It may sound like a family-run business in rural Ireland, but with 15 offices globally and a range of sophisticated practice areas, this LA-born superstar is anything but quaint.
O'MELVENY & Myers has been part of the Los Angeles business scene since 1885, well before Hollywood showed up. Like the movie industry, O'Melveny has created its own stars and exported its product around the world. It's got five offices in the Golden State alone, bases in New York and Washington, DC and a further eight in major Asian and European business centers like London, Seoul, and Hong Kong. “I'm proud of our LA roots,” chair Brad Butwin tells us, “but I don’t think people think of us solely as an LA firm anymore. We’re an international firm.”
Litigation is a traditional O'Melveny strength, but it also wins Oscars – sorry, Chambers USA rankings – for antitrust, media and entertainment law, tax, bankruptcy, capital markets of both the debt and equity variety, labor and employment, IP, corporate and its federal appellate practice. Possibly more importantly, the firm's work got it name-dropped on The Sopranos. Away from the small screen, O'Melveny plans to keep on keeping on, according to Butwin: “Deepening partnerships with our existing clients and growing in areas in which we already do well is often a better strategy than rebuilding new practices from the ground floor," he tells us.
Having experienced both transactional and litigation work as summer associates, new O'Melvenites join one of these two categories on starting with the firm. O'Melveny is keen to train 'all-round lawyers' rather than specialists. This isn't to say that the firm is dead-set against newbies knowing what they want to do. “Technically, I was a generalist,” recalled one of our sources, “but I was working for my chosen group from the start, and everyone knew this was where I wanted to go.” What it does mean is associates spend the first two or three years at the firm as generalists. As you can imagine, this leads to a good deal of variety for both dispute-settlers and deal-doers.
On the litigation side this can mean the same lawyer can do “antitrust matters, white collar investigations, insurance matters, bankruptcies and securities litigation” before deciding where to end up. For all this variety “there is always going to be some doc review,” lamented one litigator. Happily “we're not doing doc review for 12 hours every day.” Newbies start off by researching and drafting sections of motions and “as you prove yourself, you gradually become responsible for drafting the entire thing.” And it's just as varied on the non-contentious side of the fence, with “real estate transactions, bond deals, mergers and acquisitions and private equity fund formation,” on offer. Responsibility also varies, we're told. “On some deals it's just me and the partner,” an Angeleno told us, “and by the end of it I was doing the majority of the work.” Contrast this with the larger IPOs, which involve “ten attorneys grinding on and getting it ready to go to market.”
"We're not doing doc review 12 hours a day..."
The impression we got from associates was that they originated a lot of their work organically through relationships, although the firm makes sure the whole system is overseen by work coordinators. Our sources found this “a useful backup for when you're either too busy or not busy enough.” Of course, there's not too much of the latter; one New Yorker told us that the firm is “very busy right now, so there isn't much time to sit around twiddling your thumbs.”
Hours, compensation and pro bono
While there's no official billable hours target, office chatter has it that there's an 'unofficial target' of between 1,850 hours and 1,950 hours that associates should aim for if they want to be bonus-eligible. “I always thought it was 1,950, but I've heard others say 1,900,” mused one associate. “There is no formal hours cutoff,” hiring partner Allen Burton tells us, “and billable hours are just one of a number of different factors that we look at when calculating bonuses.” That said, he acknowledges that “1,900 hours is colloquially understood as a general ballpark” by associates.
In addition to billable and pro bono hours (which the firm treats as billable), associate involvement in recruiting, mentoring and business development are all taken into account when calculating bonuses. An average working day begins between 9 and 9.30am, and ends ten hours later between 7 and 7.30pm. Associates can leave at 5pm and work remotely, which was welcomed by those with young children. There are late nights, of course, although remote working means that even the most diligent of attorneys can avoid spending too much time in the office. “The latest I've stayed is probably 10pm,” reported one informant “but just because I'm not in the office doesn't mean I'm not still working.” Of course with “clients based in Europe and Asia” and tight court deadlines, some late nights are unavoidable, with a few associates reporting staying until 1 or even 2am.
"Just because I'm not in the office doesn't mean I'm not working."
O'Melveny, our sources told us, takes pro bono very seriously. “This is an excellent BigLaw firm to work for if pro bono work is something you think is part of your obligations as a lawyer,” enthused one source. The good news is there's no cap on the number of pro bono hours that associates can treat as billable. Every new O'Melvenian is given at least one pro bono case to work on in their first year. Work varies from “advising the directors of a non-profit on corporate governance,” to "helping veterans with PTSD get discharge upgrades” all the way to “prosecuting misdemeanors at the Rodondo Beach DA's office.” According to chair Brad Butwin, the firm is a founder of the Court Square Law Project, a 'low bono' organization that will operate out of the City University of New York law school and will provide discount legal services to low-to-middle income clients.
Pro bono hours
“'Welcoming' is the first buzzword that comes to mind when you mention O'Melveny & Myers,” an Angeleno told us. Apparently the second is 'Californian,' but our sources suggested “that might evoke a bit of a carefree attitude.” Of course, despite the surfer dude stereotypes, neither California nor O'Melveny are places for slackers. “Because it was founded in California, the firm is a little more down-to-earth than others,” a New Yorker told us, “but like California it's also high achieving.” Others were struck by their colleagues' enthusiasm for their chosen fields; “this seems like a strange thing to say,” admitted one, “but all the partners and senior associates seem to love their practice areas.”
With the exception of Newport Beach, most of the folks we spoke to at O'Melveny thought the firm did “fairly well” on the diversity front. “During the recruitment process, we keep an eye on diversity at all levels,” an insider told us. “This includes sex and gender, race, age and economic background.” The firm certainly makes an “effort to reach out to all kinds of diverse attorneys.” It offers the usual range of affinity groups, and there's “an associate group that can bring issues to the partners' attention.” There's also a program called CustOMMize that allows attorneys to work on a reduced schedule.
"We keep an eye on diversity at all levels."
Applicants usually meet two lawyers at the OCI stage. According to a source who'd been one of those two lawyers, “personality fit” is “98% of what we're looking for,” with the remaining 2% dedicated to making sure the candidate's academics are up to scratch. Questions were described as “fairly typical” although occasionally an interviewer might put an applicant on the spot with something like “what's the hardest decision you've ever had to make?” Having “a well thought out reason for wanting to be here,” can only help an application to the California offices, but it isn't something the firm makes an issue of. “We obviously don't want people using us for a free vacation to LA,” explained someone from the city, “but the bar isn't too high.”
According to insiders, interesting summer jobs, experiences of community work, mock trial and moot court experiences and having served on a journal are all things that can help wow interviewers. Hiring partner Allen Burton agrees, telling us: “We look for candidates that have diverse life experiences that reflect a commitment to citizenship and leadership.” In particular, he cites people who have experience “helping others, taking chances and taking ownership of any difficult situations they have encountered,” as prime examples of those “likely to succeed at O'Melveny & Myers.” Burton adds that the ability to “look a client in the eye and answer the question 'what do I do?'” rather than simply quoting statute is something the firm really values.
Training & Development
An early orientation lasting a few days is followed by regular seminar talks across the first month, where various staff members “tell us what we're getting into.” We heard good reports of the firm's new associate mentoring program, which pairs neophytes with more senior members of the firm. “You meet for coffees and lunches,” said an associate, “they'll ask how work's going and you can share any concerns you have.” Associate mentors are usually responsible for gathering and delivering feedback, to supplement the feedback given in the formal review process, which newbies appreciated. “It's nice to have a neutral third party giving you feedback,” one told us, “as they will pass negative feedback on in a way that doesn't sound too critical.”
"It's nice to have a neutral third party giving you feedback..."
The formal review process starts with attorneys filling out a report evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. “Even the partners have to do it,” whispered one insider. Any partner that the reviewee has spent more than 5% of their billable time with will have the opportunity to read a summary report and write a review. A partner collates all of this feedback into one large report which they then discuss with the individual at a face to face meeting. “You don't know who has said what,” someone who'd been through the process told us, which spares some awkward conversations. It's at this stage that attorneys find out whether they're bonus-eligible, but it's also a chance to get useful feedback on their performance to date.
The firm avowedly has no official HQ, although headquarterly things like firm retreats, the first-year leadership academy and much of the admin do take place in Los Angeles. Sources in other offices were quick to tell us that the firm felt “more like a well-connected network than a hub with satellite offices.” Where the center of gravity lies often depends on the individual practice area. DC is big on the appellate front, for example, while Century City hosts most of the firm's entertainment law practice, and San Fran associates are likely to encounter IP work.
Strategy & Future
Chair Brad Butwin tells us the plan is to focus on what he calls “the double down strategy.” The goal, he says, is “to focus on clients who already use our services and to deepen those relationships across geographies and departments.” In other words, O'Melveny plans to build on its existing relationships by doing more stuff in more locations for its existing clients. That's not to say that the firm doesn't have growth on the mind, but that it will be “prudent, demand-driven growth,” rather than growth for its own sake.
Picture the scene. After four years of college, three years of law school, and more debt than the Greek government, you're finally ready. Ready to move out West to the Golden State and start your glittering legal career. Just imagine it; spending your weekdays representing movie stars in LA or startups in Palo Alto, followed by a blissful weekend surfing in San Diego or relaxing in Palm Springs. In fact, there's more to California than just Hollywood and Facebook. Sometimes it seems to have it all; Hollywood, Silicon Valley, agriculture, tourism, aerospace and services. There's no disputing that the Golden State has had a rough couple of years. but it's come out fighting and has been leading the US's recovery. If it was a country, California would have the 8th largest national economy in the world, ahead of Italy and Russia.
All of this business activity means ample opportunity for the State's 186,511 pracising attorneys. There's only one thing standing between you and a piece of the action: the California Bar Exam. It's not the longest in the nation (at 21 hours, that dubious honor belongs to Louisiana), but it's widely agreed to be the hardest. It famously took Compton City Councilman and civil rights activist Maxcy Filer 48 goes to pass it. And in fact, it might even be getting harder; the July 2015 sitting saw the worst pass rate since 1986. Gulp. It's not all bad news; in 2015, the State bar reduced the exam from three gruelling days to two gruelling days, effective July 2015. Day One will see would-be attorneys do five one-hour essay questions followed by a 90 minute performance test containing a hypothetical research task. Then, on day two it's the multistate bar exam. Although they're now common across the country, California was the first state to introduce a performance test.
So why is it so hard? Opinions are divided; but one reason is the way the test is marked. California bar examiners grad the test strictly to screen out question- spotters. Too many applicants waste time reciting boilerplate law rather than applying it. Another example is the sheer breadth of topics covered. Critics claim that it's a way for California lawyers to protect their own position at the expense of new entrants. Its supporters defend it as necessary to protect the public from sub-par lawyering. A few even question whether it is as hard as people claim, with some attributing the relatively low pass rate to the fact that, unlike other states, California allows graduates of unaccredited correspondence colleges to sit the bar. Whatever the reason, it's a high hurdle, and it has to be vaulted if you want to get practicing by the beach.
Better get studying.
O'Melveny & Myers LLP
400 South Hope Street,
- Head Office: N/A
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 8
- Worldwide revenue: $689,252,000
- Partners (US): 184
- Associates (US): 419
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,100/week
- 2Ls: $3,100/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,100/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 92
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 63 offers, 47 acceptances; some offers outstanding due to judicial clerkships
Main areas of work
O’Melveny advises industry-leading clients on a full range of cutting-edge litigation, transactional, and regulatory matters. For a complete listing of our client services, please visit www.omm.com.
O’Melveny’s clients shape markets, set precedents, and break boundaries. And for more than a century, O’Melveny has been right beside them, helping our clients achieve their most important goals. Regularly recognized for excellence and innovation, we are also committed to cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment and to strengthening our communities through pro bono work, which we treat as equal to billable work. Our unique talent development program—which includes a career development advisor, in-person upward reviews that allow associates to provide feedback to partners on their supervisory skills and an award-winning flexibility program—enhances your professional experience.
• Number of 1st year associates: 33
• Number of 2nd year associates: 67
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley, Brooklyn, Chapman, Chicago, Columbia, UC Davis, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Hastings, Howard, Lavender Law, Loyola, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Rutgers, Santa Clara, Southwestern, Stanford, Texas, UCI, UCLA, University of Washington, USC, UVA, Yale
Summer associate profile:
O’Melveny is looking for summer associates with outstanding academic and personal credentials from diverse backgrounds. We strive to find students with strong interpersonal skills and a desire to work in a collegial atmosphere that values teamwork. In addition to activities like journal work and moot court, we look for a keen interest in O’Melveny’s practices, culture, and attorneys.
Summer program components:
Our summer program offers an inside look at what it is like to practice at O’Melveny. During our ten-week program, summer associates work on major cases and transactions, support ongoing pro bono matters, participate in targeted training and development programs, and join in social events to get to know our attorneys. Experiential training includes our Advocacy Institute, Mock Deal Program, and opportunities to accompany O’Melveny lawyers to deal closings, client meetings, depositions, and court appearances. Our work coordination system ensures our summers are exposed to a variety of practice areas, attorneys, and types of work. Mentors, ongoing feedback, and a midsummer review help our summer associates make the most of their experiences.