McGuireWoods LLP - The Inside View

This Virginia native is all over the East Coast and further afield, and has global expansion firmly in its sights. 

THE 'Old Dominion' is home to the oldest judicial system in America and the oldest legislature in the Western hemisphere. Another Virginian institution that has stood the test of time is Richmond-based McGuireWoods. Aging gracefully over the past 182 years, McGuire has grown into a firm with 19 offices all over the US and two overseas, and over 1,000 attorneys. The newest office to add to the collection is a strategic alliance with Shanghai-based FuJae Partners. Managing partner Tom Cabaniss explains that “globalization is an important part of the market today. Therefore, concerning our new alliance with FuJae Partners, we had been waiting for an opportunity to find the right fit for a connection in Asia, and now that we have it we can fully realize our ability to serve our clients who have Asian ties. There will be opportunities to get fantastic experiences both here and there in terms of legal work and culture.”

Highly regarded practices include litigation and wealth management, to name a few, and are rewarded by top marks in Chambers USA. Top work is matched by top clients, who include the likes of Starbucks, Home Depot, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. 

The Work

The 72 associates on our interviewee list worked in groups including: business & securities litigation; M&A & cross-border transactions; tax & employee benefits; complex commercial litigation; and real estate & land use. Insiders said that “the main operations in DC are government investigations and white-collar crime.” Another stated that “in Charlotte it's debt finance and finance litigation, as Bank of America is down the street.” Class breakdowns in Chicago show that “there were six people in my class. One went to financial services litigation, one went to labor & employment, one to specialty corporate practices, one to debt finance and two chose healthcare.” In the Richmond HQ, “restructuring & insolvency generates high revenue” as does private wealth, “which is unusual as most of those groups are drying up elsewhere.” The assignment system is “pretty free flow. You're assigned a supervising attorney in your practice group to report to. You also get an associate mentor. But you show up and can take whatever work is available. It's great because it gives you a lot of autonomy.”

"I’ve been thankful that they've involved me."

Regulation & compliance juniors had typically done “a lot of standard research on legal issues. I spent two days doing client interviews for an internal audit. I've also drafted briefs and a compliance manual.” In restructuring & insolvency, “we work all over the country, so I get tasked with finding out the law in different districts. I’ve been thankful that they've involved me in substantive pleadings, drafting responses to summary judgments and insurance protocol payments. I don’t feel like it's just busy work.”

Associates in the specialty corporate group explained that “we work in the energy space. It's different to typical stock or asset purchase work. It's intertwined with the production of energy products. There's a high level of drafting ancillary purchase agreements.” Financial services litigators had “drafted complaints, written substantive motions to dismiss, attended hearings, and argued motions to dismiss on a $20,000 case. I've also drafted requests for discovery. I had my own caseload of 300 single-plaintiff cases for one client and I had to negotiate all the settlement agreements. It's been fantastic.”

Training & Development

An initial two-day orientation “is on stuff like 'how do I turn on my computer and how do I get out of the building?'” After this, “the firm puts on weekly presentations on legal writing and how to be successful.” This is traditionally broadcast across all offices via video link and runs every Friday for the first six weeks of employment. Other training beyond first-year level has been implemented in “response to people clamoring for it. So they now try and put on basic reviews in practices that you are not necessarily in. It's very rare to get an issue that only one practice group is engaged in. So it's good if everyone has a baseline of competence.”

"Each department has an associate committee liaison."

There's more informal opportunity to solicit feedback on work from partners. But once a year, attorneys “list everyone we've worked with from seventh-year associates and above. They are all sent a copy of our self-assessment and asked to review you. Each department has an associate committee liaison go over it with you and your supervisor can be there too. For me it works.”


“I wish it was more diverse because most people who are diverse don't stay,” opined one junior. Others added that “diversity is a relative term. Is it a representative sample of the USA? No. Is it a representative sample of law school graduates? No. But McGuireWoods is doing the same as other firms our size.” Many interviewees stated that this wasn't “for lack of trying” and that “the firm is making the right moves to make it the norm.” McGuireWoods has various affinity groups, including the African American Lawyers Network, and the Asian Pacific Lawyers Network. The most visible is the Women's Lawyers Network. One associate mused that “we have loads of events. We invited all our female clients to the Chicago Ballet to network. It's a really high-profile event.”

"Is it a representative sample of law school graduates?"

However, a few told a different story. “Don't get me wrong, people are nice but since I've been here it's gone from about ten nonwhite associates to a grand total of two,” said one of their particular surroundings. Another's view was that “I don’t want to be out in an affinity group spending the weekend in Richmond discussing problems: I just want to focus on my hours.” Others insisted that “diversity and inclusion is one of our core values, so we have a diversity inclusion committee.” There's also a “diversity program for 1Ls. I think we only take on 1Ls under the program. Everyone at law school knew about this, so it's very visible in the community.” Most interviewees felt that the firm was trying to “cover all the bases to do more day-to-day things, so that it's not just focused on getting diverse people in positions of power, but at every level.”

Offices & Culture

The largest of McGuireWoods' 19 US offices is Richmond, followed by Charlotte then Chicago. Across all these locations, associates have their own offices. In Chicago, juniors joked that “our views are amazing but the restaurants are garbage! I don't know what to do about that!”

"We all went to watch them compete in a law firm battle of the bands.”

In the summer of 2015, Richmond moved into an 18-story, purpose-built building. “It's beautiful. All offices are the same size with floor to ceiling windows. There is a great view of the Court of Appeal.” In downtown Charlotte (known as "Uptown" to locals) the firm uses “ten stories of a 30-story building, with great places to grab lunch,” making up for the “slightly austere décor.”

Newbies stressed that regardless of geography, “one of the best things we do is that we don't let the work consume our lives.” Many continued that “it's not cut-throat and you can ask questions of anyone.” Interestingly, some Richmond residents felt that “it's a Southern law firm so it's a little more formal. I've read before that people say it's more relaxed, but if you look at those who are on the partner track, it's all suits five days a week. But I was incredibly impressed by the fact that on the first day, everyone knew my name. It makes it an environment where I'm happy to work. That goes to a Southern thing as well, everyone is treated well.”

On the social side, most associates “wished there were more opportunities to independently get together outside of work.” However, Charlotte sources praised the holiday party “hosted in a baseball field.” Juniors told us that “we had a Thanksgiving competition against all the other offices [including international], seeing who could make the most sandwiches for soup kitchens. One of our partners is also in a band, so we all went to watch them compete in a law firm battle of the bands.”

Pro Bono

“I think the firm is committed to pro bono,” one junior began. They then qualified the statement, intimating that “objectively speaking, I know our hours can seem a little lower than other firms, but we're not terribly behind. The partners are trying to correct this as we all value it here.”

“Everyone cares about it. It's not only the right, moral thing to do, but it builds skills.”

Associates described pro bono examples including work with “a not-for-profit organization looking at their employee benefits plan. I've had to review, draft and file documents with the IRS. I've done everything that I would do for a paying client and it's given me greater confidence.” Those in Richmond gave vivid accounts of their work setting up “a pretty sophisticated tax vehicle called 'Conservation Easements.' If you have real property, you can place the easement on it and get an income deduction. It's easy to mess up and the IRS thinks that it's too tax-friendly. I did this for a museum and I drafted deeds and negotiated contracts with the charity that was the beneficiary.”

Chicago natives said they'd “devoted a large amount of time to a housing administrative hearing. I did the opening statement and the questioning. Every opportunity in front of any judicial officer is good.” Other new starters applauded the fact that “we now have a pro bono head in each office.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 27,749 
  • Average per US attorney: 44

Hours & Compensation

On average, insiders work between “ten to 12 hours a day.” Unsurprisingly, “every once in a while there is a really late night, but other than that I usually go home and relax and then do another hour of work.”

As recompense for toiling away, newbies divulged the firm's approach to bonuses. With a yearly billing target of 1,950 hours a year, when associates reach 2,000 hours, they become bonus-eligible. At this point juniors “get a $5,000 bonus. You get $5,000 for each 100 hours over until you hit 2,200 hours. This is because the firm wants to promote a healthier life balance. But additionally we have a performance-based bonus if you have been truly exceptional. I think 12% of attorneys got it” in 2015.

Get Hired

McGuireWoods' litigation team has a strong tradition of either hiring associates with past clerkship experience, or alternatively helping to give clerkship opportunities to their new hires. Charlotte newbies suggested that, when interviewing, McGuire wants “people who have really good resumes, so that it sounds good on the website. But more importantly than that, the firm seeks out people who are fun to work with.” Others praised the firm's investment in its employees, and for example it was “instrumental in getting me a Federal District Court clerkship.”

"You get a $20,000 clerkship bonus.” 

Hiring partner and cochair of the recruiting committee, John Adams explains that “this is because a year or two of clerking with a federal judge is an unparalleled training ground. You enter the real world of law in a courthouse, so that when you come to us, you can hit the ground running.” Insiders agreed and reasoned that a clerkship is valuable because “first-year lawyers are the least profitable, so it's a good way to get up to speed. Secondly, it's really good experience to see how the sausage gets made! Third, I think it's the prestige, as we have a lot of ex-clerks here. Plus you get a $20,000 clerkship bonus” [for federal district courts or highest state courts, and $35,000 for appeals court clerks]. 

Additionally, Washingtonians advised that other practical experiences were viewed favorably. “Law Journal Review experience is a bonus, as is moot court. I worked at a federal agency in the summer, so I could demonstrate my interest in the area I was interviewing in.”

Strategy & Future

Juniors agreed that “private wealth, energy and debt practices are busy” and “healthcare is always booming.” A large proportion of our interviewees were lateral hires. Sources explained that “we are definitely busy due to the legal market picking up since the low point in 2008. More hands are needed, so we lateral a lot.”

"Asia is a big player."

Regarding the international alliance with FuJae Partners, associates intimated that “it seems like most firms recognize that Asia is a big player. We are about strategic partnerships, which is why the firm has grown so quickly.” Managing partner Tom Cabaniss goes further and tells us that this “will help us meet our clients’ needs in China more effectively and provide us with access to Chinese clients doing business in the US, Europe and around the world. It’s been a busy and satisfying year.”  

Interview with managing partner, Tom Cabaniss

Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past 12 months would you like to bring out for our student readers?

Tom Cabaniss: We've had a very successful year, including the addition of some fine new people in different offices. For example, Cheryl Haas, who is a partner in Atlanta, and Joel Allen, a partner in Dallas. We have a great real estate group that's led by J. Martin Barrett in London, and we've just opened a second L.A.- based office downtown through a merger with the litigation boutique Integer Law Corporation. And we recently added an office in San Francisco, further strengthening our West Coast presence. We've also just formed a strategic alliance with Shanghai-based FuJae Partners, which we believe will help us meet our clients’ needs in China more effectively and provide us with access to Chinese clients doing business in the U.S., Europe and around the world. It’s been a busy and satisfying year.

As for our work, we're especially proud of our representation of Sepp Blatter in the continuing legal issues surrounding FIFA. We also saw our debt finance practice ascend to the top of the Thomson Reuters league table, a great accomplishment. We developed our technology and added resources in legal project management and alternative fee arrangements, which allows us to better serve our clients.

CA: What's your long term vision for McGuireWoods?

TC: We are starting a new strategic planning process right now, and in the next ten years we hope that this will bring a lot more change. Our current strategic plan focuses on excellence in terms of how our lawyers can serve our clients. We did this with a push in technology and other facilities, which helped us advance our capabilities. We want to build on and repeat the successes of the past few years and to continue to attract excellent people, which is the key to our ongoing success. The next ten years will test everyone’s ability to accept to the changes in the legal landscape and our ability to adapt.

In terms of the present, globalization is an important part of the market today. Therefore, concerning our new alliance with Fujae Partners, we had been waiting for an opportunity to find the right fit for a connection in Asia, and now that we have it we can fully realize our ability to serve our clients who have Asian ties. There will be opportunities to get fantastic experiences both here and there in terms of legal work and culture.

CA: How would you define the McGuireWoods culture and how does this feed into the work?

TC: In my view, it boils down to collegiality. It's a mutual respect that we all have of each others' talents. We all share the view of “what can we bring to the table?” Feeding into that is respect. As partners, we respect what the associates not only do for us, but especially for our client. Everything we do is tied deeply into the fact that we like to work with each other. That has translated well across the firm and especially in a few key practice areas over the past year. For example, our white collar and investigations team is booming. Public finance has continued to grow as we have worked on expanding our banking relationships globally. We also are attracting more class action litigation work.

CA: What is your message for potential candidates?

TC: We want to continue to attract really smart, ambitious and innovative people. You have to want to be a part of our collaborative atmosphere, where we focus on doing good work for our clients, while enjoying all the ancillary benefits and satisfactions that come with the practice of law. In this profession, we want and need to stay on top of the advancements in technology in particular. So we really want people who can help us do this. Candidates need to understand that it would be their job to deliver the finest quality product to the client at the best price, and to deliver the best value. Therefore, to help our new hires understand this, we try to give our associates a lot of client contact early on, which is the best way for them to develop these lasting skills for the future.

More on work at McGuireWoods

Specialty corporate practices have a lot of work in the energy space in particular at MW. Associates had seen deals from inception right through to closing and had “done a high level of drafting ancillary documents and purchase agreements.” Others recounted how “oil market trends have influenced our work, so there's now a lot of agency to take the first crack at deal documents. It's about learning by practice.” Insiders also extolled the prominence of healthcare work in this group, especially in M&A. In the wake of the Pfizer Allergan merger, associates believed that “large deals create ripples and precedents that other companies may try to emulate in their mergers.” Whether the deal is big or small however, insiders were normally initially assigned due diligence work. But they didn't seem disheartened as they realized that “it's like issue spotting exercises that you do in law school. It helps you to then be able to draft documents yourself and avoid the problems you've spotted.”

Tax & private wealth services newbies had drafted wills and trust agreements. As well as having had the chance to accompany partners to initial meetings with clients. Some had “gone to clients homes and hospital beds and worked for high net worth families advising them on where to invest in reduced tax schemes.” The work seems varied with insiders detailing that “you can be doing pre-nups, post-nups, dealing with clients who have won $100 million in the lottery or battling contested wills between siblings who never loved each other.” Debt finance insiders said that the type of work associates got to try depended on how much the partners trusted you. “Some people trust me to run the entire purchase agreement and this has led me to do some really headache inducing, paper heavy deals, with 46 borrowers lending to the holding company. Within this, I had to draft 26 mortgages in 20 different States, some of which had to be modified to reflect the ancillary components that deal with Landlords.”

Conversely, the broad umbrella practice of litigation works together with most groups, including general commercial, financial services, government investigations and product liability. Associates told us that “in Charlotte there's a big banking market so most of our litigation clients are banks.” Within this practice, insiders broke it down further and told us that “we do mortgage service litigation, consumer fraud, as well as Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act litigation. It's really any type of litigation for this type of client.” Tasks for these groups comprised of “writing substantive motions to dismiss, attending hearings and arguing a motion to dismiss on a $20,000 case.” Although there is a lot of document drafting during the discovery phases, like requests and responses, as well as legal research and writing memos, this has led to some earning the chance to “negotiate settlements on a small case and second chair a deposition." Product liability again is very document heavy, with newbies describing discovery as “the big monster in the room.” However, as an associate progresses so does work complexity and responsibility. Associates praised this incremental approach, which made them feel “totally comfortable” with what they were doing.

McGuireWoods LLP

800 E. Canal Street,
VA 23219

  • Head Office: Richmond, VA
  • Number of domestic offices: 20
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Partners US: 398
  • Associates US: 311 
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $2,600–$2,900/week
  • 2Ls: $2,600–$2,900/week
  • 1Ls hired: Yes
  • Split summer offered: Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas offices: No
  • Summers 2016: 17
  • Offers/acceptances 2015 16 offers, 14 acceptances

Main areas of work
Antitrust and trade regulation, appeals and issues, banking and finance, class action, commercial litigation, corporate, data privacy and security, employee benefits, energy, environmental, financial services litigation, government/regulatory and criminal investigations, healthcare, insurance recovery, intellectual property, labor and employment, private wealth services, product liability and mass torts, real estate and land use, restructuring and insolvency, tax, technology and outsourcing, and trials.

Firm profile
McGuireWoods is a global law firm with approximately 1,000 lawyers and 21 strategically located offices worldwide. As a McGuireWoods lawyer, you’ll reap the benefits of a resource-rich firm, but in the close knit, supportive environment you’d expect from a small firm. McGuireWoods is a distinguished, yet familiar place to work and grow. The backbone of our firm consists of six core values that guide everything we do – a commitment to excellence, client service, integrity, collegiality, community and diversity and inclusion.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 19
• Number of 2nd year associates: 23
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $115,000-$155,000 (depending on office)
• 2nd year: Varies – not lock step
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
University of Chicago, Duke University, Georgetown University, University of Illinois, University of North Carolina, Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame, University of Richmond, Vanderbilt University, University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, Washington and Lee University, William and Mary School of Law; Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Lavender Job Fair; CCBA Minority Job Fair

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
The selection process is highly competitive. Excellent academics, as well as superior writing and interpersonal skills are required. McGuireWoods is looking for highly qualified candidates with demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to their law school communities. The firm values both legal and non-legal work experience in candidates.

Summer program components:
We have a 10 week summer program. Each summer associate is matched up with one or two associates and a partner mentor for the summer. The best kind of training comes from working alongside experienced lawyers on cases and transactions. Our summer program is designed to give our summer associates this kind of experience. Along with the on-the-job training, summer associates have numerous opportunities to attend department and industry team meetings to gain perspective of the work the firm handles. The firm also plans an annual three day summer associate retreat. The three days are filled with information and training sessions designed specifically for them. Topics include: legal writing, ethics and confidentiality, law firm economics, just to name a few.