Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP - The Inside View

Lean staffing and a democratic approach are the big draws at this perky West Coaster.

THE reasons why juniors targeted Munger are pretty clear-cut: “Two things stood out,” one representative interviewee told us. “The first was that the partner to associate ratio was pretty close to 1:1, which means that you get to work closely with the partners and have more client contact. The second was the overall culture of the firm: we are small and have a flat structure, which leads to democracy; associates get to vote on new hires and offices, for example, which is a pretty appealing prospect.” We'll delve further into how these two aspects influence the associate experience shortly…

In the meantime, let's return to this point about Munger's size. It is indeed quite small, clocking in at 200 lawyers spread across three offices in LA (the HQ), San Francisco and DC. The DC office, co-managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones tells us, “was opened at the tail end of 2016 with former Solicitor General Don Verrilli. We are thrilled with how that office is starting to grow and it provides people who are interviewing with us opportunities to practice in three major cities.”

With regard to Munger's overall practice, Seville-Jones sees the firm's trial practice “as our backbone; people know that we are willing to go to trial and that we're formidable opponents. We do also have a strong transactional practice, which is important as it enables us to be a full-service firm.” Chambers USA reveals that litigation is certainly Munger's forte, with top regional rankings awarded to the firm's media, white-collar, securities and general commercial expertise. However, Munger's corporate/M&A know-how also picks up a high nod in Southern Cali, while its real estate and tax practices are acknowledged too.

The Work



Before they start, associates specify whether they wish to join Munger's litigation or corporate group. Most of the juniors on our list had pitched up in litigation, where they are assigned a specific partner to help them find work for their first six months. Once litigators get settled, a more free-market system reigns: “You might get a random call from someone, or you might get offers from partners you've worked on successive cases with, or you can just ask partners to keep you mind if certain opportunities come in.” Juniors liked the system, but did flag that “the hard part is finding the right balance and knowing how much is too much.”

Munger's litigation practice covers various areas, including antitrust, class actions, insurance, securities and white-collar. Juniors can remain generalists, but a few of our sources had “focused in on a couple of areas.” Interviewees were pleased to tell us that “this is not a place where people say 'first and second years can't do that.'” So what does that mean in practice? “Well, within five months of being here I did my first deposition for a $900 million breach of contract case. I was deposing the individual at the center of the case.” Our sources had still been “doing the things that junior associates do, like coordinating discovery,” butwere able to “spend the bulk of the time drafting substantive motions and having input during internal strategy meetings.” Plus, the amount of client contact is reportedly “shocking: our case teams are small, so they trust us to give clients updates and there are opportunities to visit clients on-site.”

“I was deposing the individual at the center of the case.”

Corporate newbies state whether they'd like to join corporate, tax or bankruptcy subdivisions, but we heard that there's still some flexibility to move between each strand. Those in the corporate group told us that “it's a generalist practice, so juniors get a chance to do a bit of everything – M&A, capital markets, funds work, some corporate governance.” Clients vary from “entertainment post-production companies to asset management firms to biotech names in Silicon Valley.” On the whole sources found that this group provides “a good opportunity to get substantive associate experience mixed with standard junior work.” On the standard side there's due diligence, the preparation of ancillary documents and the requirement to “keep track of everything.” The more substantive stuff ramps up in the second year, with one interviewee flagging their role as “the lead associate on a deal, which enabled me to draft the main agreement.”

Culture



Many sources felt that Munger's “low leverage, 1:1 partner to associate ratio” had a significant influence on the culture. Working closely with seniors on projects “translates into a level of comfort when it comes to more social interactions,” juniors told us. “The ratio has informal benefits, as we can all sit and have lunch, mingle, and not be divided by seniority.” Munger's collection of committees also dampen down the sense of hierarchy. There are committees devoted to many aspects of firm life, including policies, diversity and recruitment. Decisions are made via a show of hands that registers the approval or rejection of a certain proposal. “The democratic process is absolutely fantastic,” gushed one interviewee. “As a first-year associate I was sitting on five of the firm's committees – all of which were internal governance ones – and I could say whatever I wanted, vote, and know that my voice was being taken seriously.”

“The democratic process is absolutely fantastic.”

Juniors also suggested that Munger's low leverage attorney pool attracted “people who are more independent” and eager to take on responsibility early. In addition, “we do draw in the kind of people that do clerkships – the type that see their career in law as an intellectual exercise. It is more of a cerebral firm in that respect, with people who like to discuss the issues and think through the challenges.” With a fair number of ex-clerks joining the ranks, Munger's incoming lawyers tend to be a bit older, “and many people have families, so they have commitments that draw them away from work at the end of the day.” This doesn't bode well for a particularly buzzing social life, but sources generally felt that there was “a happy medium” at Munger: “People can partake in as much as they like. There's no pressure to go and party at the end of the week.” Social activities include weekly 'sherry-sips,' bi-weekly lunchtime gatherings and an annual firm-wide retreat, which is typically held in Southern California.

Pro Bono



Does Munger support pro bono? “Absolutely” was the resounding answer from juniors. “There's no cap on pro bono and it counts just the same as billable hours. It provides us with opportunities that are not always available from the work conducted for paying clients, so they encourage us to develop our skills and make a difference in the community.” Munger is one of the highest pro bono billers per attorney in our guide.

Munger has a longstanding relationship with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), but we heard from associates who'd picked up work on behalf of various causes: some had taken on asylum matters, while others had clocked up hours on pro bono arbitrations and education cases “which involved taking depositions and getting hands-on experience during a trial.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 25,696
  • Average per attorney: 135.5

Training & Development



Munger is “definitely a place where you learn by doing,” juniors revealed, highlighting the benefits of low leverage again: “We have such easy and ready access to partners at the firm. I like knowing that they are directly reviewing my product, which allows me to learn from them and demonstrate that I'm growing as an attorney.”

Corporate juniors explained that “having a formal training program is a bit much for just a small group of new starters,” while litigators emphasized that there are still some sessions available to steer them in the right direction: “Shortly after starting we did a day of training, which covered all aspects of litigation, like discovery and strategy, and since then we've had other sessions on briefs and depositions – within the first six months we probably do about 30 hours of formal training.” The firm also emphasized to us that it has been increasing the amount of formal training it offers.

Hours & Compensation



Munger doesn't impose any billing requirements or goals on its associates, who told us that “people typically end up billing somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 hours. There's not an expectation to go much over that, but if someone has a big trial they can shoot through to the mid 2,000s.” Base-level compensation is market-rate, but bonuses are allocated based on each individual's contribution. Hiring partner Carolyn Hoecker Luedtke explains that “there's no formula – bonuses are based on lots of things: somebody may have had a year where they billed an extraordinary number of hours, or they may have achieved an extraordinary result on a matter, or done something fantastic to contribute, like help to run the summer program – all of these things are recognized.”

“They trust people to do what works best for them.”

“Compared to lawyers in New York, we have one of the more favorable work-life balances,” interviewees also pointed out. Most of them got into the office by 9am and left by 6.30pm, and only logged back on at home “if needed.” There are, of course, busy times: litigators had “pulled a couple of all-nighters, but they're highly abnormal,” while corporate associates reported being “plugged in from home at 2am – clients expect you to be on call at all times.” Juniors did appreciate having the flexibility to work from home “on days where you feel you'd be more productive doing so. Every lawyer here has their own way of doing the job, and they trust people to do what works best for them.”

Diversity



“We're not as diverse as we should be,” associates concurred, “but the firm is thoughtful in a way that reflects the very real problem of the lack of diversity in the profession.” Those thoughts do translate into action: “During last year's 2L summer recruiting season we decided to switch to behavioral interviewing as it tends to do a better job of avoiding bias, and because we are smaller and have this democratic process we were able to get buy-in from the entire firm.”

Juniors can also volunteer to be part of the diversity committee, and some associates were part of a subcommittee focused on pipeline issues. For law students, Munger has a 1L diversity summer program and a diversity scholarship; pre-law students can participate in the MTO Fellows Program, which allows them to gain experience at the firm.

Strategy & Future



“All areas are going to receive attention,” says co-managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones, who explains: “We develop by looking at the issues that our clients face and by letting our lawyers pursue their interests in the law – if they have a passion they can take it and grow it.” She adds that Munger's “entertainment practice and Silicon Valley-oriented work will be very important to the firm's future.”

Get Hired



Given Munger's preference for hiring judicial clerks it is hardly surprising that “the firm really values high grades,” but sources were quick to point out that top marks only tick a box. To truly get a foot in the door, candidates “have to be one of a kind. If it's easy to look at someone's application and just put it in a large bucket of other applications then that candidate is unlikely to be recruited.”

Elaborating further, recruiting partner Carolyn Hoecker Luedtke states: “We love to see people who have started their own businesses or those who are veterans – to me that shows a tremendous work ethic and a high degree of resilience. They are attributes that I have a lot of respect for. Let me give you an example: in our recent intake we had a person who noticed that their law school didn't have a domestic violence clinic. They got together with a couple of friends, founded one, went to the dean of the law school to get funding, and recruited students into it. Something like that shows real initiative and the ability to get stuff done, as well as a passion for an issue that matters to them.”

On the subject of grade cutoffs, Luedtke insists that “it depends on what is on a candidate's resume; if someone has a strong clerkship then the threshold for their grades would be lower. Ideally we like to see people from a top law school who have come out at the top of their class. We do sometimes hire people from schools within the top 50 to 100, but they would've come top of their class.”

Those lucky few that get to the interview should, according to sources, expect “behavioral questions that attempt to explore a candidate's skill set. That forms about 50% of our interviews; the second half is a more traditional exploration of someone's interests and their background.” According to Luedtke, those hoping to impress at interview should “give tangible examples; I love it if they can explain how they have solved problems or been persuasive. I also like people who have a lot of energy and engagement with us – I want to see candidates who are excited about the firm and the work we do as opposed to those who you can tell are just going through the motions."

More on Munger's offices



The majority of Munger's juniors are based in the LA HQ. They recently moved “just across the street” to a brand new office space on South Grand Avenue. “We brought in a pretty prestigious architecture firm to design the space for us and make sure it was super comfortable.” So what are among the best new features? “The color palette is very modern; we have an internal staircase that connects our five floors, which makes things much less disjointed; there are pantries and espresso makers on every floor; and the technology is extremely functional – I have iPad devices that control everything in my room!” Yes, to top it off, juniors get their own offices from day one, and typically move to a bigger space after completing two years at the firm.

“I have iPad devices that control everything in my room!”

Over in San Francisco, Munger occupies two floors of “the J.P. Morgan Building” in the city's financial district. “We're right in the heart of it, so the more skyscrapers they build the less of a view of the bay we get!” At the time of our calls, the DC office hadn't yet picked up any juniors, but just before we went to press the firm informed us that it had made several new associate hires, plucked from the pool of judicial clerks in DC. Overall, sources told us that Munger has “put a lot of effort into integrating all of the offices; the technology makes things very easy, and whenever we have meetings everyone is conferenced in. The litigation case teams generally have people from multiple offices, and we've also had all-firm social events, which have been really lovely.”

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

350 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071
Website www.mto.com

  • Offices: Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Partners (US): 84
  • Associates (US): 106
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Kevinn Villard, kevinn.villard@mto.com
  • Hiring partners: Daniel Levin and Carolyn Luedtke
  • Diversity director: Chantel Moore
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 22-25
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 18
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Los Angeles: 18, San Francisco: 2 (1L Summer Program)
  • Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,461/week 2Ls: $3,461/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes

Main areas of work



  For over a half a century, attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson have been partnering with clients on their most important and complex cases and business deals. We maintain a national and international practice. Our principal areas of practice include bet-the-company litigation (from the outset of the case through trial and any appeals), internal investigations, white collar defense, corporate advice, labor and employment, environmental, real estate, financial restructuring and tax.

Firm profile



  Munger Tolles has for decades intentionally maintained low-leverage. We believe our roughly one-to-one partner-to-associate ratio empowers all of our approximately 200 lawyers to make an impact in the work we do for our clients. We are involved in some of the highest profile cases in the country and count among our clients Bank of America, Wells Fargo, LinkedIn, Facebook, the major motion picture studios, Verizon, Intel, KB Home, LG Display, and Berkshire Hathaway.

Recruitment



 Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2018: Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Yale

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Job Fairs: Bay Area Diversity Career Fair and Penn LA Regional Interview Program

Resume Collections: Duke, Georgetown, Loyola (LA), Northwestern, Texas, UC Irvine, and UVA

Summer associate profile:
We want to hire problem solvers. We look for law students who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their prior pursuits and who bring both leadership, intellectual curiosity, and a sense of individuality to an already extremely talented and diverse group of lawyers. Unlike other law firms, where it has become common to expect that young lawyers will stay only a short time before moving on to other endeavours, we only hire lawyers we believe have the potential to ultimately join our (one-tier) partnership.

Summer program components:
Our summer program will provide you a realistic idea of what it is like to practice law at our firm. You will work closely with attorneys in various practice areas, doing meaningful assignments. Each summer associate is assigned a work coordinator and social advisor. Your work coordinator will find assignments that are of interest to you and provide guidance and feedback during the summer. Your summer will include invitations to attend our weekly lunches, training programs, social events and practice group meetings.

Social media



Recruitment website:www.mto.com/careers
Linkedin:munger-tolles-&-olson

This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Appellate Law Recognised Practitioner
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)