Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP - The Inside View

Want to help bankroll the next Netflix or finance an African dam? Try this “friendly but not fratty” Californian globetrotter. 

ORRICK has literally left its mark on California: since its founding in the 1860s, lawyers here helped finance major West Coast landmarks like Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Golden Gate Bridge, no less. But just as generations of Americans flocked to the Golden State in search of a golden future, Orrick too has journeyed in search of opportunities, and in the last year opened offices in Houston and Geneva, Switzerland, and an affiliated office in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. These offices will build on the firm's expertise in energy and infrastructure, Latin America, litigation, IP and public finance, with Abidjan giving Orrick a foothold in the rapidly growing African market, and Geneva boosting its international arbitration practice.

Energy and infrastructure are one of Orrick's three core industry focuses, the other two being technology and financial services. Chambers USA ranks a glittering array of practices in the fields of capital markets, litigation, intellectual property and finance (plus more niche areas like Native American law) – explore the wealth of information about these at chambersandpartners.com. One area that always gets associates here talking excitedly to us is Silicon Valley-related work, especially when start-up clients have morphed seemingly overnight into 'unicorns' – worth over a billion. For more on Orrick's work with unicorns, read our Bonus Features.

Strategy & Future

This focus on the rapidly developing African infrastructure sector is no coincidence. According to Orrick chairman Mitch Zuklie, the firm's strategy for the next few years is to focus on its key specialisms while working to become “the best firm to work for.” Instead of headline-grabbing gimmicks –“we're not giving massages every Tuesday” – he points to things like the firm's new parental leave policy. Orrick offers new parents of either gender “22 weeks' paid leave and a guarantee of one's job for up to nine months,” and a central liaison to keep them up-to-date with comings and goings at the firm, and help them transition back in. He's also keen to emphasize Orrick's personalized approach to business development, which sees each associate entrusted with a personal business development budget.

The Work

Energy and infrastructure is one of Orrick's three great strengths, along with technology and financial services. Within these three broad areas, Orrick offers incoming associates a range of corporate, litigious and specialist practice areas to get stuck into. The large litigation group has a more formal allocation system involving a central assigning partner. In the corporate group, associates tend to be immediately placed into specific subgroups. With fewer new associates to juggle, these smaller corporate teams can afford to be a bit less formal. Even where there is a centralized assignment system, some associates found themselves either reaching out to higher-ups or being sought out for work. “It's on you to say 'no' if you're too busy,” said one, “which can feel uncomfortable at times.”

In addition to a “heightened awareness of filing deadlines,” new litigators should be prepared for a healthy degree of responsibility quite early on. In litigation, “the partners really let you take ownership of cases,” particularly on the smaller, more leanly staffed matters. “You do as much of the legwork as you can,” said one litigator. “You're drafting requests, communicating with counsel and filing motions.” Associates can also get stuck into the deposition process. “We need to come up with a series of questions in order to secure key admissions,” a source in the Bay Area explained. “Your questions have to be good.” On larger cases, associates find themselves doing more traditional junior tasks like doc review and research memoranda, and associates didn't mind: “When you're a first-year, it's nice to have a buffer between you and the partners,” admitted one.

"You do as much of the legwork as you can."

Corporate associates can get involved in a range of areas from emerging companies work to large-scale M&A. Lean staffing is the name of the game in all but the biggest deals in corporate, and “depending on how ambitious you are, you can find yourself responsible for tasks so high level, you aren't sure how to do them!” When working with startups – not an infrequent occurrence – “you might even get to run the deals yourself,” enthused a lawyer in Silicon Valley. “You'll still have to bring the partner in on specific issues but it'll be your baby.” Where deals aren't so leanly staffed, associates can expect more traditional tasks like drafting ancillaries or undertaking due diligence.

Pro Bono

"Got to appear in front of a judge.”

“I'm convinced that Orrick has the best pro bono offering in New York,” enthused one associate rather hyperbolically. “You can get any type of case you want,” with everything from immigration cases to “noise complaints arising out of life-saving medical equipment.” There's no limit to the number of pro bono hours you can treat as billable, although “your billable work doesn't go down,” so just how much pro bono each associate does “depends on how important it is to you.” That said, most junior lawyers manage to fit in a good amount of pro bono. “I did a few hundred hours' pro bono in my first year,” recalled one. "I was a little worried by how much I was doing, but the partner said that was normal for a first year.” It's also a great opportunity for juniors to get some hands-on experience managing and trying high-level work. “I did the intake, the client interview, prepped for the hearing and got to appear in front of a judge,” recalled a West Coast litigator.

Pro Bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 60,248 
  • Average per US attorney: 92


People tend to think of Orrick as a California firm, but while the bulk of its legal eagles still reside out west, the firm's largest single office is actually New York. “Many people don't like it, but I think it's great” said a New Yorker of that office's futuristic glass interiors. “I hate feeling isolated in the office, but I can understand how others find the layout distracting.” The Los Angeles office occupies the 31st through 33rd floors of a centrally located office block. The office itself was described as “oval-shaped,” with the associates' offices situated in an outer ring giving them commanding views over either downtown LA or the construction work going on at the Staples Center, depending on which side of the building they're sitting in.

It may be smaller than NYC, but “spiritual headquarters” San Francisco is still a good size, occupying four floors in the Orrick Building. It's a steel and glass edifice in San Fran's financial district. Down the road in Menlo Park, the Silicon Valley office is a horse of a different color. It's set in a cluster of four low-rise buildings set in a park in the suburbs. “There's a really nice campus feel to the place,” we were told, and this is probably helped by the fact that it's a stone's throw from Stanford University.

Training & Development

A key part of Orrick's drive to become the best firm to work for is its Talent Model. This is not some attorney-run fashion show, but Orrick's name for its career development program. Attorneys opt to join one of two 'tracks,' the partner track and the career associate track. The partner track is by far the more popular of the two. It divides associates into three grades: associate, management associate and senior associate, and is “a more tailored, individualized version of the lockstep model used by other law firms,” sources informed us. “At other firms, associates just slog away and then one day they either make partner or they don't,” Mitch Zuklie explains, “but we want to make sure that everyone has a clear sense of what they have to do in order to advance.”

Under the Talent Model, Orrickians can get individual coaches, who they work with to identify and develop the skills they need to advance. “Say you need to improve your deposition skills,” explained a junior, “you would reach out to your coach, explain what you needed to do and ask if you can do work in that area.” There's also more traditional training set up in the form of a few days' orientation at the start, which attorneys described as “very administrative,” and the usual array of practice-specific training sessions for the first couple of years. New lawyers are reviewed six months in and at the end of their first year, with subsequent reviews taking place annually. Not only is it “nice to get feedback,” it's a useful opportunity to let management know if there's a particular area you're interested in working in. “It's your opportunity to say 'I haven't worked for this or that industry yet,'” one told us.

Hours & Compensation

One of the more tangible ways the different tracks impact new attorneys is in the number of hours they work. While Orrick doesn't have a formal billing target, partner-track attorneys are encouraged to bill at least 1,950 hours, compared to the lower 1,600 to 1,800 hours for associates on the other tracks. “Management understands that being a corporate lawyer is difficult,” ruminated one partner-track associate, “and you can bill less than the 1,950 and still get a bonus.” While billing a stupefying number of hours looks impressive on paper, “it's important that you produce high quality work in that time,” and the bonus system is calibrated to take into account quality and quantity of hours.

"Management understands that being a corporate lawyer is difficult."

Vacation is “technically unlimited,” but in reality most associates take two weeks a year. “This depends on their circumstances,” qualified an associate, explaining that “if someone's just got married they might take three weeks for their honeymoon, and if work is slow they may take several little vacations.” Attorneys work long but not excessive hours (by BigLaw standards), with an average working day generally lasting between 9am and 7pm or 8pm plus remote working from home in the evenings.

Get Hired

It wants to be the best law firm to work for. What does Orrick ask for in return? “We start at the same place as other firms,” says hiring partner Lisa Simpson, referring to strong academic performance, and “students who can write well are at a premium, particularly in litigation.” Attorneys agreed the firm “cares a lot about your writing skills,” and also stressed that “beyond the normal metrics they want to see if you'll fit in with the other lawyers.” Orrick's also looking for folks with initiative, teamwork skills and “the ability to power through when it's difficult,” Simpson tells us. All well and good, we hear you say, but how can I show this? “Inside or outside of law school, find something you have a passion for, and use that as an opportunity to show your skills.”

"There were no 'gotcha' questions"

OCIs are “professional but not too formal or rigid,” according to juniors. “It was more like they were getting to know me,” elaborated one. At the callback stage, questioning styles vary depending on individual interviewers, with some partners being “tough questioners” and others more conversational. Regardless, there were “no 'gotcha' questions and the interviewers seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say."


Associates expressed disappointment on the diversity front, something we hear time and again at virtually all the firms in this guide. One litigator expressing surprise at “how few women partners there are in my department.” Another junior was even blunter: “The partnership's still mainly made up of white males.” One source described this as “something left over from a previous era,” and pointed out that the current crop of associates is split evenly between men and women. Furthermore, ten of the 19 recent promotions to partner were female – the first time more women than men have been promoted. 

The situation was similarly mixed on the ethnic minority front, with associates from Silicon Valley to New York using phrases like “it's quite ethnically diverse,” and “there's some ethnic diversity.” That said, no one we spoke to doubted the firm's commitment to improving diversity. There are active affinity groups and if diverse associates feel uncomfortable raising “diversity issues” with management they can bring them to their diversity mentors. In addition to actively recruiting from various diversity careers events, some Orrick partners recently clubbed together with Microsoft and Morgan Stanley to hold the first ever veterans' legal careers fair.


"Even the chairman is willing to sit down and talk."

We're aware that the statement “law firm culture is more relaxed in California” is something of a cliché, but in Orrick's case it seems to be true. “California lawyers have a different attitude than New York lawyers,” explained one interviewee, “and they aren't as obsessive about the hours.” This isn't to say that Orrick's lawyers aren't all “serious attorneys with a lot expected of them,” simply that they're “friendly but not fratty.” It's a culture that seems to trickle down from up high, and associates are “often struck by how approachable the partners are,” with chairman Mitch Zuklie singled out as someone who is “willing to sit down and talk about anything.”


What is a unicorn?

More than a few prospectors got rich during the California gold rush, but for many prospectors the precious metal must have seemed as mythical as El Dorado. Today, many are flocking to California in search of yet another myth: the unicorn. Alas, the fabled beast has not been seen wondering the deserts of California; in startup-speak a 'unicorn' is a privately held company valued at $1 billion or more.

You'll have heard of a few. Valued at $51 billion, taxi app Uber is a unicorn, as are Airbnb (valued at $25 billion), Snapchat ($16 billion) and Pinterest $11 billion. Venture capital funds buy stakes in startup companies with a view to generating a return on an 'exit' when the company is either sold or floated on the stock market. In 2014, Jan Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $22 billion, while the previous year Twitter exited by becoming a public company and issuing shares on the stock market.

This can lead to a “broad range” of work for the lawyers in Orrick's technology companies group. This is a sub-section of the wider corporate practice area which focuses on startups and is based on both the East and West Coasts. “I've worked on both IPOs and private M&As,” said an associate in this department. In addition, transactions involving startups are often more leanly staffed than those involving more established companies, giving junior associates the chance to go beyond the usual due dilligence process and get stuck into managing the transactions.

Working with unicorns is also interesting because of how topical they are. The term 'unicorn' is controversial in Silicon Valley, and many analysts inside and outside the Valley worry that the 'unicorn bubble' may be about to burst. “There's certainly a huge debate about dead unicorns,” said an attorney in the emerging companies groupl. “Which of these billion-dollar companies are going to die when the next crash happens?”

While nay-sayers liken the current unicorn frenzy to the dotcom bubble in late '90s, others are not so sure. 2015 has been a slow year for tech IPOs, but some insiders predict an uptick in flotations in 2016. They're also quick to point to certain key differences between today's tech landscape and that 15 years ago. In particular, it is claimed that unlike the stock market, venture capitalists invest for the long term and have a vested interest in seeing companies succeed.

Love them or hate them, unicorns are still big business in the technology and venture capital sectors, which makes them big business for lawyers.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

51 West 52nd Street,
New York,
NY 10019-6142
Website www.orrick.com

  • Head Office: New York / San Francisco
  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Worldwide revenue: $913,000,000
  • Partners (US): 244
  • Associates (US): 351
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,077/week
  • 2Ls: $3,077/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes, case by case 
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 48
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 32 offers, 27 acceptances

Main areas of work
Tech, energy and infrastructure, finance, corporate, litigation, appellate and intellectual property.

Firm profile
At Orrick, we focus on advising the tech, energy and infrastructure and finance sectors globally. Our work is split fairly evenly between transaction and litigation advice for some of the world’s leading companies – like Microsoft, DISH Network, Pinterest and Credit Suisse, as well as more than 1,500 emerging companies. We’re inspired by opportunities to make an impact with our clients. We’re also inspired by the causes of our pro bono clients – we have one of the most active pro bono programs of any firm. We offer unique opportunities to advance at your own pace and take advantage of a wide range of business and legal training programs and flexible career options. We look forward to talking with you about opportunities at Orrick and learning about what inspires you.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 33
• Number of 2nd year associates: 16
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $165,000-180,000
• 2nd year: $175,000-190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attended for OCIs in 2016:
Columbia University, Duke University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Harvard University, McGeorge University, New York University, Santa Clara University, Stanford University, University of California – Berkeley, University of California – Davis, University of California – Hastings, University of California – Los Angeles, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
We seek out candidates who bring interesting and diverse life experiences and perspectives. Beyond good grades and book smarts, we value creativity, judgment, a collaborative style and an entrepreneurial spirit. We also look for a little grit and resilience. In short, we want to be inspired by you. We believe in having fun while working hard on projects that make a tangible impact on the world, locally and globally. If you thrive in a collegial atmosphere and appreciate leadership transparency, we just may be the firm for you. Gunners need not apply.

Summer program components:
Your first day as a summer associate is the beginning of your Orrick career. Our goal is to immerse you in the firm, introduce you to our clients, engage you in the issues on which we are working and create opportunities for you to start building relationships that we hope will last a lifetime. Our summer associates classes are small – which means focused, and personal attention, practical training, varied assignments spanning across different transactional and litigation practice areas, extensive feedback and hands-on experience with real client matters