Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP - The Inside View

America's largest firm continues to focus on associate development while advising clients at the highest levels.

WHEN asked what Morgan Lewis offers young lawyers that is unique from its rivals, hiring partner Christina Melendi replies in a heartbeat: “We offer an exceptionally strong training environment, giving them an ability to not only develop their legal skills but also personal skills.” Both legal and personal development are the raison d'être for 'ML Experiences', whereby all summer associates can pick three different routes for their first ten weeks at the firm. They can stay in the office for the full ten, or stay for six weeks and go on a client secondment for four weeks, or spend those latter four weeks with a pro bono organization instead. All of which, as Melendi puts it, “gives young lawyers invaluable insight early on into what a client, or general counsel, or a legal department expects of them and our firm.”

And having such a thorough focus on the individual is no mean feat considering the firm is America's biggest by headcount, with over 2,000 attorneys nationwide. Hundreds of these were previously Bingham McCutchen lawyers who came over in 2014 when their firm imploded, and associates agreed that the two were coming together nicely. “The areas in which Bingham was strong and where Morgan Lewis is strong are completely different, and something that has been great about the combination has been a strengthening of both sides.” Chambers USA recognizes many ML strengths, bestowing top tier nationwide rankings for practices including capital markets, corporate/M&A, ERISA litigation, and labor & employment. The firm made global news when partner Sheri Dillon represented Trump at his first press conference shortly before his inauguration.

The Work



“They send out an email with a color system to gauge how busy you are.”

Incoming ML attorneys join one of three groups that broadly represent “corporate, litigation, and labor & employment.” When you start “you get a specific offer from one of those groups and then it's just a matter of asking for particular work.” Juniors in corporate or finance find themselves in a pool system and “the work you get depends on who's busy, so for the first two years you do a little bit of both, then you gradually find your way into one group.”

Assignment is organic and stems from the relationships you form in your first two years – “as you get put on cases, if you do a good job, generally the partners come back to you with more of the same work.” That said, there are mechanisms in place to make sure juniors aren't overburdened: “Each practice group has a workflow coordinator and twice a week they send out an email with a color system to gauge how busy you are.” This focus on preventing burnout stems from the fact that “partners are very vigilant, they make sure that everyone is getting the experience that they want and they ask up front if there's anyone you'd especially like to work with, or anything you'd especially like to work on.”

Sources spoke of lean staffing across the board, meaning meaty tasks from an early stage. Litigious juniors reported a department that is “not segregated into various practices” meaning “every first-year is expected to do some white collar, commercial litigation and securities work.” They also opined cheerfully that “doc review is rare here. As a first-year you're more likely to be involved in preparing depositions, drafting motions for summary judgment, responding to discovery and even helping to decide client strategy.” Transactional associates told of similar goings on – “we usually handle the transaction checklist. I don't really do much drafting, I mostly review the agreements and make sure they are all in order.”

Culture



The powers that be had a job on their hands trying to meld the culture of 700 Bingham McCutchen lawyers and staff with the already big Morgan Lewis. In locations where both firms had a presence – such as Boston and New York – whoever's office was larger subsumed the other's. Sources felt that “while it was initially tense when a lot of the Bingham partners left or didn't get offers,” but because “most of the associates stayed” the “initial 'us v. them' atmosphere quickly faded, and after two years all of the kinks have been worked out.”

Interviewees who had initially thought they'd be joining Bingham were effusive about the lengths Morgan Lewis went to in order to make them feel at home: “There was a big effort, especially in New York, to make sure that the unique things about Bingham's culture would live on. For example, today's Friday and I'm wearing jeans. 'Casual Fridays' were a big thing at Bingham and Morgan Lewis has made sure that hasn't changed with the merger.” And jeans aren't the only things that are standing strong in the Big Apple. The firm's all-attorney family event held at Dave & Buster's in Times Square toward the end of the summer remains a fixture.

"After two years all of the kinks have been worked out.”

Over in Philly, the firm's HQ and the office that “probably exerts the most influence culturally nationwide,” attorneys can expect a packed social calendar with “weekly happy hours and monthly associate lunches” as well as a “big soirée at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology.” However, the jewel in the crown of the year comes every spring, when Morgan Lewis rents out the entire Philadelphia Zoo and invites the whole office and their families to join in the fun.

Hours & Compensation



Sources reported differing adherence to face time depending on location. In offices with more young families, such as LA and Dallas, “there's less pressure for you to be at your desk every single hour of the day. People who have kids work for part of the day here then pop back up online later.” While in the bigger offices, like New York and Philly, “even if you have nothing on you'd still kind of be expected to be around just in case.” That said, work isn't hard to come by – “in the past two years, there's never been more than a couple of hours when I've been looking for something to do.”

“About half of my hours right now are pro bono and I've never had anyone criticize me for that.”

All of which makes the 2,000 billable hours requirement eminently achievable, especially since “it's not really a requirement at all” but “more of a target.” Added to this is the fact that, at least in the first year, pro bono hours can count toward your target – “about half of my hours right now are pro bono and I've never had anyone criticize me for that.” The one area that came in for slight criticism was bonuses. All bonuses are discretionary and 'individualized', meaning “even if you don't hit 2,000 you are eligible” but also that “it's hard to build in accountability for the firm.” Nonetheless, those who had experienced the old lockstep system said that the reform – which had included a salary increase for first and second-years – was mostly intended to match market. First-year salaries are: $180,000 (Boston, Hartford, New York, DC, California, Chicago, Texas, Princeton and Philadelphia), and $165,000 (Pittsburgh, Wilmington and Miami).

Training & Development



Morgan Lewis has a rigorous training program for new hires. There's 'ML Experiences', but also three days of induction in Philly called 'New Lawyer Academy', “where you're going through all kinds of things like the IT systems, and also where to go if you need more staples.” After that, associates receive practice-specific education. In corporate and finance there's formal training every other week at lunchtime. Litigation juniors can expect regular two-day deposition workshops with actors playing the roles of fake witnesses. Over time, deposition training becomes 'trial academy', a forum for associates to test their courtroom skills.

Complementing this comprehensive training is constructive and ongoing feedback. This reaches its zenith during associates' annual reviews, which are an incredibly thorough process: “Each associate provides a self-assessment – you are rating what you think your performance was but you're also providing a written description of your matters. And then that's reviewed by any partner that has worked with you for more than 20 hours. That's then discussed in a meeting among partners and you end up getting a consolidated written review.”

Offices



With 17 US offices, it'd be a long task to describe every one, so we'll stick to the largest. The Philadelphia HQ is located downtown, right above the train station, “which is particularly handy in the middle of winter as you don't need to go outside at all.” On the top floor there's a cafeteria that serves hot breakfast and lunch and, once a week, something called an 'enhanced snack' – which, our sources reported, is “not as exciting as it sounds.” In other snack-related news, the New York office is also building a new cafeteria. It's also right next to a big terminus, in this case Grand Central.

“Exactly like the office in Suits.”

The firm's LA digs were described as “exactly like the office in Suits” by one interviewee, who went on to lament that fact that the West Coast was sometimes overlooked by those calling the shots in the East – “on a couple of occasions I've got the impression that they think of us a bit as those cowboys out West,” one joked. Bostonians stayed in the Bingham office after the merger – “it's a great space, very modern; less oak-paneling and dark wood, more frosted glass and natural light.”

Pro Bono



As mentioned previously, “100% of pro bono hours count toward billables.” And, if that weren't enough to incentivize it, there is also a 'pro bono challenge' – “they ask all attorneys to book at least 20 pro bono hours a year and we get updates every quarter telling us how each practice and office is doing.” In Philly, the firm works closely with Philadelphia VIP, a legal non-profit that does some great local work. In Boston, interviewees had volunteered with Project Citizenship, a charity that helps immigrants fill out citizenship papers.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 99,404
  • Average per US attorney: 57

Diversity



A focus on diversity is one thing former Bingham sources felt might have been lost with their firm's name – “during the Bingham recruitment process diversity was talked about a lot but since I've been here I haven't heard it mentioned once.” Associates all agreed though that if ML was succeeding anywhere it was in gender diversity: “We have various affinity groups and committees but I think the best evidence is that, at least since I've been here, every class has been exactly 50-50 men and women.”

In March 2017, the firm made headlines when it announced that qualifying associates would be allowed to work from home for up to two days a week. Time will tell what the take-up will be and how it will work exactly – we will report back next year.

Get Hired



One source who had been involved in recruitment leaked a bit of info about the interview questions: “They ask us to evaluate five key characteristics: intellectual and cognitive ability; planning and organizational skills; communication skills; working with others; and character.” This is all part of the firm's much-vaunted 'behavioral interviewing' which assesses how candidates have reacted in the past and how that might indicate their future behavior. Other interviewees stressed ML's appreciation of things like involvement with sport or the military – “it's proof that you have worked well in a team atmosphere before and that you don't just have an individual mentality.”

Strategy & Future



Morgan Lewis focuses on hiring the right personalities for partnership one day and “there are a large number of lawyers who stay here for their whole careers,” according to associates. It's something that's talked about early on too: “They bring it up during performance evaluations and if you were not on track, they'd let you know.” That said, in the bigger offices, the firm has become wary about being too top-heavy: “What they've started doing is establishing a formal procedure to place mid-level associates at clients. We'll periodically get listings of jobs from our own HR department for positions at our clients.”

 

Interview with Christina Melendi, hiring partner



Has there been any change in the scope of your recruitment drive in the past year e.g. in the types of schools you are visiting or the type of people you are looking for?

There hasn't really been much of a change. We have some schools where we have historically hired a lot of students. We like to consider a diversity of schools. We recruited from 42 different schools last year, the same schools as prior years. We have such a broad scope of offices so we visit a lot of regional schools.

What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

We have a firm commitment to diversity. It is a core value and something we look for in our students. We have a diversity career fellowship program which gives a $15,000 stipend [to qualifying law students]. We encourage students to apply for that. We hold 'summer in the city' events in the summer, when students can see our partners and associates in an informal setting to learn more about our firm. We have information about the career fellowship. We also have a Morgan Lewis Scholarship program. Those students demonstrate academic excellence and demonstrate financial need as well. It is something the firm has a focus on.

Does the corporate pool system for juniors mean that you target people who don't really know what niche they want?

No. I think it depends. When we are interviewing students we ask about their interests. On the corporate transactional side, we don't have a rotation system. We have students come in and have a broad range of work and so they are getting exposed to a lot of corporate work. Some will specialize early on. It doesn't affect recruiting. I don't think many law students know that they want to do only one small section of transactions, for instance. When you interview, if someone has a high interest in M&A, that wouldn't influence our recruiting decision one way or another. That's one of the reasons why some students are attracted to us.is We help them realize  what area of law really attracts them.

Does lean staffing mean you focus on people who you think will work well under pressure?

I don't think that's something we particularly focus on. I think summer associates who stand out tend to be hard working and work well as a team. We have a collegial culture and there's a strong emphasis on client service. Junior associates have a lot of client interaction and work on really interesting projects. I think most associates sometimes like a leaner staffing model because they have a great opportunity to work on different types of work.

Can you remember any interview questions you have asked in the past that have been met with particularly good responses?

We tend to use behavioral interviewing. For example, asking students if there has been a particular assignment that they have worked on in a team environment, and did they take a leadership role? We are trying to look at past behavior and use that as an indicator of how a student is going to act in future situations. We're looking for concise answers to those questions to find a hard-working nature, someone who wants to be a part of a team.

What does Morgan Lewis offer young lawyers that is unique?

I think Morgan Lewis offers a very strong training environment to young lawyers, giving them an ability to not only develop their legal skills but also their personal skills in terms of networking. This is true from the outset of our summer program, when we have them go to a kick-off event which gathers them in one location. We have training in legal writing and presentation skills. We also try to have transparency at the firm to show how the firm is run. We emphasize our commitment to pro bono by having an interactive session. Putting that in the first days really shows what we value.

Interview with chair Jami Wintz McKeon



What are some of Morgan Lewis's key highlights from the past year?

One of the biggest things is our growth in Asia. In 2016 we built on our 2015 Singapore expansion with the opening of a 30-person office in Shanghai where we have  a fantastic group of lawyers led by Mitch Dudek who has practiced for 25 years. We also just launched in Hong Kong, with a capital markets and private equity focus. We wanted to expand in Asia with really top quality people.

We also attracted some other great talent to our practices  including structured transactions, energy, tax, antitrust, and commercial litigation. This is consistent with our view that we are really looking to bring in the best and the brightest, with a focus on serving the needs of our clients.

In terms of talent, we do things that are innovative and creative. In 2016, we inaugurated our Academies with associates coming together for various training and education opportunities. In November, we had our first-ever senior associate academy for more than 100 of our most senior associates. We also had our first ever competition – Spark! – a firmwide contest in which teams of up to six could enter for prizes. We had 1,800 people from our firm take part – 250 teams. Teams could contribute ideas on just about anything – internal organization, client focus, things related to our HR systems, ideas, changes that they would like to see. . The only requirement is that it had to be innovative. It is amazing how much that resonated with people. We got 250 different sets of ideas.

Continuing that theme, we did two other things. We launched our first-ever employee engagement survey, and we launched our remote work program. I started thinking last year that when we look at talent, about what's important to people, what allows you to get the best talent? Technology is something that has made everyone's life easier in one sense but harder in another. I work every weekend, every evening – for a firm like Morgan Lewis, our commitment to our clients is that we are going to give you access to our people at every time of day. If you think about that, then it really doesn't matter if you are sitting at your desk in the office or sitting at your desk at home. Many people in every city have commutes, and for many that commute is significant. It's not a stretch to think that people are spending an hour each day commuting. If you could spend that time working for clients or taking your kids to school or going to the dry cleaners, then what's not to love? I asked a task force to see if they agreed with my intuition, without it in any way detracting from client service.

That's what they concluded and we ran a test in our LA office to see if this would work as well as I thought it would. And it did. Not just for associates but the partners with whom they were working. People had this added flexibility, which we decided was an important thing to formalize. The reality is that we trust our associates to be professional. People formalize these things because it's important to have predictability, so the impetus was really using technology to provide an advantage to our clients and lawyers. There are days when not one of the colleagues you work with is in  your local office, so I just felt it was time for law firms to do what global corporate organizations have been doing for a long time.

How's the integration of the former Bingham practice coming along?

It's going incredibly well. It's been two and a half years now. We had our partner meeting at the end of October 2016 and I think that all of our partners really felt that there was a tremendous energy and almost revivalist feel to it because people see that we are really well meshed now. People predicted that as soon as two years were up it would fall apart! We've lost a few people but the integration has gone really well from every perspective. It has proved our thesis that the combined power has benefited everybody.

How do you manage to maintain a focus on the individual with so many lawyers?

It's a good question. Size is a fantastic competitive advantage if you can successfully integrate. There are a lot of things we do to focus on that. When we bring people in, everyone is assigned a buddy, someone else in the firm whose job it is to really integrate that person into the firm. Law firms get very hung up on size, but other large organizations that are a lot bigger than law firms manage this challenge, whether its consultancy firms like McKinsey, corporations like Microsoft, or banks like Goldman Sachs. They pursue growth opportunities, a strong client base and they reward their employees. It requires that you make these things a priority. For me, I'm a personal connectivity person anyway so it means a lot to me to reach out to individuals.

Is Philadelphia still very much the firm's HQ?

I think no, frankly. We haven't thought of Philadelphia as our HQ for some time. In some respects it is – it has a lot of our back and middle offices. A lot of firms look for inexpensive places for this and Philly is a great place to do this. We have talent and low rent. Our management team has people from Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Our advisory group has people from all over the world. Our practice group leaders don't typically come from Philly. It will always have a special place. Right now DC is our largest office. We really think of ourselves as a truly global firm.

Where would you like to see the firm five years' time?

Well, I would like to see Morgan Lewis doing a lot of what we're doing now. We are in most of the places that we want to be. We are very focused on how we can best serve our clients and how we can attract and retain the best talent. We are really happy with the trajectory we are on. I want to maintain the global client relationships that we have, and our status as  a market leader.

What can Morgan Lewis offer young lawyers that is unique?

I've been at Morgan Lewis for 36 years. I think that we emphasize a one firm vision to practicing law. Combine that with the fact that we are one of the few truly global firms. We have people who are invested in your success and who have the willingness to do innovative things like remote working. We offer a place that has a highly personal approach with lawyers that are great people. We take our role seriously and we are investing time and money in doing that. I also think that when you are looking at which law firms are committed to diversity, we have a woman at the top.

Any advice for our readers as they embark upon the first stage their careers?

I think it's really important to be at a place where you feel a great attachment to a firm. Do you just want to make a ton of money and get out after two years, or do you want to build what I believe is one of the most flexible and rewarding careers? You want a firm where the culture resonates with the work and people. I picked Morgan Lewis because I liked what I saw when I was here – people I could work with and respected, their approach to engaging with me and  clients. What I would say is take the time and make the effort to evaluate and be honest with yourself about what really resonates with you. It has to be partnership – it's not a one-way street.

 

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

1701 Market Street,
Philadelphia,
PA 19103-2921
Website www.morganlewis.com

  • Head Office: Philadelphia, PA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 17
  • Number of international offices: 13
  • Partners (US): 644
  • Associates (US): 847
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,500/week
  • 2Ls: $3,500/week
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 65
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 57 offers, 53 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.

Firm profile
From our 30 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.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 76
• Number of 2nd year associates: 61
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000-$180,000
• 2nd year: $170,000-$190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
American, BC, Berkeley, BU, Catholic, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Davis, Duke, Fordham, GW, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, Houston, Howard, Illinois, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Rutgers, Santa Clara, Stanford, Southern Methodist, Temple, Texas, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, USF, UVA, Vanderbilt, Villanova

Summer details
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 multi-day 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 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 public interest organization. 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. After joining the firm fulltime, associates are offered Student Loan Repayment services, an innovative Remote Working Program and a Ramp-Up program, including a reduced hours expectation for six months, for associates returning from an extended leave of absence.