as surges in gross revenue. But is the wind still blowing in the right direction for this international juggernaut? It sounds like it: "2015 was another excellent year from a financial standpoint, in a difficult legal market," enthuses managing partner Ken Geller. "We had great success in our financial results, great achievements in terms of awards and rankings, and great results in lateral recruiting." The firm's 2015 revenue rose 2.8% on 2014 to $1.257 billion. It seems like it's all go for Mayer Brown: the firm opened new digs in Mexico City in 2015 to bolster its energy practice, and was due to set up shop in Dubai in summer 2016, which will be its first Middle Eastern outpost.

Fortunately, this Chicagoan's recent prosperity doesn't come with an overly aggressive culture, according to junior associates here. “Generally everyone is very helpful,” one enthused. “Your first year can be a daunting experience, and the clients we work with are very high-profile, but generally people take the time to work with you and help you learn the ropes.” 

The Work

The largest proportion of associates on our interviewee list – around a third – was in finance, with the corporate & securities and litigation groups each accounting for around a quarter. The remaining few were dotted across employment & securities, financial services regulation, government and global trade, IP, tax controversy, real estate, bankruptcy & insolvency, wealth management, and tax transactions & consulting. During their summer program, newbies can try work from any of these groups, after which they make a decision on which practice area to join full-time. One associate assured us: “I haven't heard of anybody not getting an offer in the group they selected.”

“I was able to express my preferences and get a variety of work.”

Most of our interviewees accessed work through a free-market system, which worked reasonably well for the majority: “I was able to express my preferences and get a variety of work.” Several, however, pointed out that working for multiple partners can sometimes cause matters to pile up, and “some partners aren't particularly organized.” That said, juniors appreciated that there are “partner-associate liaisons who do a good job of helping associates to balance their work schedule.”

Finance associates described a broad-ranging practice: “We do everything from leveraged and structured finance to securitization and project finance, and we have a couple of people who do exclusively derivatives.” One junior added: “We represent a lot of banks, both as lenders and in terms of securitization, and we also do a lot of insurance.” When it comes to the daily grind, tasks include preparing for client calls, drafting agreements and negotiating the smaller points of a deal.

Over in litigation, the work can be anything from mortgage-backed securities cases and fraud to breach of contract, antitrust and environmental matters. We heard that travel opportunities have been abundant for New York litigators of late: “I was on an internal investigation where I was staffed out of the country for a few months. We have a lot of junior associates in the Caribbean and Paris right now.” It's not all glamorous jet-setting, of course, and newbies aren't unfamiliar with doc review, although other more exciting tasks include writing motions and prepping witnesses for depositions. Corporate associates also get “a pretty broad spectrum. I've done a number of equity and debt offerings on the securities side, and I was staffed on a few large transactions on the M&A side.” Other subgroups that corporate juniors can get work from include business and technology sourcing. Client secondments are also available.

Training & Development

Mayer Brown splits its attorneys into three groups: starting level, midlevel and upper level, “so they gear the training programs toward each of those levels. Once you're a fourth-year, your goals change, and you get more training on aspects like business development.” Associates start life at the firm with an initial first-year 'Fast Track' training series, which takes place every Monday for their first six months at the firm, covering topics such as time management, career planning and maximizing feedback.

"I think informal mentoring is more successful."

A range of more substantive legal training sessions are also on offer: “We did a large interoffice negotiation exercise,” one finance newbie reported. “We split into teams to negotiate legal opinions, and we were critiqued by senior-level associates.” Litigators, meanwhile, are taught “how to draft a motion, how to do discovery responses – we get actual practical training that I've found very helpful.” Newcomers are assigned an associate and a partner mentor, although the general feeling was that “in reality you go to the people you work with when you have questions. I think informal mentoring is more successful because you're drawn to certain people, and you can't change that.”

Offices & Strategy

Our list of junior associates showed that nearly half of them had joined the firm's original – and largest – office in Chicago, while around a third were in the New York digs. The rest were spread between posts in Charlotte, DC, Palo Alto, LA and Houston. The Chicago office is undergoing “a bunch of renovations. I don't know what it's going to look like, but a lot of the space will be changing.” Remaining unaltered, however, is the on-site gym and cafeteria, and its location “downtown right near the Willis Tower” is still as convenient as ever.

"A lot of the space will be changing."

Big Applers meanwhile moved into 1221 Avenue of the Americas in early 2015, “so this office is very modern, with lots of glass.” As far as amenities go, “in the basement there's a gym,” as well as restaurants on the first floor and basement of the building. Some of our sources felt that the new space was almost too big, and at times impeded contact with others: “The floors are huge, so you may not always see people on the other end of the floor.” First and second-years in New York share an office, while those in Chicago get their own from the start.

But renovations to existing digs aren't the only changes happening at Mayer Brown's offices, with the opening of a Mexico City outpost in 2015, and Dubai in 2016. "In late 2015 we brought over two corporate partners from Baker & McKenzie, who have a large practice representing Western companies who do business in the Middle East," MP Ken Geller explains. "So we've decided to open a small office in Dubai, largely to help with that inbound work but also to service Middle Eastern clients." And which practice areas are doing particularly well at Mayer Brown right now? "We did a significant amount of lateral recruiting during 2015 to build out our global M&A platform, including laterals from Davis Polk, Cleary Gottlieb and Baker & McKenzie," Geller informs us, adding that "we had record-setting years in finance and real estate." In addition, litigation – the firm's largest group – has had "a very strong and consistent practice in 2015."


While strong academics are a common trait among Mayer Brown's attorneys, the firm makes an effort to hire an eclectic mix of characters. From the “classic nerd” to the secretly intellectual “frat guy, it's a really interesting group of individuals; I like that there's no dominating group.” Others mentioned that quite a few colleagues had had previous careers in sectors including engineering, consulting and journalism: “It brings all kinds of perspectives to a problem; the more voices you have in the room the better.” When it comes to partners, “there are some who are significantly more laid back, but there are also those who are quite highly strung and more like the stereotypical New York partner.”

"A really interesting group of individuals."

By and large, socializing isn't at the top of the agenda for the majority of Mayerites. “I appreciate that, though,” one junior was quick to add. “I have other social outlets in my life, and there's nobody here that I don't get along with.” Others appreciated the firm's more flexible approach to time spent in the office: “They expect that when you do your work, you do it well. After that you have leeway; if you want to go home, you can.” Another second-year confided: “If you're not busy, there's no weird face time issue where you're just sitting there doing nothing, which is the worst. My advice to first-years would be: if you're not busy, go home!”

Hours & Compensation

Compensation is calculated using a rather complex system. In order to remain in good standing at the firm and advance to the next level in the pay scale, associates need to bill 2,000 working hours. These consist of not only billables, but also matters such as pro bono, business development work and training sessions –“it's a pretty broad bucket.” However, there is a subset of the working hours – which the firm refers to as 'creditable hours' – which only includes billables and up to 200 pro bono hours, as well as “some limited quantities of other things, for instance if we received a subpoena.” To get a bonus, associates need to bill at least 2,100 creditable hours. In general, our sources hadn't had any problems hitting this target: “We've all been pretty busy!”

"Went back to the lockstep system.”

Last year we were told that the bonuses were calculated using a mixture of lockstep and discretionary factors. “They shifted to that system for exactly one year, but there was a bit of an outcry, so they went back to the lockstep system.” Salaries are also lockstep. When it comes to vacation, “you can take as much time as you want, there's no set number of days.” Although this sounds like a dream, “it's really a blessing and a curse – some people are better about taking vacation than others. Most people take a couple of weeks.”

Pro Bono

Mayer Brown is signed up to the 'Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge,' which means it dedicates at least 3 percent of its total billable hours to pro bono. Junior associates are expected to bill at least 60 hours, although “you can go up to 200 hours.” In general, our interviewees had billed between 60 and 100 hours, with one source noting “I would take more on if I had more time!"

“I would take more on if I had more time!”

Mayer associates can get involved in a wide variety of matters, from representing inmates and working on appellate briefs for criminal defendants, to asylum cases and helping senior citizens access medical benefits. “We probably get an e-mail every week from our pro bono director with new opportunities.” We also heard of associates who had been able to bring in their own cases.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 42,024 
  • Average per US attorney: 53


“In my group in New York we don't have very many female partners, and that is a concern for me as a female associate,” one junior confessed. Our figures show that Mayer Brown has only 39% female associates, and 18% female partners. That said, steps are definitely being made in the right direction. Each office has its own Women's Forum, for instance, “and those meetings are great! Although I do think that the female associates would benefit from having female partner and associate mentors, too.”

"They are putting more resources into these things."

Where racial diversity is concerned, most of our interviewees praised the firm's efforts: “When I started, the firm hired a director of diversity [Jerry DeBerry] and he's created a lot of events; they are putting more resources into these things.” There is a three-day diversity retreat in Chicago, and those who had attended it agreed that “it was good to network with other people in other offices that you normally wouldn’t be exposed to. The firm is definitely making a very big push in terms of diversity.” Others felt that there is a lot of talk and little action, however: "We have a lot of presentations where we're told the management is focused on diversity, but I've not actually seen that it is. And I'm not aware of any concrete structural changes here."

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Get Hired

Rather predictably, given the intellectual atmosphere at Mayer Brown, the firm is “fairly choosy about academic performance,” according to hiring partner Brad Keck. And at interview, don't be afraid to express your opinion: “If you are truly interested in the firm, let us know!" Keck tells us. "That's important, because everyone wants to feel some mutuality; sometimes it's hard to know which candidates are sincerely interested.”

“If you are truly interested in the firm, let us know!"

When we asked associates for their opinion on hiring criteria, several highlighted that “it is very much free-market at Mayer Brown, so you have to be much more of a self-starter. You have to be willing to approach the partners; they prefer you to knock on their door and ask questions rather than just sit in your office and email them.”

Interview with hiring partner Brad Keck

Chambers Associate: How do you pre-screen those who have bid on your firm? Is there anything specific that you look for on a resume?

Brad Keck: Firstly, we are fairly choosy about academic performance, and we're looking for people that we think can be a good fit at the firm in the long term. We're not just hiring people for junior associate roles, we're looking for the best people we can find. We want people who we think could find long term success and play more senior roles at Mayer Brown, so a good academic background and a strong work ethic are important. We also look for people who can demonstrate engagement and enthusiasm, and we like to hire a mix of different types of people with varying experiences, so some form of work experience is a plus.

CA: Do you focus on any particular law schools when recruiting?

BK: You have to put your focus somewhere, and of course that depends on which office we're talking about. I would say our biggest focus is on places like the University of Chicago, Michigan, Northwestern and Harvard – we put a lot of effort into those four. Then we look at the top 50 law schools, although our focus will be different regionally. We look for the best people we can find, but we're not exclusive to any school; we'll consider someone who's a high performer wherever they're from. Last year we recruited from about 40 different schools.

CA: What is the firm doing to encourage diversity in recruiting?

BK: I've been on the recruiting committee for about 17 years (they haven't been able to get rid of me!) and I can say that diversity has always been a big focus. A big portion of every committee meeting is spent on recruitment and the visibility of diverse applications. We also have a director of diversity, Jerry DeBerry, which is fairly unique – there aren't many law firms with a full-time position for someone to work on diversity issues.

There are three aspects to diversity recruitment at the firm. The first is outreach: at most of the schools where we recruit heavily, we do a lot of outreach to diversity groups. We encourage the schools to hold receptions, to make sure we have good brand recognition within the affinity groups. The second point is that we've always focused on ensuring that, through the recruiting process, we're giving diverse candidates due consideration. When I say diversity, obviously racial diversity is one component, but we also try to think about it holistically; we consider anyone who has come from a different background, such as economic disadvantage. Thirdly, 2016 is the first year that we've set up scholarships for diverse students – we're offering four in total. Scholarships are very important in the legal community, and through this program we've tried to underscore our commitment by offering grants. If it works well we'll probably expand the scholarships more broadly.

CA: What makes someone stand out at interview? 

BK: I think I alluded to it already, but being engaged and present is very important. It should also feel as though you've done a bit of preparation before the interview; candidates should know a bit about the specific firm they're interviewing for. Being engaged with the interviewer is critical – it sounds easy but it's not always the case. The other thing I would say is, if you are truly interested in the firm, let them know! Say, 'Hey, this is where I want to work,' and tell us why. That's important, because everyone wants to feel some mutuality; sometimes it's hard to know which candidates are sincerely interested.

CA: Do you have any examples of questions that you've asked in past interviews?

BK: The one that I've been asking for years – particularly at callbacks – is 'Think forward a few years to when you're actually an associate. What would be a couple of things that, if you found them out after you started, would make you think you'd made the wrong choice of firm?' I think a lot of students respond well to it because it puts people in the frame of mind that they're actually going to be turning up to work here every day! It highlights anything that would give them regrets about choosing the firm they chose. They'll usually bring up two or three things, and I'll explain where our firms sits on that, and what we bring to the table.

CA: What makes a candidate stand out during the summer program?

BK: Someone who takes advantage of the opportunities that our summer presents. The main focus of our program is for people to choose which practice area they'd like to be in. Obviously doing good work is important, but summers also need to spend time getting to know the people here, and selecting the group that they would like to proceed in at the end. Our whole program is about exposing people to different practices and helping them make a decision at the end, so summers should do anything they can to help that process. They should ask lots of questions, and when they have assignments, they need to do good, consistent work.

Because we don't hire people for particular practices, the idea is that people are happy to explore and learn about what a big firm offers. I think the fact that there is no rotation or any sort of predetermined destiny when associates walk in the door is different to a lot of firms; attorneys have a lot of autonomy at Mayer Brown.

CA: More generally, what sort of person really thrives at Mayer Brown?

BK: The people that get off to the best start are those that are client service oriented, and there's a huge variety of different personalities that can lead a person to that. We want someone who is willing to focus on the client service aspect of the job, and understand that we are working for our clients first and foremost – I think that's a great asset. Being able to understand and respond to the clients' needs are really important traits. Again, things like enthusiasm and engagement are essential as well.

CA: So what can students being doing now, for instance in their 1L summers, to increase their chances of impressing you in their applications?

BK: At Mayer Brown – the same as at a lot of the largest law firms – our clients are in large part big banks, corporations and funds, and getting exposed to that corporate environment as a 1L is great. Even if you've just worked as an intern for one of these companies, it might be a client or potential client at a lot of law firms, so that is helpful experience. That's one opportunity – assuming you aren't able to find a law firm job (which is very difficult as a 1L!)

The other good path would be getting a position that gives you a deeper understanding of an area of law that the firms you're targeting actually practice. If you're lucky enough to be in DC, getting a job with one of the regulators or a place like the IRS is very valuable. It's useful to either get involved with potential clients – to get that experience in a corporate environment – or to get experience in the substantive areas of law that you would be interested in applying to.

Mayer Brown LLP

71 South Wacker Drive,
IL 60606-4637

  • Head Office: N/A
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 13
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.223 billion
  • Partners (US): 381
  • Counsel (US): 94
  • Associates (US): 402
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,077/week
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? Varies by office
  • Split summers offered? Case by case, office by office basis
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Atypical
  • Summers 2016: 67
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 220 offers, 63 acceptances

Firm profile
Mayer Brown is a leading global law firm with offices in 20 cities across the Americas, Asia and Europe. The firm’s presence in the world’s key business and legal centers enables it to offer clients access to local market knowledge and depth combined with a global reach. The firm’s practice areas include: banking and finance; corporate and securities; litigation and dispute resolution; antitrust and competition; US Supreme Court and appellate matters; employment and benefits; environmental; financial services regulatory and enforcement; government and global trade; intellectual property; real estate; tax; restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency; and wealth management.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 68
• Number of 2nd year associates: 52
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 plus significant market bonus opportunities
• 2nd year: $190,000 plus significant market bonus opportunities
• Clerking policy: Yes, the firm encourages clerkships, has pre-clerkship summer associate opportunities and pays clerkship bonuses

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Fordham, Georgetown, Harvard, Houston, Howard, Illinois, Loyola, Michigan, North Carolina, NYU, Northwestern, Penn, Stanford, Texas, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee, Yale

Summer details 

Summer associate profile:
Mayer Brown seeks to hire associates of exceptional promise from a variety of backgrounds. Because Mayer Brown seeks to hire associates with the potential to become partners at the firm, its hiring standards are rigorous. Above all, Mayer Brown is interested in candidates who share the firm’s dedication to providing high-quality legal services and who have demonstrated superior academic ability and personal achievement.

Summer program components:
Summer Associates at Mayer Brown are not assigned to practice areas and there is no formal rotation between groups. The firm’s goal is to expose summer associates to as many practices areas and attorneys as possible during the program. Each summer associate is assigned at least two attorney mentors and receives written reviews on every assignment. Each summer associate will attend development meetings with partners at mid-summer and at the end of summer.