Morrison & Foerster LLP - The Inside View

Beneath MoFo's relatively informal exterior lies a steely work ethic and a determination to succeed...

TO picture the kind of firm that MoFo strives to be, think of Apple, perhaps its most high-profile client. Like Apple, the firm's zeal for success is mixed with a commitment to its unstuffy Californian roots. “MoFo is as laid back as you could possibly get in all of BigLaw,” one associate highlighted to us (as did several others). "Laid back" is not a phrase law firms like to use to describe themselves, as they rarely are, so don't let this associate's words mislead you. MoFo is as hard-working and excellence-driven as any BigLaw firm out there, if not more.

MoFo's litigation expertise – especially in the intellectual property arena – has seen its portfolio of tech clients grow and grow. A star-studded client roster includes international heavyweights such as Fujitsu, Hitachi and Toshiba, alongside the jewel in its crown, Apple, which it represented in the so-called 'smartphone wars' against Samsung. Thanks to “a lot of very large, well-established internet and software clients,” MoFo's Palo Alto office continues to thrive, and is currently undergoing refurbishment of its three-building campus: a sure sign, if one was needed, that MoFo is changing and growing “both literally and figuratively.”

But litigation and tech are far from the only things happening at MoFo, as a glance at its Chambers USA rankings reveals. Other top or highly ranked practices in California and/or the East Coast include capital markets, corporate/M&A, climate change, restructuring, and financial services regulation.

The Work



Many new junior associates join the litigation department, and a sizable chunk ends up in corporate. Smaller departments are tax and finance. Outside litigation, where juniors are generalists, associates are allocated to a specific practice group: for example, general corporate, patent, or capital markets.  

“You need to be assertive..."

When it comes to assignments, MoFo likes to wear its casual heart on its short-sleeves. Assigning partners do exist, and – depending on which practice area you are in – they are either present, or not very, in your life. Generally, litigation associates take advantage of the assigning partners, with many echoing one newbie who said: “It allowed me to reach out and do the work I want to be doing.” MoFo's massive litigation department is also unusually structured. One attorney explained: “There are four subgroups of litigation: securities, litigation, enforcement and white-collar (SLEW).” Although stressing the malleability of the groups, one source proffered that “the distinction is more among partners than associates.” Blurred lines mean that associates are encouraged to craft their practice to suit their skills and interests, or to put it simply: “You need to be assertive or you aren't going to get the kind of work you want.”

MoFo's corporate lawyers operate in much more niche teams – often with only one or two associates per practice area. There is less need for a formalized assignment system because “partners sit next to you and know exactly what you're working on.” There is an online program that associates use to keep partners updated on their workload: “You fill in client and other matters you're working on.”

Associate experience varies greatly depending on practice area and which partners are in charge. The kind of tasks juniors are set could be said to reflect the firm's egalitarian traditions, or simply the fact that they're a bit partner-heavy: "I hate to throw out this caveat, but we're pretty leanly staffed so you're pretty much thrown in at the deep end." Rather than balk at the extra responsibility, most MoFo lawyers revel in it: "Compared to my law school friends, I'm doing much more advanced work. I've drafted depositions – they haven't even looked at one!"

Training & Development



MoFo's San Francisco office –"the mothership” – is the venue for all new attorneys' induction into the firm. The two-day event is attended by new recruits from all 17 MoFo offices worldwide. The itinerary includes “a bit of training, speeches from senior lawyers, dinner with the partners in the office, and a cocktail party.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the educational bits were not attendees' favorite aspect of the event. A large proportion we spoke to agreed that “some of the training was slightly redundant,” but they enjoyed “lots of opportunities for socializing.”

"Training from Harvard Business School teachers.”

After this initial pooling of talents, training becomes far more ad hoc, and differs greatly based on location and practice area. In corporate, “there is a series of required introductory trainings” on everything up to and including “'how to use a computer.'” The non-stop litigation machine offers its lawyers weekly CLEs through which to hone their skills, or develop new ones. MoFo also gives incoming lawyers the opportunity to add a very distinguished feather to their caps through participation in the Fullbridge Program. The Program involves joining the firm “a month early and receiving training from Harvard Business School teachers.” Classes include everything from “accounting to IP law and PTO updates” [Patent and Trademark Office].  

Associates get a “six-month review in their first year and then an annual one after that.” Before the review, “you submit a list of matters and the hours you've spent on each. Then you sit down with two partners – one head of your group and one your mentor – and look through the feedback together.” Most divulged that it was “really laid back.” However, some erudite associates found that this was an area in which MoFo's 'Cali-casual' vibe wasn't necessarily a good thing. A few of those we spoke to sympathized with the view that “it's too informal.”

Hours & Compensation



One area on where there was no doubt is MoFo's billings target. Set at 1,950, it means firmwide parity and represents for many associates something “absolutely hittable.” The target is “probably about average,” and especially welcome was the fact that it includes "all pro bono hours, without a cap.” Some felt that “it's not about hitting targets, its about learning.” Nevertheless, there's no getting away from the fact that BigLaw hours are long. New York associates – with their office at the center of the financial world – felt they bore an especially heavy load. One Big Apple attorney believed that this was hitting retention in his office: “I think NYC associates are working a lot. We've lost a few good people.”

“If you work over three hours on a vacation day, you get it back.” 

The subject of bonuses also provoked conjecture, with the firm having recently changed its policy. The story goes like this: “Two years ago it was merit-based, tied in part to your review and to your hours. Now it is completely lockstep.” Most juniors were big fans of lockstep. Management apparently “polled associates about keeping lockstep and there was overwhelming support for the policy.” Some hard workers, however, were aggrieved by what they saw as an attempt to clip their wings: “That's one area that I don't see eye to eye with the partners. They follow the New York system, which is based on seniority.” Another added: “There's no incentive to work harder.”

Vacation was another sore spot, proving that life isn't always a beach. MoFo follows a system whereby lawyers accrue holiday entitlement. “You accrue ten hours a month, with eight hours meaning you can take a day off.” The outcome is that all first, second and third-year associates – except those in New York – can accrue a maximum of 15 vacation days a year. However, all Big Apple associates, and fourth-year associates and above, can accrue a maximum of 20 per year. Though vacation is earned, many lamented that it isn't always respected: “If anything comes up, they are not hesitant to email.” However, one source pointed out that “if you work over three hours on a vacation day, you get it back.”

Pro Bono



Pro bono is big at MoFo, evidenced by its lawyers clocking up an average of a whopping 114 hours each in 2015. There's no cap on the number of pro bono hours attorneys can bill, and they all count toward their billable target. One associate even admitted: “I know a couple of lawyers who are billing more pro bono than paid hours.” Two partners coordinate pro bono work and both are keen to find associates stuff that is both stimulating and fulfilling.

“MoFo does a lot for LGBQT rights.”

Many sources spoke of how they had expressed an interest in a specific cause when they first joined and had received great pro bono work in return. As one junior put it, “a lot of firms say they care about pro bono, but MoFo makes sure you get real substantive work that actually makes a difference.” MoFo was the first major firm to have an openly gay chairman (read our Big Interview with Keith Wetmore online), so it was no surprise to hear “MoFo does a lot for LGBQT rights.” This has included substantial support for organizations campaigning for gay marriage rights, which was “celebrated in style” at MoFo San Fran.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 81,749 
  • Average per US attorney: 114

Culture



Though most of the firm's lawyers were at pains to stress that MoFo's US operation is firmly focused on perpetuating a “one-firm mentality,” there is no doubt that its California base is the biggest influence on the firm's overall culture. This fact, coupled with its high number of tech clients, means “there's not this 'banking culture' that permeates other firms.” Others put it down to “the people they hire: not just attorneys, but staff, recruiters – everybody is down-to-earth, normal human beings.” This down-to-earth approach extends to all areas of the firm. As one elated attorney digressed, “the managing partner of the firm Craig Martin is a great guy. The first time I met him, we talked about baseball. I think that that is indicative of the firm."

"Take the work very seriously but don't take yourself too seriously."

Not all MoFo attorneys are baseball fans, but everyone we spoke to was a fan of “casual Fridays.” Most agreed that this was not a particularly noteworthy tradition, however, since “no one here is particularly buttoned-up.” The firm's tongue-in-cheek nickname, MoFo, is indicative of a universal refusal to take itself too seriously –“it's the right balance. Take the work very seriously but don't take yourself too seriously.”

Perhaps it's this fun-lovin' attitude to work that has led to “many partners turning down better money in order to stay at MoFo” – as we were told by numerous sources. Some suggested that this might also be due to the firm's extremely understanding attitude toward employees with families. Tales of flexible work conditions abounded, with many concurring that “the office is a ghost town come 6.30pm.” Nonetheless, the family feel of the firm doesn't necessarily negate an active social environment – though extra-curricular activities do tend toward the wholesome. Litigators told us of “litigation cooking competitions” with special memories reserved for a “particularly memorable guacamole-off.”

Diversity



Diversity is evident at both the partner and associate level at most of the firm's US offices – though sources in Denver and McLean admitted they “get the feeling that in the bigger offices it is more of a focus.” Rather than stemming from any particular initiative – though there are a few – MoFo's diverse make-up is due to the fact that “naturally the firm is concerned with taking on the best people, and usually those are very diverse.” Every two years the firm invites its diverse attorneys to either its San Fran or New York office for its 'Diversity Summit,' during which there are lectures and plenty of social opportunities.

Offices



With four of its nine US offices in the Golden State, MoFo can sometimes seem a little Cali-centric. One New York attorney stressed that “even over here it's seen as a California firm and is a little more laid back than the white shoe firms.” Although Big Apple lawyers are “told early on that if you want California, go to California.”

“The resources of a massive firm, but in a cozier environment.”

MoFo's smaller operations – in San Diego, McLean and Denver – are all expanding, and benefit from having “the resources of a massive firm, but in a cozier environment,” especially since there are not many other "large, respected international law firms" in those locations. These offices do still possess their own niches and the firm's Denver office has benefited from its proximity to the new United States Patent Office in the 'Wall Street of the West.' 

Get Hired



"Personable, serious about work, but not completely serious about everything else."

MoFo fits a certain type of lawyer. Generally, this was someone described as “personable, serious about work, but not completely serious about everything else.” Nicole Wanzer, MoFo's head of law school recruiting, insists the firm's recruiting efforts are focused "on the top talent at the top 15 law schools." But, as mentioned, their search is not purely grades-focused: "Grades are one piece of the puzzle. Things that really stand out are moot court and journal experience, leadership roles, community involvement and, of course, relevant work experience is always helpful – especially in the IP sector!"

Strategy & Future



When asked about what the future holds for the firm Craig Martin, MoFo's firmwide managing partner, replies: "More of the same!" Nonetheless, the recent hiring of Murray Indick as a partner and chair of MoFo's emerging companies and venture capital practice –"a robust area of growth" – shows the firm's desire to add exciting startups to its impressive roster of established clients, especially in the tech sector.




 

Interview with managing partner Craig Martin



 

What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?

So it was a banner year for the firm last year and what we want is more of the same. On the corporate side we advised clients on a number of very prominent deals and continued to enjoy success across the firm in a number of industries, with especial success in tech and cross-border transactions.

We also focused on emerging companies and venture capital practice – that has been a robust area of growth for us. We have also focused more attention on fintech. We represented SoftBank in a $1billion finance deal with SoFi Investment. In addition, we had a strong year on the M&A front – we represented Vmware in its role in the $67billion acquisition of EMC by Dell. We also represented Broadcom during its $37billion sale to Avago.

Our REIT practice handled $28billion in M&A deals – that has been a significant growth. In litigation, we won a big case with Sandoz, which allowed them to launch their first bio produce in the US. We also argued successfully for Sotheby's over a case involving the payment of royalties. We won a patent case for microsystems, we also won a case for EY that was brought against a hedgefund that Madoff had been involved in.

In privacy and data security, we were named 'cybercrime firm of the year' by Legal 500 – on behalf of our work with the largest multinational in the world. This includes handling the 'Target breach' as well as out work for Anthem regarding the hacking of their customer's personal information.

We also played an active role in litigation around prison reforms – particularly around solitary confinement in New York state prisons. And we were recently involved with the National Abortion Federation. The firm has a long history of fighting on behalf of women's reproductive rights. This is just the latest in a number of cases that the firm has litigated in over the years. Our pro bono program actually tends to find direction from the bottom-up. MoFo has relationships with loads of charities and non-profits – and associates bring matters that are of interest to them personally – so our program reflects our lawyer's very broad interests and concerns.

I spoke to California associates about tech clients. Obviously you have some huge well-established names but in an ever-expanding industry do you have any plans to acquire new start-ups?

One of our hires last year was actually intended to do precisely that. This gentleman Murray Endick – he joined as a partner last year and became the chair of emerging companies. And so Murray and the other partners in that group are really helping to leverage the experience with established companies and apply that to emerging companies as well as providing them with unrivaled advice. We definitely look to that as an area of continued growth.

Has 2015-16 changed the game in making partner? 

I think its been more over the last ten years and this has been the expectations for partner candidates both at our firm and every other large firm like ours. We look not simply for excellence in lawyering, not just the potential to attract business – but really a combination of those things. Those are the challenges that any candidate has to grapple with. Happily our firm has designed an excellent training and mentorship program. Whether you are an excellent associate or senior associate – all of those things combine to give our associates the opportunity to develop and be the kind of lawyers.

Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

That's a great question. I think one way we distinguish ourselves as a firm by reference to what we consider to be our core values. To the extent a candidate can reflect similar values – that gives us comfort. When I talk about the firm's values, I talk about a commitment to excellence; a commitment to public service and pro bono; and finally, a commitment to contributing as a member of a team. We as a firm compete intensely with our adversaries but we do not tolerate intra firm competition. I've found that candidates that can point to their own experiences are favourable.

Interview with hiring partner Nicole Wanzer 

Roughly how many associates do you take on each year? 

This year we will likely take between 95-100 new associates. This year our class is 20% larger than last year but usually we aim for 10% growth each year. We've definitely got an increased focus on hiring 1Ls.

What's the scope of your recruiting drive? 

There is no immediate plan to change the scope. Every year we look to be more strategic. Our recruiting efforts are focused at the top talent at the top 15 law schools. We maybe dial down some of our schedules so we can focus more on the top students and getting them into the process. Right now there are such a huge number of applications but we are still looking to hire the same amount of people. Outside of the top law schools we do also look at schools with close regional ties like Fordham in New York City. And the same is true in the Bay Area with schools that aren't necessarily in the top 20. The third exception is for schools with a big MoFo alumni presence. We also hire a lot of students into our patent program as well as looking at schools with a diverse student population.

What else does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

Well we have a specific program for hiring 1Ls into the diversity fellowship program. We target 1Ls at the top schools. We usually hire about ten and we hope that they will be at the firm for both summers. There is a stipend in terms of a monetary award on top of their salary. That program has been in place for five years. Generally we do a lot of marketing campus targeting Latino, African-American and LGBQT students.

What questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?

I don't know if we hand out specific questions. We think more of general themes on which we want to get feedback from our candidates to see if they can handle life at a big law firm. You know, questions about interest level, behavioral questions and how that might pertain to future work at MoFo. Especially questions related to team work. Lastly, their commitment to practice – are they in law school to practice?

What makes someone stand out at interview? 

Grades are obviously one piece of the puzzle. If we are just looking at a resume, the things that stand out are moot court experience and journal experience. In the latter, we are looking for people that actually wrote for the journal. In large part we are looking for those who have exhibited writing skills. On top of this, we are looking for leadership roles and community involvement. Also, relevant work experience is very helpful. Especially technical and IP patent work.

Can you very briefly outline your summer program? 

The program is 7-10 weeks in length. We have a regional training program where group together all associates and all of the summers will get the same modules, whether in Tokyo, San Francisco or New York. Its an opportunity to work in a team but also to work specifically on their skills. In terms of social events, we typically have one a week and they vary. It could be wine tasting in the Sonoma Valley. In NYC they go and do a trapeze. In Southern California its surfing, cookery classes and outdoorsy kind of things. We also send out a survey before the summer to try and put a finger on what they might like to do, whether its Shakespeare in the park or a baseball game.

How can someone really stand out as a summer associate? 

Obviously the work is very important. Gone are the days of 10-20 years ago when summers would show up and not do a lot of work. We want summer associates to turn up and be interested in the work they are doing. They have to be engaged in the program and asking questions. Its nice when they are not afraid of being out of their comfort zones. We want them showing commitment to the firm and their practice. They should understand that what we are all about at MoFo is delivering an excellent client service.

What's the firm's approach to lateral hiring? 

Well, we did a lot of lateral hiring in 2015 and just a few weeks into 2016 we are continuing that trend. There are very few fifth years in the market since the crash. We are very much focused on quality with laterals.

What does the firm offer that is unique? 

I think the first thing is the people and the environment. We have this incredibly collaborative and collegial environment. All of our clients are firm clients. Most firms have their own specific lawyer and client. We have clients both on the litigation side as well as in corporate transactions. That's because we have partners constantly on the phone to clients. And that mentality trickles down through the whole firm – our associates and our summers feel that, its a very collaborative environment. Another thing that makes MoFo special is our commitment to diversity. Having diverse lawyers and clients is critical to our success.

We also have a firm commitment to pro bono and a long tradition in service to public interest. We use our paying clients for a ton of pro bono. We also make sure summer associates are participating in pro bono – that's a high level of responsibility right out the gate.

Morrison & Foerster LLP

425 Market Street,
San Francisco,
CA 94105-2482
Website www.mofo.com

  • Head Office: San Francisco, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 9
  • Number of international offices: 8
  • Worldwide revenue: $979,300,000
  • Partners (US): 247
  • Associates (US): 370
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,080/week
  • 2Ls: $3,080/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes, case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes, case by case
  • Summers 2016: 83 (2Ls) + 28 (1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 81 offers, 65 acceptances, and 1 open 

Main areas of work
Appellate; business restructuring and insolvency; capital markets; clean technology and alternative energy; commercial litigation; emerging companies and venture capital; energy; financial transactions; intellectual property; life sciences; mergers and acquisitions; privacy and data security; real estate; securities litigation, enforcement and white-collar criminal defense; tax; and technology transactions.

Firm profile
Morrison & Foerster is a global firm of exceptional credentials. With 950 lawyers in 17 offices in key technology and financial centers in the United States, Europe and Asia, the firm advises the world’s leading financial institutions, investment banks and technology, telecommunications, life sciences and Fortune 100 companies.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 46
• Number of 2nd year associates: 69
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley Law, Cardozo, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, UC Davis, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, McGill, University of Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, UPenn, University of San Diego, Santa Clara, Stanford, University of Texas, UCLA, USC, UVA, Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:

Morrison & Foerster looks for individuals of exceptional intelligence whose academic and other achievements evidence their talent, motivation, energy and creativity.

Summer program components:
The summer program is intended to give summer associates a real sense of what it means to practice at MoFo.
Work is distributed using a central assignment system, taking into account your areas of interest. Typical assignments include writing briefs, motions, contracts and client memoranda, assisting in drafting and negotiation sessions, assisting in depositions and witness preparation and performing due diligence in corporate transactions, as well as pro bono assignments.
A variety of training programs are designed specifically for summer associates, including practice area presentations.
Each summer associate is assigned one or more mentors to help acclimate him or her to the firm. Mentors take their summer associates out to lunch, introduce their summer associates to the lawyers and staff in their practice group and office and act as a sounding board for any questions or concerns summer associates may have throughout the summer.