Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP - The Inside View

This grand old man of the New York legal scene has shed its fusty image and offers today's generation of lawyers a wealth of opportunities.

MILBANK was founded in 1866, in the age of steam and top hats, and when the telegraph was considered 'disruptive technology'. In the old days it was a white shoe firm whose attorneys rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, and this pedigree led to its 'white shoe' moniker sticking somewhat as the modern Milbank evolved. Chairman Scott Edelman reminds us that, far from being stuck in the past, Milbank is “a very young firm, and the sort of place where a young lawyer can get an enormous amount of responsibility.” These days it's well known in particular for operating in the dynamic worlds of hedge funds, investment banking and Chapter 11 bankruptcy, often on a global scale. 

The firm gets top marks from Chambers USA in practice areas including bankruptcy & restructuring, Latin American investment, project finance and aviation finance, and gets nods for others like tax, securitization and wealth management. In addition, the firm has 12 offices worldwide, in financial hubs both traditional – like London, New York and Frankfurt – and new – such as São Paulo and Seoul.

The Work

Litigation takes the lion's share of the firm's first years, with the next largest chunk of newbies being scattered among the various finance-themed sub-groups, followed closely by corporate. In the course of our research, we heard of juniors running their own finance deals, drafting pleadings and even, in one case, arguing in court. "You can get whiplash sometimes," cautioned a New Yorker. "We're at the bottom of the totem pole, but we're getting real responsibility." Of course, there's no escaping the drudgery of doc review or due diligence, but sources told us that “even seemingly mundane tasks are vitally important.” Furthermore, "when a client wants something done cheaper [than partners' rates], it can be a great opportunity for a junior associate."

"If you're willing to have more responsibility, they're happy to give it to you."

This is particularly true in the firm's highly regarded bankruptcy and restructuring group, which our sources described as "the firm's only hybrid department – we're the only department that has both transactional and litigious elements." Juniors are exposed to both of sides of the bankruptcy coin, with some focusing on the contentious side of things, for example, before switching to transactional tasks once they have enough experience of the business side of things. "This is a product of the fact that law school doesn't always give you an understanding of the business issues," explained an associate in New York. Milbank's traditionally a creditor shop, but will do debtor work on occasion. "Creditor cases are more leanly staffed, so they take up less manpower. On creditor cases it will be you, a senior associate and a partner, while there can be ten people working on a debtor matter."

Restructuring may be the firm's "engine room," but project finance also commands a hefty amount of prestige, particularly on the West Coast. This is another department where "if you're willing to have more responsibility, they're happy to give it to you." Junior associates see their fair share of "diligence, checklists and drafting smaller documents," but there are also opportunities to "negotiate and draft the main financing and security documents." Given California's expertise in this area, it's no surprise that the West Coast branch of this department handles its fair share of renewable energy work, and it also does a healthy slice of business for clients in Latin America.

Pro Bono

A lot of the firms we profile have a fairly impressive commitment to pro bono, but few take it quite as seriously as Milbank. Incoming associates have the opportunity to spend up to four months of their career with the firm working full time at a pro bono organization of their choice, for full pay without having to do any billable work for the firm. “We went to orientation in October and then jumped right into pro bono,” reminisced one neophyte, “I didn't actually get started in Milbank until January.” In a given year, “anywhere between half and two thirds of new associates take part,” says hiring partner Jay Grushkin. Sources who had completed the program came back to the firm with “a rich experience that you can talk about with partners and associates.”

"Encourage us to do around 100 each year.”

But that's not all, folks. Not only can pro bono fellows bring their work back to the firm, but there's an obligation to do at least 20 hours of pro bono work and “they try to encourage us to do around 100 each year.” If you're not getting at least your 20 in, expect to be “pinged” with emails around the middle of the year reminding you to get stuck in. On the litigious front, there are asylum, wrongful conviction and LGBT discrimination cases, while transactional lawyers can help set up nonprofit schools or perform research for NGOs.

Pro Bono hours  

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 46,091
  • Average per US attorney: 96

Culture & Offices 

"I didn't actually know we were so historic until I started working here."

With 'tweed' in its name and a history dating back to the 1860s, you could be forgiven for thinking that Milbank was a little, well, old fashioned. Thankfully, we hear the opposite. In fact, one associate admitted “I didn't actually know we were so historic until after I started working here.” Beyond that, culture tended to vary between offices and departments, making it tricky to pin down any kind of firmwide culture. “Culturally, we're more like a compilation of many smaller firms than one big one,” ventured a New Yorker. However, a lot of deals are cross-staffed, and with so much contact between the different offices, cultural quirks from one office frequently migrate to the others. A good example is jeans Friday, which began in LA and has recently taken off in the Big Apple.

One area in which Milbank can feel a little dated is the New York office, which our spies there thought needed to be spruced up. Even that's only a minor grumble next to the office's waterside location, and 360-degree views and besides, plans are afoot to overhaul the decor. And those tired of the wallpaper can always venture to Milbank Miami, a floor “where everything's shiny and glass,” and the only downside is “everyone can see what you're doing.” New York's not the only place that's getting new digs; LA is going one better and moving to a brand new office in Century City. Based in Washington’s famous – or infamous – K Street, the DC office has no plans on going anywhere, our sources there told us.

Training & Development

Training begins on the summer program, with novices role playing a fictional transaction, completing a different stage each week. “It helped me understand the breadth of what we do here, and what our colleagues do,” admitted one. At the start of their associate-hood there's a week of orientation at New York, which is attended by all the newbies. And we do mean all the newbies; “everyone, including from the offices overseas, is invited.” After an overview of the firm, everyone splits up and attends department specific training, which continues back at their own offices. “They brought in this guy to teach us legal writing,” recalled a Washingtonian, “he was a total nerd who read Supreme Court cases for fun, but the training was very helpful.”

“They have to turn their BlackBerries, iPhones and Androids off and focus.”

Once associates hit their third year, they're bundled off to Cambridge, MA for a week of learning at the Milbank@Harvard program. This is run by the law and business schools at Harvard and is an intense week spent learning business, law and soft skills topics. “They have to turn their BlackBerries, iPhones and Androids off and focus,” says Jay Grushkin. “It's a major commitment on our part and we want them to get the best from it.” Associates also learn on the job and have access to CLEs aplenty, but our sources found the relationships they'd built up with their colleagues. "I think I've grown a lot as a professional," reflected a source, "and a lot of that is down to the mentoring I got from partners and senior associates."


In previous years, insiders told us that Milbank talks the talk on diversity but “doesn't necessarily walk the walk.” We asked our interviewees if that was still the case. “I think if you look at the partners you can understand why people feel that way,” answered one, “but recent summer classes have been very diverse.” Sources generally gave the firm good marks for gender and LGBT diversity, but agreed that “more could be done” to attract strong candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds. Milbank's diversity scholars program offers a $25,000 scholarship and a summer place to 2Ls from traditionally under-represented groups.

"Recent summer classes have been very diverse"

There are a number of different affinity groups, including ones for African-American lawyers, Latino attorneys and female lawyers, which attend recruitment events and bring in speakers. Some are more active than others, and most are run out of the New York office; “there's a limit to how much you can participate over the phone,” sighed a Californian. Particularly highly regarded was the women's group, with associates praising its cross-practice liaisons, 'lean in' style bookclubs and “the fact that we can hear about the experiences of more senior female lawyers.”

Hours & Compensation

Associates described Milbank as “less about work-life balance and more about integrating work into your life.” Hours were generally reasonable, with no facetime requirement, but associates do find themselves taking their work home. “My average day is nine am to six pm,” said a litigator, “and then I'll go home and do some more work.” Although all-nighters do happen, the firm's flexibility about remote working meant that they were kept to a minimum. “I've stayed past 3am once in the last six months,” recalled a source. Another had stayed “until 1.30 or 2” twice in the same time frame. Court-mandated deadlines, demanding bankers and an impending insolvencies were all cited as causes of late nights, rather than unreasonable partners. “Partners encourage us to take advantage of the time when we aren't busy,” said a source, “and if it's slow, you can leave at four.”

"Nobody gets punished if work is unexpectedly slow."

Pay is at market rate, which associates were generally content with. “Whenever I do complain, my friends remind me that I still earn a lot of money,” laughed one. There's no billable hours target or requirement, which “creates a fair atmosphere and makes sure that nobody gets punished if work is unexpectedly slow.” It also removes the incentive to be sharp-elbowed, and keeps associates focused on work, and “there's certainly no sense that people are competing to be staffed on deals and cases.”

Get Hired

The OCIs are usually conducted by one partner and one associate, while the callbacks feature a larger panel of five or six. Interviews, especially OCIs, can feel "like a speed dating session where everybody looks more or less the same”– both are daunting, and both can involve making important decisions with very little information to guide you. Our sources found the interviewers from Milbank much warmer and more inviting than other potential suitors – indeed for one hopeful, it was the people on the other side of the desk who helped seal the deal. "Everyone was so happy," they recalled. “Take a look at the bios on the firm's website to get a feel for what the firm has done,” counseled one. “When I was applying, I got hold of some people who had summered at the firm, and they gave me a valuable insight into the experience,” the source added.

"OCIs are like speed dating where everyone looks the same"

In addition to brushing up on your knowledge of the firm, insiders advised applicants to take courses that would help them understand their clients' businesses. “Even litigators need to understand the commercial context that clients operate in,” explains Jay Grushkin, “so having studied subjects like the bankruptcy, tax, securities law or the Uniform Commercial Code will definitely help.” It's not all black letter stuff, interviewers are also on the lookout for people with the right personality. Grushkin recommends being “confident but not cocky and assertive without being pushy. Essentially we're looking for people who can engage with clients from day one,” he says, “but also who we enjoy hanging out with.”

Strategy & Future

Chairman Scott Edelman makes it clear that the firm's “global footprint” is a key part of its strategy. Does this mean Milbank is looking to build an empire of Dentons-esque proportion? Not quite, he tells us; “we'll continue to grow, but slowly and in a way that allows us to maintain a high quality of work and lawyers.” In a few years, Milbank “will be basically the same firm, but a little bigger and a little more built up.”

Milbank and the Rockefellers 

Change is a constant- in 1866, the firm that we now know as Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy was founded as Anderson, Adams & Young, and a 27 year old entrepreneur called John D Rockefeller was nearly bankrupt. Today the Rockefeller clan consists of 200 of John D's descendants, and Milbank has 12 offices and 600 lawyers worldwide. Their relationship started when Anderson, Adams partner George Murray met John D at church, and the two struck up a close business relationship. A smart move: in 1916, John D became America's first billionaire, and at the time of his death in 1937 his assets equalled 1.5% of the United State's national output- the equivalent to four Bill Gateses. A good friend to have then!

The relationship continued throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of their highlights came in 1929 when the firm, now called Murray, Prentice & Aldrich, helped John D acquire a number of properties from Columbia University, then form the Metropolitan Square Company to help manage them. This company would later go on to be called Rockefeller Center, Inc. The firm was also instrumental in the establishment of Chase Manhattan bank, again thanks to its close links to the Rockefeller family. In 1930 Chase National Bank acquired the Equitable Trust Company, which was a major client of the firm and a company in which John D. had a controlling interest. This also led to Murray merging with Masten & Nichols whose senior partner was named Alnbert Milbank, who leant his name to the newly combined firm.

In 1955 Chase National merged with Bank of Manhattan to create Chase Manhattan. David Rockefeller took the reigns of Chase Manhattan in 1967, and his close ties with the firm meant that Millbank played a key role as Chase's legal adviser. In fact, this put Milbank front and center in the Iran Hostage crisis after the US government froze all Iranian funds. This was problematic for Chase Manhattan, which held a number of Iranian loans, and saw LA partner Frank Logan working frantically alongside US diplomats and other banks to remove the freeze on Iranian assets to ensure the hostages' release under the 1981 Algiers Accords. The Rockefeller clan are far from Millbank's only client, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one more influential.

Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP

28 Liberty Street,
New York,
NY 10005

  • Head Office: New York, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Worldwide revenue: $771,000,000
  • Partners (US): 107
  • Associates (US): 345
  • Of Counsel (US): 28
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,077/week
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • 1Ls hired? No 
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
  • Summers 2016: 65 (53 NY, 8 LA, 3 DC)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 55 offers, 54 acceptances (1 clerk deferred) 

Main areas of work
Milbank’s practice areas include alternative investments, corporate, financial restructuring, leveraged finance, litigation (complex commercial, white collar and regulatory, securities and IP), pro bono, project finance, securities, structured finance, tax, transportation and space finance and trusts and estates.

Firm profile
Milbank is a premier international law firm handling high-profile cases and complex business transactions. We are a leader in corporate/finance work, including banking, capital markets, project and transportation finance and M&A. Our Litigation Group handles complex and high profile civil actions, SEC enforcements and white collar criminal matters. Our financial restructuring attorneys have been involved in every recent major reorganization in the US.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 51 (US), 68 (worldwide)
• Number of 2nd year associates: 74 (US), 85 (worldwide)
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Albany, Berkeley, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell Job Fair, Duke, Emory Job Fair, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law Job Fair, Loyola Los Angeles (LA), Michigan, New York University, New York Law School, Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, St John’s, Stanford, Texas Job Fair, Tulane/Washington University Job Fair, UCI (LA), UCLA (LA), USC (LA), Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:

We are looking for summer associates with diverse backgrounds who demonstrate a high level of intelligence, creativity, leadership, determination and enthusiasm.

Summer program components:
Our program includes a rotation system enabling summers to rotate through several groups. Our comprehensive nine-session training program follows a company’s lifecycle from inception to restructuring and includes in-session activities and post-class assignments. Summers are given mentors and receive formal reviews.