Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP - The Inside View

“The work is cutting edge, but everyone retains their humanity” at the Californian colossus cultivating the tech giants of the future.

LAW students (probably) don't need to worry about artificial intelligence getting clever enough to replace human lawyers any time soon, but technology like AI is undoubtedly revolutionizing the legal profession. Orrick associates who noted their firm is renowned for a “strong reputation in tech and with start ups” were quick to assure us they're not treated like machines: “The first thing that struck me was how concerned people were about my ideas. They go out of their way to make you feel you're not just a cog in the wheel.”

Coming in, juniors “wanted to be part of important cases with decisions that set the landscape,” and “knew that would happen at Orrick.” Their hopes were no doubt encouraged by a broad smattering of Chambers USA rankings – including top marks for project finance nationwide and energy in California – as well as the landmark opening of a shiny new Houston office in 2016. In early 2017, the firm opened another new base, in Santa Monica.

The Work

Energy & infrastructure, technology and financial services are the firm's core strengths. Within these broad areas, Orrick offers incoming associates a range of corporate, litigious and specialist practice areas to get stuck into. Projects are often staffed across offices, “depending on the practice area and case,” and some juniors got exotic work with an international flavor. One was even “geared up to go overseas for three months. The case ultimately settled, but I was surprised they trusted me with that as a first-year!”

The large litigation group has a formal allocation system involving a central assigning partner. Interviewees also had partners reach out to them directly, “so you get work from a mix of both. It's a pretty good system: the coordinator makes sure you're not drowning in work, and have time for sleep!” New associates spend three years in a general pool where they can get work spanning tort, white collar, securities, and complex commercial litigation among other things. Keen to make it clear they play an integral role in cases, juniors told us they “do a lot of research and drafting, and there is some document review, but it's all for a specific purpose and not for the sake of it.” The majority picked up “a good amount of work – it's up to the individual to push back if needed so you're not completely overwhelmed.”

“I was geared up to go overseas for three months!”

In corporate, most associates tend to be immediately placed into specific subgroups, which include capital markets and general corporate (covering M&A and private equity). On the West Coast, most go into the technology companies team, “handling all stages of the corporate life cycle” of fast-growing start ups (to find out more about Orrick's work with 'unicorn' companies, head to www.chambers-associate.com). Newcomers took the chance to “dive right in. It's a bit nerve-racking but a great way to learn.” Many were impressed how quickly they progressed – “the first financing I worked on I just collected pages and organized checklists; now I've essentially done the entire thing myself with a paralegal.” Suggesting they saw “almost too much client contact,” corporate associates were also “generally happy with the workload,” finding “there are rarely unmanageable periods” within the ebb and flow.

Overlapping with corporate (“we do straight corporate formations and project financing”), associates in the energy & infrastructure area saw a mix of renewables and traditional oil and gas work, noting “different niches across different offices” – for instance, the new Houston base is an oil hotspot. “A lot of the work is standard junior tasks in a corporate role,” but juniors saw “significant responsibility growth over the years; even across the first year there's been the chance to take a first stab at drafting a major agreement.”

Public finance (to which the Portland office is almost wholly dedicated), real estate and restructuring teams fall under the broader 'finance' umbrella. Here, work can include “a mix of litigation and transactional – I've never done the same thing twice.” Because these sub-groups are smaller than others, associates typically get work directly from partners, and those we spoke to agreed that “if I want to be a part of something, I get the chance. Depending on how ambitious you are, you can take on as much as you want.”

Culture & Diversity

West Coast-founded firms are renowned for being relatively more laid back than New York giants, a stereotype Orrick is happy to keep alive even in its East Coast offices. An NYC junior described “a cocktail reception we had in summer for law school kids. To reinforce the Cali cool thing, they were blasting Bob Marley! We thought it was pretty funny, even if it seemed a bit forced.” Over in San Francisco, a corporate associate noted “people dress casually at the start ups we work with, which lends to a laid back atmosphere. It's always weird seeing litigators in full suits!” Juniors were glad to not worry and be happy, as “the expectation here is that people are normal here and not just machines. Everybody has a real life and does interesting things outside of work.” As such, the common knowledge that “in BigLaw there will always be stress and egos” didn't dampen spirits.

“They were blasting Bob Marley!”

Each office has its own social traditions, from “a closing event at the end of summer in a swanky hotel with a view of the White House” in DC to Los Angeles' monthly “martinis and mentorship events.” Meanwhile, practice group retreats brought together all associates from America and beyond. Energy & restructuring “held it in Dublin, and brought the whole group from around the world there for a long weekend. It showed a good commitment to being one firm globally.” Small things like “coordinating what we're eating if we work late” helped associates foster group camaraderie. For women in the firm's affinity group, this involved “going out to get lunch, or get our nails done. The men were a bit jealous!”

As well as affinity groups, the firm runs an annual 'Dive In' diversity and inclusion event, with “a changing theme each year talking about various issues. This year everyone got an ancestry subscription and could research their own background.” Are Orrick's efforts paying off? Juniors generally thought “it's diverse within the context of the law, and they make sure people are exposed to different topics and issues” including a Black Lives Matter panel in Los Angeles. But some argued “the partnership stats could be better. They want to address it, and last year the partner class was majority women – but the fact that 2016 was the first time it happened was frustrating.” In addition to recruiting from diversity careers events, Orrick was involved in hosting the first ever veterans' legal careers fair. It proved successful enough to become a regular fixture, and the third was held in 2017.

Training & Development

The Talent Model career development program is designed to help associates with business development, and fast-track high-fliers more quickly than traditional lockstep. Currently, attorneys opt to join either the partner track or the career associate track, the former of which is more popular by far. It includes three levels to work through: associate, managing associate and senior associate. Interviewees thought “it's good to reward associates who work hard with an increase in compensation. It doesn't seem like the Talent Model could hold you up. I haven't met anyone frustrated. It only seems to help.”

“It's not like all of a sudden you make partner or don't.”

Progress is discussed in annual evaluations, and first-years get an additional review. They appreciated “all the work put into the formal system, and when reviews come around they're really helpful.” The level of day-to-day feedback “is more dependent on the person you're working with. It could be better. The firm is aware of this and figuring out how to improve.” In the long term, the Talent Model provides “a lot of metrics so you know where you stand. It's not like all of a sudden you make partner or don't” – something associates welcomed.

Strategy & Future

Chairman and CEO Mitch Zuklie tells us Orrick has some exciting plans for the future of career development, including “a new approach to flexible working called Agile Workplace. Our plan is to eliminate the concept of being on partner track or not, as we recognize the best opportunities can take a variety of routes.” Not only does the firm want to be “the best place to work,” but also to make room for more newcomers to enjoy what they're offering. “We expect to grow our summer class – 58 came out of it this year. It'll be closer to 70 next year which parallels our growth as a firm.”

Hours & Compensation

“When gossip started that firms in New York were making moves” to a new salary scale starting at $180,000, associates “got an email saying management was considering it. We then later got another email about matching the new scale.” Associate pay is less generous in Seattle, Sacramento and Portland, but juniors pointed out “we're in a different market. The cost of living is very different.” Some in the larger bases “thought we could have announced increases sooner,” but chalked the delay down to the recent Houston opening and the need to invest there. The cherry on top came when the firm announced it would offer associates an additional $100 a month directly toward repayment of student loans – the happy recipients were “encouraged to see Orrick go above and beyond.”

“Encouraged to see Orrick go above and beyond.”

While Orrick doesn't have a formal billing target, partner-track attorneys are encouraged to bill at least 2,000 hours, compared to the lower 1,600 to 1,800 hours for associates on the other tracks. Most thought “that seems achievable considering pro bono and shadowing count toward the target,” and one unlucky junior who'd “had a couple of slow months” assured us “they're not going to fire me. We talked about it in my evaluation and discussed ways to increase my numbers next year.”  Even the higher target left room for some personal time, associates explaining that “partners consider their own private lives important to them. That mentality trickles down.” Many took the chance to complete work from home after leaving at a reasonable 6 or 7pm.

Pro Bono

“It's something the firm really prides itself on” according to associates, who were pleased that there's no limit to the number of pro bono hours you can treat as billable. Having “leapt at the opportunity,” some felt they'd “probably done more pro bono than I should have! There's a practical restraint, but it's highly encouraged.” Many took the chance to pursue personal passion projects. “I told the pro bono partner I was interested in women's rights, so he gave me cases I'd be interested in.” Opportunities on offer vary from local community clients to international issues. All attorneys are urged do at least 20 hours, but “every year they honor the people who crush that,” and the office that clocks up the most hours wins a pizza party. “They wouldn't reward us like that if they thought it mattered less than billables,” our sources concluded.

“I've probably done more than I should have!”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 82,420
  • Average per US attorney: 137


The firm's San Francisco HQ sits in “one of the prettiest buildings downtown.” Associates were, however, disgruntled by “a move to switch juniors to internal offices without windows,” and saw “some doubling up of first-years” for the first time. Buddying up is the long-established norm for newcomers in New York, where “each office has glass walls. It's nice because it feels like more of a community.” Washington sources described the DC base as “like the Starship Enterprise – it's a very good modern building, though some complain there's too much empty space.”

“It's like the Starship Enterprise.”

Orrick's Los Angeles base occupies the 31st through 33rd floors of a centrally located office block. Associates dubbed it a “very professional space. It's a good place to bring clients because it's so impressive.” The Silicon Valley office is set in a cluster of four low-rise buildings set in a park in the suburbs, a stone's throw from Stanford University. Newest to the party is Houston – interviewees described the initial building as “kind of terrible,” but the firm is currently relocating to a new space. Collaboration between offices “depends on the practice group and level you're at,” often involving cross-ocean communication with London, Tokyo and elsewhere.

Interview with chairman and CEO Mitch Zuklie

Chambers Associate: As an introduction, what's been the most exciting thing that the firm has done over the past year?

MZ: I think to answer that, I need to provide a broad overview of our strategy, which is twofold: to focus on being distinctive in the sectors or industries we serve, which are tech, energy & infrastructure and finance; and to be the best place to work as a firm. I think we've made nice progress in both. The most exciting thing was probably the opening of our Houston office. There are now about 45 lawyers there and it's enabled us to do a lot more in energy & infrastructure, and more Latin American work.

We've also made progress in terms of being the best place to work.  So, what do we mean by being the best place to work? We’re talking about providing the opportunity to do cutting-edge work, with a meaningful social impact. We want to provide early responsibility to our associates, and we're proud they get meaningful client contact earlier than their friends at other firms, which makes hard work worth it. We offer personalized career paths, which means advancing at one's own pace, moving away from a one-size-fits-all path to partnership. The firm has a serious commitment to mentoring and sponsorship, and being a diverse and inclusive team.

Those are things we think are most important, and I think we've made progress in each. We also recently announced the most robust parental leave program in the law business (Orrick offers 22 weeks of paid primary caregiver leave), and our partner class sizes have increased in each of the past three yearsthat's been a real highlight.

Chambers Associate: What are the biggest priorities for Orrick going forward?

MZ: Continuing to focus on the tech, energy & infrastructure and finance sectors, and making sure we offer something unique, so we can work with the best clients. On the best place to work side, there are a few things we've got planned for 2017: for a long time we've innovated in the area of flexible career paths, and we plan to advance that through a new approach called Agile Workplace. I think we're already ahead of the curve for flexible working, and a lot of people have taken advantage of that, but there's still work to be done. Our plan is to eliminate the concept of being on partner track or not, as we recognize the best associates can take a variety of routes. Again, the idea behind this is to eliminate a one size fits all approach to partnership and replace it with something that's tailored to everybody. Going forward, I think that will be essential to attract, retain and advance talent.

Another innovation is our new loan repayment and financing program, which has been successful already and we expect to see many more take advantage of it. We're also moving the time frame for formal sponsorship of associates, assigning sponsors at the beginning of the sixth year or earlier to help people feel a greater sense of firm investment. Finally, we expect to grow our summer class – 58 came out of it this year, it'll be closer to 70 next year which parallels our growth as a firm. Internal promotion is something we've been very successful at, and as I mentioned, our partner class sizes have increased in each of the past three years.

Chambers Associate: How much collaboration on projects is there between different practice areas?

MZ: It's pretty essential; we want to focus on our three core sector areas, and serve those sectors in all of the practice areas important to them.. Fintech, the combination of finance and tech, or energy and tech which is a particularly fast growing area because of what's happening with oil field services improvements. That's given us a really rich vein of new clients with novel business models. We don't think there's anything nowadays which tech doesn't touch, and we love those areas of intersection, which require deep understanding of both corporate and regulatory law, and sometimes litigation.

Chambers Associate: Associates told us about the Veteran's Legal Career Fair – where did that idea originate?

MZ: One of the things that's unique to Orrick is our concept of 2% time, whereby partners dedicate 2% of their time to improving their firm. It's a form of encouraging people to work together to solve a problem they're interested in. A group of partners realized they wanted to make an effort to attract veterans as lawyers and staff. Veterans typically have stunningly good training, a lot of grit, they’re team-oriented and highly emotionally intelligent – all of which are critical qualities for practicing law. Our partners were disappointed to discover there wasn't a veteran's legal career fair already, so they went about creating one alongside our clients Morgan Stanley and Microsoft.

It was launched three years ago in DC, and around 50 private employers go each year. Several hundred candidates interview each year, and we've hired from the fair ourselves. A lot of people at the firm are interested in continuing to invest in it. We'd love to see it expand and have other firms and employers join us in future. Overall, that's a good example of a 2% time investment well spent!

Chambers Associate: If you could give any advice for a student looking to go into the law, what would it be?

MZ: I've got three things. First, find something that inspires you and work with people who will inspire you. Lawyers inevitably work hard and their clients expect a lot, and finding inspiring work and people will make the hard work worthwhile. Second, be distinctive – as you advance in your career focus on something in which you're exceptional. It's essential to differentiate yourself and find mentors to help you achieve that. Third, recognize that law is a team sport. It's a big transition from the individual achievement model of law school to a corporate practice, which is all about being a team player. From day one you're working on a team, and nothing in law school prepares you for that. Finding out how to be helpful to a team from the outset is critically important.

Get Hired

Though the Orrick interview process fortunately involves “no weird questions about being stranded on a desert island,” it's wise to get clued up in advance, as “the main thing they want to see is that the student has thought through the process. It's really surprising how often people don't take the time to prepare, and don't know what practices there are in the office.” Evidence of some practice area knowledge is a big plus, for instance “people who are interested in litigation, when they've taken a deposition clinic or anything to help learn about reality in the practice, that's what people like.”

Chairman Mitch Zuklie tells us "we took a look at what distinguishes our most successful team members and we found that they typically have three qualities in common. They have an unusual amount of grit -- they dig in when things are tough. They are high in emotional intelligence. And they enjoy teamplay. So that's the combination we look for in candidates."

As with most other firms, interviews are “aimed at making sure you'll fit into the culture. For Orrick, that means you're a normal person – you're not going to make it if you don't care about succeeding, but we want to be a community that gets along.” It's important to make clear why you want to work in a specific place, and for a better reason than just catching some sun. “Some people like the idea of a California firm and just want to come to San Francisco for ten weeks!”

It's important to make the most of your time at law school, as “that's the time to develop any skills that need development – presentation, organization and team work. Attention to detail is important for an attorney and really distinguishes candidates.” One interviewee suggested an advanced legal research course may be one way to improve in that sense. But don't try to cram in too much that you're not genuinely interested in, as “the best thing you can do is be yourself, that'll score a lot more points than selling yourself on a level that makes you sound fake.” Nonetheless, associates advised “it is useful to always bring the conversation in an interview back to something that shows your experience.”

What is a unicorn?

More than a few prospectors got rich during the California gold rush, but for many the precious metal must have seemed as mythical as El Dorado. Today, people with a thirst for success are flocking to California in search of 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 $66 billion, taxi app Uber is a unicorn, as are Airbnb ($30 billion), Snapchat ($28 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 2013, Twitter exited by becoming a public company and issuing shares on the stock market; a year later, Jan Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook for $22 billion.

Start ups can provide a “broad range” of work for lawyers in Orrick's technology companies group. This sub-section of the corporate practice area 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 diligence 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 group. “Which of these billion-dollar companies are going to die when the next crash happens?”

While naysayers liken the current unicorn frenzy to the dotcom bubble in the late '90s, others are not so sure. Unicorn advocates are also quick to point to certain key differences between today's tech landscape and that of 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. In 2017, Snapchat's parent company Snap Inc. went public – stocks jumped 44% within a day, leaving the company valued at a whopping $28 billion and proving that, love them or hate them, unicorns are still big business in the technology and venture capital sectors, which also 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: 12
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Worldwide revenue: $929,107,673
  • Partners (US): 287
  • Associates (US): 379
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,400/week
  • 2Ls: $3,400/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes, case by case 
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 70

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

Firm profile
At Orrick, we focus on serving the technology, energy and infrastructure and finance sectors globally. Founded more than 150 years ago in San Francisco, Orrick today has 1,000+ lawyers and offices in 26 markets worldwide, including our newest offices in Houston, TX and Santa Monica, CA. Our clients include 1,600+ high-growth companies, 20% of today’s unicorns, public companies, global financial institutions, funds and government entities. We advise them on emerging areas from blockchain technology and cybersecurity to Mexican energy reform and impact finance. We’re inspired by opportunities to make an impact with our clients. We’re also inspired by our pro bono clients – we have one of the most active pro bono programs of any firm with 92% lawyer participation last year. We value teamwork, transparency and inclusion. To help our associates succeed, we’ve re-thought the traditional law firm talent model with an approach we call “Agile Working.” By agile, we mean responsive, flexible, adaptable, and personalized. This means our associates get early at bats – opportunities for taking on meaningful responsibility and for making a real impact. We also enable each associate to manage and direct his or her career in a personalized way, including a self-paced, merit-based advancement system, flexible work arrangements, and an industry-leading primary caregiver leave program of 22 weeks paid leave and 9 months of job protection. We look forward to talking with you about opportunities at Orrick and learning about what inspires you.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 44
• Number of 2nd year associates: 33
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $165,000-180,000
• 2nd year: $175,000-190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attended for OCIs in 2017:
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 have diverse backgrounds and interests, and who bring interesting life experiences and perspectives that shape their worldview. We’ve identified the three qualities our most successful lawyers have in common: grit (determination, perseverance, tenacity and intensity); EQ (the ability to build interpersonal relationships); and teamplay (a propensity to work with others). We believe in having fun while working hard on projects that make a tangible impact on the world, locally and globally.

For more information, please visit us at www.orrick.com, follow us on https://twitter.com/OrrickCareers, get updates with www.Facebook.com/OrrickRecruiting, or see how we’re already connected at http://www.linkedin.com/company/orrick-herrington-&-sutcliffe-llp.

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.