Long before Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone hit the scene, O'Melveny & Myers was already lighting up La-La Land.
CAN you imagine Los Angeles as a small 19th century frontier town? None of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood? Little more than 5,000 occupants? Well, this was the LA where the firm that is now O'Melveny & Myers first made its mark in 1885. O'Melveny today has over 700 lawyers in 15 offices worldwide, but still plays a pivotal role in the bustling LA scene. The BigLaw firm has a reputation for “laid back California vibes,” which interviewees found to be “100% true.” Some found their OCI here “the only interview where I really felt I could be myself.” Others said “it didn't feel like they were trying to interview me to be an attorney; rather, to be a part of their organization.”
“The only interview where I really felt I could be myself.”
The firm gains Oscar-worthy rankings in Chambers USA for numerous practices in its California stronghold, plus New York and DC, including antitrust, bankruptcy, general commercial and white collar litigation, media & entertainment, and tax. Nationwide, the firm also gains recognition in areas including ERISA and insurance litigation, securities regulation, and projects, including renewables. While sources characterized O'Melveny as “definitely a litigation firm,” they pointed out that “we're trying to bolster our transactional groups to even it out a bit.”
Just under three-quarters of juniors on our interviewee list were in litigation. The remaining quarter dealt with transactional matters. In both areas the work stays pretty general; it isn't until the third year that rookies can specialize. During this time, “the people are really good at getting you exposed to a variety of areas, and working on things you're interested in.” Both litigators and transactional folks have a work adviser who “ensures you are being fed assignments from the expressed interests you've talked about.” However, work assignment can also be more free market if you want it to be: “As you get more senior it's a little less rigid. You develop relationships with certain partners and end up working for them.” The work coordinator meant they “felt protected if I accidentally take on too much.”
Litigation's ample umbrella covers many areas including securities litigation, white collar and investigations, insurance litigation, antitrust, and general commercial disputes. This allows juniors the option to “explore many different areas” before specializing. Juniors were often in charge of “a broad overview of the entire case” and “keeping tabs on everything.” They also spent much time speaking with experts: “I'm in a position where there are some subject matters that nobody else understand as well as I do. The partnership trusts us to understand what's going on because there's so much going on. They can't take the time to learn everything.”
“I'd say less than 5% of my time is spent on doc review.”
Juniors said they didn't do much doc review: “I've had one doc review assignment all year. I'd say less that 5% of my time is spent on it.” Others relished substantive tasks like writing briefs and motions, calls with opposing counsel, witness prep, and witness interviews over the phone. One even said “I had the opportunities as a first-year to do witness interviews on my own.” Many interviewees felt they had “enough oversight that it's not totally overwhelming, but enough responsibility that I'm growing as an attorney and not stuck in one place.” Others reckoned “it's definitely a priority of the firm to try to give juniors as much responsibility as is appropriate on the case.” Even with client contact, sources felt they had “significant opportunities to have my voice heard.” This came especially with smaller matters where juniors were “the first point of contact to the client.”
Transactional groups cover areas such as M&A, public companies, venture financing, and general banking and financing. Areas like bankruptcy felt more like “a good mix of litigation-side bankruptcy work and transactional bankruptcy work,” despite being a “technically transactional” group. A third-year banking associate felt that “in the last year or so, the work has been transitioning to more substantive tasks.” Initial work included classic junior tasks: legal research, keeping track of checklists, having documents printed and ready for the team, and setting up the logistics of calls. This increased to drafting ancillary documents, reviewing and summarizing contracts, “low-level” negotiating, and assisting on closings. “In terms of how they progress us, I think it's great,” a junior explained. “Because it's a smaller practice, you don't really have a choice – you've got to take on more responsibility just because there aren't that many people.” Some felt “the unique benefit of being at a big, top 50 law firm in terms of resources, but because the corporate team is smaller and everyone seems to know each other, you develop a rapport with people faster and are entrusted with more substantive stuff quicker.” However, “client contact is a bit limited at my level, but on smaller deals there's a bit more.”
At O'Melveny, attorneys are “100% committed to pro bono work.” There's no cap on the number of hours you can bill, and there's “an expectation that everyone will do at least 20 hours a year.” Sources explained “you're basically running a case by yourself, which is invaluable experience as a junior.” Pro bono cases included asylum and visa cases, disability cases, environmental litigation, and family law matters. The firm is also involved in a program that helps provide Special Immigrant Juvenile Status to children that have been abandoned, neglected, or are escaping violence. Juniors also felt that pro bono provided “great opportunities to speak in court and do things you're not going to get to do on multimillion dollar cases as a first year.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 60,914
- Average per US attorney: 104
Training & Development
“When you first come to the firm, there's a good amount of training to refresh you on everything you learned as a summer.” After that, there's regular lunch trainings, and although these aren't compulsory, a lot of it goes toward CLE credit “making it more in enticing to go.” There's also an associate and counsel off-site retreat every year where “they send out the kind of trainings we want, from networking to drafting to research. We asked, and they listened.” Other juniors felt that “most training is on the job.” One source tackled training by “going to one of the more senior associates I trust and asking them to send me what they've done on a particular task, then trying to emulate that.”
The New York office of this Californian firm is located in Times Square. As of 2017, first-years share their office with another first-year, then everyone gets their own after that. In LA, where there's a lot of high profile entertainment work (litigation and transactional), many juniors highlighted the “great associate lounge” where you often find people taking it easy on a Friday evening. Apparently partners' key cards don't work for the lounge – “but we do let them in!”
“To compare us to high school,” one associate joked, “we're not the most popular kids, but we're not the unpopular ones – just the ones hanging out and having fun.” Attorneys here are “people who like to laugh,” although perhaps “a bit goofy.” Juniors emphasized that their senior colleagues are not “all high-strung, and don't yell or throw things.” Overall, they thought O'Melveny has a “professional but family-type culture. The people here are both bright and capable, but 'normal'.” Sources also noticed that “people can transfer between offices all over,” and cited the firm's culture as one of the reasons why, if people have to re-locate for personal reasons, “they don't look to exit the firm, but look to stay within the firm wherever they move.”
“Bright and capable, but 'normal'.”
Because the firm “gives people the opportunity to interact with clients from a pretty early stage, they want people who are comfortable doing that as opposed to having their noses stuck in books constantly.” Sources also felt that the firm “doesn't want a hierarchical barrier between partners and associates.” To help achieve this, a mentor-mentee budget pays for juniors to take a partner to lunch. The social life differs from office to office, but all have regular happy hours. In some there are “a lot of attorneys with kids, so after-hours socializing isn't as big.” But juniors were keen to highlight the “real close friendships” between attorneys, and the overall “friendly and social work environment.”
Hours & Compensation
The unofficial expectation is for associates to bill at least 1,900 hours. “Nobody has a problem meeting that given the amount of work we have.” One source explained that “when I look at my daily average, I feel like the firm respects my time and that I have other things in my life I want to do. I never feel like they are demanding so much that I'm questioning any aspect of my job.” But unsurprisingly “there are definitely times when you don't have any free time. For example, if I'm filing something on Friday, I wouldn't make dinner plans on Thursday.” Broadly speaking, “it's more about doing the work by the deadline – it's not necessarily vital that you're here working between 9am and 6pm.”
Juniors had no qualms about the compensation system – the firm matched the market rate in all offices when it was raised. As for bonuses, they are also at market “plus sometimes a bump for doing a lot more hours, or a merit bump.”
“It's not like I'm always staring across the table at six old white guys.”
Many highlighted diversity as a “high priority in recruiting” and felt the firm to be “extremely inclusive.” However, associates recognized that “an expressed value doesn't necessarily always translate,” although “it does at associate level, at least.” There is “a big push to make sure there are programs in place for women to not feel like they need to leave the firm at any point.” A women's leadership retreat also takes place where “women partners encourage and prime associates to make partner.” Some felt that “the make-up of people isn't that diverse, not for lack of trying,” but observed that “it's not like I'm always staring across the table at six old white guys.” Overall, juniors believed “there's still work to be done everywhere in BigLaw, but I would say we're ahead of the curve.”
Strategy & Future
Juniors were under the impression that the firm is becoming “focused on industry groups instead of just practices – practices centered around say, life sciences or transportation, for example.” They also felt that O'Melveny will “continue to play to its strengths, rather than expand into things it doesn't really understand. The firm isn't going to try and unseat the king of some other practice area to become the best – we're going to stick to what we're already good at and maintain our position there.”
"We invested heavily in our software and have our own AI built into the database which houses 132 years worth of documents."
Firm chair Brad Butwin says the firm's strategy is “about being client-centric.” He explains that “the onus is on us to stay top of mind and work hard to deliver outstanding results and exceptional service every single time.” This means becoming much more efficient: the firm has now “invested heavily in our software and have our own AI build into our database which houses 132 years worth of documents.” Butwin emphasizes that these investments will lead to “increased efficiency and decreased cost to the client.” He also admits that “none of us can predict the full range of client needs in the future,” so expresses that associates themselves should be “multidimensional.” In terms of new offices, Butwin asserts that “we don't subscribe to the whole 'build it and they will come' strategy. We will continue to talk to clients about which locations and practices are important to them, and continue to play to our strengths. Whether that's opening offices or developing new practices, we'll only do it if it is in our clients' best interests.”
Hiring partner Allen Burton says the candidates that stand out are those who have “a combination of enthusiasm for practicing law, and enthusiasm for our firm in particular.” At interview, Burton looks for whether the candidate is “in a good position to succeed here.” He explains that recruiters ask about “how they have overcome challenges” and their “ability to work in a team.” Both of which he notes are “such important parts of what we do.” Besides work capabilities, Burton also emphasizes that “we put a lot of focus here on our culture – that's something that's been recognized in surveys, rankings, and other industry descriptions of the firm, and it's something we're protective of. We want to make sure people have the ability to fit in with our culture, and that means being top practitioners within the craft, but also working well with others.”
Junior sources looked at “how sharp the candidate it – not necessarily how much they know about, say, private equity deals, but how quickly they can pick up those things.” While they do look for people who are “smart and like discussing complicated legal issues, usually we just look to see if they're fun and people we'd like to work with.” They advised that “you should be evaluating us as much as we are evaluating you. You should see whether you fit, and what you are getting yourself into.” Another suggestion was to “reach out and develop relationships early. Maybe try to reach out to partners some time during your 1L year in the practice you're interested in. It will go a long way when it comes to OCIs.”
Becoming a lawyer in California
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 188,149 practicing 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; last year we reported that the July 2015 sitting saw the worst pass rate since 1986. July 2016 unfortunately saw another drop in pass rates. Gulp. It's not all bad news; in 2015, the State bar reduced the exam from three grueling days to two grueling 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 grade 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: $725,000,000
- Partners (US): 200
- Associates (US): 402
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,500/week
- 2Ls: $3,500/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,500/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 70
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 92 offers, 72 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.
A global law firm with more than 40 practice and industry groups dedicated to achieving our clients’ most important goals, O’Melveny’s lawyers work side by side with our clients to help them grow, protect their assets, and navigate complex law and regulation. 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. We have an industry-leading talent development program, which includes a career development advisor, an upward review process that helps our partners become better supervisors, and award-winning flexibility options.
• Number of 1st year associates: 60
• Number of 2nd year associates: 46
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Berkeley, Brooklyn, Chapman, Chicago, Columbia, UC Davis, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Hastings, Howard, Lavender Law, Loyola, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Santa Clara, 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.