Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP - The Inside View

Democratic Munger rocks the geek-chic.

THIS California-based firm's small size doesn't stop it from gobbling up tip-top cases, with an appetite for the toughest litigation matters. As one of our junior sources proudly claimed, “Munger prizes itself on accepting hard cases and marketing itself to clients as a place that solves problems in a creative, intellectual way.” This means that “it attracts more intellectually curious, academically minded folks who are in perpetual pursuit of the perfect brief. We're a bunch of law nerds really.” There's still an injection of cool from media deals though, including representing Dr Dre's company Beats Electronics, recently purchased by Apple for an earsplitting $3 billion. Chambers USA ranks Munger as top of the class in both litigation and media & entertainment in The Golden State. 

The firm stays true to its Cali roots with a unique committee-based management structure which treats everything from hiring to strategy to office décor as a democracy: one lawyer, one vote. As you can imagine, “putting a bunch of lawyers in a room and asking them to make a decision isn't always the most efficient way to get things done.” But the advantages are clear. Junior associates felt that “people here just want to be lawyers, and there are no rainmakers or social climbers who are only here to bring in clients. All the most important partners are here because they're really smart lawyers, not politicians or great business people.”

The Work

Munger is unusual in the world of BigLaw for declining to split its fee-earners into defined practice areas. Instead, attorneys right up to partnership pick and mix their work, although as one source revealed: “As you become more adept and knowledgeable in certain areas they become your de facto practices.” For almost all associates (apart from a handful of corporate juniors in LA) this means picking from Munger's litigation practices. Munger is ranked in Chambers USA for its contentious work in antitrust, energy regulatory, labor & employment, appellate, general commercial, real estate and tax. Our sources reported taking center stage in court early on: “The firm tries to get juniors to take at least one or two depositions in their first year. As you get on the novelty wears off but as a young attorney it really meant a lot to me.” Juniors also get to take the limelight in the firm's Band 1-ranked media & entertainment practice, which handles big-name clients, including defending Warner/Chappell Music in a class action challenging their rights to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday To You,” the most popular song in the English language.

“At least one or two depositions in their first year."

Some juniors worried that “other attorneys aren't always available to walk you through things, so you have to figure things out on your own. It can be exciting but also incredibly stressful.” It also takes confidence to navigate the firm's work allocation system - juniors told us that “on your first day you are given a few assignments to pick from, so who and what you're working on is up to chance if you don't speak up.” On the plus side, as one junior found, “I started out working on both a consumer class action and a patent dispute. At most firms I wouldn't have been able to do both at the same time.”

Training & Development

Juniors at Munger don't get the comprehensive training programs available at its rivals. Support tends to take place on a one-to-one basis. As one source explained, “I've found my mentor has been extraordinary. The firm gives mentors specific items they need to instruct their mentees about.” There are also periodic associate-organized training lunches for extra support, and formal reviews every six months which are “mostly geared toward catching any glaring problems.” Overall, as one source concluded, “although the firm has some support systems in place such as mentors, we're still a smaller firm and we pride ourselves on our freewheeling culture. We rely on people who are out of their depth to reach out.”

"My mentor has been extraordinary."


Most Munger juniors are based in downtown LA, and there's also a smaller office in San Francisco. The firm provides “a dining room area with a lot of vending machines and microwaves and places to sit.” Another perk is abundant hole-foods courtesy of “free bagels and donuts for everybody on Thursdays.” Three times a week, there are also catered all-attorney lunches with outside speakers that could be “both from the firm and the legal community – we've also had anything from jet propulsion engineers to members of symphonies coming to play.” These lunches are also a cunning way to cultivate firm closeness as “there's a video monitor so we can see everyone in San Fran and vice versa.”

“Free bagels and donuts.”


Juniors told us that “the firm tries hard to have a flat hierarchy and minimizes the divide between partners and associates.” This even extends to the language used in the firm – managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones explains that “we try not to use the word 'associate' here. We prefer to use the word attorney because everyone's an attorney and everyone's equal.” Juniors spoke of a “consensus mentality. It can mean decisions are slow and time-consuming but people here really care about getting it right.” Junior associates play key roles in the committees that lead the firm, and have taken a lead on increasing the amount of training at the firm and on bringing in new pro bono matters. As one summarized: “There's a culture of transparency, democracy and an 'if you want something changed go and do it' type attitude.”

“We try not to use the word 'associate' here."

The firm holds weekly 'sherry sips' – which serve beer, wine and nibbles rather than Andalucia's finest tipple – but sources found that “firm socializing is limited because most people have families. If it's important to you to have a work-together-play-together firm that's not us, but if you want to go home and do your own thing, that's us.” The exception is over the firm's summer program, where there are events including dinners at partners' houses, an art tour, and "a retreat where we spent the weekend in Napa and toured a winery."

Munger's atmosphere might not be a tipple that's to everyone's taste – our sources were clear that their employer is a “pretty intellectual, academic-minded firm where people are interested in talking about the theory behind the law.” This isn't just restricted to elite legal eagle sherry meetings either, as “at lunch people will talk about their cases just because they find them interesting." Another interviewee reminisced that “my 1L lawyering skills professor recommended Munger to me. He said 'You'd fit right in because they're a bunch of really big nerds like you.'"

Hours & Compensation

This “freewheeling culture” extends to hours at Munger, too. There's no billable hours target or requirement, although most of our junior sources end up aiming for around 2,000 hours, which is standard for BigLaw firms. Less typically, one source explained that “there's not a heavy face time requirement or expectation, and there's a lot of flexibility when it comes to working remotely. The hours everybody else works are distributed letterhead wide, so that's the way people tell how much you're working.” When it comes to vacations, “there's no set number of days or process. People do cover for you, but it requires a certain confidence to speak up and ask for it as a junior.” Although new associates don't get a bonus in their first year, another plus is the “opportunity to get a significantly above-market bonus based on your performance.”

“There's not a heavy face time requirement."

Pro Bono

Sources at the firm talked about their pro bono cases in the same breath as more heavily remunerated matters, explaining that “it's a surprisingly big priority. Munger regularly brings in pro bono clients, and there's no distinction as far as I can tell in the credit you're given.” Sources reported working on capital punishment cases from Louisiana, state habeus petitions, and a suit for a trafficking victim raising civil claims against her traffickers. The firm also took a high-profile role securing a ruling against Ferguson, Missouri officials. See our Bonus Features for more.

“A surprisingly big priority."

Pro bono hours  

• For all attorneys across all offices: 15,894

• Average per attorney: 84.3 


Bringing up baby is a little easier here thanks to Hope Street Friends, an onsite childcare center shared with two other firms. One family-focused junior pointed out that “it's just downstairs so you can pop in and see your kids during the day, and a lot of people do.” Another source felt that “there's an understanding that people at the firm have their family as their first priority. To me that's the only way you can live so it's important to be at a place others can understand that.” Juniors pointed to firm lunches devoted to discussing work/life balance for people who have children, firmwide new baby announcements, generous paternity leave, and a mentoring program specifically for new parents as further examples of the firm's family-friendly vibe.

"See your kids during the day."

There's also a newly expanded MTO Fellows Program designed to increase the diversity of the firm's intake. The year-long program puts 20-30 aspiring law school students through a customized LSAT preparation course, monthly workshops and networking events.

Get Hired

Munger is known for applying stricter GPA cutoffs than many BigLaw firms. As one associate highlighted: “To overcome less stellar grades you must have a really sparkling personality.” Juniors also warned that “callbacks are a little more rigorous and extended than at other firms. Only two firms asked me a substantive legal question at OCI and Munger was one of them.” However, recruiting committee cochair Kathy Ku tells us that “it's fair to say we have a pretty strong filter, but grades don't necessarily trump everything else. We look at very strong performers who have also exhibited leadership.” Associates agreed, noting that “our low leverage means that junior folks need to steer the ship on case management more than at other firms.”

"Rhodes Scholars, opera singers..."

In characteristically democratic style, Munger votes on every candidate who's up to join the firm. It takes something special to shine in front of the committee: another recruiting cochair, Manuel Cachan, adds: “We've had people who've been Rhodes Scholars, opera singers, have started a business, or have PhDs in biology. The common thread is they're all interesting people you want to spend time with.” Successful applicants are also particularly likely to have scored federal clerkships, we heard.

Strategy & Future

A few associates noticed that “we may be taking on cases that are a little bigger than we took historically. Our branding used to be that we solved the hardest problems, not the biggest problems, but now we're taking cases that we don't have the stable of associates to handle.” Managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones contends that “we've always had larger cases, right throughout our history,” pointing to high-profile work involving Exxon Mobil and Salomon Brothers. But she adds: “We might have more big cases now, which is a reflection of the maturity and success of our senior partners.”

“We've always had larger cases."

When it comes to growing out of its current Cali heartland, Seville-Jones tells us that “we will always look at new opportunities, but have no immediate plans. Our San Francisco office has grown organically over the past year or two. We've got quite a recruiting demand there because the area's very attractive to young attorneys, but we have to be careful not to grow too fast.” Her words of advice for applicants interested in either office are that “the most successful candidates are the ones who want to own their careers. We have a system where people can choose their own cases, find the area of law they want to be in, and really develop that from the day they get here.”

Munger's pro bono work in Ferguson

Even summarizing the events in Ferguson in 2014 is controversial. To remind you: Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black male, was shot dead by white police officer Darren Wilson after stealing cigarillos from a convenience store. Protestors allege that his arms were raised in surrender at the time of his death: the police have contended that he was moving toward Officer Wilson. The ensuing protests spread nationwide, as campaigners drew attention to other cases where unarmed black men and boys were shot by police.

Meanwhile, in Ferguson, media reports circulated of police establishing curfews, deploying riot squads and using increasingly drastic tactics to restore order. Munger's managing partner Sandra Seville-Jones tells us that "an associate here, Thomas Paul Clancy, was reading about what was happening in Ferguson and said that we needed to get involved. We approached the ACLU and the associates really took a lead from there. It's emblematic of our culture, which is very egalitarian and encourages associates to come to us with ideas."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had already filed a suit against the so-called 'five-second rule', which law enforcement were using to bar protesters from standing still on the sidewalks for more than five seconds. US District Judge Catherine Perry initially ruled against the suit, refusing to grant a temporary restraining order on the use of the rule. This wasn't the luckiest of starts to the ACLU's case, and made for a challenging task for Munger.

The firm sought to turn the tide using several peaceful protestors as witnesses, along with an expert in police practice. Their case emphasized that the rule was inconsistently enforced, and therefore likely to heighten tensions in Ferguson rather than deterring protest. Judge Perry granted a preliminary injunction against the rule on October 6th, just under two months since it was first challenged.

Other notable pro bono work by Munger includes the firm's work in 2013 representing Equality California1 in the US Court of Appeals, defending Senate Bill 1172, which bans state-license therapists from practicising sexual orientation change efforts on minors.

The firm also acts for the Service Women's Action Network in challenging the Defense Department's policy of gender discrimination in military combat, and has won victories affirming the due process rights of suspected gang members, and formed part of a year-long investigation into violence in Los Angeles jails.

Who is Charlie Munger?

Founding MTO partner Charles Munger is one the US's most intriguing and influential men. Born in on New Year's Day in 1924, in Omaha, Nebraska, Munger studied math at the University of Michigan, served in the US Army Air Corps, trained at Caltech and read law at Harvard Law School. In 1962, along with six colleagues, he founded Munger Tolles & Olsen. Throughout his time at the firm he worked as a real estate lawyer, eventually leaving to concentrate on his investments.

Munger is known for several things beyond the law – most notably his philanthropy and long-term friendship/investment partnership with billionaire Warren Buffett.


Munger is a major benefactor of the University of Michigan and Stanford Law School. In 2007, he made a $3 million gift to the UofM Law School for various improvements to the buildings, including the Reading Room. In 2011 he made a further gift, donating $20 million for renovations to the Lawyers Club Housing complex – covering most of the $39 million cost. In 2013 he donated a $110 million gift to fund a residence designed to foster a community of scholars for graduate students. The gift includes $10 million for a graduate student fellowship.

Munger's late wife, Nancy B. Munger, and his daughter from a previous marriage are alumni of Stanford University. In 2004, the Mungers donated 500 shares of stock valued at $43.5 million to build a graduate student housing complex. It now houses 600 law and graduate students.


Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger have been friends since the 1970s, and Munger's been Buffett's right-hand man at Berkshire Hathaway since 1978. There are however stark political differences between them. Buffett has been a long-term supporter of the Democrats, while Munger is known to be a Republican. Munger is also a successful investor in his own right.

Munger is known for his somewhat controversial comments, such as the 2011 CNN Money interview, in which he argued the financial industry should be downsized by at least 80%. His perhaps most famous quote was spurred on by Buffett. Munger said: “The best advice I ever got from Warren was to stop practicing law. Warren was very derisory about my chosen profession, which had been in my family for a couple of generations. He thought it was all right as a hobby, but as a business it was pretty stupid.” At 91 years old, Munger remains a mighty force in American society and is showing very few signs of slowing down.

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

355 South Grand Avenue,
35th Floor,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071-1560

  • Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Worldwide revenue: $266,000,000
  • Partners (US): 87
  • Associates (US): 107
  • Summer Salary 2015  
  • 1Ls: $3,080/week
  • 2Ls: $3,080/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3080/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Summers 2015:  30+ 2Ls, 2 1Ls (1Ls are not eligible for offers)
  • Offers/acceptances 2014: 24 offers, 5 acceptances (unlike other fi rms, we do not have offer deadlines)

Main areas of work

For more than 50 years, Munger, Tolles & Olson attorneys have been partnering with clients on their most important and complex cases and deals. With offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco, we maintain a national and international practice. Our principal areas of practice include litigation, white collar, trials, corporate, labor and employment, environmental, real estate, financial restructuring and tax.

Firm profile

Munger Tolles has purposefully maintained a low-leverage environment. We believe our one to one overall partner to associate ratio empowers all of our 200 lawyers to make a difference in developing and implementing strategies to obtain the best results for the client. We are involved in some of the most high profile legal cases in the country and count among our clients Bank of America, Wells Fargo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Transocean, Edison International, Verizon, KB Home, LG Display, Yucaipa Cos. and Berkshire Hathaway.

Recruitment details

Number of 1st year associates: 4

Number of 2nd year associates: 12 

Associate salaries: 1st year: $160,000 

2nd year: $170,000 

Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2015:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Loyola, Michigan, NYU, Penn, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Yale

Summer details

Summer associate profile:
We believe that our firm can be a platform for individuals who want to actively solve their client’s issues and become partners in our one-tier partnership. We look for those who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their prior pursuits and who bring both intellectual curiosity and a sense of individuality to an already extremely talented and diverse group of lawyers.

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 do meaningful work and work closely with attorneys in various practice areas. 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 facilitate feedback during the summer. Your summer will include invitations to attend our weekly lunches, training programs, social events and practice group meetings.