For “a gold star on your resume,” where to look? Maybe Mayer Brown, a global giant which has propelled itself far and wide from its Windy City roots.
IT was just a decade ago that Mayer Brown took on its current name, but the firm's heritage stretches back much further – over 100 years in fact – to 19th century Chicago, where its headquarters still sit to this day. This is where most MB initiates wind up, and they agreed the firm offers a more forgiving environment than the traditional New York scene. “Mayer Brown gives you the prestige of working for one of the best international firms in Chicago with a little less of a crushing workload than a New York firm,” interviewees believed. The hours can still be long though and schedules demanding – more on that later.
Known for its work in finance, corporate and litigation, Mayer Brown is showered with Chambers USA rankings in 18 areas nationwide, and many more state to state. Many of these rankings come in its home state of Illinois, where the firm excels in antitrust, banking & finance, insurance, tax, technology & outsourcing, labor & employment, litigation and white-collar investigations. But Mayer Brown has flourished beyond the Windy City too: it has a further seven US offices and 14 more across the globe, with an office in Tokyo opening in 2018. “It will allow us to better serve our large Japanese client base in all our offices,” managing partner Kenneth Geller tells us. “The office will start with a team on the ground focusing on project finance and M&A.”
At the end of summer, incoming juniors rank the top three practice groups they'd like to join. “Some groups take more people so you’re more likely to get in," a junior said. "Others are smaller and more competitive. I think of the end of summer as a sorority rush!” There are minor variations between groups, but MB associates usually find their own work in a free-market system. By and large associates were happy with this. “I really would hate having an assignment coordinator," one source said. "This way I feel like I have control of the cases and people I work with.” Some associates pinpointed pitfalls: “I’m very outgoing and it was hard even for me. You can get siloed into one group. You either need a lot of autonomy or actual regulation.” A source in finance was concerned about the volume of work the system faces them with: “I might swing between 90-hour weeks and 20-hour weeks," they reported. "The firm will work with you if you turn down work – but you have to be really busy to get away with it.” In Chicago, four partner-associate liaisons are there for support. “They care about engaging with us," juniors reported, "but it can be tricky for them to tell partners to lay off. They tell us how to write the email to say no to work.” We heard that litigation does have a more formal assignment system “if a huge project comes in.”
“I have control of the cases and people I work with.”
Most associates on our list of juniors were in finance. “Finance groups often come under the corporate umbrella, but at MB we’re separate,”observed one source. Juniors tend to stick within one of the finance subgroups: general lending, funds, projects or (the biggest) securitization. One source rightly commented: “I think the main reason finance isn't grouped under corporate is because we have such a strong securitization group.” The firm is top-ranked nationwide by Chambers USA for securitization.
Finance clients include “big investment banks, private equity funds and credit card companies" like Morgan Stanley, Brookfield and World Financial Network. For juniors in Chicago "there’s not much face-to-face client contact, mainly because most clients aren’t in Chicago. Lots are in New York, but really they’re all over the country. I did get to go on a client visit out east.” So what do juniors get up to? “You’ll send out the docs, collect comments, create new drafts, then put everything together at the end of the deal. Juniors handle the nitty-gritty of closings, so you get very familiar with ancillary documents.” The nature of the work means juniors “can start feeling a little isolated. A lot of the time you have to do a ton of work holed up in your office. You can come to work, bill ten hours, and not talk to anyone.”
Corporate & securities has four subgroups: M&A, private investment funds, capital markets and technology transactions. Corporate sources noted that while work assignment is still free-market, “partners distribute work to make an even balance.” In M&A, juniors “assist with deals, doing due diligence and a bit of drafting. I also help with joint venture projects and other things that don’t fit squarely into M&A.” Associates in funds “help to bring in new investors and negotiate agreements for open-ended funds.” The smallest group is technology transactions, which deals with “digital service agreements, cybersecurity, big outsourcing deals and software licensing." The team handles contracts "for things that have never been thought of before – AI, self-driving cars – so we have to be innovative.”
Over in litigation “you can do a bit of everything and specialize over time.” That could include work from any of litigation’s ‘action groups’ including antitrust and accounting malpractice. Clients include the "household names" of the corporate world – JP Morgan, Union Carbide, Google, Facebook, Nestlé, Bristol-Myers Squibb –"which is really exciting, as it’s cool to see what you’re working on in the news.” Litigators told us of “two main types of work: fact-based discovery and legal research and writing.” Associates said they also assist on depositions: “I did all the doc review, a lot of preparing the client for interviews, and I was in charge of writing civil investigative demand responses.” Litigators face their fair share of doc review. “It probably made up 40% of my time last year," revealed one source, "but I’ve also been able to handle first drafts of proceedings, document requests, letters to court and some of the less analytical documents. And I have a good understanding of how what I’m doing fits into the overall picture of the case.”
Training & Development
All juniors are enrolled on a six-month fast-track training program, which has both general and group-specific weekly trainings. “It’s meant to match the tasks you’d be performing at that time, so earlier sessions are more basic like how to keep time and deal with administrative things, and later on it looks at how to engage with clients.” For litigators group-specific sessions include “how to prep a witness, create a deposition kit and draft documents – those are the sort of things I’d be doing.” After suggestions from associates, the firm recently trialed a training bootcamp for finance and corporate associates – “a few days where you learn everything all at once.” Following good feedback, MB is looking to add some new elements to its first-year training curriculum in other groups.
“A few days where you learn everything all at once.”
MB’s mentor program connects associates with two partners as well as a midlevel “for the social aspect.” It was hit and miss, interviewees said: “Some will tell you the program should be stronger, but the informal mentoring is strong.” Another source felt: “It’s not a real program. I had to email to find out who my mentors were.” Associates’ have formal annual reviews and more informal checkups at six-month mark.
Hours & Compensation
Litigators were pretty satisfied with their working hours. “I’m in charge of pacing my tasks, so I can leave in the middle of the day to go to the gym.” Working days usually last around ten hours, with some later nights and weekend work, particularly for those in finance and corporate. “It can be hard to get up at 5.30am when you were up until 2am the night before,” reflected one interviewee. Juniors said their hours are shaped by client expectations, but wondered if the firm could make it easier to work remotely. “Most of my time is spent at the computer and on the phone, both of which I have at home," observed one source. "But it feels like three days a week I don’t get to see my child in time before bed.” Good news though: “One of the best things about Mayer Brown is that they encourage you to take time off.”
“Even if you’re on six or seven deals you can only do so much.”
Associates have to bill 2,000 hours to move up a class. That figure “can include everything – client work, recruitment, pro bono, training, mentorship lunches, social events. It’s incredibly hard not to hit it.” There’s a snag though. Hitting 2,000 won’t get you your bonus. Outside the New York office (which has its own system), MB associates need to hit 2,100 hours of billable (or pro bono) work for a bonus, which was a sore point for some. “It’s out of line with the market in Chicago," a junior said. "When you know your peers are getting a bonus for working fewer hours it’s a little disappointing. From what I’ve heard, most don’t hit the bonus target. As a first year you’re just not capable. Even if you’re on six or seven deals you can only do so much.” Interviewees divulged that the associate committee had complained to the firm, and were now in talks to amend the rule. We’ll report on progress in our next edition.
Up to 200 hours of pro bono can count toward the bonus target, and first and second years have a 60-hour pro bono requirement. This was an easy reach for litigators, but associates elsewhere struggled. “You get too busy to do it,” one said. Associates said pro bono immigration cases were commonplace. We also heard about a breach of contract case, a veteran appeal case, and helping a first-time home buyer.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 58,175
- Average per US attorney: 66
Culture & Offices
Perhaps the best way to sum up being a junior at MB is this: “You know your place on the totem pole, but everybody treats you with respect.” Associates described their colleagues as “reasonable, affable people who enjoy questions and the actual work.” DC sources elaborated: “People joke we’re a little nerdy and reserved, and I think that’s true.” It was a similar picture in Chicago: “We’re known for being a bit of a nerd dungeon. I’m constantly impressed by the intellect of people – but they do also have an interest in music, literature, art.” Associates said MB still has that BigLaw edge: “It’s not what you see on TV shows with people yelling, but you definitely feel you have to prove you’re devoted by being here as long as everybody else.” We heard about a few instances where associates wanted a bit more clarity. A source reported: “A colleague was supposed to go and see a relative over Thanksgiving, but they were just told: ‘Be available.’ What does that mean? Can I work remotely? Do they want me in the office?”
“I’m constantly impressed by the intellect of people.”
The Chicago office was said to be “family-oriented and haveMidwestern values – we’re less aggressive.” With the exception of New York where “people want to be social,” MB isn’t the most actively sociable workplace. But in Chicago “the firm has built an attorney lounge for us to hang out with a TV, snacks, beer and wine.” MB’s next largest office is New York, followed by litigation-heavy DC and finance-focused Charlotte. The firm has a further three US bases: LA, Palo Alto and Houston, as well as 13 international offices. Associates said that “MB has a focus on practice areas more than offices,” so cross-office work is common. And in a push to “create a more firm-wide community” in the finance group, juniors were recently told that (as part of the group's new bootcamp program) they’d get paired with partner mentors in other offices.
Each office has its own diversity committees alongside a firm-wide organization and an associate diversity council. Of these, we heard Chicago’s active associate-led LGBT group aims “to help attorneys build relationships across different legal disciplines, provide opportunities for the firm to recruit and retain LGBT attorneys, and provide opportunities for LGBT attorneys to be visible at different events.” The DC office hosted a firm-wide diversity retreat, and the women’s forum there “does a good job holding quarterly meetings about topics women show interest in, and the head of the firm came to speak to us at a roundtable about the firm’s commitment to diversity.”
“My sense is that the firm is very decentralized."
Strategy & Future
“My sense is that the firm is very decentralized," an interviewee told us. "There are a lot of smaller groups within the firm that are moving in their own direction, so it’s hard to say one thing we’re all gonna do moving forward when the firm has 13 offices with dozens of practice groups.” But as far as being kept in the loop from a broader strategy viewpoint, associates felt it was “hard to see how management could do better at a big firm. Ido think they make an effort.”
Managing partner Kenneth Geller gives some insight into MB’s focus: “In the US we have almost 1,000 lawyers and a full-service practice, so there’s no practice group or capability that we’re looking to add. The plan is to enlarge our presence in certain locations, particularly New York and the West Coast, and to enhance our offering in certain practices, particularly corporate.”
Juniors told us they get to help out more significantly with on-campus recruiting from the third year onward, but had been called in to assist with interviews if a more senior attorney wasn’t available. Initial on-campus interviews typically last 15 to 20 minutes. One interviewee advised: “Look up and research the lawyers you’re meeting with and know which areas or cases you’re interested in.” A source in the finance-focused Charlotte office said: “It’s a shame to see a good candidate have a good interview and then at the end say they’re interested in litigation. We don’t have a single litigation associate here.”
Current associates pointed out that the size of the summer class in each office is not as big as you may think. “You can avoid getting lost," believed one source. "My summer class year was 18 people; last year’s was about 20, so it’s a smaller class than at many big firms but not tiny. I appreciated it because everyone knows each other.” At the end of the summer program, associates rank the top three teams they'd like to join, but current juniors recommended that summers should “make it clear from the beginning which group they want to be with.”
Anything else to think about? “There was a mix in my class of people who'd come straight from their undergraduate course and law school and some people who’d worked previously," one interviewee said. "I think the latter can be really helpful; I know litigation associates who were paralegals before.”
Interview with managing partner Kenneth Geller
Chambers Associate: Mayer Brown recently announced the opening of a new office in Tokyo, why did you choose to set up there?
Kenneth Geller: In looking at our global strategic plan, which calls for us to have a presence in all of the world’s major financial markets, Tokyo was probably the only location where we needed to be but where we did not yet have an office. We considered opening in Tokyo for several years, but we wanted to make certain that we had the right person to lead the office. Our ability to find Rupert Burrows, who spent many years running the Tokyo office for Ashurst, convinced us that this was the right time to proceed.
The Tokyo office will start with a team on the ground focusing on project finance and M&A, but more broadly it will allow us to better serve our large Japanese client base in all of our offices. I expect that our lawyers from Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere in Asia will be frequent visitors to our Tokyo office.
CA:What’s the focus going ahead in the US over the next few years?
KG: In the US we have almost 1,000 lawyers and a full-service practice, so there’s no practice group or capability that we’re looking to add. The plan is to enlarge our presence in certain locations, particularly New York and the West Coast, and to enhance our offering in certain practices, particularly corporate.
CA:How would you describe the culture at Mayer Brown?
KG: I’m at a disadvantage because I’ve never been a partner at any other firm, so I can’t compare our culture to that of other firms. But my perception, which is confirmed by many of the lateral partners who have joined us, is that our culture is very heavily focused on collegiality and cooperation. We have structured the firm in many ways to incentivize that. We operate as a fully integrated global firm with a single management structure and a single profit pool. Our partner compensation process and our leadership structure are designed to encourage lawyers from all of our offices, regions and practices to work together to service clients on a global basis.
CA:How has the firm changed since you joined?
KG: When I became a partner in Mayer Brown in 1986, we were almost entirely a US firm with almost all of our lawyers, about 400, in Chicago. Now we have 1,800 lawyers in 24 offices on four continents, with only about 60% of our lawyers in the US. So there have been massive changes in the size, scope and capabilities of the firm. But I truly believe that the basic culture and values of the firm, principally openness and cooperation, have remained the same.
Mayer Brown LLP
71 South Wacker Drive,
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 18
- Worldwide revenue: $1.313 billion
- Partners (US): 401
- Counsel (US): 104
- Associates (US): 417
- Main recruitment contacts: See www.mayerbrown.com/careers for office specific contacts
- Hiring partner: J Bradley (Brad) Keck
- Diversity officer: Jeremiah DeBerry, Partner Diversity & Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 50
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 37, 3Ls: 0, Pre-Clerks: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Palo Alto: 2, New York: 11, Washington DC: 6, Houston: 3, Charlotte: 3, Chicago:16, Los Angeles: 3
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,461/week 2Ls: $3,461/week Post 3Ls: $3,461/week
- Split summers offered? Case by case, office by office basis
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Atypical
Mayer Brown is a leading global law firm with offices in 26 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 private clients, trusts, and estates.
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 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.
For more information please visit: www.mayerbrownfutures.com/americas/
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Immigration (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Communications (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment: Employee Benefits & Compensation (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Recognised Practitioner
- Latin American Investment (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Finance (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
- Latin American Investment (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Appellate Law (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- ERISA Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation Recognised Practitioner
- Government: Government Contracts (Band 3)
- Government: Government Relations (Band 4)
- Government: Political Law Recognised Practitioner
- Immigration (Band 3)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy Recognised Practitioner
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 3)
- Projects: PPP (Band 1)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax: Controversy (Band 1)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) (Band 2)
- Transportation: Road (Carriage/Commercial) (Band 2)