This venerable old New Yorker offers excellent training and pro bono opportunities alongside high responsibility... meet thoroughly modern Milbank.
VERY soon Milbank – founded in 1866 and once counting the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts as clients – is moving. Its new home? The massive Hudson Yards development on Manhattan's West Side – marketed as “a new neighborhood for the next generation.” The firm's ultra-modern new zip code should be the final nail in the coffin for what associates called “the ball and chain of being known as old school.” That creaky image has long jarred with Milbank's very 21st Century work style and culture: “Nobody's eyeing when you come in,” juniors told us of Milbank's unstuffiness. “They're not hounding you on the language you use or how you present yourself. You don't have to meet any formal expectations.”
Milbank traditionally helped clients build wealth, establishing hedge funds by the dozen, but nowadays it's also well known for work stemming from an opposite trajectory. The stellar bankruptcy and restructuring practice handles Chapter 11 cases, and gets plenty of plaudits from Chambers USA. The project finance practice is similarly esteemed, and more Chambers recognition comes for M&A, wealth management, aviation finance, and Latin American investment, among other areas. International work crops up in most corporate and finance practices, and the firm's global reach is solidified by nine international offices, from London to São Paulo.
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. In a recent change, the firm now allows budding transactional lawyers to rotate through three six-month rotations before calling their chosen practice area home. This does not include the much lauded bankruptcy and restructuring group which, specializing in Chapter 11 cases and corporate restructuring, provides elements of both litigious and transactional work. Associates in financial teams told us the firm “really expects you to do a lot; it is somewhat sink or swim.” Some even found themselves “doing the full spectrum of managing a deal after the first year.”
“I was doing substantive writing.”
Associates stepping into Milbank's litigation group will find that it serves private equity funds, global investment banks, individual investors, as well as big corporations, in a mix of general corporate litigation, securities, and white collar work. Associates happily reported that “every case has been different, going from FX trading to more traditional contract law. I haven't stuck with securities.” Despite telling us that “at times you are definitely doing the simpler tasks,” with “some weeks of doc review,” sources felt they had been “really lucky” with the “75% substantive” work they received. This included “writing a full report which was sent out to a client,” preparation of experts' reports, and trial preparation. “I was doing substantive writing, of motions, drafting letters to the judge, and all of the responses and objections.” They even experienced responsibility when simply “sitting in on calls and interviews as a note taker. You have to remember everything they said because your seniors will come and ask you about it afterward!”
The global projects and infrastructure group is particularly known for working with lenders, often on renewable energy projects. “What I like about this group is that you're building something tangible: it's not just corporate ladders moving money from one place to another.” A significant amount of the stuff getting built has something to do with Latin America. Associates were often focused on the closing checklist: “Once the deal has some structure we develop a list of closing documents we need for the deal. The junior will draft that and then keep track of it as documents go back and forth.” This had associates “reviewing and editing documents,” which provided “a good sense of managing and organizing our process.”
Milbank has a pretty hot reputation when it comes to pro bono. “It's our big thing!” exclaimed one associate. For years the jewel in its crown was the Milbank fellowship, which gave the opportunity of three months uninterrupted pro bono work away from the firm. In a recent change however, it's instead plumped for pushing pro bono through a higher hours target and an emphasis on providing pro bono opportunities as soon as first years are through the door. "While the fellowship was very successful, it effectively pulled our first-years away from their peer group for three months, at a time when training and developing bonds is critical," says hiring partner Rod Miller. "We decided that having the entire class start at the same time is a better way to offer training and strengthen connections." Miller points out that associates will now be "benefiting from working side-by-side with more seasoned lawyers" on their early pro bono. "Our Advocacy@Milbank program for new litigators includes a program where new associates will work with senior associates and partners on pro bono appellate matters," adds Miller.
“A lot of work with Holocaust survivors.”
Regarding the loss of the fellowship, one associate told us: “It was such an absurdly generous program anyway, it would be hard to be angry.” But, despite Miller's assurances, current associates were worried about how the new system will match up when “you are already managing your workflow. It's hard to turn down work for pro bono.” The proof will be in the pudding, as the system hadn't kicked in at the time of our research. Meanwhile associates recalled many interesting pro bono projects, including “an immigration case to help someone get a green card,” and “a lot of work with Holocaust survivors, applying for reparations.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 49,855
- Average per US attorney: 101
Culture & Offices
Interviewees felt that Milbank “has a sociable culture for the most part, and people are respectful.” However, inevitably “it's very hard to talk about culture because the various groups are very different.” Litigation, projects and the rest all have “different personalities.” Some “hang out and drink a lot,” while others “appreciate not being forced to do a lot of social activities.” Litigation in particular was said to be less personable. Being such a large firm, this fragmentation is somewhat understandable. One litigator told us “it's so big that I couldn't tell you who works in corporate – we even have separate elevators!” Meanwhile, others sliced up the firm by class-year, telling us they wouldn't “hang out with senior or mid level associates. If I'm not on a deal with a third-year, I wouldn't know who they were.” Those in LA weren't in the mood for surrendering their special identity either, declaring themselves “different from New York” because although “we work a lot of hours, when we are done we go home. We won't do a happy hour – it's a very work-centric office.”
“The various groups are so different.”
“When I first came to Milbank I thought it was pretty breathtaking, it being in a skyscraper with Wall Street nearby,” recalled an associate. It's long been an image of the legal establishment, and though associates disagreed, they knew “that some people liken Milbank to a country club. It's hard to shake the reputation of it being old school.” The soon-to-be-vacated New York office is “dated” (especially in its technology), and “everyone hates the elevators, because normally three are down.” Happily, only a year after the LA office switched premises, NY is getting ready to follow suit, transferring to the über-modern Hudson Yards development as soon as it's finished, where the firm has the ability to custom-design its interior.
Training & Development
The centerpiece of Milbank's training comes in the third year, as it bundles associates off to Cambridge, MA for a week of learning at the Milbank@Harvard program. Taught by law and business professors at Harvard, it's an intense week spent learning business, law and soft skills topics. “I've heard it's amazing – you don't have to do any work for a week!” But there's more. For starters, “the summer program is mostly training. That's where I got the theoretical basis for a lot of my work.” Then there's a week of orientation at New York, which is attended by all newbies, including overseas. There are also “multiple CLEs and we have one on presentation skills. People also come in to help you with your writing.” Plus, “there are half hour bi-monthly lunches. We have a bit of a gab and then there's a 20-30 minute presentation on new developments or law which people are unaware of.” To cap it all off, for litigation associates, there's Advocacy@Milbank which provides workshops on depositions, arguing motions, trial skills, leadership skills and much more from their first to their sixth year. One associate believed: “I don't think there is much more structured training which they could do.”
"We have a joke here about how many mentors does a Milbank-er have?"
“We have a joke here about how many mentors does a Milbank-er have? They certainly aren't lacking.” But “it's variable how engaged they will be in your life.” The review system could also be improved, said some: “In theory we have annual reviews, but I haven’t had mine yet.” Another told us: “I went in for my review and none of the people I had worked with on my busiest matters had filled out the review form.” Informal feedback and supervision are, however, common. “There is a steep learning curve but everyone is open to questions if you're struggling.” One went as far as to say that “everyone is in love with their group's mid-levels. They're helpful, patient and very good teachers.”
Associates observed a split when it came to diversity, with the firm delivering “a pretty good gender spread at associate level.” Feedback that “diversity in the partner ranks isn't so good” aligns with previous years' research, and currently only 15.2% of partners are women. Encouragingly, associates could easily point to improvements and initiatives, and were safe in the knowledge that “this is definitely a meritocracy: They judge you on your work and don't worry about anything else.”
“This is definitely a meritocracy.”
There are various different affinity groups, including ones for African-American, Asian, Latino and female lawyers, which attend recruitment events and bring in speakers. The women's group is more active than some, hosting a regular book club, for example. We also heard about “a super-fancy cocktail party where you can invite any professional female friends.” Those in Los Angeles get a little less direct help, as “it's all based in New York, they don't touch us here.” The firm's LGBT group is called Pride. There's also a new 1L diversity fellowship, with those hired joining the New York summer program.
Hours & Compensation
With a market rate salary and no billing requirement, the sun shines on Milbank associates. Nevertheless, the lack of an hours goal unsettled some, but most felt that as “there's no requirement I don't feel any pressure to get a certain amount of hours.” Less satisfactorily, “if you buy tickets for a concert it's in God's hands.” Transactional groups come off worse as “the challenge relative to litigators is that you have to coincide your work with how the deal is progressing. We can't control the timing, and so we have to be very responsive.”
“It really does ebb and flow.”
Critical points in deals or cases resulted in very occasional weekends and all nighters. “Everyone has their own concept of work life balance but for me, I feel like the hours are humane. There are some horrible weeks and nights but overall it's not horrendous. It really does ebb and flow.” In DC associates get a slightly better deal on hours, but everyone else described average days of 9.30am until 7pm, and then a few hours' work from home. “If you stay past 8pm you'll get a free dinner and a free ride home.”
Strategy & Future
Associates saw the move to 55 Hudson Yards as a shift toward a different image, also telling us that “we are trying now to bring in clients who aren't just old banks, particularly in the corporate groups.” The 16-year lease is a significant development and a statement of confidence. It is not, however, a signal of expansion – the new office is 250,000 square feet compared to the 300,000 of the old office. Associates were realistic about their future too: “They invest in us wherever possible, but people are sometimes here for years and don't make partner.” MP Scott Edelman tells us: “Our move to one of the most vibrant new spaces in New York City is a reflection of the firm’s young, vibrant and energetic culture. The firm has grown beyond its Wall Street banking roots and being in a new space in Hudson Yards, a new contemporary and energetic part of New York City, is consistent with who we are today and the high-energy, entrepreneurial spirit of the firm throughout our global offices.”
Interview with chairman Scott Edelman
Chambers Associate: What have been some of your highlights from this financial year so far?
Scott Edelman: We’ve had a terrific year in terms of new mandates.
Litigation has been one of the big highlights, with some significant victories and impressive growth in our client list. We secured a victory for AXA in a significant mutual funds case. Sean Murphy was recognized as “Litigator of the Week” by The American Lawyer for the win. Atara Miller and I were also named “Litigators of the Week” by The American Lawyer for a victory over the Department of Justice on behalf of our songwriter client, BMI. We continue to be the firm of choice for hedge funds and banks as well some of the largest tech companies in the world.
Our Financial Restructuring Practice continues to be a big driver of business for the firm advising on some of the largest and most complex restructurings, including representing Caesars in one of the biggest restructurings of the year.
On the transactional side, we are advising on some of the largest and ground-breaking multi-billion deals around the globe, including representing the owners of the UFC, the MMA organisation, in its $4 billion sale last year. In addition, we continue to be a leader in cross-border deals in the infrastructure and energy industries.
CA: What is the firm's strategy going forwards? Are there any practice areas you want to focus on? And what is the end goal?
SE: We will continue to make investments that will benefit our clients and focus on our strengths. Our global footprint and practice mix allow us to provide the very best teams to serve our clients globally. While we are always looking for opportunities, we are mindful to grow only where it makes the most strategic sense for the firm. We are looking to make investments in our corporate practice.
We recently hired Katherine Goldstein, the former Chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force at the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District as well as a twelve lawyer real estate team that is one of the leading practices in New York.
CA: Can the move to a new office in New York be seen as a sign of optimism about the firm's fortunes?
SE: It is absolutely a sign of optimism and a reflection of the firm’s young, vibrant and energetic culture. The firm has grown beyond its Wall Street banking roots and being in a new space in Hudson Yards, a new contemporary and vibrant part of New York City, is consistent with who we are today and the high-energy, entrepreneurial spirit of the firm.
CA: Have there been any recent trends in the legal market which you have found are having a significant effect upon Milbank?
SE: We've actually been a trend setter with our professional development program, Milbank@Harvard. It's unique and innovative and means all of our associates get four multi-day sessions over their careers on the Harvard campus. We're also investing in our training back at the office. We've set up a new, all-encompassing training called ‘Advocacy@Milbank.’
CA: How do you see the election of Donald Trump affecting Milbank and the legal profession?
SE: There are good things and bad things about any administration, but for the time being it appears that this one will be pro-growth, investment, and infrastructure, which should result in a lot of activity for Milbank lawyers going forward.
CA: How would you describe the role of the smaller US offices (LA and DC) within Milbank's domestic operation? And is Milbank focused abroad for now or do you perceive any need to grow your domestic offering?
SE: They are very integrated offices. We work closely together and have great talent in those offices and that gives us the ability to service our clients across offices and practices with the very best people.
All partners have a lot of autonomy. Partners are expected to know how to run their businesses. We have centralised decision making about new partners or new business, but partners make their own decisions on their practices.
We are always looking for opportunities to grow domestically and abroad.
CA: What was the reasoning behind dropping the pro bono fellowship?
SE: We were the only firm that had a pro bono fellowship. It has a lot of positives but we decided we wanted to make a shift to invest more in the pro bono experience throughout peoples' careers and not just in the first year.
We have a plan to make sure that we make equivalent investments in our pro bono program. We'll have more pro bono cases that will replace the time that was going to the fellowship. For example, every litigation associate will have an opportunity to handle an appeal with a pro bono organization.
We value pro bono time a great deal. It counts as a billable equivalent and is a big part of our culture.
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP
28 Liberty Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $855,594,000
- Partners (US): 112
- Of Counsel (US): 27
- Associates (US): 338
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,462/week
- 2Ls: $3,462/week
- 1Ls hired? No
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
- Summers 2017: 84 (72 NY, 8 LA, 4 DC)
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 65 offers, 62 acceptances
Main areas of work
Milbank’s practice areas include alternative investments, capital markets, corporate, financial restructuring, leveraged finance, litigation (complex commercial, white collar and regulatory, securities and IP), pro bono, project finance, real estate, structured finance, tax, transportation and space finance and, trusts and estates.
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.
• Number of 1st year associates: 51 (US), 56 (worldwide)
• Number of 2nd year associates: 48 (US), 64 (worldwide)
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Albany, Berkeley, Boston University, 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, Midwest- California-Georgia Recruiting Consortium, New York University, New York Law School, Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Texas Job Fair, Tulane/Washington University Job Fair, UCI (LA), UCLA (LA), USC (LA), Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale
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.