This Philadelphian-by-birth recently became the biggest firm in the US (by headcount), and the world's largest to be led by a woman. Fancy getting in on the action?
“LAST year was transformative,” chair Jami Wintz McKeon tells us, and it's almost an understatement. In a coup that monopolized legal news at the time, Morgan Lewis swallowed up over 700 lawyers and staff from the struggling Bingham McCutchen. At the same time "we entered into Singapore through a first-of-its-kind combination with Stamford Law, and since then we've brought in hundreds of new clients who hadn't previously been clients of any of the three firms, but who recognize our expanded strength and breadth.” That strength consists of top-rated client service in areas like capital markets, energy, litigation, and labor & employment. The 17 US offices are carefully planted to ensure comprehensive coverage of the country. They include the head office in Philadelphia, plus bases in New York, Boston, DC, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, LA, and San Francisco.
The firm's largest offices offer summer programs (which exactly depends on need and it varies, we're told). During summer, future associates “get to try as many different areas of work as you want. If you come in wanting to focus on one thing because you've got previous experience of it, they let you do that. If you're not sure, they let you explore.” Preferences are then expressed. In what initially sounds a bit like the contents of a spa brochure, Morgan Lewis offers summers the option of three different “experiences: the client experience, the community experience, and the firm experience.” Participants can elect to spend four weeks in-house with a client, join a pro bono organization for a month, or spend the full ten weeks at the firm.
Labor & employment rookies described the practice area as “people-oriented” in explaining its appeal. One expanded: “I picked it because I thought I'd never be bored, and it turned out to be absolutely true. Broadly speaking there are two types of cases: single plaintiff ones, and larger class action cases. The former type are always staffed leanly, often it's you and the partner, who lets you take the ball and lead the case, drafting briefs, taking depositions, and all sorts of discovery issues. With the latter, there might be four or five associates, and as a junior you're supporting the team but also learning how to manage a large litigation.”
“I picked it because I thought I'd never be bored.”
A sure way of getting extra responsibility was to ask: “I was vocal about wanting to do trial prep and they've been accommodating. It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, after all.” Several reported that “your role as researcher means your knowledge of a case builds up, making you a useful resource in developing the strategy too.” Morgan Lewis is known for representing big pharmaceutical companies, especially in Philadelphia, as well as financial institutions, and big names in the automotive and tech sectors.
The Philadelphia HQ is handily located “right above the train station, so if you're coming from the suburbs on the train, you don't even have to go outside to get to the office.” Sources were frank, though: “Outside it's very ugly. Inside it's not super modern, but all attorneys have their own office with a window, and they've been renovating it floor-by-floor.” There's a free gym, a roof deck, and a cafeteria serves breakfast and lunch to hungry attorneys. “I don't love the food, but it's adequate,” one admitted. More importantly (arguably), “there's a full law library. Some firms don't have that anymore but we do, it's useful when you're digging out a case from the 1800s!”
“I don't love the food, but it's adequate.”
Over in Boston, the office building was more kindly described as “really nice and pretty modern.” The cafeteria – rumored to be nicknamed “the spaceship” – was particularly popular, and the art deemed “interesting.” In San Francisco, “we're right on the water, next to the Ferry Building. We have bay views from some offices. It's the most expensive rent in the whole city,” one boasted. Binghamites who had to move across from their base to their new home allegedly “considered their old office to be nicer than ours, so there was a bit of an issue, but it's OK now.” Phew.
Hours & Compensation
“There's no shortage of work,” a busy employment associate assured us, “so 2,000 hours is achievable.” The billable target is just that: a target, rather than a requirement, but “it's understood that you need to reach it, or just under, to be bonus eligible.” We previously reported that while all the offices operated by a discretionary bonus system, Philadelphia had an additional “standard bonus” triggered by hours. This has now changed, at least for juniors, whereby first and second-year salaries have been increased and the standard bonus scrapped, leaving only the discretionary one. “It came down to the same amount of money,” one said nonchalantly, “I think they were just trying to match market.” Bonuses and compensation in general didn't elicit bitterness or anxiety from participants, although one resigned source did reveal that “I had great feedback during my review but I didn't get a discretionary bonus because my hours were just over 1,800. Apparently as you get more senior hours have less leverage though.”
“It hasn't seriously impacted my personal life.”
What do 2,000 yearly hours look like day-to-day? “You're looking at working nine to 11-hour days, but it varies. There's no face time at all here so you can work from home and you don't have to be here long days if you're having a slow period.” Weekend work wasn't unheard of, but neither was it a regular occurrence for most. “I have less free time than someone who works a nine to five job, but I expected that. I've never had to cancel a vacation, and I work out regularly. It hasn't seriously impacted my personal life.”
There wasn't a shadow of a doubt among associates, who chuckled knowingly: “Are they committed to pro bono? Almost to the point of being annoying!” Everyone's challenged to complete at least 20 hours a year, and from then on the sky's the limit: “There's no cap and they can all count as billable, which is really helpful.” Some had completed over 100 hours, spent on cases they deemed not simply “great experience,” but also rewarding on a human level. One said of “an LGBT asylum case: I can't believe what my client has gone through in their life.”
“I can't believe what my client has gone through in their life.”
Another shared: “I've been involved in a family court matter. I think I'm the person that's been on it the longest besides the judge.” A source “worked with a women's homeless shelter where I went every two weeks and saw to their legal needs, helping with birth certificates and paperwork.” Other examples included “a citizenship clinic, clemency projects, same sex marriage charges, and internal investigations for non profits.”
Pro bono hours
Participants who identified as diverse were firm: “I don't feel out of the loop as a minority.” Sources were positive overall; they admitted “it's a pretty male Caucasian place” but added it's “not by design.” They remained vague, however, regarding the concrete actions to promote and secure a diverse workforce at Morgan Lewis: “They're implementing some aggressive policies,” one insisted, “partly because clients are putting pressure on them,” but associates were largely unable to give further detail. We did hear that “there are plenty of female role models in the partnership, including in finance which is promising,” and that “non-diverse partners take an interest in what life is like for us as diverse lawyers.”
“We use behavioral interviewing.”
In 2015, Morgan attended 42 law schools and 21 job fairs in its pursuit of the perfect associate cohort. At the earliest stages of recruitment, the firm considers candidates' resumes and is especially scouting for a propensity towards team work. OCI interviews are usually 20 minute conversations with a single representative from the firm, while callbacks last half an hour and can be with up to six interviewers. “We use behavioral interviewing,” hiring partner Christina Melendi explains. “Looking at how a candidate reacted in past situations might indicate future behavior.”
Training & Development
After initial firmwide training and orientation sessions, it's up to specific departments to rear their cattle. Finance sources appreciated that “since the combination with Bingham the group's got a lot bigger, so they've formalized training and it happens once a week. It's helpful.” As well as “periodic sessions throughout the year,” litigation livestock went through “two days of deposition training. You take an actual deposition of a fake witness at the end. Senior associates get a trial academy.” While formal training sessions left some awestruck (“some partners are so good you sit there hoping you will be as good as them some day,”) most agreed that “the best training is on the job.”
“You take an actual deposition of a fake witness.”
This includes constructive and ongoing feedback of course. Some partners performed better than others in this area: “We're a small group, so they have a little more time,” one explained, while another complained that “they can sit on their criticisms and leave it all to the formal yearly review.” Another reflected that “people are brought up being evaluated all the time in life, so it's weird that at Morgan Lewis if you want to know how you're doing you have to go and ask. They should set up more regular opportunities for partners to tell you you're doing a good job and give you a pat on the back. Evaluations can be self-fulfilling prophecies after all.” We should point out that associates each get a mentor whose job is partly to provide feedback throughout the year.
“It's interesting to have your firm become huge and your day-to-day not change,” mused a Philadelphian. First and second-years in the HQ all confirmed the transition had been “seamless,” but acknowledged it might be because Bingham didn't already have offices in Philly. Those in the likes of Boston, New York or San Fran, where the global firm did have bases, hadn't been too phased either: “I get along with everyone that came over,” said a New Yorker, “and they've put on special events so we can get to know each other.” A proud Californian explained that “here in San Francisco we were the first to combine under one roof, so we became a shining example of how to do it right. There were growing pains, sure, but it's much better now.”
“There were growing pains, sure, but it's much better now.”
Having established then that – so far – it hasn't been adversely affected by the recent changes, how would associates describe the culture of Morgan Lewis? “It's a hard-working environment, but the support of your talented peers and of approachable partners makes for a very friendly atmosphere.” Sources explained that the lack of value placed on face time prevented a “big brother feeling,” and gleefully told of “bumping into important people in the halls who are extremely casual with you. How many junior associates can say they regularly have a drink with the managing partner?” The social life was active, with “weekly happy hours and excellent holiday parties,” which ranged from “a casino night at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology, and renting out a zoo for the day with everyone's partners and families.” We even heard of a “wine and food pairing evening.”
Strategy & Future
What's next when you're already the biggest firm in your country? More combinations? Further geographic expansion? World domination? Not quite so fast. Chair Jami McKeon assures us the firm doesn't aspire to become a franchise, adding: “We view ourselves as a relationship firm and go where clients need us to be. Morgan Lewis will continue to have strategic growth in key practice areas and geographies, and to focus on becoming a fully integrated organization: one firm, one vision.
Interview with chair Jami Wintz McKeon
Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
Jami McKeon: This is a great time to be talking to Chambers Associate because last year was transformative: we were joined by more than 500 lawyers from Bingham McCutchen, making us the largest law firm in the US by headcount. We added some very exciting practices, including the top ranked practices in Structured Transactions as well as Telecommunications, and we expanded and deepened our investment management, antitrust, litigation and tax practices. Now we have even greater strengths on both coasts, as well as within the core of the country -- in Chicago, Houston and Dallas. No other firm has the same geographic footprint combined with market penetration. Morgan Lewis assists clients in the full panoply of practices where they need us.
Adding our colleagues from Bingham was recognized by our clients and the industry as bold and transformational. Law firms have a reputation for being stodgy, but we consider ourselves innovative and we think outside the box. Last year, we entered into Singapore through a first-of-its-kind combination with Stamford Law [led by Suet-Fern Lee, ranked band 1 by Chambers Global] and since then we've brought in hundreds of new clients who hadn't previously been clients of any of the three firms, but who recognize our expanded strength and breadth. Every firm wants to be able to provide that kind of resource for its clients. We actually are.
CA: So, where do you go from here?
JM: We view ourselves as a relationship firm and go where clients need us to be. Morgan Lewis will continue to have strategic growth in key practice areas and geographies, and to focus on becoming a fully integrated organization: one firm, one vision. This means operating practice groups on a unified basis and providing the same elite client service and top quality across the firm. Clients need to know that when you go to Morgan Lewis in Dubai you get the same quality as, say, in New York or Los Angeles. It also means taking care of our talent. We recently formed an Associate Talent team to focus on the recruiting, development, and retention of associates.
CA: What do you do to ensure you have a diverse workforce? Have any diversity initiatives at the firm proved particularly successful?
JM: There are only a handful of law firms led by women, and we're the largest. It's hard to question your commitment to diversity when your CEO is a woman! In addition, women and other diverse lawyers are involved in our firm at every important level, as heads of practice groups and offices. We also hired a new Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Kenneth Imo, who, along with the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and me, focuses on important diversity initiatives across the firm.
We've developed three exciting programs. The first is partnering with clients like JPMorgan Chase around diversity: we co-recruit associates who spend two years with the client and then join our firm. The second is internal: we went to our lawyers and asked them how they'd like us to approach this issue [of diversity], which gives us invaluable input and participation from diverse and non-diverse lawyers of varying levels of seniority. Third, we're committed to improving diversity in the legal profession as a whole through, for example, initiatives that provide financial support to law students who may or may not become Morgan Lewis lawyers. I spend a lot of time speaking to clients and people who participate in leadership roles, and I encourage all of our lawyers to be visible in supporting diversity and inclusion because our commitment to this issue is one of our many strengths.
CA: Would you class Morgan Lewis as a very fiscally responsible firm, and if so, how did that affect the process of incorporating Bingham?
JM: It's a really good question. Yes. I absolutely would. Morgan Lewis has always been extremely financially secure. We don't carry debt. A lot of the things the firm has done in the past 15 years have sprung from being so stable. This affected the process of welcoming Bingham lawyers pretty materially. We said: we will be making an investment this year, here is what it will be, and we won't be carrying debt. In fact, within the first year after the combination, we retired our debt relating to the transaction.
People joining the firm trust us because our track record is so well known. Our partners trust us for the same reason. It's more important today than ever: all you need to do is look at firms that are overextending themselves, writing checks they can't cash. It creates a poor environment. I would put us in the elite category when it comes to fiscal stability.
CA: Have you removed the standard bonus for first and second-years and increased their salary instead? What spurred this decision and are you re-jigging any other aspect of compensation across the firm?
JM: In offices where we have a standard bonus, we shifted that bonus into the base salary of first- and second-year associates in order to ensure their base compensation was at market level.
Compensation at Morgan Lewis has always been at or above market, and we have a merit based system for both our associates and our partners. We have a base compensation for associates at market level and use bonuses to reward outstanding performance. As markets grew, different compensation systems emerged and then evolved, but the main goal has always been the same. Our philosophy has remained consistent and so has our position in the market. We just adjust to allocate more or less to different levels depending on the market.
CA: Is the aim for the culture to be uniform across offices? How do you ensure that's the case?
JM: Yes. We aspire to – and I think achieve – a very uniform culture. Our culture emphasizes collaboration over individuality. Morgan Lewis get high marks because clients perceive that we work collaboratively. We reinforce these messages internally, rewarding team work, and actually believe it's better business practice. While we appreciate the different strengths of our offices and our individual lawyers, our culture of service to our clients, including our pro bono clients, is a touchstone and we work hard to make sure it is a reference point all the time.
We also use these reference points to decide who to bring into the firm. Will this potential colleague be collaborative and put the team and the client first? We look at their qualities as leaders, not at the size of their portfolios, and evaluate their client service philosophy. Morgan Lewis held a firm-wide orientation for partners and associates when we were joined by our Bingham colleagues, and we talked a lot about our philosophy. It's not that different from your own family: what examples will you set? Do you walk the talk? We do. And it makes for such a nice place to work that it's really not a hard culture to sell.
From Bingham to Morgan Lewis: a timeline of events
The deal that sealed the move of over 750 lawyers from Bingham McCutchen to Morgan Lewis was preceded by months of twists and turns. Below is a useful timeline of the events that unfolded up to the deal's finalization in November 2014.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
1701 Market Street,
- Head Office: Philadelphia, PA
- Number of domestic offices: 17
- Number of international offices: 11
- Partners (US): 649
- Associates (US): 729
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,080/week
- 2Ls: $3,080/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 57
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 56 offers, 50 acceptances
Main areas of work
At Morgan Lewis, we work around the world and around the clock to respond to the needs of our clients. We provide comprehensive corporate, transactional, litigation and regulatory services that address and anticipate challenges across rapidly changing landscapes. Our international team of lawyers and other specialists support clients across a wide range of industries, including financial services, energy and environmental, healthcare and life sciences, retail and technology.
From our 28 offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, we work across all major industries with clients that range from established, global Fortune 100 companies to enterprising startups. Our team comprises more than 2,000 legal professionals including lawyers, patent agents, employee benefits advisors, regulatory scientists and other specialists. We focus on immediate concerns and long-term goals, harnessing our resources from strategic hubs of commerce, law and government around the world. Founded in 1873, we stand on the shoulders of more than 140 years of excellence.
• Number of 1st year associates: 74
• Number of 2nd year associates: 92
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 for New York pay-scale offices
• 2nd year: $190,000 for New York pay-scale offices
• Clerking policy:
Yes Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
BC, Berkeley, BU, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Davis, Duke, Florida, Fordham, GW, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, Houston, Howard, Illinois, Miami, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Santa Clara, Stanford, Southern Methodist, Temple, Texas, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, USF, UVA, Villanova
Summer associate profile:
Highly motivated individuals from diverse backgrounds who have a record of outstanding academic achievement, as well as superior writing and analytical skills, a commitment to client service, initiative and an ability to succeed in a challenging, collaborative workplace.
Summer program components:
Our program provides insight into Morgan Lewis, its practices and culture through professional and social experiences. The summer program launches with a multiday kickoff that brings summer associates from all offices together with firm leaders, other partners and associates. Summer associates have the unique opportunity to tailor their “ML Summer Experience” with the option of either spending the entire summer at the firm or spending a portion of the summer working on-site with a firm client or with a public interest organization. The client experience facilitates professional development by providing a deeper understanding of the operations and issues handled by in-house legal departments. While at the firm, summer associates work on matters typically assigned to first-year associates and participate in a generous mix of training opportunities to hone skills such as legal writing and presentation style.