Morrison & Foerster LLP - The Inside View

For tech excellence in a “more livable” environment, it's MoFo, fo sho.

IN your arduous research of law firms – as you scroll through endless text on your screen or flick through the pages of weighty career books – you could be forgiven for falling asleep as the constant stream of law firm names wearies your eyes. MoFo, having the rudest name in the market, is at a distinct advantage. The firm's work and “laid back” Cali culture are pretty exciting too in the grand scheme of things. “This is the firm other associates lateral to,” one reasonably relaxed associate here told us. Managing partner Craig Martin confirms all this when he says his goal is to have “the most respected and sought after culture in the industry.”

MoFo is best known for its tech clients, many of whom download the firm's expertise in intellectual property law (especially litigation). MoFo famously represented Apple in the 'smartphone wars' against Samsung, and other big-name clients include Toshiba, DreamWorks and Netflix. As well as IP, MoFo's Chambers USA ranking highlights include corporate/M&A, various types of litigation, IT & outsourcing, financial services regulation, and government. These are serious, serious practice areas, so when associates use the phrase “laid back” we need to add the phrase 'for BigLaw'.

The Work



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

The assignment of work is a casual affair. Assigning partners do exist, but depending on which practice area and office you're in, they are relied upon to varying degrees. Generally, litigation associates take advantage of the assigning partners, said to be helpful in “making your preferences known.” Litigators “are able to roam around,” exploring the sub-groups on offer, which include securities, litigation, enforcement and white-collar (SLEW), commercial litigation, and financial services. Associates told us: “People vary to the extent that they try to specialize early. Some people like to get a sense of different practices; others come in with set ideas.” Describing their work, litigation associates told us: “The typical thing would be drafting discovery responses, briefs and legal research and preparing deposition outlines and materials.” That's no mean feat, and “there are definitely opportunities to step up and take on significant briefs if you're interested.” Since “a lot of cases only have a couple of juniors and partners working on them, whatever you take on is appreciated.”

“It's more fluid than it is formalized.”

In other departments, such as corporate, “you tend to have partners or associates who either like working with you or need someone to work on a job. They reach out independently or drop by your office.” This is possible because MoFo's corporate lawyers operate in much more niche teams – often with only one or two associates per practice area: “It's more fluid than it is formalized.” Although work allocation varies, we heard from some sources about a “weekly status report where we submit everything we're working on,” so that partners can assess associates' workload. As in litigation, these small teams mean lean staffing. Though the tasks often vary, associates told us about being “really exposed to helping cover roles that might feel beyond your years.” Many had experienced direct client contact too – “it's great for people who want to jump in and learn on the job,” said one. “Honestly, I came in thinking I would have horror stories of due diligence for the first year or two: just mind-numbing work. But ultimately, at this point, I get to have a hand in most documents. It's more a reflection of the grace of the people I work for – even now I produce documents that are complete garbage! But they are giving me the chance to grow organically.”

Training & Development



"They spend a lot of money on having people teaching seminars from all over the country."

San Francisco plays host to new attorneys' induction into the firm. “It's a huge event; they rent out an entire hotel. People are flown in from every single office,” and they mean every office... worldwide.“A lot of it is meet and greet, there's lots of alcohol and mingling after the events are over.” There's training too, though “it tends to go in one ear and out the other. But they spend a lot of money on having people teaching seminars from all over the country and making sure people feel welcome – it's much appreciated.”

Once they've dispersed, training covers general skills “like public speaking, and then more tailored stuff for litigators or corporate.” Practice group training is called “MoFo U,” and a corporate source described “mandatory seminars where they discuss the foundational skillsets for corporate. When training comes up someone prints out the materials for it and people call in from all over the country to join in.” Nevertheless, some associates wanted  “a little more formalized training and mentoring.” The formal mentoring scheme, going under the name “Odyssey,” did not last long enough in most associates' eyes, nor did it follow “a very obvious structure.” Carving out time for informal feedback and mentoring could be difficult: “We'd be back to work a minute later,” one told us. “That's not the type of mentoring I would want.” A source felt it vital to “be able to learn as you go forward.”

Hours & Compensation



MoFo's billing target is set at 1,950 hours regardless of office: “A very doable target,” especially as “MoFo does a good job of trying to count all of your hours. Associates praised the flexibility they were afforded: “I'm working a lot of late nights and weekends, so it's not relaxed in that sense. But if you get the job done nobody will be coming round to see if you're here.” One New Yorker felt they worked “fewer hours than other law firms in New York,” and though their hours might be slightly longer than their West Coast counterparts, they still liked that “if you want to leave at 6.30pm for yoga and come back to finish, there's no problem. MoFo has shown me that it is possible to work in BigLaw but also enjoy respect for your time.”

To secure vacation, associates had to get organized. “It does require a bit of coordinating, so people usually plan their vacations in advance, letting people know and getting coverage for their responsibilities.” MoFo follows a system whereby lawyers accrue holiday entitlement: 15 days maximum for first, second and third-years everywhere but New York, where they can earn 20.

Pro Bono



Pro bono is a big deal at MoFo. Managing partner Craig Martin tells us that “client service, commitment to pro bono, volunteerism, charitable giving – they all run through the firm. They're important regardless of the geography one finds oneself in.” Associates too described “a real, honest commitment to pro bono and social justice issues.” That means that “right away you're staffed on pro bono matters and it's taken very seriously.” To enable this, there's no cap on the number of pro bono hours attorneys can bill, and they all count toward their billable target. “When I started I had many more pro bono hours than billable, but I was never talked to about it.”

“I had many more pro bono hours than billable.”

Associates brought up a plethora of matters they'd been involved in, including immigration issues, “voting rights litigation,” housing and environmental work. The firm has previously won significant victories championing gay marriage rights, tackling 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and fighting for the rights of those with disabilities in the Supreme Court. There are partners to coordinate the pro bono effort, frequently suggesting matters to associates, but juniors also reported suggesting and bringing in their own matters. A recent pro bono highlight was filing a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of two San Diego men jailed for posting rap lyrics on their social media pages, which the government claimed linked them to gangs. Charges were dismissed or not ultimately brought, so the duo are seeking compensation and other redress for their seven months inside.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 86,000 approx.
  • Average per US attorney: 123

Culture



You can take the firm out of California, but can you take the Californian out of the firm? We'd say not – though each office is its own blend, the culture always bears the distinctive marks of its San Francisco origins. “I think ultimately, as much as we might complain in Los Angeles, the strenuous requirements of BigLaw aren't as apparent.” Nor is the uniform of BigLaw: “It's definitely business casual. It's not a suit and tie place” – casual Fridays and charity events even allow associates to saunter in Zuckerberg-style (jeans and a T-shirt). One associate pointed out: “We do call ourselves MoFo! People are playful and it's a fun place to be. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We're serious when we need to be, but the firm in general tends to be laid back and feels very human.”

“People are playful and it's a fun place to be.”

The other side of the coin of course sees associates “working long hours – it's not all hunky dory. You're expected to work at a high level, but people have lives and they understand that.” Inevitably,  “demanding work and clients” could boil up a little stress, but “an attitude of mutual respect among everybody” was a helpful remedy. The absence of a strict hierarchy also delighted associates, who took full advantage. “If I have a question, I can just ask a partner – there's no need to politic, I just ask.” One told us that “one of our global heads and I talk every day – the access to people high up in the firm is phenomenal!” Bringing the working week to an end, attorneys can attend cocktail hour in the office at 5pm on a Friday. Otherwise there's a mix of social events, usually team-specific. One associate told us about “practice group monthly lunches and a bake-off event.People tend to have families, and a lot are married with children.”

Diversity



MoFo achieves good diversity figures (relative to the profession) in terms of ethnicity, gender and LGBT both at associate and partner level. “Quite a few powerful partners on my office floor are women,and there are a lot of female associates. It's maybe half and half women to men at this point. And there are people of all races and religions. It's quite a diverse place, I find.” Significantly, MoFo was the first BigLaw firm to have an openly gay chairman, Keith Wetmore. The firm has active affinity groups too, organizing “a lot of events – they make it easy to participate and affirm the values of diversity.” A member of the Asian affinity group told us they met up for “Korean barbecue or escape rooms.” In addition, every two years the firm invites its diverse attorneys to its 'Diversity Summit,' replete with lectures and schmoozing opportunities.

Offices



“A huge loungebrary.”

MoFo's presence stretches well beyond California. Joining the West Coast sites in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palo Alto are a small office in Denver and a huddle of East Coast sites which include DC, Northern Virginia and New York. San Francisco takes the largest number of associates, with Los Angeles and New York not far behind. Associates told us “there are always people emailing around offices asking for advice, and you can be working in teams across offices,” but travel between them was rare for juniors. New Yorkers revealed that “there are no facilities in the building: no cafeteria or gym – which I think is a shame. But it's very accessible, being near Columbus Circle, and on a lot of subway lines, and if you're lucky you get a view of the Hudson.” Meanwhile LA associates reside on the top floor of their towering building, and caught our attention by describing “a huge loungebrary,” which hosts their office cocktail parties.

Strategy & Future



“Our strategy has been to play to our strengths, to leverage our market share,” says managing partner Craig Martin. The future of the firm looks broadly similar, but recent years have seen “a big push into the emerging companies and venture capital practice.” Though this is taking place on the East Coast too, he points out that “it is a nice fit for us given our strength in the Bay Area. So much activity has occurred in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, so given our size and reputation, we're well placed to identify and assist clients in that area.” This work will embrace not only the tech industry, but also media and financial services.

 

Interview with Morrison and Foerster managing partner, Craig Martin



Chambers Associate: Last year we talked about how start-ups and venture capital were going to be a focus for you – is that something you're still pushing? What's the logic behind that focus?

Craig Martin: That's right – we have continued to make a big push into the emerging companies and venture capital practice. Our practices dovetail nicely with the likely needs that those types of companies have, whether you're looking at finance or regulatory, or our ability to assist companies with commercial and other types of litigation, we're already well positioned in other established practises to work for those companies. And moreover it is a nice fit for us given our strength in the Bay Area. So much activity has occurred in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, so given our size and reputation, we're well placed to identify and assist clients in that area.

I would say that while the West coast is of course a focus of that, we're also interested in pursuing that type of practice on the East Coast, including in New York. There are a number of potential clients who we believe we can serve well.

And it's not just tech, although I think that is a large part of it. It could include media, where we have quite a strong practice and financial services too.

CA: Are there any other practice areas which you're aiming to grow?

CM: Our strategy has been to play to our strengths, to leverage our market share. We have a brand where we already have established core practices: M&A, litigation, investigations, restructuring, privacy and cyber, as well as securities litigation and enforcement.

CA: What's your long term vision for the firm?

CM: The way that our chair has articulated it is fitting. His vision is for Morrison and Foerster to be a leading global law firm that has the most respected and sought after culture in the industry. In other words, we aim to grow and serve our clients, but our growth will not come at any cost. The way that he sees it, our culture will be preserved as an ideal for the industry.

CA: How do you think the recent election is going to affect the legal industry and your firm in particular?

CM: One thing we have been focused on over the last few years is building our enforcement and regulatory practices, particularly building in our DC office. We have considered carefully the effects of what changed enforcement priorities may mean for our clients so we're well positioned to address their needs. Through securities, enforcement, the Department of Transportation, energy policy: there are a number of ways in which we think new administration will adopt change. We've been preparing for this in earnest for the last couple of years without any preconception of who might win.

CA: Being so closely aligned with the tech industry – what do you think are going to be the big trends that will affect how you practice? And how will they affect the firm?

CM: So I think there's a great deal of interest in AI – we and firms like us have spoken to providers both established and emerging in this area, to see whether it can assist us in delivering services in a cost effective manner. The short and medium term benefits of those technologies remains to be seen. There are a number of technological and cost challenges associated with them. It's certainly something we see over the long haul will have an effect on how it is we provide services to our clients. That will be true across industry. We have all had to adapt to the changes in the amount of information that is available to us as a law firm and we're working to find the best way to harness that information. I think as a result we have provided a better product at a lower price to most clients.

CA: Do you have any plans to open new offices?

CM: We don't have any plans at the moment to open a new office but we do regularly evaluate new locations to serve clients better and to grow the firm.

CA: Does the firm strive to have a similar working culture among all of its offices? Or do you leave them to develop?

CM: There is a common culture across the firm, consistent with the way we run the business, which is as a single firm, not lots of little parts scattered around the globe. You can think about it in the way that prioritizing client service, commitment to pro bono, volunteerism, charitable giving –  they all run through the firm. They're important regardless of the geography one finds oneself in.

The thing associates usually say is that they detect a bit of the San Francisco origins in the firm culture. While you could certainly go to different offices and find variations on the theme, that culture is important. We're not interventionist, that culture has taken root and grown organically throughout the firm. And I think that is probably true for a number of reasons. Firstly, a great deal of self selection in who's interested in joining. The things people find attractive about us often include our culture. Second, it's reinforced in the priorities that leadership communicates with our staff and our attorneys, as well as the way in which folks treat each other in all levels of the organisation.

CA: Is there anything else you would like to add?

CM: I would say that students ought to give themselves a position to invest in themselves over the long haul. Part of what that means is finding a firm with opportunity, time to grow – finding a firm that is willing to invest in their training and development. So much of what we have done on the firm management side has been focused on improving and developing the comprehensive training program we provide. I hope that would be something at the forefront of students minds as they consider what they want do.

 

Interview with Morrison & Foerster chief legal talent officer, Diane Cardona Downs



Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive?

Diane Cardona Downs:At entry level we hire between 90 and 110 people from a combination of sources, but primarily on campus at the top 15 law schools. There are some other schools where we have strong regional ties, alumni connections or a subject matter connection between one of our practices and the school, but the bulk is at the top 15 schools around the nation.

More and more we're looking at spring recruitment for first year recruits. The trend started with the patent group who have some special training and special skill-sets; they started an effort to recruit first-years and we made it a summer program for the main areas too.

We also field some entry positions through traditional clerkship hiring.

For lateral hiring it is a little more unpredictable. We do forecast what our expected hiring might be – for 2016 we predicted 40-50 – but we can't accurately predict the attrition that will occur. We are committed to getting to know laterals before they apply so that they understand the culture and what it's like working here. There are lots of ways to get to know us: through blogs, the website or informal interactions with us.

One recruitment focus is on our Bay Area initiative. Technology is an important part of the firm as it affects many practice areas. Corporate has tech transactions and IP can service tech clients through patent and patent prosecution. So we're always looking for people with a tech background – that's always the same.

CA: Are different offices going to be looking for different things from candidates?

DCD: That's a great question. I think the answer is yes, certainly. Each office has its own distinct personality but our culture has some distinct themes throughout. We try to do the best work with the best colleagues – that is constant. Our personalities, client bases and environments differ, but we're still looking for candidates with intellectual agility, communication skills – oral and written – and those who can collaborate in teams and provide great client service.

CA: How would you advise someone prepares for their interview?

DCD: We want to see enthusiasm for practicing and learning, and a demonstration of intellectual agility. That is shown through grades and engagement with a journal or project. We want to see what excites them intellectually. It matters to clients so it is what matters to us. And there is teamwork and collaboration too – we we want to see that demonstrated.

CA: Some associates felt the firm has a preference for candidates with a little more experience, be it work experience or clerking – is that something you look for?

DCD: It’s not a criteria we articulate to interviewing partners, but some maturity is helpful. Sometimes that translates into work experience. Because of our patent and prosecution litigation we're also looking for other degrees. In many cases that group will have had other experience that led them to law school. But for entry level associates, for many this would be their first work experience.

CA: What are you trying to achieve with your summer program?

DCD: We hire directly into our practice groups so the summer program is about giving real work and training opportunities so that summers can see what life is like here and we see how they fare. They will be working with the team they will join as an associate. The goal is to start their career the right way. Like most firms we have a 10 week program, focused on reading and writing and doing real work, monitored by a work coordinator and a mentor. It's a slower pace than real life, but it's the same work and expectation in terms of output.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

DCD: This has long been a value of Mofo – we have many efforts and we're very proud of our entry level recruiting and of our diversity fellowship. We hire 5-10 1L fellows to do two summer programs.

With regards to lateral recruiting, we are always looking to diversify our talent pool. In order to maintain our focus we have a couple of sub-committees who we work closely with to analyze our results and keep that issue at the highest level. It's critical to our success and for clients to be getting the best results. We all know that the best solutions come from a diverse team. That is our focus, to get the best product out to the client. That is why we are so committed.

CA: Are there any common misconceptions about the firm which you come across when interviewing? Anything you think needs to be cleared up?

DCD: I actually think that in terms of brand it is pretty clear. We have had different tag lines and campaigns like 'we take our work seriously but not ourselves so seriously.' It's collaborative and a great place to work – the message is out there and I see how attractive that is to lawyers. People know it is a service business and they will have to work incredibly hard wherever they go. But as for where they should go to be most engaged and invested in, that part of the brand is strong and clear.

The other part of the message would be that we are doing the best work at the cutting edge, helping clients with the most serious issues and serving as collaborators and trusted advisers. We are up there doing the best work in the industry, I don't want that lost amid the other pieces of our brand.

More on getting hired from associates...



 

While by no means a requirement, one associate observed that “a lot of lawyers at MoFo are interesting because they have take time out and had a slightly different life, and I think that helps them to be a good lawyer. Or they may just maintain a hobby outside of work. The head of our group was a musician who toured the world. It gives a better sense of the global picture and allows you to talk to clients as real people.” Another associate continued that “everyone is quite lawyer-y: a nerd for the law. People here are cerebral and have done interesting things before coming to the law.” For some this demonstrated a certain desirable quality: “a willingness to work and go for it.” Though the firm is looking for the “complete package and it's case by case, they look for people who have shown commitment to something and a capacity to work hard toward a goal they have set themselves.”

Another associate told us that for interviews it helped to “be excited. That's what I got from interviewing.” Others involved in recruiting could gauge a good interviewee when “you can tell they would be happy to step into the team, play a role and learn a lot. You get that from their excitement and enthusiasm. Everyone you interview is at a certain level of intelligence and has gone through great schools but really it is a personality fit. I'd describe MoFo lawyers as sharp and intelligent but don't take themselves too seriously. You can talk to more senior lawyers here and ask them questions, and you won't be humiliated for not knowing something. We prize the energy and stamina to continually learn and take feedback. Not being too sensitive to that feedback takes a certain personality – it's a daily exercise in insecurity!” 

 

Morrison & Foerster LLP

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

  • Head Office: San Francisco, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 8
  • Number of international offices: 8
  • Worldwide revenue: $945,100,000
  • Partners (US): 248
  • Associates (US): 394
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,462/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes, case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes, case by case
  • Summers 2017: 77 (2Ls) + 24 (1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 107 offers, 87 acceptances and 5 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; global risk and crisis management; intellectual property; life sciences; mergers and acquisitions; privacy and data security; private equity; 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 16 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 2017:
Berkeley, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, UC Davis, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, McGill, Michigan, Northwestern, New York University, Penn, USD, Santa Clara, Stanford,Texas, UCLA, USC, Virginia, 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.